Write-off to Head-turner: Clive Coombe’s 1978 CB550F2…
The Honda CB550F was part of Honda’s Super Sport range, featuring a lighter four-into-one exhaust, flatter handlebars, and a different fuel tank than the K model. Though the CB750 is the bike that took the world by storm, the CB500 and CB550 were exemplary machines in their own right:
“First, there was its bloodline. If you were a racing fan of — and particularly a fan of Mike Hailwood and his screaming red-and-silver Honda GP bikes — there was a certain amount of magic in that half-litre displacement. Real GPs were 500s, and the displacement had a lean competition ring to it.” —Cycle World [via]
The 50-bhp inline four engine and nimble, tight-handling chassis performed well on the street, in the canyons, and in the Production TT class of the Isle of Man TT. What’s more, the CB550 became a darling of the custom crowd, and many vintage Honda aficionados will tell you they prefer the CB550 over its 750 sibling:
“The magic word was Balance. You heard it repeated over and again, in the road tests of the time, in editorials, from the mouths of owners and in the small but expanding band of American riders tuned into the cult of the cafe-racer. The 550 was not too big, not too small, lower and narrower than the 750, nicely proportioned and it handled effortlessly. —Cycle World
Recently, we heard from our new friend Clive Coombe, a retired bricklayer who bought his first street bike, a BSA Bantam, more than 50 years ago. However, he’d never dipped his toe into the custom waters until he picked up the CB550 you see here:
“I bought this 44-year-old (1978) Honda CB550 F2 as an insurance write-off that had been under a sheet in someone’s garden for 12 years after a low-speed slide up the road. Paid £300, took it home, and put it in the shed, where it stayed for the next three years with the intent of rebuilding it to factory spec.”
A MIG welder he received as a retirement gift, however, helped him change his mind:
“After staring at the bike for a while I decided that rebuilding to factory spec would be a bit too safe (read boring), and after searching the internet for ideas, I decided an attempt at the street tracker/ brat style for the old 550 to combine classic looks with a modern twist.”
Clive did 99% of the work himself — everything except for the powder-coating and a tach cable plug his brother-in-law turned for him. Nicknamed “Baby Burgundy,” this CB has an extensive build sheet, including a rebuilt engine, electronic ignition, Motogadget electronics, modified fuel tank with Sportster filler cap welded in, modified fenders, and more. What’s more, Clive says it might just be the beginning:
“This may be my first attempt at a custom build but I think I’ve got the bug! I’ve got an old Suzuki GS550 in the shed 🤔🙂”
Below, Clive gives us the full story on his “Baby Burgundy” 550.
Honda CB550 Brat / Tracker: In the Builder’s Words…
This is my first attempt at a custom build after buying my first road bike, a BSA Bantam, 52 years ago. What took me so long!
I’ve always had a bike or two around, except for a few years when the kids were young and funds were tight. I bought this 44-year-old (1978) Honda CB550 F2 as an insurance write-off that had been under a sheet in someone’s garden for 12 years after a low-speed slide up the road. Paid £300, took it home, and put it in the shed, where it stayed for the next three years with the intent of rebuilding it to factory spec.
I changed my mind when I recently retired from my trade as a bricklayer and was given a MIG welder as a retirement present after previously having a small hobby stick welder. After staring at the bike for a while I decided that rebuilding to factory spec would be a bit too safe (read boring), and after searching the internet for ideas, I decided an attempt at the street tracker/ brat style for the old 550 to combine classic looks with a modern twist.
I did all the work myself apart from the powder-coating and getting my brother-in-law to turn an alloy blanking plug for the rev counter cable drive. I wanted to keep as many of the original parts as I could, so rebuilt the original, but powder coated rims and hubs with stainless spokes and nipples, my first attempt at wheel building with the help of a couple of YouTube videos.
Drilled the brake disc for the ‘look,’ which was easier than I thought it may have been. Just used a standard HSS bit in my small bench drill press.
- Original mudguards cut down and repositioned.
- YSS rear shocks.
- Kenda tyres a couple of sizes up.
- Delkevik stainless exhaust, which I think sounds just right.
- Tuffside seat and grips ordered from the USA. I ordered them with Burgundy stitching which set the colour scheme for the bike.
- Pod filters with Burgundy coloured foam elements.
- The fuel tank was modified by cutting out the original fuel filler flap and welding in a Harley Sportster fuel filler and fitted a vented pop up cap. This was my first attempt at welding on a fuel tank but once the angle grinder had done its thing there was no going back.
- I did resin line the tank in case my welding was a bit porous but happy how it turned out.
- Frame was de-cluttered by removing unwanted brackets, steering lock, front brake hose light switch bracket, etc. — then cut the back of the frame and welded in a hoop and cross frame brace.
- The seat is held on with car bonnet press pins to allow easy access to the electrics tray, which took me two attempts to bend in the vice with a cardboard mockup and blocks of wood.
- LED headlight and rear light. Brake and clutch levers were modified by cutting the mirror mounts off to give a cleaner look.
- The Burgundy colour is rattle can sprayed with RAL colour number 3005 Wine Red in satin followed by satin clear coat.
- For the electrics I used a lithium battery and compatible reg rec with Motogadget components for the electrics, a lovely up to date system and enjoyable to fit.
- I used their M-unit blue under the seat with their Pro gauge on a rubber mounted bracket fabricated to mount in the conventional position between the bars with small LED indicators front and rear.
- The magnet for the speedo pick up was drilled and superglued into the rim of the front brake disc. I know magnets fail if they get too hot but hopefully it won’t be a problem as I’ve done a thousand miles on the bike since the build and it’s been ok.
- Dynatek coils and electronic ignition to replace the original points set up.
- Engine wise I fitted a new cam chain and guides. Honed the bores, fitted new piston rings, and gave the head an overdue decoke. Barrels were sprayed satin black, crankcase and head graphite. Engine cases were buffed back with various grades of scotchbright wheels and then sprayed with 2k satin clear coat as I didn’t want a polished finish.
- Went through the carbs and sprayed the bodies and inlet manifolds satin black to match the barrels.
This may be my first attempt at a custom build but I think I’ve got the bug! I’ve got an old Suzuki GS550 in the shed 🤔🙂
Thank you what a tremendous work of art. I still have my ’75 CB550F purchased new when I was a senior in high school. You’ve inspired me to bring her back to life as she hasn’t run in decades.