Nine Years of Vision: Barn-Built CB550 cafe racer from New York…
The Honda CB550 is one of our favorite platforms for a custom build. While the 38-hp middleweight didn’t have the outright power of the larger CB750, the well-balanced chassis, eager inline four, and agile handling have made the bike a favorite among riders for decades.
Enter Joseph Burns of New York’s MOTODesign. Nine years ago, Joseph told his wife his dream of building a bike. Ten months ago, the project began in his parents’ barn and came to completion right in his living room. Except for the parts from vendors, Joseph did all of the work himself, including fabrication, welding, paint. He even did the powdercoating — all but the wheels, which wouldn’t fit in his oven! Meanwhile, the engine rebuild was left to a Honda CB legend, Mark Paris — aka “Hondaman” — who literally wrote the book on CB750 rebuilds.
The result one of the cleanest, modernized CB550 builds we’ve seen — a stunner that looks it could have rolled out of a high-profile professional shop rather than the living room of a one-man-show. Bravo, Joseph!
Below, we get the full story on the build!
Honda CB550 Cafe Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Joseph Burns from NY. I started this project about 10 months ago. One man show with most of the build taking place in my parents’ barn and completion of bike in my living room. (I have a very loving, understanding and patient wife. She is the best.) I have always had a passion to build bikes but just never made time for it. I told my wife about nine years ago a dream of building a bike. So I could say I have had 9 years of just envisioning how the bike would look and I could say it came out exactly how I had envisioned.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1978 Honda Cb550 MD01.
• Why was this bike built?
The bike was personal.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The design concept was I wanted something more modern looking and modern functionality with a vintage look and feel attitude. I don’t know if that makes sense but you could see when you look at the bike. I would have to say every build that I have seen that has come before this influenced me. I had studied a lot of builds on Instagram and throughout the internet but if I had to choose it would be squirley’s CB550 that influenced the most.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
- 2.5×19 front wheel with 100/90-19 Avon Roadrider
- 3.5×18 rear with 140/70-18 Avon Roadrider
- Cognito moto front hub for 2005 GSX-R750 front forks conversion
- Custom made Buchanan front and rear spokes
- Rebuilt calipers
- New front and rear brake pads
- New front rotors
- Nisan front brake master cylinder lever
- motogadget mini speedo integrated into Cognito Moto top triple clamp
- Motogadget m unit blue
- Motogadget Mlock
- Motogadget m blaze handlebar turn signals
- LSL clubman headlight HID upgrade
- Radiantz rear LED tail light integrated into frame
- Frame shortened and relocated support seat members
- Jss rear shocks
- Shock locations moved forward
- Engine rebuilt be Mark Paris AKA Hondaman: complete disassembly, bearings checked, tranny checked, new pistons bored 1mm over. Head rebuilt, port polish, 650 cam, 3 angle valve job, all new seals and hardware, APE heavy duty cylinder head studs
- Everything powder coated with prismatic powder black jack, frame paint black dupont base and SPI flat clear
- Custom made front fender and rear seat cowling
- Meyer Metal Works front fender brackets
- Gas tank extended rear by ¼’’
- Seat made by Gillin Custom Design interiors
- Paint BMW Santorini blue with SPI universal clear sanded and buffed to a mirror finish.
I’m probably leaving some stuff out but that should be enough.
• How would you classify this bike?
I would say a restomod. Or maybe café racer.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I did the entire build myself with the exception of parts that I received from vendors and the front and rear wheel had to be outsourced for powder coat since I couldn’t fit it in my oven — otherwise I did all the powder coating. I did all the paint and metal fab/welding. I did all the wiring and electrical, etc.