“Life is too short to ride something ordinary.”
In 1988, the Japanese anime film Akira hit theaters — it was destined to become a modern cult classic, widely regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi / animated films of all time. Set in the futuristic metropolis of Neo-Toyko, the cyberpunk-style film tells the story of a bōsōzoku motorcycle gang leader, Shōtarō Kaneda, whose childhood friend acquires incredible telekinetic abilities after a motorcycle accident. Kaneda must battle revolutionaries, politicians, scientists and a powerful military leader to save his friend Tetsuo from a secret government project.
Akira helped pave the way for the entire cyberpunk genre, and its influence has been seen not only in film and TV, but comics, video games, music, and design. For motorcycle buffs, Shōtarō Kaneda’s futuristic, bright red bike is one of the most iconic movie motorcycles of all time.
Enter our new friend Thomas Ho (@thomasj.ho), a 23-year-old mechanical engineer from Toronto whose father introduced him to motorcycles at a young age:
“I spent many days growing up helping him around in the garage, and was soon introduced to my first motorcycle, a KLR250. We used to ride along dirt roads in cottage country.”
Fast forward to today, and Thomas got a bike of his own, a red 2016 Honda CBR500R. Introduced in 2014, the 471cc / 47-hp liquid-cooled twin is Honda’s entry-level sportbike, which has garnered great reviews from novice and veteran riders alike:
“A welcoming little pocket rocket that combines exotic superbike styling with everyday usability to create the ideal introduction to sportsbikes for the novice rider.” —MCN
Thomas knew he would probably outgrow the CBR at some point, and then the idea came to him to make it his own:
“Due to the pandemic (and also my need for a break) I took the summer after graduation to bring my idea to life. As a recent graduate, I felt like I had a lot of classroom knowledge but not a lot of technical knowledge. I wanted to push myself and get out of my comfort zone. The idea of owning a 1 of 1 also appealed to me, as life is too short to ride something ordinary.”
Akira became a main inspiration for him, and he also took cues from bōsōzoku culture (the round fairing) and Blade Runner (metal-gray paint). Thomas did all of the work in his own garage, which included new bodywork and paint, a dazzling array of lights and electronics, upgraded exhaust, custom soundbox, and more. We love the futuristic edge to the build, and for Thomas, the riding experience is like nothing else:
“Riding the bike makes me feel like I’m living in a different world. Like I’m some underground main character from the future, or like I’m a superhero riding through city streets. The bike has every ounce of my personality in it, so I feel very proud to ride it.”
Below, we get the full story on the build from Thomas himself, as well as more shots from photographer @drek.yan.
Honda CBR500 Café Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Thomas, I’m a 23-year-old mechanical engineering graduate from Toronto. In my spare time I enjoy coffee, music, and design. I was first exposed to motorcycles from my father. I spent many days growing up helping him around in the garage, and was soon introduced to my first motorcycle, a KLR250. We used to ride along dirt roads in cottage country. My current workshop is my garage.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
The donor bike happens to be my first and only bike, a red 2016 Honda CBR500R. This makes the bike my first build. The CBR500R is in a weird spot; it’s a great bike for learning, but I knew I would grow bored and outgrow it eventually. After this build, I’m not sure if I’ll ever ride anything else.
• Why was this bike built?
The bike was built as a personal project. I initially had the idea to build the bike during my final year of study, right when the Covid-19 pandemic began to ramp up in Canada. Due to the pandemic (and also my need for a break) I took the summer after graduation to bring my idea to life. As a recent graduate, I felt like I had a lot of classroom knowledge but not a lot of technical knowledge. I wanted to push myself and get out of my comfort zone. The idea of owning a 1 of 1 also appealed to me, as life is too short to ride something ordinary.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I’m very much into pop culture and media. The main inspiration for the motorcycle is the Japanese animated cyberpunk film Akira. The film highlights a motorcycle gang within the futuristic city of Neo-Toyko. I, like many others, was captivated by the rebellious nature of the film, mixed with the sci-fi element. The motorcycles in the film seemed as exciting to me as flying a spaceship. Something about having one of those makeshift futuristic bikes really captured me, which inspired me to create my own. I spent many hours looking at café racers, custom motorcycles, and cyberpunk inspiration.
At the time, the only bike I had to work with was my 2016 CBR500R. The bike seemed to be the perfect candidate, as it had technology old enough to understand with a modern template to start out with. It was also easier to mod what I had rather than trading it for another bike.
In an ode to the Japanese film, the front fairing of the bike was inspired by Bosozoku, a Japanese youth subculture in the 1950s that would customize motorcycles to ride with their gangs. The look of their bikes was known for their rounded full front fairing, which were normally placed unnecessarily high on the bike. I knew the shape of the fairing itself would turn heads, so it was placed lower and more streamlined. Using this fairing made the bike truly feel like a futuristic Bozosoku — something I’d imagine they’d ride in Akira.
All the electricals of the bike were chosen based on how futuristic and unique they felt to me. A speedometer with color changing LEDs, a clean halo 7” front headlight, and bar end turn signals were a must. I decided to paint the bike a metal-grey inspired by the vehicles in Blade Runner. I would describe the final product as a “Neo Café Racer”, mixing old and new elements.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
All the work was done my myself in my garage with just average tools. Custom paint and brackets were from local hardware stores.
• Jokers Moritia “Komine” Full Front Fairing
• Koso RX-2 GP Style Speedometer/Tachometer
• R&G Exhaust Hanger
• R&G Radiator Guard
• Kuryakyn Bullet 1000 Marker Light Rear Signals
• Motogadget m-Blaze Disk Bar End Turn Signals
• Bar end mirrors
• Two Brothers Exhaust
• Rear Seat Cowl
• HogWorkz 7” LED HaloMaker Headlight
• Ermax Rear Tire Hugger
• Motodynamic Sequential LED Tail Light
• Does the bike have a nickname?
“Yoru”, which is Japanese for “Night.”
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
Riding this bike feels very raw. It has every aspect of a sport bike and feels powerful and agile without being too overbearing. Riding the bike makes me feel like I’m living in a different world. Like I’m some underground main character from the future, or like I’m a superhero riding through city streets. The bike has every ounce of my personality in it, so I feel very proud to ride it.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I’m proud of how the front fairing turned out. Initially, I wasn’t sure how the rounded front fairing would fit with the angular back half of the bike. I’m proud that it almost looks like it was made that way.
From the seat, I’m proud of the speedometer and the soundbox. From my perspective, seeing a LED speedometer adds to the effect of a futuristic bike and puts a smile on my face whenever I start it up. When the bike is started, a custom soundbox fitted on the bike plays a voice line in Japanese. This part of the bike is the finishing touch for me and makes the bike feel alive, like it’s Jarvis from Ironman.
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Photographer Instagram: @drek.yan