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
Have you ever been bouncing around Instagram late at night and you just stumble on something that keeps you up for a few hours more ? That’s exactly what happened when I stumbled on Black Herts Custom Cycle newly completed CB550 build.
Being that I myself am about to embark on a build of a similarly styled CB360, I had to stop and look around a bit…haha. You know when you pinch the screen on IG and try to dig into those finer details…Its a struggle. I’ve had in my possession a very good condition CB360 that I bought just about a year ago, and its sat in the corner of my shop getting little use aside from being an occasional photography prop for a new tee or hat design. I’ve been terribly torn on what direction I wanted to go with the bike due to the fact that free time is a premium here at the shop, I wanted to make it worth the while. The problem is the bike is just too nice to chop up and I think this one would best be served by just some clean up and subtle mods. This is what caught my eye with Black Herts bike.
Ben over at BHCC informed me that this bike, a 1977 Honda Cb550 Four was a barn find and it was in terrible condition and it needed a total refresh. After a total engine out refresh on the frame and subtle details around the bike, the final product is very minimal but extremely pleasing to the eye. I personally love the raw metal tank on burgundy leather seat and grips.
Black Herts Custom Cycle is located in Hertfordshire, UK and can be found on Instagram at @blackhertscustomcycles be sure to give them a follow and look out for the newest builds.
Enjoy the images sent over from BHCC and I hope it inspires your build like it did me.
Each year I travel to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas and this year was no different. Some years I make a full week of it, and other years its an in and out affair. This year happened to be one of those quick trip years, so I set out to walk the show as quickly as I possibly could in two days. With time at a premium, my goal was to find the show “killers”, at least in my mind, and spend a bit more time soaking up all the special details of the build. Being very partial to the Porsche badged cars, it wasn’t hard to get sucked into the many details of Rob Ida’s Porsche 911 / 930 Turbo. So much in fact that I made it a point to come back to it on both days of my visit.
I was lucky enough to catch Rob at his car the first day I saw it, and it was a pleasure to chat with him for a few moments about the build. Rob admitted that the car started as just a daily driver for him and originally had no intention of building it to the level you see in the photos below. A few upgrades here and there opened a flood gate of changes to the car.
The most notable change to the car would be the custom front bumper. Rob knew that the OEM bumpers needed to be trimmed up a bit while retaining the classic styling. Details on the bumper include recessed driving lights and oil cooler vents, and the more subtle detail of the hood lines continuing down to the lower front valence. Whats great about all of these changes is that its subtleties would be left unnoticed by many who glance upon it.
Another big goal of Robs was to get the “stance” just right which proved much more difficult than one would expect. Rob admitted that the search for the perfect tire took him to the other side of the ocean to source a super rare set of 315/40/16 Pirelli P7 Corsa Classics. The rubber fitted to 16×11 rear and 15×8 front classic Fuchs design wheels, set the tone for the aggressive look and yet functional ride.
We’d like to thank Rob for the few moments to chat at the show, and I hope you enjoy the little clip I put together below along with the small gallery.
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Recently a fan sent us some pretty amazing images of his Honda CB550 custom cafe, and needless to say we were immediately in love. The bike in question was built by IDP Custom Moto out of the UK and was designed and built by the owner Johnny Carr and Daryll Young from IDP.
Shortly after sending the photos Johnny let us on to a film he was working on featuring the shop that built his bike. Take a moment to check out his vid which features his bike and more of the IDP builds.
Built by Vintage Steele @vintagesteele
In Collaboration with Caleb Matthiesen
Seat Upholstery by Caleb Matthiesen at @seavts
Paint by Pat DeSalvo
Photos by Azariah Aker
This bike was restored and built by owners Josh Steele and Chris John of Vintage Steele. Vintage Steele is a Motorcycle building and repair shop located in Brattleboro Vermont.
Josh and Chris were looking for a 1960 BMW r69s for a potential project when they discovered that a friend and fellow motorcycle enthusiast, Christopher Myott, owned an r69s in a condition that would make a great candidate for a restoration project. Christopher got in touch with V.S. to inform them that he was considering letting the bike go. After a bit of negotiation, Christopher and V.S. made a deal, trading Josh’s personal 1970 BMW r75/5 for the r69s. In the early fall of 2014, Chris and Josh drove out to Jaffrey, NH to see the culprit for the first time in person and to seal the deal. Let’s just say, it was a classic example of pictures making bikes look way better then they do in real life—this bike was rusty. But being able to see the true beauty and potential under the windjammer fairing and the dirt, they loaded it up in the truck and drove it back to the shop in Brattleboro Vermont. It sat in the shop untouched for a few months, while V.S. decided what to do with this diamond in the rough.
In December 2014, Caleb Matthiesen of Seavts, a long time friend, came in from Seattle to participate in the building and restoration of a few motorcycles as winter projects. Together they decided to take the BMW r69s on knowing this opportunity may never come along again and wanting to show what their motorcycle restoration and modification capabilities are.
While the days got cold and the snow started to fly in Southern Vermont, the guys tore the bike apart, and replaced everything that needing replacing. Leaving no stone unturned, they powder coated the frame, painted the tins, and cleaned the hell out of it—several times. They stuck with the Earls front forks for the beautiful look, but updated the suspension. Caleb took on the ugly rubber seat to make an original, one of a kind, meticulously crafted upholstered piece.
For all the details: V.S. called on Khameleon Koatings to do the powder coating with a semi-gloss black finish; Pat Desalvo took on the paint job, a color in which was Josh’s brain-child. In bringing this bike together, Vintage Steele envisioned a bike that you could not take your eyes off, a bike you would go to bed dreaming about, a bike that took the breath away from everyone that laid eyes on it.
Thanks Vintage Steele for sending over the images !