The Low Rider: Honda CX500 by Seb’s Atelier

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer

The Honda CX500 was a strange bird when introduced in 1978, sporting a host of innovative technology for the era. The most obvious feature was the transverse 80° V-twin that led some enthusiasts to term the CX the “Poor Man’s Guzzi.” The engine was liquid-cooled, with four-valves per cylinder and pushrods instead of Honda’s favored overhead cams, and the bike also featured shaft drive, modular Comstar wheels, and quite radical styling for the time.

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer

Fast forward 40+ years, and the CX is enjoying a renaissance in the workshops of custom builders the world over. One of these is Sebastien Ledis, who spent fifteen years as a chef before opening his own workshop in the southwest of France, Seb’s Atelier, a little over a year ago.

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer

Sebastien is a big fan of the CX — he’s done 10 projects with the platform! Three of those builds, including this one, were built for himself. As a long-time Ducati enthusiast, he wanted to incorporate the Paul Smart colors into this build. The donor — a 1980 model — was in terrible condition, including a seized engine and no paperwork. From there, Sebastien built the highly modernized cafe racer you see here, outfitted with GSX-R forks and brakes, spoke wheels, LED lighting, rear sets, Ducati rear suspension, and much more, including the Paul Smart-inspired color scheme. Sebastien especially enjoys the reactions to his work:

“People think it’s a new neo retro racer, but in reality it’s an old motorbike — 40 years old.”

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer

Below, we get the full story on this CX500 cafe racer, nicknamed “The Low Rider” for its ability to fly undercover, a vintage motorcycle passing as a modern one.

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer: Builder Interview

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer

• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.

My name is Sebastien Ledis, I am 33 years old. I live in Fargues Saint Hilaire, a small village near to Bordeaux (southwest of France). I opened my workshop a year ago. Before being a builder, I was a chef (15 years) and I used to work in a gastronomic restaurant. I have two passions: cooking and motorcycling.

I’ve had my motorcycle driving license for 13 years. Since I’ve had my license, I’ve owned about 20 motorbikes (Ducati, Suzuki…). I used to ride a Ducati as my principal ride, and an old school modified motorcycle for my leisure and time off (BMW R100 RT cafe racer, Honda CX…).  I am currently working on a DR650 Djebel flat tracker, which I will bring to the next Wheels and Waves Festival.

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer

I discovered the cafe racer concept when I went to New Zealand, Australia, and Bali 12 years ago and visited the Deus Ex Machina workshop. When I came back to France, I started to work on my first cafe racer. It was just the beginning of the modified motorcycle trend in France.

After that, I have done motorcycles for my family, my friends and myself — I decided to quit my job and open my workshop. It’s been one year and three months since I’ve opened my workshop. I am happy to live on my passion and trying to do my best and improve my competency for my next projects.

When I do a new motorcycle, this one has to be beautiful, surprising, and to be in working order. I am able to work on all the motorcycle models with carburetors — European, Japanese, and American.

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

This is a Honda CX500 from 1980.

• Why was this bike built?

It was a personal project done to promote my company. I used to ride this motorcycle as my personal ride.

• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?

I have already done 10 projects with the Honda CX, three of which were for myself.

For this one, I wanted to do something different and original. I took my inspiration on Sacha Lakic’s work in 2016. As I am passionate about Ducati and more particularly Paul Smart, I have mixed those two concepts: the colorings of the Paul Smart Ducati and the sports side of a café racer motorbike.

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer

• What custom work was done to the bike?

When I built the Honda, there were no papers. I had, first of all, to find a new frame. Moreover, the engine was seized.

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer
The donor…

First, I modified the frame in order to install a Ducati Monster rear shock, GSX-R fork with caliper, a disk front brake, and front brake master cylinder.

I added spoke wheels (stainless steel spokes). For the front wheels, I used a hub from a Yamaha XTZ 750, and for the rear wheel, I used the original hub from the Comstar wheels with spoke wheel conversion flanges.

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer

I added as well:
– CX frame plugs. These billet plugs tidy up the open ends of the frame tubes.
– Aluminum rearset foot controls
– Venturi system
– 2-into-1 pipe exhaust with universal muffler
– Full LED headlight, stop, turn signals, digital Koso speedmeter, but I kept the original electrical harness
– Lithium battery

I polished:
– The clutch cover
– The carburetor
– The venturi system
– The intake insulator
– The cap tapper Takegawa
– Stainless steel capscrew kit
– Full gasket set
– Head cylinder from CX custom
– Cover cylinder head from CX Eurosport

To finish, I have done an epoxy paint for the frame body and for the engine, a grey and magnesium color for polished parts.

For the body (fuel tank, fiberglass seat), a grey aluminum brushed style.

• Does the bike have a nickname?

I have no name for this bike but I gave to her a nickname “The Low Rider” because people think it’s a new neo retro racer, but in reality it’s an old motorbike — 40 years old.

• How would you classify this bike?

I classify the bike as a cafe racer, but safer than at the time.

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

I worked very hard on this bike in order to do something different and original from the other builders. I would like as well to show my work and promote my company through this bike. My personal victory is when I am going to a show and people appreciate and recognize my work and the time spent on it.

Follow the Builder

Seb is currently working on a website which lists all the French builders: cafe racer only.

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