A Race-inspired CB900F from Old Tops Garage…
In 1979, Honda declared their newly unveiled CB900F to be a “a thundering Super-Sports bike with devastating performance and an unwavering stamina.” Initially known as the CB900F Super Sport, it would renamed the Bol d’Or (Golden Bowl) in honor of the 24-hour French motorcycle endurance race of the same name — a race Honda would win 12 times between 1975 and 1990.
Designed for the European market, the 901cc, 95-hp inline four clocked a quarter-mile time of 11.84 seconds and top speed of 130 mph, though the engine had been tuned more for midrange rather than peak horsepower.
Though the twin-downtube steel cradle frame was a conventional design, the CB900F managed to score high marks among reviewers for its handling, and no less than Kevin Cameron of Cycle World all but deified the CB900F in 1985:
“The ultimate statement of the old air-cooled technology Honda had done so much to create”. -Kevin Cameron, Cycle World
Enter our new friend Fábio Astolpho, a Brazilian art director who grew up among a family of motorcyclists. Designing custom motorcycles has allowed him to focus his skills into something with more staying power than he usually gets to enjoy at his day job:
“I had to apply my experience and knowledge of art direction to something permanent, unlike the advertising campaigns I do, which have a short lifespan. I design and plan everything, but I don’t execute. For that, I have some carefully chosen partners who bring my ideas to life.”
After building a ’73 CB750 café racer, Fábio became interested in the DOHC Honda fours of the late 70s and early 80s, especially the race bikes competing in AMA Superbike and the European Endurance World Championship series.
“The whole concept came from the racing motorcycles of that time, mainly the superbikes that participated in the AMA races, including Freddie Spencer’s classic Honda, and the European endurance motorcycles.”
The bike is now rolling on Öhlins suspension, and the rebuilt engine was fitted with a high-flow intake, Dyna ignition coils, and a Delkevic 4:1 exhaust. In order to maintain the racing look, all of the lighting is very minimalist, including a front number plate with integrated headlight. The #54 has a special meaning for Fábio:
“In 1954, Honda participated in its first race outside of Japan. And this race took place at the Interlagos racetrack in São Paulo, Brazil, exactly where I live.”
The paint is another striking aspect of the build. It’s the result of metallization, sometimes known as thermal spray coating, wherein metals such as zinc or aluminum are deposited as a thin metal film on top of the base material.
“It was initially painted in Cadillac black, varnished, and polished. After that, it went for metallization. When it returned, the appearance was between polished aluminum and chrome. That’s when we applied several layers of blue-tinted varnish in a light gradient from the front to the back.”
Fábio says the end result is hard to truly appreciate in the photographs, but the bike and finish draw so much attention in person that he has to be in a good mood just to ride the bike, as it sparks conversation at every stop:
“The real joy is in riding a motorcycle that is very rare in Brazil and wherever it goes, it brings smiles to those who see it.”
Below, we talk to Fábio for the full details on his #54 CB900F Bol d’Or.
Honda CB900F Bol d’Or: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I am an advertising professional, and my main job has always been art direction. My involvement with motorcycles goes back to my childhood, as my father had a couple of bikes and so did some of my cousins (in fact, it was with one of them that I learned how to ride). I have always liked vintage motorcycles with classic designs, probably because I grew up around them.
When I built my first customized motorcycle (a 1973 CB 750K), I understood the possibility that I had to apply my experience and knowledge of art direction to something permanent, unlike the advertising campaigns I do, which have a short lifespan. I design and plan everything, but I don’t execute. For that, I have some carefully chosen partners who bring my ideas to life.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
It’s a Honda CB900F Bol d’Or (Super Sport in the U.S.) 1981.
• Why was this bike built?
After building a 1973 CB750 café racer, I became more interested in Honda 4-cylinder motorcycles that were a little newer, at the turn of the 1970s to the 1980s. However, this time I wanted a project that could stand out without even having a chopped frame or any radical and irreversible alterations.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The whole concept came from the racing motorcycles of that time, mainly the superbikes that participated in the AMA races, including Freddie Spencer’s classic Honda, and the European endurance motorcycles.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The motorcycle was completely dismantled to begin the work, and the biggest upgrades were made to the suspension, electrical system, and intake and exhaust system. Like in my first project, I didn’t want a motorcycle that looked like it had been modernized. This made me keep the original visuals, but with hidden upgrades, most of the time.
The suspension received new Öhlins springs in the front and Öhlins shocks in the rear. The intake received a sports air filter and a 4-into-1 exhaust (a Delkevic one), and the electrical system received new Dyna coils. The engine was completely overhauled and runs like a charm.
In terms of aesthetics, that’s where I worked to achieve a result that paid homage to the original, but with the flashy aesthetics of the late 1970s and without the excesses that began to appear in the 1980s.
Therefore, the first thing to be done was to eliminate the giant original turn signals and make the bike lighter. Today the motorcycle has, in the rear, an integrated taillight, brake light, and turn signals. And in the front, extremely discreet turn signals integrated into the forks. In addition, to complete the racing look, a number plate on the front with an integrated headlight and a greatly reduced rear fender. The seat was slightly redesigned, bringing the same spirit as the rest of the design.
However, the highlight of the motorcycle is really the paint. The motorcycle was not actually painted: it underwent a vacuum metallization process. To achieve this result, it was initially painted in Cadillac black, varnished, and polished. After that, it went for metallization. When it returned, the appearance was between polished aluminum and chrome. That’s when we applied several layers of blue-tinted varnish in a light gradient from the front to the back.
When the paint was ready, a friend told me, “Get ready. This bike will attract so much attention that you can only ride it if you’re in a good mood. Because, after all, everyone will come to talk to you about the motorcycle.” He was right. The photos don’t reflect how it shines and its finish draws attention. Exactly what I imagined.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Its nickname is the number on the number plate: 54. The reason is that in 1954, Honda participated in its first race outside of Japan. And this race took place at the Interlagos racetrack in São Paulo, Brazil, exactly where I live.
• Any idea of horsepower, weight, and/or performance numbers?
Considering that the original bike has 95 horsepower and weighed 240kg, I believe that today it is a bike with a little over 105 horsepower and has lost around 20kg in its final weight.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
This is a motorcycle that was originally enjoyable to ride, but the customizations have made it much more powerful and responsive for cornering. Undoubtedly, the biggest difference is in the suspension. But the real joy is in riding a motorcycle that is very rare in Brazil and wherever it goes, it brings smiles to those who see it.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
Definitely the aesthetic part is what I’m most proud of: the result of the metallization process and the varnish with the modifications that gave it a racer look really transformed the bike.
• Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
Sure! I design and plan everything, but I have some people working with me who execute, each one taking care of a specific part of what the bike has become today. @zmotorcyclesbr took care of all the mechanical work and assembly. @alemaospecialpaint brought to life the paint scheme that was in my mind. And my friend Fred from @atlanticcustomstudio, who built a few, but very important parts, to make the bike look the way it does today.
Follow the Builder