BMW Motorrad Spezial

Honda CB650 custom

1979 Honda CB650 custom motorcycle
You don’t see many Honda CB650s around. They were based on the tooling of the CB550/4, and even though the engine is only a little smaller than the famed CB750, it’s the bigger bike that got all the sales—and now headlines the custom scene. Yet Ralph Miller has shown what’s possible with a CB650, even though he ended up building this bike by accident. “I got stuck with a 1979 CB650 and wasn’t sure what the hell to do with it, as it was a friend’s project,” he says. “After a few beers and a lot of thinkin’, a plan was hatched. What you see here is my idea of what a cafe styled racer should look like: clean lines and an integrated flow of design and ergonomics.” Ralph runs a North Carolina-based design and apparel company called Rusty Knuckles and although he’s been wrenching on bikes for years, this is his first ground-up custom. The engine is just about the only stock item on this machine: the original $300 ebay bike turned out to be heavily damaged, so the (modified and lowered) frame came from a donor. Despite the troubled gestation, the end result looks terrific to our eyes. It’s low and mean, and that little fairing at the front is a very neat touch.

  • mingh

    this has got to be the most hideous bike i have ever laid eyes on. Too bad for all the work, but nothing seems to fit together. It’s mostly in the wheels and exhaust.

  • chris

    you’ve got to be kidding. that’s dumb and ugly. especially following on the heels of the Team Incomplete Ti Boxer

  • RetroGrouch

    Why do people insist on polishing turds? The builder has talent but wastes it on an completely dull machine. The Comstars are the worst wheels ever designed by Honda. They all should be gathered up and melted down for scrap.

  • Facebook User

    You guys have got to be joking! This bike to me looks muscly, mean, dirty and sexy. Like Mickey Rourke – ten years ago.

  • chad

    You guys are being too harsh. Although using a CB650 he could have swapped to spoke wheels and dumped those ass ugly Comstars (some CBs you can’t). I don’t care for the exhaust and he could have at least tried to fill the emblem hole. I’d like to see more photos though, especially of the rear and a close up of the engine to see if he swapped out the CV carbs to something more respectable. Overall a good effort, the seat looks well done.

  • Appreciate all comments good and bad. The reason to stay with the particular carbs, wheels and exhaust is simply due to costs. The bike is not worth much in resale value so why invest a lot of money, as it was simply a project to build then sell off. The next big pitfall with the cb650 is that parts became extremely hard to find as this model model was only made for a few years. As for the missing tank emblems, they weren’t put back on when the photos was taken. Overall, I got the bike and parts for under a thousand bucks and kept that as the budget.

  • mingh

    ok, i stand corrected. For that budget it’s a great job.

  • chad

    So you kept the CVs and put pods on? How is the power band? I would think you’d get some gurgling and hesitation with the airbox gone.

    I’m very interested in the seat, are there any detailed pictures of it?

  • sure, here is another photo of the bike from the rear,

    The carbs run smooth without any hesitation, just a lot tuning to get running. the bike is just a runner for around town so nothing was tweaked with the engine. I made a rear section to house the brake light and license plate all in one piece, with the seat then bolting down into the frame to also secure the tank. I made the seat pan and had a local leather seat guy stitch it up with a gel pad inside.

  • hades

    Never seen comstars look so good. I like the build, not quite my style, but I bet it turns heads and its got a clean sleek look to it.

  • Dan

    That bike looks fantastic. The stubby pipe is sweet, and that seat is one of the best I’ve seen on a cafe bike…

  • posted the build photos on my flickr page for those interested:

  • the Scrote from Lanzarote

    Well, judging by the comments going both ways, this has thus clearly turned out to be a very polarizing bike. You either love it or hate it, and personally I’m in the former camp; I think it looks totally scrumptious.

    It’s a shame the bike wasn’t 100% finished for the photo. That plain triangular piece of metal should get the same colors as the tank/fairing (which look delish BTW).

    I’m wondering what exactly that tiny “muffler” really is. Looks like a chopped piece of old fashioned steel telephone pole. Is it even packed with anything inside?

  • The rear muffler is a 12″ Cherry Bomb glass pack hot rod muffler. All the after market mufflers were extremely over priced too big, so a call to cherry bomb and a $30 muffler was to be had.

  • Absolute garbage! I dont care about the budget, there is such a thing called class and this bike does not represent it. Its not a chop or a cafe, its a strip and rustoleum. I just joined this site, please dont promote these back yard hackers anymore. Any schmuck can do this on a weekend with some krylon.

  • chad

    wow, ignore that fool. he has obviosuly never turned a wrench in his life. even with the two photos and a passing aquaintance with cb’s it is easy to see there are quite a few custom parts on this bike, it is not simply stripped and painted. not everyone has the desire or funds to build a trialer queen, that doesn’t make them any less deserving of recognition.

  • Casey

    Actually Chad, ive been building custom bikes for 7 years. I,m a body tech and custom painter in Colorado. I’ve built and seen better stuff than this on smaller budgets. I dont disagree that this bike needs recognition, just not on this site. bike exif seem to showcase the cream of the crop. Bikes like these are dime a dozen on youtube. I actually love the handkerchief effect on the tank, however the rest of the bike is incredibly simple. please make better informed replies in the future.

  • Ira

    It takes design sense and good aesthetics to leave a bike ratty in the right places. Moreso, in my opinion, than polishing it squeaky clean and pretty.

    This CB650 isn’t quite Wrenchmonkees-caliber but it strikes the same chords for me. It has enough shiny to show the builder’s skill but enough gnarly to upset the mainstream. Bravo!

  • Thanks for all the comments good and bad, its great to know that one bike can cause such a stir. For those that hate the bike and say its garbage or has no class, well do what I did. Send in photos of your build and let the readers be the judge. As we say here in the south, Run What Ya Brung.

  • Casey

    Rusty Knuckles, allow me apologize for what I had said originally. I had been drinking and was in a poor mood. However, it is no excuse for the language I used to describe your build. It is not a backyard hack job. I looked at the picks on flickr and you did spend a good amount of time and effort on the bike. For a thousand bucks its a miracle, my favorite detail on the bike is the off-set tear drop taillight. I will try my best not to judge too quickly next time. I am truly sorry, im not usually the know it all jackass that dumps on everyone else. Im building a gs750 that I will submit, and hopefully they will show it.

  • I keep coming back and looking at this bike – it just delivers! Cool paint job and it just looks, well, balanced. And I think the wheels actually look pretty cool. Makes me wanna get on it and take it for a blast! Great job.

  • Sorry guys… can’t hate on this at all… the bike is simple to easy … on the eye… to play with … so on and so forth….

    Nice work and even better documentation…. thanks a bunch…


  • estrada

    I’m liking this one as well. Looks nice but not too nice. There’s something I can appreciate about bikes that are a little bit nasty or raw or unsettled somehow. I’m not sure why – mebbe they’re a little more threatening somehow or mebbe more unique seeming – like in a way that can’t be ordered for a bunch of money out of a catalog.. not sure. At any rate, I’m diggin it. Good job.

  • Dcrefugee

    I owned a stock, original CB650 for a couple of years. Never did like it though — it was a cold-natured bitch — and sold it at a profit in 2008. Reasonable cruiser, I suppose, but few redeeming qualities.

    This is about as good as it gets for one, but I dearly wish the builder had finished off the tank, stowed the electrics and opened up the frame instead of slapping on the triangular sheet metal.

  • Brendan

    hey im just wondering do you still have the tank emblems for this bike ive got the same bike but mine is almost completly restored to new but im missing the right side tank emblem if you do still have them please e mail me as soon as you can then maybe we could talk about how much you would want for it thats if u have it .

  • dj

    i too have a cb650 and, though i dislike the comstar wheels, i’d be willing to settle with them if i could get my wheels to look like these. how did you accomplish the “riveted” look around the inside of the wheel?

  • The tank emblems I got with the bike were both cracked, so I am looking for new ones myself. Tried to get some made out of sheet metal with a plasma cutter, but didn’t come out exactly right.

    For the wheels I actually used socket head screws to get the look I was after. has a variety of sizes to choose from. I sand blasted the wheels, added etching primer and then coats of metal flake with a clear coat as a final touch. Should have got them powder coated but wasn’t in the budget.

  • dj

    thanks for the info, your idea really sets those wheels off!

  • ed

    I’ve chatted with Rusty Knuckles before through Flickr since we both have the same cb650. Some of you guys are being straight up dicks. Even if you don’t agree with some of the decisions Rusty made… why be a dick?

    cb650 is a dope cycle… I dig the comstars.
    79-80 cb650 had piston slide carbs and if you tune them right, they’ll make the cb650 haul ass. 81-82 have CV carbs.


  • MJH

    I love what you have done with this bike!! I had one and just restored it to stock, big mistake. You made the ultimate bike. Something no one else has, keep the dream!

  • Lyndon

    Bitchen bike… I am in the process of building an 80 CB650 Cafe. In my opinion this bike represensts everything that a Cafe is. Loud and low as well as being nothing but the builders bike. Love what you have done with the wheels. I think I am going to do somthing similar with the exhaust on mine. My bike will be all flat black and white with red com stars. Again super cool ride. Cheap cool rat, PERIOD.

    And ya, that thing has slides on it from the factory, the 81 got CV`s… I love ignorant comments.

  • Andrew

    Hey, Love the bike.
    I am restoring a 1978 cb550 right now.
    I haven’t seen this type of fairing too often, do you know what type or of what brand it is?

  • cb650cafe

    Kind of a dumb idea based on that frame, which is not a ’79 but an 80-82. The slanted seat rails really put a stop to a clean cafe look… nice job on the details, but they are wasted on this bike.

  • I am working on my own…

    Taking the time to switch up the frame to a ’79, I noticed on your build that you were using a 79 frame at one point, why the switch?

  • chris

    i like this bike! always thought cafe bikes junk, but i like this one!