Gaston Motorcycle Werks builds a best-in-show CB550…
One of our favorite motorcycle events each year has become The Congregation Show in Charlotte, North Carolina, hosted by the good folks at Prism Supply and DicE Magazine. The show features both vintage cars and bikes, and takes place in an old Ford factory in the north part of the city, an industrial zone that’s quickly becoming a hub of innovation and creativity.
Of course, the 2020 show was canceled due to you-know-what, but we’re thrilled to showcase one of our favorite custom bikes from the 2019 Congregation Show, the 1974 Honda CB550 cafe racer you see here. It’s the work of Benjamin Segal and Jesse Hockman of North Carolina’s Gaston Motorcycle Werks.
Benjamin grew up in a small Southern California beach town and was out of the house and aback his first motorcycle by 18. He’s raced motocross, hare scramble, and mini road racing, and still takes his CB1000RR to track days. Back in 2010, he started GMW out of his one-car garage, where he’d been building bikes for Eastern Dirt Magazine, though the workshop didn’t stay there long:
“We now occupy a 4,600 sf. warehouse, which is where Jesse Hockman and I make the GMW magic happen. In our facility, we are able to do anything your heart desires.”
The CB550 you see here was intended to have combine classic café lines and modern electronics:
“Can you say billet? We wanted the bike to draw you in, then as you look more closely, you see the attention to detail. No part was left unconsidered or untouched.”
From the an aesthetic standpoint, the bike is simply stunning. In fact, it won best in show and best in category at Cyclemania Charlotte in 2018. But the GMW boys wanted a bike that didn’t just show well, but rode well too — as evidenced by the intake/exhaust porting, three-angle valve job, and hand-laced wheels with modern Heidenau rubber:
“The bike pulls smoothly to the moon and loves to be ridden hard, WOT is this little CB’s happy place. It’s one of the strongest 550’s we’ve ridden so far.”
The bike was built for owner Blair Barwick, earning the nickname of “BBCB.” Benjamin and Jesse are especially proud of that relationship:
“Building a bike with a customer is like a marriage. You are forming an object/ machine and doing it with another person over an extended period… We are happy to be able to listen to what our customer was saying and translate his requests into what is truly a piece of rolling art.”
Below, we get more details on the build straight from Benjamin himself.
BBCB 550 Café Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Benjamin Segal. I grew up in Hermosa Beach, a small surf town in Southern Ca. I grew up surfing and got my first bike when I was 18 and out of the house (no more mom saying no). My first “real” motorcycle was a 1987 Yamaha FZ600SC. I no longer own it but I now have two in my collection — I think I might have a problem. I have raced MX, Hare Scrambles, and mini road racers. My racing days are over, but I still go to the track on my CB1000RR for track days with pals. I live in North Carolina, just outside Charlotte with my wife Anna and two young boys, Liam and Colin. GMW got its start in 2010 in my one-car garage. I was restoring bikes for Eastern Dirt Magazine articles and word got out. GMW didn’t stay in my garage for long. We now occupy a 4,600 sf. warehouse, which is where Jesse Hockman and I make the GMW magic happen. In our facility, we are able to do anything your heart desires.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
HONDA – CB550 – 1974.
• Why was this bike built?
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
Classic café lines and modern electronics. Can you say billet? We wanted the bike to draw you in, then as you look more closely, you see the attention to detail. No part was left unconsidered or untouched. The line of the seat cowl and fuel tank had to match.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Porting intake and exhaust.
3 angle valve job.
Electrical – wiring harness built from scratch in-house, electronic ignition, moto gadget M-Unit, turn signals, and controls, with Cognito Moto upper triple clamp with Moto Gadget Motoscope mini speedo.
Wheels hand-laced using stainless spokes and nipples on 18 inch, aluminum Excel rims.
Paint – done in-house with 3 sanded layers of clear coat so none of the seams in color are felt when you run your hand across.
Canadian (Looney) coin used to block off kick start lever.
Wrench on the end of the side stand – we welded a wrench as the toe hook.
CaftyB gas cap.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
BBCB – Blair Barwick is the owner.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
With its small frame, rear sets, and clip-on bars, throwing a leg over the saddle of this agile bike for the first time makes you feel like you are riding a 350 or something even smaller. But don’t be fooled because you will be pleasantly surprised by the super responsive throttle input the CR carbs provide. The bike pulls smoothly to the moon and loves to be ridden hard, WOT is this little CB’s happy place. It’s one of the strongest 550’s we’ve ridden so far. And the natural rubber, Heidenau tires provide excellent grip, making for a great bike to rip around the local Gastonia roads.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
Building a bike with a customer is like a marriage. You are forming an object/ machine and doing it with another person over an extended period. It’s very different from a bike that gets dropped off for carb work. It takes patience and good communication to be able to come out at the end feeling good about what has been built. We are happy to be able to listen to what our customer was saying and translate his requests into what is truly a piece of rolling art. And not to be forgotten, Jesse’s creative eye and ability to bring an idea to life.
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Photos: Benjamin Segal