A Prague-built 550 Four from Gas & Oil Bespoke Motorcycles…
While the CB750 may have grabbed the world’s attention as the “Original Superbike,” many Honda SOHC enthusiasts will tell you they actually prefer the CB550 for its superb balance of weight, power, and handling.
“The Honda CB550 is one of the most nicest and most practical motorcycles to emerge from Honda’s factories — period. It was a well thought out, easy to ride and thus easy to enjoy motorcycle that combined Honda’s reputation for ‘boring reliability’ with good handling and a relatively light weight.” —Silodrome
Recently, we heard from our friends at Gas & Oil Bespoke Motorcycles of Prague, who stand at the heart of custom motorcycle culture in the Czech Republic. Not only do they build and work on bikes, but they organize trips, workshops, and promote the scene in their home country.
“As the name Respect implies, we wanted to respect the characteristic elements of this motorcycle…. But on the other hand, we wanted to add some wow effect to the machine and come up with something original.”
They decided to keep the original gas tank and 4-into-1 exhaust, but updated the rolling stock with a pair of Excel rims laced with stainless steel spokes and a set of black Marzocchi forks from a Ducati Monster, outfitted with four-piston Nissin brakes. The front brake was always one of the weaknesses of the CB550, so this was an especially nice upgrade.
From an aesthetic point of view, they wanted to keep the bike dark and subtle. Hence the paint job on the original tank:
“It’s painted in metallic black with very very dark silver stripes, which you can see only in some light, so with different angles of sun, the bike looks different.”
As you can see in the photographs, this was a bike meant to be ridden, and the updated brakes and suspension allow the rider to push the limit with a great deal more confidence than the original:
“In combination with modern suspension and brakes, it is just so enjoyable, because you are not afraid of the moment when you are braking even with your heels, just trying to make it stop. You just ride the hell out of it.”
Below, we talk to headman Matej for more details on the build, as well as more photos courtesy of Jakub Frey (@jakubfreyphotography).
Honda CB550 Cafe Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
There’s no need to greatly introduce our workshop, it’s simple. In the middle of Europe is Czechia, in the middle of Czechia is Prague, and that’s where we are based. We’ve been building motorcycles since 2014, and we’re on top of the local custom scene. We are still moving forward and lucky enough to create one interesting project after another. We still don’t want to work with modern motorcycles, which like many products out there, are trapped in marketing.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
Donor model of this project is nothing else than legendary Honda CB550 Four from 1978, and we named it “Respect.”
• Why was this bike built?
This bike, like the vast majority of our motorcycles, was a customer project.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
As the name Respect implies, we wanted to respect the characteristic elements of this motorcycle. That meant sticking with the original makeup of engine and not going for any crazy tuning — headers are still 4-into-1, and of course it has the original gas tank.
But on the other hand, we wanted to add some wow effect to the machine and come up with something original. So we decided
to use the whole front fork from a Ducati Monster. Marzocchi forks, of course, work immeasurably better than suspension from seventies. What makes it even cooler is new the four piston brake system by Nissin. You’ll also see new Excel rims with stainless steel spokes.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
We didn’t want to create an unnecessarily visually colorful motorcycle — more like stylish, decent machine that would draw some attention. So there’s plenty of details that one will only see after a more attentive look. For example, the gas tank — it’s painted in metallic black with very very dark silver stripes, which you can see only in some light, so with different angles of sun, the bike looks different.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
It’s pure fun. In the end, it’s still one of the first four cylinder engines used in motorcycles — books have already been written on this powertrain and more will probably be written — because even if it’s obsolete, it still fascinates people around the globe.
In combination with modern suspension and brakes, it is just so enjoyable, because you are not afraid of the moment when you are braking even with your heels, trying to make it stop. You can just ride the hell out of it.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
If I had to pick just one thing, it would definitely be the combination of Ducati and Honda. It wasn’t easy to combine these two worlds, which have a gap of 30 years between them. I’m also pleased we remained subdued and didn’t pack the whole thing with modern electronics. We stuck with the original mechanical tacho and decent lighting.