Keith Carlson of Indianapolis is well-known for his two-stroke dragon-slayers — custom bikes built for his annual assault of US129 through Deals Gap, Georgia, home of the notorious Tail of the Dragon. Most recently, we featured his Yamaha RZ350 restomod. Now Keith is back with something wholly unexpected: a four-stroke Honda!
With a deep background in motocross and off-road, Keith was inspired by one of the most infamous dirt bikes of all time — the Honda CR500. He decided to transform a 1978 Honda CB550K into a CR500-inspired cafe racer, built to carve twisty roads with retro style. We have to admit, the orange-red paint, blue seat, and gold wheels send our hearts aflutter. Below, we get the full story on the build, alongside a killer deck of photos from Dan Tijerna (@tchon76).
Honda CB550K Cafe Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
Build predominately 2 strokes. Restoring and building for 12-15 years. MANY vintage motocross builds. I work from my home garage. Hobbyist but also work on customer projects. I am fortunate to live in a town with MANY race teams from Top Fuel dragsters to Indy Car teams to Sprint cars etc. Access to some great fabrication and other shops that support the large race teams.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1978 Honda CB550K
• Why was this bike built?
After building many 2 strokes over the years, I wanted to branch out to a 4 stroke Honda. The CB550 is a perfect platform, relatively inexpensive, plentiful parts, smooth running and classic. Built for my personal collection.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
Design concept was to replicate the design, color scheme and styling of the 1986 Honda CR500 Motocross Racer. Again, my background is strong in Motocross and Off-road, so thought this would pay tribute to my “roots.” This CB550 is my interpretation of what Honda would have transformed a CR500 into a café street style.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
GSXR forks, front number plate/headlight, running a C5 optical ignition, Café tail loop…..simple modifications to a basically stock CB550. Paint work by Adam Dominguez DB Customs, fabrication by JKAT, Brian Bissonette with cylinder and head work.
• How would you classify this bike?
I consider this a café style Honda CB550. Nothing major changed but frame mods, color, wheel size, café seat, GSXR front.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
Satisfied with the styling of the bike, colors are spot on. Mostly proud with how smooth she rides and carves the twisty roads. Classic Honda inline 4 smooth…
- Photography: Dan Tijerna (@tchon76)
- Paint: DB Customs
- Fabrication: Dan Drinan and JKAT
- Powdercoat: Pro Kote
- Engine help: Brian Bissonette
More Keith Carlson Customs