This is not your typical Honda CB cafe racer. ‘Fade To Black’ is probably one of the fastest middleweight vintage Hondas we’ve featured on this site—and with a Yamaha YZF-R6 front end, one of the best handling too.
It’s a 1975 CB550 belonging to Grant Harvey, a Canadian film and television director. In his high school days, Grant rode around on a Honda 125 enduro—but since then, his only riding has been on his old man’s Harley Road King.
“I turn 50 this year, so my wife suggested I should treat myself with something fun,” he tells us. “On a trip to LA I visited a few custom shops fixing up old Japanese and British bikes. I was never into the custom Harley thing, but these cafes and trackers were cool.”
“One of the shops suggested I visit Bike EXIF, and the bike at top of the homepage at that time was Federal Moto’s Ace. What a fantastic build! I checked out the Federal site and fell in love with The Couch Surfer as well.”
The Federal Moto boys share Grant’s liking of classic lines and simple vintage accents, and a deal was done. Five months later, Fade To Black was ready to ride.
It’s a very technical build, and worth examining if you’re planning to go down that route yourself.
The main action centers on the engine. It’s running a Dynoman Stage 1 Performance kit: the motor has been bored out to 572 cc and fitted with forged pistons that boost the compression ratio from 9:1 to 10:1.
Federal have also fitted a WebCam 358a camshaft with .330 lift and 280° duration, plus uprated gaskets and a stronger clutch to cope with the extra power. And the engine looks as good as new, with a fresh coat of high-temperature powder.
A phalanx of Keihin roundslide CR29 sidedraft racing carbs free up the breathing. Gases exit via an underslung 4-into-1 custom exhaust from Steve ‘Carpy’ Carpenter, one of the pioneers of the CB cafe racer scene.
Keeping the spark strong is a very modern setup: a Dynatek electronic ignition, fed by an 8-cell Antigravity battery.
Even more state-of-the-art is the GPS speedo from Cognito Moto. The Richmond, VA company also supplied the neat rear hoop, with built-in LEDs acting as brake lights and turn signals.
Fitting snugly into the hoop is a custom seat, designed in-house and made up by Kyle Closen at Clo’s General in Edmonton, Alberta. Kyle also made the practical side bags that fit neatly into the exposed ‘V’ of the frame.
The CB550 might be a nimble handler compared to its more famous CB750 big brother, but it’s still no match for a modern motorcycle. Helping to close the gap is a Yamaha R6 front end, adapted to house the original CB550 spoked wheel. Drilled rotors are hooked up to stainless braided lines.
The cockpit is as lean as it gets: ‘Tracker’ bars and a ‘Whiskey’ throttle from Biltwell Inc, wrapped in-house with leather grips. (Look hard, and you might spot the mini switches from See See Motorcycles and Motogadget bar-end turn signals.)
If you think the tank looks a little different to the usual CB550 item, you’re right. It’s a 1974 CB360 tank, finished in matte black with a glossy black stripe running across it.
We love the dark simplicity of this build, and that’s what Shaun and the Federal crew were aiming for: “Simple lines, no bullshit. And just the right mix of 70s Honda and modern touches.”
And the name ‘Fade to Black’?
“It refers to Grant’s background in film and TV,” Shaun reveals. “Whether it’s instant or fading, all production ends in complete darkness.”
A profound note on which to end a thoughtful, profoundly appealing build.