Café Racer | Jules' 1972 Honda CB500 Four [With Movie]
Words Jules Photography Luke Ray
I hadn’t had a bike since I was eighteen, but one year after seeing everyone having fun at the Chopped Rod & Custom festival I thought to myself “this looks like good fun”. That same weekend my mate Dallas offered me his Honda so I went round his house to check it out. That was almost two years ago now. Dallas purchased the CB500 as a barn find from the brother of the previous owner who had sadly passed away.
His brother had been collecting engine parts over the years with the plan to do a rebuild of the engine, but never got to finish it. Dallas started working on it already and was planning for it to have a Mad Max style, rusty bare metal tank, heat coated white pipes and old clip on bars, but I had other plans.
The bike’s been through a couple of different incarnations since I got my hands on it. Before this, it had a blue and bronze tank with a metallic scallop in the centre. It looked good, but not as good as it does after this final colour choice.
The decision to respray and rebuild the bike came after the tank developed a few dents and scratches as the result of a minor stack. The paint is a Citroën colour which is matched to the original Honda CB500 Jade Green. After studying the photos I found I think we got it about 99% bang on.
I’d always wanted a full steel café racer seat for this bike. This one is a bolt-on unit from India and only cost me $130 delivered. When it came it was too wide and too tall so I cut it through the back and dropped it by about 80mm. I also added in a cut out to give the rear tyre some clearance. Dallas stepped in and helped me out with the welding jobs and gave me some valuable tips along the way.
I tasked Aaron Sinclair of Weird-o-pholstery with stitching up the seat pad. It’s no more than a plastic chopping board with 3mm of foam on it to create the slight bumps. I love how the stitching came out and the small amount of padding it has is enough to keep me comfortable on decent length rides.
When I bought the bike off Dallas it came with a second motor and all the bits the old guy had collected for the rebuild. I decided to keep riding it with the original motor. It was blowing a bit of smoke but still went ok. Gradually over six months it got worse and worse until the ‘stop smoke’ I was adding to the oil wasn’t working anymore.
Through a café racers forum, I met a guy named Mal Doswell, a priest up in Cockatoo (Victoria) who specialises in Hondas. I dropped the motor and all the bits I had off at his place and about two weeks later he had it done. The pistons are slightly oversized and there’s a bit of port work, but other than that it's pretty standard.
The exhaust is a Delkevic full stainless 4-into-1 with a Carpy’s Yoshimura style muffler that I ordered from his website in the States. Mid rebuild I’d purchased a set of 29mm Keihin CR carbs, which turned out to be the wrong size even though every seller advertised they were the size to get. After the bike sat with a tuner for weeks it still wasn’t running right. I decided to cut my losses, sell them and revert back to the original carbs.
Soon afterward I discovered that 26mm was the correct size, but I’d already taken the stock carbs to my mate Brad Partridge from Aviator Customs. He rebuilt them with a carb gasket and jet kit, upping jet sizes to work with the free flowing exhaust. After getting that done and installing a Pamco electronic ignition with another mate Ryan, it ran like clockwork. It’s now a completely different bike to the smokey, backfiring basket case it had previously been!
Then I did the brake upgrade. The old single disc on the front squealed all the time and didn’t work all that well, something many other CB500 owners also complain about. The forks I mounted to the front end are from a CB750 and came with twin disc mounts. I fitted Ducati Monster discs with Ducati Sport Classic Brembo calipers using custom made adapter brackets. It stops really good now and would probably do stoppies, I’m not game enough to give it a go though.
During the build, I received help from friends and people I have met via Facebook groups, which was an added bonus. I'd like to thank Dallas Augustine, Ryan Walker, Brad Partridge, Mal Doswell, Gray Hadley, Aaron Sinclair and Rick Garra for their help. For now, this projects done. It’s had two paint jobs and a full rebuild so it’s pretty much finished. It’s now time to get onto a car project I’ve had sitting in the shed for way too long.
This article first appeared in Tank Moto issue 11.
Follow Jules @jules_moto.