“It’s easy to make a bike visually scream, it’s much harder to make it sing.”
Many enthusiasts regard Honda’s CB550 as the perfect vintage four: light, agile, surprisingly quick, and exquisitely balanced in both handling and design. Mike Gustafson of Iowa’s MONNOM Customs has returned to the model again and again, building 550 customs that have graced the pages of Silodrome, Pipeburn, Bike EXIF, and more. On his initial call with the customer who commissioned this build, they decided the vintage middleweight was the way to go:
“In our initial discussion of ideas we both agreed that an understated, refined, comfortable and classic build was what we were after, the Honda CB550 is the perfect platform for such an idea.”
Mike picked up a ’76 CB550 in a cold garage in rural Iowa. Though it came in a bunch of boxes, most of the needed parts were there. The engine was torn down and rebuilt with fresh internals, and the bodywork was hand-formed from mild steel. The forks are from a GL1000, featuring dual discs, and the charging and ignition systems have both been updated. The bike is full of small details such as the flush pop-up fuel filler and Motogadget speedometer recessed in the tank — subtle yet definitive elements that speak to Mike’s build philosophy:
“The saying ‘The whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ applies to a lot of different situations but with custom built motorcycles it couldn’t be more valid.”
The paintwork, done by Walker’s Way Custom Paint, is another example, featuring a mix of gloss and matte black, coupled with a delicate pinstripe that fades from dark gray to light gray, then back again as the line progresses across the bodywork. The final product is one of the most elegant, understated, and attractive 550 Fours we’ve ever seen — a bike that truly sings.
“We are given a very small amount of real estate to work with on a motorcycle, the subtle balancing act is always the hardest part. It’s easy to make a bike visually scream, it’s much harder to make it sing.”
Below, we get the full story on the build straight from Mike himself, as well as more stunning photos from Ted Sandeen (@sandeen_photography).
MONNOM Customs M4: In the Builder’s Words
The M4 build began with a call from a client wanting to commission a custom build. In our initial discussion of ideas we both agreed that an understated, refined, comfortable and classic build was what we were after, the Honda CB550 is the perfect platform for such an idea. The search was on for a donor bike and after a few days of hunting around a local classified ad brought me to a late night meeting in a cold garage in rural Iowa where I purchased a 1976 Honda CB550 in many, many boxes. The good stuff was there, well… most of the stuff I needed anyway.
As the client and I talked through more of the details I began work on the engine. The motor was completely torn down and rebuilt, with lots of fresh parts including pistons, rings, cam chain, tensioner, gaskets, etc. A fresh lapping of the valves and a cylinder hone got everything nice and crisp internally. An electronic ignition by Dyna was also added to compliment the two fresh Dyna Ignition coils. The process of hand polishing the aluminum engine cases was next, wet sanding, wet sanding, wet sanding followed by a good deal of buffing.
The frame and bodywork were all hand formed from mild steel — the side covers under the seat actually wrap around the frame rail just behind the air filters and they help to visually conceal the battery tray that sits under the seat. The LED headlight, that was provided by our Australian friends at Purpose Built Moto — it also has a hand-formed top element that follows the curve of the headlight and adds some visual weight to the front. The steel fork covers allowed me to make solid bracketry to mount and keep the LED headlight adjustable. I hand-shaped the front fender mounts to hold an aluminum fender manufactured by Motone Customs.
There are a lot of subtle details to this bike such as the flush pop-up fuel filler and the recessed in tank Motogadget speedometer. The bike’s electrical system employs a Motogadget M unit Blue which allows for uncompromising control over all the aspects of the switching, wiring and overall design of the electronics. I used momentary switch gear made by Motone Customs and an updated charging system from Rick’s Motorsport Electrics paired with a 8 Cell Lithium Ion from Antigravity Batteries keeps all the juice flowing.
I was excited to find a vintage aluminum 3.50 x 18″ DID rear rim, very rare find. This much wider than stock rear rim coupled with the original GL1000 front aluminum rim allowed my to run a great looking set of Avon Roadrider tires, a 130 x 18 rear and a 100 x 19 front. A fresh set of stock spokes brought the wheels and hubs together.
The paint scheme is as understated as you can get, a mix of gloss and matte black with a delicate pinstripe that slowly fades from dark gray to light gray and then back to dark gray as the line progresses across the body work. The paint and bodywork was done by Brandon Walker of Walker’s Way Custom Paint just outside of Des Moines, Iowa. The seat was crafted by Dane Utech of Please Be Seated, comfort and the ability to have a passenger was at the fore front of the design of the seat. Dane used a high grade matte black leather with a complimentary perforated leather to provide a visual accent.
The forks I used on this build are from a 1976 Honda GL1000 Goldwing. I really like the beefier forks and the GL is set up with nice dual discs. Its also important to me to keep as much of the same vintage as possible when I’m building a bike. Anytime I can use parts from other bikes of the same period its a bonus. A custom machined triple tree was designed and cut by Ripple Rock Racers out of Canada and the exhaust was also designed by Kemp at Ripple Rock Racers and manufactured by Hindle. The rear suspension is a custom set of shocks made by Ikon.
This bike was designed and built to be a comfortable, elegant and as practical as a custom vintage bike can be. The saying “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” applies to a lot of different situations but with custom built motorcycles it couldn’t be more valid. As I am building a project I am constantly balancing the form and function and then usually subtracting an element or two to keep the entire form in check. We are given a very small amount of real estate to work with on a motorcycle, the subtle balancing act is always the hardest part. Its easy to make a bike visually scream, its much harder to make it sing.
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Photos by Ted Sandeen: @sandeen_photography