We were fortunate enough to meet Toby Jones of Florida’s OtC Custom Motorcycles at a show put on by the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club earlier this year. We ended up featuring one of the bikes at that show, the shop’s KZ650, which stood out with a paint scheme inspired by the old Ford 8N tractor. Now Toby is back with another build, this time a CB400F cafe racer.
As you may know, the “F” here stands for “Four.” The CB400 Four was available from 1975-1977. It was the descendant of the CB350F, but offered more of a cafe racer look, with streamlined styling, lower bars, and rearset pegs. Though these sporty little 37-hp fours couldn’t compete with the two-strokes of the day in terms of power and acceleration, the motoring press loved them for their sophistication, refinement, and pure fun.
Unfortunately, the CB400F didn’t sell very well in the States. Riders of the time didn’t like the cafe riding position or styling. Today, those same elements make these bikes a hot commodity for builders like Toby. We’ll let him give you the full story on the build.
CB400 Four Cafe Racer: In the Builder’s Words
I’ve got kind of a “thing” for all midsize Japanese four bikes, but particularly the Honda CB400F bikes. When Honda brought these little bikes out 40 years ago the motorcycle press went crazy over them, but buyers in the USA didn’t dig them at all. The handlebars were too low, the pegs set too far back, they didn’t have four pipes coming out the back and they were just too plain looking to fit in the mid-seventies motorcycle scene.
Low and behold 40 years later, with the café racer deal and the vintage bike thing in full swing, bike nuts just can’t get enough of them. With their light weight, their ten grand redline and six speed tranny they are an absolute blast. I built one a few years back that I sold (bad move) and decided I really wanted to build another.
I don’t really do stock restorations, but dig other peoples restored bikes and would never start a build with a nice restorable bike. Besides with supplies of decent ones running low and prices running high it just doesn’t make sense.
This bike was listed as a parts bike with title that went along with a really nice high dollar one. It did run (kind of) but it had some typical wiring, missing parts etc. issues and the owner agreed to sell just the parts bike. The old bike was taken down to the bare frame and it was sent out to be sand-blasted and welded in a couple of weak places. It then, along with the swing arm battery box and a few other pieces, was given a coat of black urethane enamel.
The motor had a timing lock bolt broken off in the upper case (common CB400F deal) and someone had gone crazy with a drill trying to get it out so I located a used set of cases and cleaned them up. While it was apart the cylinders were honed and fitted with new rings and a valve job was done to freshen everything up. At this point the engine covers were all cleaned and hand polished.
On this build, because I wanted to preserve the things I dig about these little bikes, I stayed with the Parakeet yellow tank and black side covers, but did lay on some black stripes with red highlights. Also painted and striped a Legendary Motorcycles seat from Dime City Cycles.
My buddy Tom from Sarah Zentz Upholstery hooked me up on the seat cover. Dime City also supplied the mini tach and speedo that I fabricated a bracket for to clean up the cockpit.
The front was dropped about an inch and a half and the alloy clip on bars were fitted. New gas shocks were fitted to the rear to replace the mushy stockers and Excel alloy rims were laced up with new stainless spokes.
I had intended to go with a short reverse megaphone muffler, but after firing the bike up with the stocker (in respect for my neighbors) I discovered I really liked the way it sounded and may stay with it. Like all my stuff, with the exception of the upholstery, valve grind and sand blasting, everything was done right here in the garage.
After installing and tuning the carbs for the velocity stacks I’ve finally got to do some seat time on it. If you’ve never ridden one of these little pocket rockets you wouldn’t understand, but if you have you know what I’m talking about. The original designers had it right 40 years ago. It just took us time to catch up.