J. Webster Designs Honda CB550 Scrambler
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.”
Be sure to check out J. Webster Designs