The Honda CB400F is such a neat machine, a 408cc inline four produced only from 1975-1977. The bike had an array of cafe racer styling elements, such as low handlebars, rear set pegs, and that swoopy, signature 4-into-1 exhaust — possibly the most beautiful stock exhaust ever produced.
The rev-happy, lightweight four ended up being highly successful in club and privateer racing, and the bike continues to have a cult following, with owners such as Top Gear‘s James May.
Enter Toby Jones of OtC Customs, who is first to admit that he has problem. Below, we get the full story on this CB400F.
Honda CB400F Cafe Racer: In the Builder’s Words
(Words by Toby Jones. Highlights by us.)
Hi, my name is Toby and I have a Honda CB400F problem, or so it seems. While over the past few years our shop, OtC Custom Motorcycles, has done builds on quite a few different vintage bikes, I can’t help but return to Honda’s classy little 400cc four when the opportunity arises.
Although its performance doesn’t quite measure up to its two stroke competitors of the time from Kawasaki and Yamaha, there is something about these little gems that keeps me on the lookout for them. Unless you’ve ridden one it’s hard to explain, but Honda managed to put together a Swiss watch of a motorcycle that feels designed and engineered “all of one piece.” I’m sure there is a Zen Buddhist word for it.
This particular bike is a ’75 model that was rusting away in a trailer park in Indiana. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the help we had getting our hands on this one. I found the bike for sale in a post on social network group (Indianapolis Vintage Motorcycles), but I live in Florida and the bike was in Indiana.
Enter Randy Schwind, a friend and founder of Indianapolis Vintage Motorcycles. Randy managed, not only to pick the bike up for us, but also with the help of I.V.M. members Scott Ledingham and Randy Thompson, get it delivered from Indy to my shop, 1200 miles away in Vero Beach Florida. Actions like these really say something about the people involved in the vintage motorcycle hobby. Great folks! On a sad note a few months later, after a long battle with cancer we lost Randy Thompson. I like to think he’s up there smilin’ down on this one.
The design concept for this build came from another of Honda’s models that was ahead of its time. Although a bit out of my price range these days, I’ve always been a fan of the GB500T from the early 80’s. I really dig the GBs classy look, the alloy rims and clip-on bars and decided to incorporate them in this build along with the custom café seat.
I’d have to classify this build as a very mild Café Racer style and much of the bike remains stock. It did, of course, require a complete restoration. After being completely stripped the frame and larger pieces were sent off to Precision Powder Coating in Melbourne Florida for a super-slick layer of their black magic. The smaller bits (that would fit in our oven) were coated here in the shop.
After test firing the engine and finding a dead cylinder (bent valves in #2, somebody missed a gear) the engine was disassembled and inspected. It received new valves and a complete top end rebuild. The ignition was also upgraded with a Dyna S system.
Strange thing that I noticed on this particular bike. Although it had obviously been neglected in recent times, there were many clues that at some point the old motorcycle had been well cared for. The engine was squeaky clean on the inside, the timing chain had been adjusted regularly and even the swing arm showed signs of being greased. We did our usual and the bike received new, brakes, bearings, battery and sweet Avon AM26 tires. I also laced up new alloy rims with new spokes front and rear.
We did do a bit of custom fabrication on this one. The gauge mounts and dash panel were custom built, DCC headlight mounts were cut to fit and powder coated the stock front fender was bobbed and lightening holes were cut in the original chain guard. Although the CB400F was only available from Honda in blue, red or yellow we chose to go with classic black for the paint work.
For parts suppliers we turned to Dime City Cycles for the chrome headlight housing, 2 ½” tach and speedo set, ignition coil set, headlight mounts, grips and 24” megaphone muffler. David Silver Spares is responsible for the beautiful reproduction header pipes among other restoration pieces. 4 into 1 provided the AGM battery and electronic regulator/rectifier combo and many of rubber restoration parts needed. The café style seat is from Texavina and the rear shocks are from TEC.
On this build, like all of my customs, I try to do everything I can right here in the old shop and this bike is no exception. One of the great things about our hobby is learning new skills and techniques and though I sometimes fall short of exactly what I was shooting for I’m always looking to improve for the next one. After working some long hours to get it ready in time, this old black bike is headed for the Riding into History Vintage Motorcycle show in St. Augustine FL on May 20th and we can’t wait. By the way, I’ve already been asked if this bike is for sale and my answer is “not right now, but keep in touch.”
Riding into History Update
The 400 picked up a merit award in its class and the SL70 you were nice enough to feature scored $2450 in the auction for the K9s for Warriors!