Honda CB400 Four Cafe Racer by OtC Custom

Honda CB400 Four Cafe Racer

The Honda CB400F is such a neat machine, a 408cc inline four produced only from 1975-1977.  The bike had an array of cafe racer styling elements, such as low handlebars, rear set pegs, and that swoopy, signature 4-into-1 exhaust — possibly the most beautiful stock exhaust ever produced.

The rev-happy, lightweight four ended up being highly successful in club and privateer racing, and the bike continues to have a cult following, with owners such as Top Gear‘s James May.

Honda CB400 Four Cafe Racer

Enter Toby Jones of OtC Customs, who is first to admit that he has problem. Below, we get the full story on this CB400F.

Honda CB400F Cafe Racer:  In the Builder’s Words

Honda CB400 Four Cafe Racer

(Words by Toby Jones. Highlights by us.)

Hi, my name is Toby and I have a Honda CB400F problem, or so it seems. While over the past few years our shop, OtC Custom Motorcycles, has done builds on quite a few different vintage bikes, I can’t help but return to Honda’s classy little 400cc four when the opportunity arises.

Although its performance doesn’t quite measure up to its two stroke competitors of the time from Kawasaki and Yamaha, there is something about these little gems that keeps me on the lookout for them. Unless you’ve ridden one it’s hard to explain, but Honda managed to put together a Swiss watch of a motorcycle that feels designed and engineered “all of one piece.” I’m sure there is a Zen Buddhist word for it.

Honda CB400 Four Cafe Racer

This particular bike is a ’75 model that was rusting away in a trailer park in Indiana. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the help we had getting our hands on this one. I found the bike for sale in a post on social network group (Indianapolis Vintage Motorcycles), but I live in Florida and the bike was in Indiana.

Enter Randy Schwind, a friend and founder of Indianapolis Vintage Motorcycles. Randy managed, not only to pick the bike up for us, but also with the help of I.V.M. members Scott Ledingham and Randy Thompson, get it delivered from Indy to my shop, 1200 miles away in Vero Beach Florida. Actions like these really say something about the people involved in the vintage motorcycle hobby. Great folks! On a sad note a few months later, after a long battle with cancer we lost Randy Thompson. I like to think he’s up there smilin’ down on this one.

Honda CB400 Four Cafe Racer

The design concept for this build came from another of Honda’s models that was ahead of its time. Although a bit out of my price range these days, I’ve always been a fan of the GB500T from the early 80’s. I really dig the GBs classy look, the alloy rims and clip-on bars and decided to incorporate them in this build along with the custom café seat.

I’d have to classify this build as a very mild Café Racer style and much of the bike remains stock. It did, of course, require a complete restoration. After being completely stripped the frame and larger pieces were sent off to Precision Powder Coating in Melbourne Florida for a super-slick layer of their black magic. The smaller bits (that would fit in our oven) were coated here in the shop.

Honda CB400 Four Cafe Racer

After test firing the engine and finding a dead cylinder (bent valves in #2, somebody missed a gear) the engine was disassembled and inspected. It received new valves and a complete top end rebuild. The ignition was also upgraded with a Dyna S system.

Strange thing that I noticed on this particular bike. Although it had obviously been neglected in recent times, there were many clues that at some point the old motorcycle had been well cared for. The engine was squeaky clean on the inside, the timing chain had been adjusted regularly and even the swing arm showed signs of being greased. We did our usual and the bike received new, brakes, bearings, battery and sweet Avon AM26 tires. I also laced up new alloy rims with new spokes front and rear.

Honda CB400 Four Cafe Racer

We did do a bit of custom fabrication on this one. The gauge mounts and dash panel were custom built, DCC headlight mounts were cut to fit and powder coated the stock front fender was bobbed and lightening holes were cut in the original chain guard. Although the CB400F was only available from Honda in blue, red or yellow we chose to go with classic black for the paint work.

For parts suppliers we turned to Dime City Cycles for the chrome headlight housing, 2 ½” tach and speedo set, ignition coil set, headlight mounts, grips and 24” megaphone muffler. David Silver Spares is responsible for the beautiful reproduction header pipes among other restoration pieces. 4 into 1 provided the AGM battery and electronic regulator/rectifier combo and many of rubber restoration parts needed. The café style seat is from Texavina and the rear shocks are from TEC.

Honda CB400 Four Cafe Racer

On this build, like all of my customs, I try to do everything I can right here in the old shop and this bike is no exception. One of the great things about our hobby is learning new skills and techniques and though I sometimes fall short of exactly what I was shooting for I’m always looking to improve for the next one. After working some long hours to get it ready in time, this old black bike is headed for the Riding into History Vintage Motorcycle show in St. Augustine FL on May 20th and we can’t wait. By the way, I’ve already been asked if this bike is for sale and my answer is “not right now, but keep in touch.”

Riding into History Update

Honda-CB400F-Cafe-Racer-4

Says Toby:

The 400 picked up a merit award in its class and the SL70 you were nice enough to feature scored $2450 in the auction for the K9s for Warriors!

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3 Comments

  1. Kristian Hesel

    Hey! Lovely bike 🙂
    Did you use the standard size tires? (90/90/18 and 100/90/18
    Thank you!

  2. Kristian Hesel

    Also – where did you buy the rims – I love the shape of them :-O

  3. John Blair

    Hey, I HAD to post a comment here. While I would NOT be ever called a “Bike Guy” I have had a few and love for the machines has been lifelong. I am turning 60 this year (a fact that I can’t quite get my head around) and I have to say my fondest motorcycle memories all stem from my ’75 Red 400 Four “Super Sport” – which I bought used, around 82 and did my damdest to bring it up to it’s potential. I couldn’t come anywhere near this build, of course. You have at once put in some classy, APPROPRIATE updates, while honoring the original design and genius. For me, the seat gets the cafe racer look perfect, with exactly the right line to at once modernize, while keeping a classic sweep to the side profile. From first glance it’s perfection, and it only gets better the more you look. I am not as enamoured of the gold anodized aluminum used to top the forks/handlebar mounting. It looks a bit mismatched to my eye, ust knowing it’s a product of the 70’s. Aluminum, yes. Anodized, and brightly so, looks wrong. It is a small point, and something anyone could change if they were lucky enough to get this out of your intense grip, lol! I would be pleased to grab it myself, should the opportunity present itself.

    Lastly, I want to share a fun memory of my CB400F – My future wife was with me on a weekend cruise, where we stopped to stretch and refresh somewhere off the main drag. When it came time to mount up, the Honda was not having it. After a few attempts to start it, I discovered a burnt fuse – I don’t recall exactly what the circuit was, but suffice to say it was root cause for the failure. Not having a spare of any amperage, desperation kicked in – we were 20 miles from civilization. Being a smoker, I pulled a section of the Marlboro cigarette liner (that’s foil on one side, paper on the other, and wrapped the fuse. Vroom. A) My future wife said that was the moment she knew she was “safe” with me around when things go sideways, and B) obviously a simple concept and fix, it is my best recollection of a time I “MacGyvered” it.

    It was on the Honda that I also came withing a hair’s breadth getting dead by a car running a light at 60+ MPH; a scenario every biker experiences at least once (hopefully no more than once) – so thank you, sincerely for shaking loose some great memories. I remain interested if you care about putting this beautiful bit of history! -John Blair

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