LE VAN VAN énervé — The Pissed-off Van Van…
The Honda CX500, once derided as the “Plastic Maggot,” would go on to achieve cult status as a nearly unbreakable instrument of the two-wheeled professional:
“It was only during later years and long after the factory had ceased production the CX500 became a true hero in the UK. The machine of choice for dispatch riders, Honda’s V twin proved unbreakable even in the hands of the ‘possessed’ couriers that criss-crossed the country in search of a larger pay day.” –Classic Motorbikes
Veteran dispatch riders talk about riding the CX an average of 250 miles per day in Central London, in all kinds of whether, when “the only true constant was that Honda engine.”
Fast forward to the 2020s, and this liquid-cooled V-twin Honda has become an unexpected darling of the customs world. While the lines of the frame and tank may not seem to lend themselves so readily to the sleek silhouettes sought by so many builders, the CX500 and its variants have an undeniable allure. There’s the way the heads poke out to the sides, reminiscent of a Guzzi, and the uniqueness of the whole package.
One of our favorite CX aficionados is Sebastien Ledis, who spent some 15 years as a professional chef before opening his workshop in the southwest of France, Seb’s Atelier. Sebastien has built more than 10 projects with the CX, three of them just for himself!
This particular 1980 CX400 — a 400cc model available in the European and Japanese domestic markets — had been sitting outside underneath a makeshift shelter for the last 20 years, left there after the original owner wrecked the bike in a ditch and walked away from riding.
“I jumped at the chance to retrieve the bike (wreckage). It didn’t scare me, it’s not the first CX I’ve restored and I have quite a few parts from this model. After a few months, I offered this donor for a turnkey project to another client.”
The client gave Sebastien a lot of creative freedom, asking only that the bike incorporated a few main elements:
“Customer wishes: have a fuel tank painted red and black, knobby tires, inverted forks, and spoked rims in a scrambler style.”
Little of the original donor was left stock. Sebastien rebuilt the corroded motor, and then outfitted the bike with GSX-R forks/brakes, mated an XTZ front hub and CX rear hub to spoke wheels, installed a custom tank, LED lighting, a lightweight battery, a stainless exhaust, and more.
They nicknamed the bike “Le Van Van énervé” — The Pissed-off Van Van — a reference to the fat-tire Suzuki RV125 Van Van.
Sebastien says the finished bike is perfect for playing in the dunes of Arcachon Bay, and there’s quite some satisfaction in putting a rusted-out CX back on the road! Below, we get the full details on the build from Seb himself.
Honda CX400 Scrambler: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
Honda CX400, 1980.
• What’s the story behind the bike?
This Honda CX400 had been outside for 20 years in the back of a property under a shelter (a bunch of brambles on four poles). Very rusty, broken headlight with a bird’s nest in it, wasp nests in the pipes and light wells…. To top it all off, the customer who picked up this motorcycle had improvised some electrical work before contacting me. He had cut all the electric cables on the motorcycle. Switches, regulator, the cables from the alternator to the engine, the CDI relay, battery, etc.
But the history of the motorcycle wasn’t so bad. The motorcycle was bought from a granny with 36,000 km and only one owner (the granny’s daughter). She’d crashed coming out of a bend in the countryside and ended up in the ditch, hence the broken headlight.
After giving an estimate to the new owner, the budget was too high for him, so we started with another base, in better condition. However, I jumped at the chance to retrieve the bike (wreckage). It didn’t scare me, it’s not the first CX I’ve restored and I have quite a few parts from this model. After a few months, I offered this donor for a turnkey project to another client.
The conditions: in scrambler style, big fork, spoked rims, studded tires, and if possible have red and black on the tank (perfect for climbing the dunes of Arcachon Bay).
• Why was this bike built?
It was a customer project — he told me to do what I wanted.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
Customer wishes: have a fuel tank painted red and black, knobby tires, inverted forks, and spoked rims in a scrambler style.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Apart from the engine, everything else has been changed.
Custom fuel tank
Inverted fork (Suzuki GSX-R)
Brake discs (Suzuki GSX-R)
Brake calipers (Suzuki GSX-R)
Front axle and steering stem
Front wheel hub (Yamaha XTZ750)
Fitting the Suzuki GSX-R brakes to the XTZ hub
Original Honda CX rear hub modified to convert original wheels to spoke wheels
Front/Rear 3.50×17 rims with stainless steel spokes
Continental TKC80 tires
Highsider Apollo Bullet turn signals / brakelight
Motogadget handlebar turn signals
2-in-1 stainless exhaust pipe
Epoxy paint on the frame
• Does the bike have a nickname?
“LE VAN VAN énervé” — Pissed-off Suzuki Van Van (RV125). Because the customer lives near the sea and bike is able to ride on the sand tracks, which is prohibited in France.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
The satisfaction of having saved a motorcycle. To have started from a ruined machine and to made a unique motorcycle — and that the customer is happy with his motorbike.