Engineer Mat Kubak’s Budget-Built Honda 550 Café Racer…
We always love to hear the origin stories of the builders who grace our pages. While many grow up around bikes — riding, racing, and rebuilding dirt bikes or small-bore machines — it’s especially inspiring to hear from those who come to motorcycles a bit later in life, discovering a great font of personal passion and purpose that seemed to be waiting for them all along.
Our new friend Mateusz “Mat” Kubak (@m_kubak) is such a builder. He bought his first motorcycle just six years ago, a Honda Shadow 600, which soon led to his first custom project in the form of a 1978 Honda CB750K he nicknamed “Harma” — the Greek work for chariot. Says Mat:
“I spent all of my internship money converting that motorcycle into a café racer. It was like the child I never knew I wanted. Learning to break down a motorcycle was an addicting experience. It was at the conclusion of that project that I realized I wanted to have more stake in the customization of a motorcycle and do more from scratch.”
The 1974 Honda CB550 you see here was the next step in that process. Not only did Mat plan to challenge himself with more custom fabrication work, but the financial piece of the puzzle would be another focus:
“After spending several thousand dollars on the CB750K, I wanted to keep expenditures to a minimum and ended up being able to build this bike for just under $2,500.”
Nicknamed “Moxie,” the bike was featured in the 2023 Handbuilt Show, and we can tell you it looks nothing like a budget build. Mat did most all of the work himself, too:
“I had a lot of firsts with the CB550 including adding knee dents, painting a tank and tail, spoking wheels, pinstriping, to name a few.”
He credits his wife for picking a color with a subtle vintage look, specifically Rustoleum Nantucket Blue, which he laid down himself along with the SprayMax 2K clear. Then there’s the way the bike rides. Like a lot of riders, Mat found that he actually prefers the 550 to his old 750:
“I’ve learned that I like the lighter bikes more. It’s incredibly nimble and fun at turns…. It might not beat an R6 in a race, but it’ll make me smile from point A to point B.”
And that’s the most important part, Mat! Kudos on pushing your skills and knowledge into new areas, and we can’t wait to see what comes from the metal-shaping, machining, and TIG welding you’re learning with your next build!
Honda CB550 Café Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Mateusz (Mat) Kubak. I have a bachelors in mechanical engineering, work as a project engineer, and enjoy building things. My history with motorcycles is relatively short — I purchased my first motorcycle about six years ago. It was a Honda Shadow VLX600, and the first thing I wanted to do was tear it apart and customize it to what I wanted it to look like. However, I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, so I just painted the fairings. Less than a year later, I stumbled upon café racers.
I sold the Shadow and purchased a 1978 Honda CB750K (named Harma, the Greek word for chariot). I spent all of my internship money converting that motorcycle into a café racer. It was like the child I never knew I wanted. Learning to break down a motorcycle was an addicting experience. It was at the conclusion of that project that I realized I wanted to have more stake in the customization of a motorcycle and do more from scratch.
Eventually, I sold Harma and purchased a beaten-down 1974 CB550. I took what I learned from the CB750K build and applied it to the CB550. I wanted it to be more of a nod to the retro aesthetic of café racers. I had a lot of firsts with the CB550 including adding knee dents, painting a tank and tail, spoking wheels, pinstriping, to name a few.
I’m onto my next bike project and I’m taking on more than I have before. I’m designing and fabricating my own tank cover (fiberglass), building a hidden steel tank, TIG welding, shaping/forming metal, custom machining parts, and more.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
1974 Honda CB550.
• Why was this bike built?
This was built as a personal project and an exploration into custom fabrication. It was also a challenge in budgeting. After spending several thousand dollars on the CB750K, I wanted to keep expenditures to a minimum and ended up being able to build this bike for just under $2,500.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
As mentioned above, it’s a nod to the retro aesthetic of café racers. The color choices, weight reduction, and pinstriping showcase that retro look — while the 4 into 1 exhaust, slim front end, lower stance, and pod filters (with re-jetted carbs) give it newer age performance and feel. It might not beat an R6 in a race, but it’ll make me smile from point A to point B.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
- Fiberglass tail
- Fiberglass seat pan
- Hammered in knee dents
- Paint job (Rustoleum Nantucket Blue)
- Carb re-jetting
- Handlebar clamp repurposing for indicator lights
- Airbox to pod filters
- Delkevic 4 into 1 exhaust system with straight pipe
- Satin black powder coat
- Motogadget mo.Unit rewiring
- Shaped and upholstered rebond foam seat (by Sinister Seats)
- Minimalistic handlebar controls
- Welded rear frame hoop + plate
- Steering damper
• Does the bike have a nickname?
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
It’s an absolute joy. Going from the CB750 to the CB550, I’ve learned that I like the lighter bikes more. It’s incredibly nimble and fun at turns. I do miss the off-the-line acceleration that I had with the CB750, but I prefer the overall ride experience of the CB550.
In addition, anyone that has seen the aggressive angle on the handlebars assumes my back and wrists are always in pain — however, I did not change the original location of the foot pegs. Because they are in their original spots, my weight is still mostly at my hips and I’m not putting tons of pressure into my wrists, nor do I have to lean over too much. It’s only during braking that my weight starts shifting. On the days that I’m feeling taller, I can practically sit up.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I’m proud that I was able to convince my wife to pick the color of the bike. She has an eye for color and when I told her I wanted a color that was a “subtle pop” of vintage, she delivered. It was my first time painting a motorcycle and I didn’t want to spend money on a painting rig, so I bought the base color rattle can, SprayMax 2K clear coat, and went to town.
There was a slight learning curve in regards to the proper spraying technique of the 2K clear coat, but I was eventually able to lay it down well enough and then polish out most of the imperfections. I’m proud of the way it looks and I’m proud of the way it rides.