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Honda CB550 Scrambler

The Honda CL77 or Scrambler 305, introduced in the mid-60s, is still one of the most beautiful two-wheeled machines ever made. Powered by a 305cc air-cooled parallel twin, this 27-hp “Gentleman’s Scrambler” differed from the Honda CB line of sport bikes by offering several modifications that allowed for moderate off-road riding, including a larger tube frame, 19-inch wheels with “universal” tires, and of course that beautiful high-mount exhaust.

Honda Scrambler 305

1967 Honda Scrambler 305

Years later, Honda would produce the “Gentleman’s Sport Bike,” the CB550F. Toby Jones of OtC Custom motorcycles had a CB550F sitting on the stand, and he wanted to create:

A reasonably comfortable and dependable vintage two-up bike with enough grunt to get the job done…

What a fitting tribute he’s created to the Scrambler 305, a new “Gentleman’s Scrambler” with many of the same design cues of the original but a lot more grunt. Below, he gives us the full story on the build.

CB550 Scrambler / Restomod:  In the Builder’s Words

Honda CB550 Scrambler

(Words by Toby Jones of OtC Custom. Highlights by us.)

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your workshop.

My name is Toby Jones. I was born and raised an Indiana farm boy, but have spent most of my adult life in sunny Florida. Our shop, OtC Custom motorcycles, was started by my brother in-law Jim VanAlst and I when I moved back to Indiana for a few years. Jim picked up a basket case T120 Bonneville chopper that we put together. He is a first class fabricator/welder and I had done a lot of mechanical work and painting so the chopper turned out pretty sweet. Also we think a lot alike so we work together really well. Unfortunately, due to my moving back south, we don’t get to work together much anymore, but still share input on each other’s projects. You might even notice that, even though I work alone on these builds, most of the time I refer to OtC Custom as “we”. My partner is always a big part of them. Although we build and sell a couple bikes a year, OtC was, and still is, more of a hobby than anything else. We joke about Jim’s garage in Indiana being OtC’s northern division and my in garage in Florida being the southern division.

Honda-CB550-Scrambler-Restomod-3

What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?

This build started with a 1975 Honda CB550F. In ’75 these bikes were known as the “Gentleman’s Sport Bike.” The motorcycle press at the time used almost no superlatives to describe them. In almost every category they were labeled “adequate”, however, unlike most bikes, the testers had nothing bad to say about the midsize four. Almost like the sum being greater than its parts and in the end most concluded that the F-bike was a “damn fine motorcycle.”

Why was this bike built?

Originally this bike was a customer build. An older gentleman had seen our KZ650 café bike and really liked it. The plan was to build his CB550 along the same lines as our Kawasaki. As he and I discussed the project it became clear that what he wanted was an almost exact copy of the KZ. Eventually a deal was struck, he rode off on our Kawasaki café bike and I ended up with his tired old Honda (it had a tractor muffler on it). It sat in a corner of my garage for a few months while I finished the CB400F café bike that was featured on your site a few months ago.

What was the design concept / influence for the build?

Honda RS750 Scrambler

Honda RS750 Scrambler by Denny Berg for Cobra Engineering

A couple of things influenced the direction we went with this build. First and foremost was the RS750 Honda that Denny Berg built in 2010 for Cobra Engineering. The bike featured the color scheme and a lot of design elements that Honda had used on their 305 Scrambler in 1967. The first time I saw the build it just blew me away that a bike could remain that close to stock and still look so cool. The second thing was I really wanted a reasonably comfortable and dependable vintage two-up bike with enough grunt to get the job done. The CB550 fills the bill nicely. I guess the word “understated” pretty much sums up what we were after.

What custom work was done to the bike?

Honda-CB550-Scrambler-Restomod-5

Actually this one was a lot different for us than our previous builds in that it didn’t require a lot of fabrication. Our aim was to make the bike look like a showroom new motorcycle that Honda could have (and maybe should have) offered forty years ago. We even went as far as using the big old stock mirrors that look like something off Pee Wee Herman’s bicycle. Some of the subtle changes involved small things like using only a speedometer and adapting the simple indicator light panel from Honda’s earlier model CBs. This also required relocating the ignition switch and building brackets for it and the single centered speedometer. We also went with scrambler style bars and an early style front fender with two braces in place of the single brace late model front fender. The rear fender was shortened a couple of inches to show a bit more tire. I found a very nice set of used alloy rims from a CB750A. The rears are wider and 17” as opposed to the 18” stockers that came on the CB550 and regular CB750 bikes. I think the smaller diameter rear rim with larger tire adds a bit of a purposeful look to things.

Parts List / Modifications

  • The top end of the engine was freshened with a valve job, honing and new rings.
  • The carbs were rebuilt and the bike was tuned.
  • The frame, swing arm, center stand and kickstand were sand blasted and powder coated.
  • The tank was stripped to bare metal, filled and smoothed. It and a set of new reproduction side covers were painted in base/clear metallic silver. Vintage Honda transfers and aftermarket rubber knee pads were also added to the tank.
  • The lower fork legs were polished along with the brake drum hub, tappet adjusting covers and sprocket cover.
  • The headlight mounting ears and bucket were painted to match the frame.
  • A small Lucas style taillight was added in place of the stock piece.
  • A new reproduction speedometer was installed along with new handlebar switches.
  • All Balls tapered fork bearings were installed.
  • CB750A alloy rims were laced to the original CB550F hubs.
  • As with all our builds the bike got news brake shoes/pads, tires and swing arm bushings.
  • The tired old rear shocks were replaced with new stockers.
  • For parts sources we used our friends at Dime City Cycles, 4 into 1 and David Silver Spares among a few others.

How would you classify this bike?

I guess I would have to classify this build as a resto-mod with subtle scrambler undertones. What I do know is, when people in my age group check it out (even people that aren’t into vintage bikes) they always look as if they recognize something about it from their past. I think that’s pretty cool.

Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?

Honda-CB550-Scrambler-Restomod-1

The thing I’m really proud of about this build is actually how quickly we got it done. We finally decided what we wanted to do with it about a month before the Barber Vintage Festival and wanted to take it along. We weren’t sure we could make it happen, but after getting the frame back from powder coating a week early things began to fall into place. We actually named the project “The Race to Barber” and we won. Spent a lot of late nights and early mornings in the shop on this one, but seeing the reaction it got from the folks at the festival and taking a few laps around the track with my lovely wife on the back was well worth the effort. Since finishing this build we have picked up two CB400F bikes that are going to get the OtC treatment and an older SL70 Honda that we are doing for a charity auction to be held at the Riding into History Show in St. Augustine FL next year. The auction is to benefit the K9s for Warriors project. Unfortunately we can’t keep all these great bikes if we want to keep on building more of them so this bike and our little yellow CB400F café racer are both for sale.

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