The Honda XBR500 is a rarely seen, big single street bike launched in the mid-eighties to rival the Yamaha SR500. The 44-hp dry sump engine was derived from that of the Honda XL600 dirt bike, and the XBR500 was followed by the cafe-inspired GB500 TT. While neither bike sold well, these punchy big single street bikes are serious smile-makers.
Enter Alf and Mihaela, the husband/wife team behind Bandisca. Operating out of Bucharest, Romania, Bandisca is known for pushing against the established patterns of bike-building design. However, for this build, designer Mihaela decided it was time to show they could build a cafe racer “according to the rules.” The result is a sleek, perfectly proportioned build whose CB400 tank and tail match so seamlessly the bike appears to be of unibody construction.
Below, we get the full story on this big single cafe racer!
“Ugly Duck” Honda XBR500: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
Bandisca is a small custom shop based in Bucharest-Romania. We are two people involved in this, me and my wife Mihaela. Basically I’m the builder and Mihaela the designer, so I build what she designs, putting some pepper always in the mechanics.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1986 Honda XBR500
• Why was this bike built?
It’s a customer project. Craiova is a nice city in the South-West of Romania around 250 kms away from Bucharest. Our customer is an addicted follower of our works and one day he decided to take those 250 kms on the road for coming to our shop and ordering his project. Actually he tried before to do something by himself with a lot of passion and very little success, as he said. That’s the reason we named the bike Ugly Duck — he said that was probably the ugliest bike ever. Such an amount of passion and sense of humor needed to be rewarded, so we accepted the commission.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
Mihaela based the design in the 70s race bikes and decided to go on a very clear and classic line, matching the proper patterns of a cafe racer. She said it was time to build one according to “rules” — not very typical for her who’s always trying to fight against the established patterns, but she considered it was the proper moment to show we know also how to build “under the rules”.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The frame was soft modified for matching the CB400N tank we used and the metal handcrafted tail and powdercoated in gun grey color.
We modified a little bit the suspension scheme, lowering the front, shortening the forks, and leveling the back with a pair of longer classic shocks.
A pair of 18” spoked wheels fully refurbished and powdercoated in matte black with a pair of 4.00 Metzeler Sport Touring Tyres completed the setup.
The clip on handlebars and the footpeg plates were also custom made on the CNC machine.
On electrics we minimize everything, using a full LED lighting system with low power consumption that allowed us to use just a small UltraBatt Li Ion battery module, enough to electric start the bike, even though it’s also a kickstarter.
For the dash, we were wandering about an electronic one but finally decided that won’t match the bike’s philosophy and we went on a traditional mechanical speedo and tach in black with white scales.
The body was painted in pearl black combined with the grey leather of the seat and a pair of classic Honda Motors logos on the tank.
At engine level we polished it and re-paint it in heat-resistant silver. We eliminated the airbox and put a DNA High performance air pod and carter breather and made the proper re-jet on the carb for working fine with the new setup and also with the direct pipes.
• How would you classify this bike?
You know we don’t like tags but this time we can say that it’s a proper Cafe Racer.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
We love so much the body line. I think is the first time I’m happy with using a CB400N tank that is quite “strange” but in this case match so good with the tail that it looks almost like a unibody (that was the idea).
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Photo credit: Mihaela Lopez