Mike Common’s six-cylinder rocket ship…
For many lifelong motorcycle lovers, true love was sparked on a humble Honda Z50 — a minibike with an outsized impact on the hearts of entire generations of motorcyclists. Such was the case for our new friend Mike Common, whose uncle had a Z50:
“I was ten years old and was smitten. If I washed the car/cut the lawn/painted the fence/cleaned my room…I was allowed to strap on my hockey helmet, and after pushing the tiny machine up to the top of our residential street, disappear into the waiting fields beyond. I would be gone for hours on end. Bliss.”
Soon, Mike was doing whatever odd jobs he could to afford bikes of his own, mostly motocrossers. Without enough money to pay a shop, he was forced to learn to work on them himself — a hobby that would become a career:
“I made a BUNCH of missteps. Still do to this day. The fact that I can’t seem to leave anything mechanical untouched/unopened/unmodified ultimately translated into me becoming an actual paid professional. Hey…who knew?”
Fast forward to the recent past, when Mike’s beloved Yamaha SR500 decided throw him into a ditch. Though the SR was all but unscathed, the rider found himself with a laundry list of injuries, including a serious concussion. The upside? An excuse for a new project:
“Knowing I was a mechanic, [the doctor] recommended I start doing that ASAP so as to re-establish my physical motor skills. My convalescence was a long seven months. The CBX was built on doctor’s orders 😉”
Mike was in love with the engine, and set out to bring the brakes and suspension up to speed. The modifications are nothing short of vast. Mike fully details them below, but highlights include GSX-R1000 suspension at both ends, 1150cc bore, 10-row oil cooler, custom subframe, Ducati seat, Buell racing fairing, and much more. Says Mike:
“With exception of the cylinder boring, and final welds for the rear suspension…I’m guilty of doing all the work myself.”
This is one mean-looking CBX — and it’s one hell of an experience on the road:
“Riding it is like nothing else. The sound alone is worth the price of admission. It pastes a big dumb smile on my face every time I creep up on a long line of slower bikes, drop a gear (or two), and watch as the last two or three riders in the line turn their heads to see what the hell just made that sound. Listening to it bark as you chase the tach up through the gears and spit on overrun? Priceless.”
And Mike rides the hell out of it. He’s put more than 45,000 miles on the bike in recent years.
“It’s old, it’s rare, it’s modified, it gets ridden (I’ve put over 75,000km on it now), and it sees redline on a REGULAR basis…‘nuf said 😋”
Below, we talk to Mike for the full story on this six-cylinder rocket ship.
Honda CBX Custom: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
It all started in a tarpaper shack on the edge of town, and a boy with a dream. Seriously, I’ve always been bike-mad. I recall leafing through old issues of Popular Mechanics and looking at photos of old British Twins thinking they looked just perfect and hoping they wouldn’t change before I was old enough to ride. We lived with my grandparents and my uncle stored his new Honda Z50 there. I was ten years old and was smitten. If I washed the car/cut the lawn/painted the fence/cleaned my room…I was allowed to strap on my hockey helmet, and after pushing the tiny machine up to the top of our residential street, disappear into the waiting fields beyond. I would be gone for hours on end. Bliss.
As a teenager I had bikes of my own. Motocrossers mostly. We had moved and the vacant lot beside our house offered unfettered access to the many riding trails nearby. My mom had remarried after my first dad’s passing. You learn much about your stepfather when you stumble upon him worriedly calling out your name at the trail’s head near your house while you nurse a failing SL70 that last short distance back home in gathering darkness. Seems all my friends had bikes as well. I got the money to buy my bikes from doing odd jobs for our neighbours. My parents never offered dime one to me for my addiction. At the time I didn’t appreciate the valuable lesson that they taught me, but in time…
I could never afford to take my bikes to any dealerships for service owing to lack of funds. I bought some books and taught myself mechanics. Picked up some used tools at a fair price from an older gentleman in the neighbourhood and had at it. Turns out my likewise penniless riding buddies were more than happy to avail themselves of my newfound “skills.” I made a BUNCH of missteps. Still do to this day. The fact that I can’t seem to leave anything mechanical untouched/unopened/unmodified ultimately translated into me becoming an actual paid professional. Hey…who knew? My career ended at 11:30 am. July 31, 2015 when a workplace accident took me out of the game.
I’ve always worked out of the garages at whatever home I happened to be in. This led to a few run-ins with my dad. You see, my dad loved woodworking and we had a few “moments” regarding the use of his tools, and condition of the work area.
Presently, and where the “X” received its surgery, I live in a small residential house with a tiny garage (the previous owners extended the family room and cut the garage in half), and a cramped workshop in the basement. My wife jokes, half accusingly, that I could live in either space and be quite content. I can’t argue her point.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
The donor bike was a weather-beaten 1982 Honda CBX1000. It had a BUNCH of issues, but it was a registered runner. Seeing as it was registered, I was able to dodge a bullet and wasn’t required by law to have it pass a DMV inspection. I located it an hour and a half from home. I couldn’t yet ride due to injuries from a recent motorcycle accident. The owner kindly offered to ride it back to my place and said he would find his way home. He just wanted one more ride on it, I suppose.
• Why was this bike built?
I had been looking at adverts for CBXs for some time. That motor! I was recovering from having had my cherished Yamaha SR500 toss me into a ditch. My confidence shaken regarding the SR’s handling, I decided to fix the slight damage the crash inflicted on it and pull the trigger on a CBX. I picked up the Honda a month after being released from the hospital. Fun fact: Unlike the Yamaha, I had a laundry list of injuries. Still on major pain meds, my buddy Gordy drove me out to see the Honda. I swear to God he hit every pothole between my house and where the CBX was to be found. It was a classic laughing through the pain moment.
Among my injuries was a serious concussion that warranted further visits to a neurologist. Knowing I was a mechanic he recommended I start doing that ASAP so as to re-establish my physical motor skills. My convalescence was a long seven months. The CBX was built on doctor’s orders 😉
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
Design concept? As if! I just knew I wanted that motor and maybe some decent brakes and suspension. Losing the stock fairing and saddlebags kinda figured into things as well.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Custom work? It’s a long, ever-changing, list of things. Most apparent:
- GSX-R1000 front and rear suspension (‘05 and ‘08, respectively). The bits were inexpensive (thank you e-Bay) and readily available. Would you believe the GSXR swingarm pivot shaft bolted straight into the CBX frame!? I got the entire rear end (swingarm/shock & linkage/ rear axle/chain guard) for, wait for it…$90.00CDN 😲
- Ducati Monster seat. The rear cowl is an Italian aftermarket piece that I McGyvered to my taste. The seller didn’t reply to my e-mails until I started sending them in Italian using Google Translate. He complemented me on my Italian (!) and even modified his shipping restrictions to help me out.
- The front fairing is another Euro find initially intended for a Buell racing series over there. Google Translate to the rescue once again. I had to McGyver a headlight assembly, and open the fairing to accept it. The light itself began life as a back-up light for semi-trailer rigs. I’ve modded it to accept a H4 HID bulb. I was shooting for a Suzuka endurance racer look.
- Pressed the nice bends on the frame of my wife’s old lawn chair into service for my rear subframe. Shhhhhhh!
- Used an old alloy Coke bottle as a vapor catch tank. I had kept it for years thinking, “Some day…” The braided stainless lines attached to it? Compliments of the plumbing department at the local hardware store. They’re intended for dishwashers. Honest, you can’t make this stuff up.
- Went to pod filters because I wanted to clean up the under seat area and the stock airbox didn’t fit the bill. No issues with fueling, though finding filters that actually filter has been an ongoing challenge. The spacing between the throats of the carbs limits available options.
- DG 6-1 with a resonator out of a Yoshimura muffler intended for a GSX-R1000. MUCH less restrictive than the DG bit. I figure it goes a long way to correcting the mid-range flat spot the DGs are famous for.
- Rear brake master/reservoir unit from a Honda CRF450.
- Throttle assembly from a DR-Z400. Kill/start switch is a Ducati copy.
- Converted the cable-operated clutch to a hydraulic system. 14mm slave mated to a radial pump master from a Kawasaki ZX10. The master is a Nissan unit, it matches the Nissan radial pump front brake master that came with the complete GSXR front end I grafted on.
- Budget wave rotors that work surprisingly well and are holding up superbly.
- Marchesini mags I scored from a lad who was liquidating all of his track assets.
- Koso Speedo/tach unit. The budget one I had used originally got trash-canned after an infuriating first 1,500km. Sometimes, you get what you pay for.
- One-off engine hanger plates a lad in Israel fabbed. $90.00, a steal!
- 10 row aftermarket oil cooler (stock is seven) with 10AN hoses/fittings. Had to McGyver the fittings for mounting the hoses to the engine.
- Taillight is off a Toyota Sienna’s rear wing.
- Mad Moto GSXR rearsets. Hey…the grey matches the paint on the bike, I HAD to buy them.
- Cylinders got bored out to 1150cc, the original 1000cc bores were just too corroded to use.
- Aftermarket billet upper triple clamp/rear mudguard/steering damper/chain adjusters all originally intended for GSXRs
- Bought a badly damaged gas tank. It was unusable save for a nifty billet gas cap. I cut off the filler neck and grafted it onto the Honda’s tank for a true flush mount. The hose for the tank breather was originally an oil line from my old Ducati. Hey…never throw nothing out!
- Moved the choke from the handlebars down to the carbs using a bit from an old dirt bike I had lying around.
- According to regulations the rear bodywork must extend past the tire. I fabbed a mudguard using fibreglass and an old tire as a form. Bits of the rear subframe from my old GSXR 750 were welded up and pressed into service as supports.
- Painted it all beside my house. My kids’ old swingset is great for hanging bits for shooting paint. The Marchesinis got painted in the back bedroom. Hey, it was wintertime I couldn’t shoot outside. I was mid-renovation on the room, and my wife had stepped out with friends for a bit. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
- With exception of the cylinder boring, and final welds for the rear suspension (I’m good with gas, but wanted the bits TIG welded), I’m guilty of doing all the work myself.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Nickname? Well, seeing as it’s about as aerodynamic as the crate it was shipped in, I call it The Blob.
• Any idea of the current horsepower / weight numbers?
Horsepower etc? I’ve had faster, better handling bikes that I bought partly because of their performance stats. I really wasn’t after those sorts of things with the build. Maybe, on a good day, it will pound out 110 ponies. It’s gotta weigh a BUNCH less than a stocker. Hell, stock CBX mags weigh about as much as a small euro sedan!
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride?
Riding it is like nothing else. The sound alone is worth the price of admission. It pastes a big dumb smile on my face every time I creep up on a long line of slower bikes, drop a gear (or two), and watch as the last two or three riders in the line turn their heads to see what the hell just made that sound. Listening to it bark as you chase the tach up through the gears and spit on overrun? Priceless.
Handling is impressive. I won’t be chasing any Ducatis through the twisties any time soon, but it’s perfect (and most forgiving) for my style of riding. You can lug it waaaaay down in revs and it picks itself back up as you feed in the throttle with no complaint. With six cylinders, there’s always someone home. Fuel consumption can be dismal if you’re poking along in hot weather, reserve can come up after 160 kilometres 🥺 Did I mention how smooooth it is? Wonderful stuff.
BIG ego message as well. I have never owned a bike that draws as much attention, parked or rolling. My wife says I’ll have to buy a bigger helmet to fit my swollen head if this keeps up. I recall being at a bikenite, and chatting with the owner of a new Kawasaki H2 (supercharged). There were only the two of us standing beside his bike. After a short while he asked what I was riding. I glanced over and couldn’t see the ‘X’ for the scrum of folks surrounding it. Not wanting to offend I answered, “Oh, just some old Honda.”
I kick myself for having waited for so long before getting the bike. It’s just so much damned FUN to ride. Go Blob!
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I’m proud to be able to say, for better or worse, that I built it myself. Chuffed as well when folks ask, bless them, if it’s a new bike. It’s old, it’s rare, it’s modified, it gets ridden (I’ve put over 75,000km on it now), and it sees redline on a REGULAR basis…‘nuf said 😋