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Genius At Work: A sharp Honda GL400 from Wedge

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer
It takes true talent to turn a Honda CX500 into something pretty. And Takashi Nihira of Wedge Motorcycle sure is talented: remember his radical reworking of BMW’s little G 310 R?

Okay, this latest build from Wedge is not technically a CX. It’s based on a 1981 GL400, a downscaled model sold in the Japanese market. But despite the ‘GL’ designation, it’s effectively a smaller capacity CX with a few subtle differences. And the factory bike was just as gawky in the looks department.

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer
The brief came via a new client. He’d spotted a Wedge Honda CB750 custom, and wanted a CB-based cafe racer of his own. But Nihira-san wasn’t up for re-hashing the same formula.

“I’ve experienced building Japanese four-cylinder CBs already,” he says, “so I said that I’d like to try a new challenge, using a new machine. That new idea was the Honda GL. It turned out that the customer knows the European custom scene well, and he’s often seen CX customs there.”

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer
The brief hung on two basic requirements: cafe racer styling, and spoked wheels. “I could not imagine the cafe style when I saw the standard GL the first time,” says Nihira-san. “The GL has a shaft drive and Comstar wheels…”

Finding a way to quickly switch out the wheels proved difficult, so he tackled them one at a time. Up front, he grafted on the forks and hub from a Yamaha SR400, using a modded SR steering stem and an aftermarket aluminum top triple made for the SR.

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer
“It was easy because that method is very popular in Japan,” Nihira-san explains. “But the rear section was so difficult.” After some research, he realized that the GL1000 was from the same generation as the GL400, and came with spoked wheels.

So he hopped onto eBay and sourced a rear hub. And with a little encouragement he finally got it to fit the GL400’s final drive.

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer
All that was left to do was lace up both hubs to a pair of DID rims. They measure 18” up front and 17” out back, and both are wrapped in Pirelli Phantom Sportscomp tires.

Nihira-san wanted to take advantage of the fact that the GL1000’s hub was setup for a disc brake, but couldn’t source a replacement GL1000 disc. After even more research, he figured out that he could install a CB500 front disc instead. So he sourced a used one, refurbished it and set it up.

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer
The rear brake’s gripped by a Brembo two-pot caliper, with a rotor and master cylinder borrowed from another bike. And the front’s running with a Brembo caliper four-pot caliper, a Sunstar rotor and a Grimeca master cylinder.

If it sounds like Nihira-san spent an inordinate amount of time on the brakes and wheels, it’s because he did.

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer
“I imagined adopting details which matched the age when the GL was born, mixing in new trends, and further improving the riding performance. The wheels and the brakes especially have a huge impact on the style, because they occupy a big space in the side silhouette. So I didn’t want to compromise.”

Part of the bid for more performance—and a better stance—involved switching the rear suspension from a dual- to mono-shock setup. Nihiri-san studied a few different rear suspension designs first, then adapted the shock from a donor bike with custom mounts, and reinforcements on the swing arm and swing arm pivot.

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer
It was a stylistic consideration too: by ditching the rear shocks, he freed up the space behind the carbs. The open ends of the two stainless steel velocity stacks that he hand made are now in full view.

To that end, Nihira-san also designed a new subframe, leaving the area under the seat bare. Again, he spent more time on it than needed, building the section between the engine hanger and swing arm pivot with an extra welding bead, to match the look of the original hollow stamped frame.

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer
Everything works together to create an aggressively pitched-forward stance—just as Nihira-san intended. Getting the profile perfect meant all-new bodywork, so he fabricated a new gas tank and tail section too, keeping the tank capacity generous so that its size would match the heft of the motor.

A Mooneyes headlight was placed up front, mounted at just the right height to draw a line through to the tank and tail. A tiny Motogadget speedo and a set of clip-ons complete the cockpit, matched to custom foot controls.

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer
Then there’s the exhaust—a gorgeous custom-made stainless steel system, exiting left and right at different heights. Even though Nihira-san was aiming for a touch of asymmetry, he made sure to have the headers exit parallel to each other.

Nihira-san tells us his primary goal was for the bike to look natural from any angle and have factory level finishes. Mission accomplished, thanks in part to a stunning Wedge Motorcycle paint job to cap things off.

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer

If this is what he can do with a humble GL400, just imagine what else we can look forward to from Takashi Nihira. We’ll be keeping an eye out.

Wedge Motorcycle | Wedge Facebook | Instagram | Images by Hiromitsu YasuiWith thanks to our man in Japan, Tadashi Kohno

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer

Genius at work: Wedge of Japan turns the GL400 into a stylish Honda cafe racer

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