The Perfect Café Racer: Honda CB550 “Sapphire”

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

For Sale: Matt MacVittie’s 1977 Honda CB550 “Sapphire”… 

If you had to choose one vintage Japanese motorcycle to serve as the base for a café racer project, you’d be hard-pressed to improve on the Honda CB550. While the larger CB750 obviously had more displacement and power (68 vs 50 hp), many riders then and now agree that the 550/4 was one of those rare, superbly balanced machines in terms of power, weight, and charm.

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

Our friend Ben Branch at Silodrome has called the CB550 a “Goldilocks Bike” for this sweet spot character, while a recent ride on a restored CB550 even managed to soften the heart of diehard two-stroke aficionado Steve Cooper of Britain’s MoreBikes:

“I’d happily go on record to say it’s very possibly the best of the early SOHC cam Honda fours. Enough poke to get a wiggle on and maintain a decent daily mileage, yet not too bulky or compromised by excessive mass.” –MoreBikes

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

Enter our new friend Matt MacVittie (@macvittiemotorcycles) of Asheville, NC — an engineer and family man who builds bikes out of his home garage, doing 100% of the work himself.

“I like to put a modern twist on classic motorcycles and make fun, reliable, eye-catching mobile works of art.”

For his 7th build, Matt says he wanted to build “the perfect cafe racer,” so he picked up a ’77 CB550F Super Sport as the donor.

“The 550F, known as the ‘Super Sport‘ model had less chrome on the fuel tank, a lighter four-into-one exhaust, and two inch lower handlebars. All this lead to a dry weight of 423lbs and a sportier ride.” –Iconic Motorbikes

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

Nicknamed “Sapphire” for the lovely blue paint, this CB is one of those builds whose silhouette and colorway is just right. Then, as you step closer, details abound wherever you look. From the custom external fork springs and dual-disc conversion to the handmade one-off steel seat pan and cowl, the level of thought and detail here is exceptional.

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

Other highlights include a freshly rebuilt engine, dual Mikuni VM34 carbs, Excel Takasago rims with stainless spokes, and all new electronics featuring parts from Motogadget, Dyna, and Rick’s Electrics. Not surprisingly, Matt assures us “Sapphire” is a blast to ride.

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

Best of all, if you’re in the market for “the perfect cafe racer,” this one is for sale at Iconic Motorbikes until Friday, December 8, at 1pm EST. Get over and place a bid!

Below, we talk to Matt for the full details on “Sapphire” — and stay tuned for his next build, coming soon!

Honda CB550F Café Racer: Builder Interview

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.

I am a family man and engineer and I like to build cool ass bikes in my free time. All of my builds are 100% built by me in my garage. I like to put a modern twist on classic motorcycles and make fun, reliable, eye-catching mobile works of art.

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

• Please tell us a bit about the bike.

This is my 7th build. It is a 1977 Honda CB550 named “Sapphire”. I wanted to build the “perfect cafe racer.” The front end is modified for dual rotor brakes. I had custom external dampening springs made for the front forks that make the front suspension feel modern.

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

I retrofitted a 60’s CL350 headlight and modified it to accept an LED bulb. I then modified the stock fork covers to house the front blinkers while hiding the wires and shaved the top triple tree.

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

I hand-made a one-off steel seat pan / cowl that hugs the fuel tank.

I created my own rearset mounts out of blocks of aluminum. I was able to neatly hide a rear tail light blinker combo underneath the cowl.

The engine was fully rebuilt with all new gaskets, o-rings, freshly honed cylinders and piston rings. The piston and cam are stock. It has Murray’s carbs 4-2 carb set up with Mikuni VM34 carburetors.

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

The bike received all new electrical from Motogadget, Dyna, Rick’s motorsport — which I built a custom wiring loom for. Ikon rear shocks. 

Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

This all sits on some pretty Excel rims, Bridgestone Battlax BT45 tires, and stainless steel spokes. Finished off in a sapphire blue paint.

Riding Videos

This bike is a blast to ride!

 Follow the Builder: @macvittiemotorcycles


  1. The bike looks unfinished without a rear fender. More importantly, ride without one & you’ll soon get a stripe up the middle of your back, neck & head or helmet, from whatever the rear tire rolled over / thru. Not fun.

  2. I have to agree about no rear fender .
    This is a sweet bike otherwise.
    The no rear fender is a skinny jeans trend I had hoped woukd have gone away by now.
    The empty space left behind the motor doesn’t help

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