Very few of us have the huevos to jump in with both feet and attempt to grab our dreams — failure be damned. We are all-too content to sit back, hoping our dreams fall into our laps. Justin Webster built this slick, urban scrambler, utilizing hand-made parts and a singular vision. He built it in the garage he owns and operates as a “one-man band.” Justin has a dream.
The bike — a 1974 Honda CB550 — came together on a shoestring budget, though the results belie any financial limitations. Justin had an order for a café racer build, but when the customer backed out in favor of a nondescript Ducati sportbike, Justin was left free reign to create whatever he wanted. He chose to build a bike he thought Honda might have built in the CB’s heyday, had the concept occurred to it. But first, Justin had some work to do.
“(It) was your typical ratted-out CB550, owned by a person that had no business working on a motorcycle,” he says. “The paint was stripped off and it was rocking a bare-metal tank. The frame was poorly spray bombed and the accessories, electrical harness, and motor were the victims of the resulting overspray. But it ran, and the price was right.”
The engine overspray played right into Justin’s hands. He is the owner-operator of J. Webster Designs in Florida, specializing in custom-made, CNC-machined vintage Honda parts like tappet covers and tachometer drive plugs. Here was a chance to showcase his wares while building the fully functional and street-legal scrambler that never was. How could he pass it up?
When it hit dealerships in the 1974, the CB550 was an instant hit. Its 50-horsepower in-line four was fast for its time, and Honda borrowed its single overhead cam and two valves per pot straight from its earlier racing engines. The CB was considered a super sport, and its popularity makes them easy to find still. Justin says there weren’t any surprises when rebuilding one.
Honda’s enduro-styled CL350 twin was already kicking up dirt upon the CB550’s introduction, but a larger-bore scrambler was non-existent. Builders often transformed them into choppers or café racers, but Webster’s urban scrambler concept is a uniquely modern take. It is an obviously popular concept today, but a 550cc scrambler would have been a monster in 1974.
Justin tackled the scrambler the same way he did his first CB build. He stripped it to its bones and set to removing every extraneous tab and bracket. A clean, less-hooligan, powder-coated frame, wheels and headlight bucket emerged. He modified the triple tree and rebuilt the forks, then he drilled and lightened the brake rotor. The rebuilt engine received some light port work and full J.Webster Designs parts treatment but is otherwise stock.
The undersized Bates-style headlight and lack of fenders may not suit everyone’s taste, but they undeniably work on this one-off build. A super-light Shorai lithium battery runs modern electronics like a Motogagdet Motoscope mini digital instrument cluster and matching M-Unit smartphone-controlled computer. His CB550 scrambler functions like a new motorcycle, but Justin’s rich and retro paint job on the rescued tank and the gaiters with J.Webster Designs collars scream vintage. The whole package looks more like something the scrambler would have evolved into had it never disappeared, much more so than any of the current retro crop manages to achieve.
Justin’s modern take on the classic scrambler includes the obligatory upswept pipes, which alone can give the modern manufacturers’ versions a vintage vibe. He bent those beauties himself, tucking them around the engine, through the frame and under the seat so that they don’t need the heat shielding that almost prevented those old scramblers from singeing the inside of riders’ legs — almost.
“The way I designed the pipes leaves plenty of room in all the right places,” he says. “High mount ‘scrambler’ styled pipes are always a give and take design. Even the factory offerings have given riders permanent reminders of past adventures. This bike is no different. Just consider them leg warmers for the winter months in Florida.”
Justin’s love of the CB platform started with his first bike, a 1976 CB750F. Though he loved motorcycles as a child, he wasn’t allowed to own one. When he went away to college, he says he figured, “What momma don’t know won’t hurt her.” He came upon his first CB by happenstance, but he was in love. He bought it to rebuild it, and he literally scraped change to buy it. He says has his wife to thank — or blame — for everything.
“Being a college student,” he says, “I didn’t have any money, and the couple hundred dollars that I needed to round up was a stretch.” He saved what he could, and he coaxed his then-girlfriend out of the money she’d saved since childhood to get the rest, stored as it was in an oversized Coke bottle in the closet.
“That bike was immediately disassembled to the bare frame as soon as I unloaded it from my truck and built back up on a college budget, using every budget-cutting trick in the book,” he says. “It looked cool and got me on two wheels, and that’s all that mattered.”
Justin started J.Webster Designs in 2012, at age 25, beginning it as side project like so many small businesses are. He worked nights and weekends, then was fortuitously fired from his day job for “some rather ridiculous reasons.” The firing was the kick in the pants he needed, though.
“It forced me to realize that the time was right and I was just prolonging the decision to go full time in trade for the comfort and safety of a cushy and safe job,” he says. “So, I decided to go all in and give it everything I have.”
Justin Webster is chasing his dream, and he’s giving us a window through which to view that dream with each new part he creates and each unique bike he builds. Focusing his early efforts on one of the most popular platforms in the history of motorcycling might seem safe for a person of his obvious talent, but it’s a shrewd move. More bikes and more universal parts on the horizon. For now, he’s doing what he loves, and he’s enjoying his work.
“Have fun” he says. “Life is short and there are adventures to be found. Don’t be afraid to go find them.”
An odd-ball relic is transformed into the belle of the ball
Will Nicholson’s 1978 Honda CX500 Cafe Build
The first step is sometimes the hardest one to take. We tend to assume that the people accomplishing great things are experts, well-trained in their fields. Intimidation kills inspiration, but the truth is those experts were once green and inexperienced. They simply were inspired to jump in and got their hands dirty.
Will Nicholson went for it. Never having so much as turned a wrench on a motorcycle, he went to work creating a beautiful café racer. Judging by its clean lines and the obvious attention to detail (note the leather lever covers), Nicholson is putting his industrial design degree to good use. He has an obvious talent for aesthetics.
At the ripe old age of 24, Nicholson, a New Zealander, found inspiration in a neglected and rejected 1978 Honda CX500. The bike had started life as the possession of a now-elderly lady in a husband-and-wife riding tandem. Perhaps they were every-day riders, or maybe weekend warriors; details are sketchy. When the wife became a widow, the CX took up residence in her yard. There it sat, slowly succumbing to the ravages of time. Another would-be builder picked up the bike for a song, but he never found the motivation to start the café project. Nicholson didn’t just purchase the old Honda; he rescued it.
“I have always wanted an old bike,” he says. “I really enjoy bringing life back to old things.”
The CX500 was never a popular bike, but it is bullet proof. When the oddball Honda was young, the superbike was a new invention. Inline fours were all the rage, and the Kawasaki KZ1000 and Suzuki GS1000 ruled the road. The transverse V-twin engine on the CX doesn’t look so strange to modern eyes, but the masses deemed it too weird and underpowered at the time of its introduction. It sold meekly, but darn if it doesn’t make a sexy café racer. Quirky is the new black.
“I started looking at old Hondas and Yamahas,” says Nicholson, “but I stumbled across this CX, and it was in my price range. The layout of the CX intrigued me… I love the concept; transverse V-twin, water-cooled, shaft drive, electric start, all on a bike which was manufactured in the 70s! I think they were quite innovative bikes, but aesthetically not very clean.”
And therein lay the other reason for the CX’s flat-lined sales in its short production run of five years. Big Red borrowed proven, reliable concepts from other manufacturers and packaged them in a responsible-looking motorcycle. But, practicality was a tough sell in an era when the first road rockets were setting streets on fire. Nicholson was able to transform the CX from water buffalo to super model while retaining the components that made it so trustworthy.
“The CX purists will hate it,” he says, “but I don’t think the factory bikes are particularly beautiful.”
Nicholson’s experience in motorcycling has been brief, but his love of all things motorbike has been a lifelong infatuation. He only started riding a few years ago, earning his stripes astride a Kawasaki Ninja 300. The impetus for his first restoration project was the boredom inherent with moving to a new town for work. The year-and-a-half-long CX build was as much learning experience for him as it was busy work in a strange town.
“The whole project was something quite new to me,” says Nicholson. “I learned a lot of new skills.”
Look at his Nicholson’s handiwork, and what you notice is what you can’t see. Not a wire protrudes to detract from the carefully revealed frame. The open space beneath the seat gives the CX a ghost-like, ethereal quality. Such understatement is hard for even experienced builders to accomplish.
“The original wiring loom was toast, so I made an entirely new wiring loom from scratch,” Nicholson says. “While this might not be much of an achievement for an auto sparky (auto electrician), I had almost no prior electrical experience. I’m happy that all the wiring is hidden well out of view, including the battery and charging system.”
Despite its finished appearance, Nicholson says he is planning to add more modern touches to the CX. He is looking into crafting a carbon fiber rear mudguard, and the fashionably wrapped exhaust still needs bracing. “I would (also) love to do a USD front-end conversion,” he says. “Something like a CBR600RR or a GSXR front end, which are pretty much bolt-on and have superior suspension and braking power.”
If you’re whispering to yourself right now for Nicholson to stop where he is, you’re not alone. As an observer, talk like that is frightening when the current result is so stunning, but such is the way of the creative mind. Artists don’t finish paintings, they give up on them. “I am a constant tinkerer,” says Nicholson, though he admits the next project is already calling to him.
“I have been thinking of what’s the next project for a while,” he says. “I’d love to do a Ducati SuperSport, but I’m also thinking of a project car… One thing I am sure of is that it will have wheels and an engine!”
Nicholson has time. He’s young, and he’s on a new adventure, having moved to London with his girlfriend to pursue careers and life. His otherworldly CX is back home, safe for now from his fidgety hands. Nicholson is without garage space to start anything new, but that didn’t stop him on his first restoration.
“By no means (did) I have a fancy workshop,” he says. “I was often working out of friends’ garages and on the living room floor… It was truly a backyard build.” As such, Nicholson sends thanks to his friend, welding guru, and garage-space lender Anthony Powell. “Cheers mate,” he says.
When confronted with the option to hold on to soul-crushing conformity or risk failure pursuing soul-stirring individuality, Nicholson chose to take a shot — to see what he could learn. “I set out to make a very clean, simple bike that keeps hints of its era, with some modern touches,” he says. “I’m proud of what I achieved on a tight budget.”
Be sure to check out Wills work. All the images in this content and the video were made by Will himself.
This past visit to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas was a brief one as I noted in some of our previous blogs, however I did find time to spend a little extra time on some of my favorites from the event. The truck pictured below happens to be one of those stand out builds. When I came across this 1966 Chevy C10 Bagged and Twin Turbo shop truck from The Classic Car Studio Speed Shop, I had to warm up the shutter on my camera a bit.
Rightfully named “Tiffany” I can only assume by the Tiffany Blue Patina on the truck, this one was a show stopper with a spec list longer than the lines at IN AND OUT BURGER on Friday night. The attention to detail on the metal work and the perfect “stuffing” of the twin turbines into the engine bay, would make any auto enthusiast gaze in wonderment.
Be sure to visit their website and also check out the small videos below of the first few startups of this build.
“Tiffany” Spec Sheet
Built 346 LS1 with LS6 heads
TCI Turbo 400
Ford 9” rear end w/ 3.73 TruTrac
Holley Dominator complete system
Sniper Intake Manifold
105 MM Throttle body
7” Touchscreen Display
VR2 Brushless Fuel pump
120 LB/HR injectors
VR series fuel regulator
Billet fuel rails
Billet fuel filter
Nelson Racing 64mm mirror image turbos
Custom Stainless turbo piping
Custom Stainless exhaust system
Porterbuilt rear chassis
Custom built front half
American Autowire harness
AccuAir ELevel air management system
Ride Tech Shocks
GM transport wheels
Custom built, one off fabricated sheet metal bodywork and bed