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Better than the original: A CB550 from Thirteen & Company

A Honda CB550 cafe racer from Thirteen & Company
Once in a while, a custom motorcycle builder will create a machine that attracts attention like nothing else in their portfolio. For LA-based Kyle Vara of Thirteen and Company, it’s a Honda CB550 that he built four years ago, nicknamed ‘Amber.’

Amber turned so many heads, Kyle got close to 20 requests from around the world to duplicate it. But like most artists, he’s more interested in expanding his portfolio than repeating the same formula. And then his buddy Jeff Campagna, proprietor of Steeltown Garage in Canada, convinced him to build ‘Amber II.’

A Honda CB550 cafe racer from Thirteen & Company
“Luckily the customer, Michael, allowed me to change up a couple things,” Kyle tells us, “and had the budget to change certain components that weren’t an option when building the original Amber. There were things that I should have done on that bike that are now showcased on Amber II.”

“I am continuously studying and working to better myself as a builder—the original Amber was not up to the standards I have today for my builds. The fit and finish is much more polished and precise. And every time I finish a build I invest in better tools, which allow me to achieve better quality work.”

A Honda CB550 cafe racer from Thirteen & Company
The donor this time around was 1977 Honda CB550, brought over from Canada. The chassis was in great shape, but the motor had seen better days. That wasn’t a concern though, because the budget allowed for a full rebuild anyway.

Kyle tore the CB down, and treated it to a full motor and transmission refresh. It got put back together with a stock displacement piston kit, a new cam shaft, and a full complement of bearings, seals and gaskets.

A Honda CB550 cafe racer from Thirteen & Company
The cylinders were honed and the heads machined, with new valves and guides, and the starter motor was rebuilt too.

He kept the stock carbs, but rebuilt and re-jetted them. And the exhaust was replaced with a four-into-one stainless steel system from Delvic.

A Honda CB550 cafe racer from Thirteen & Company
There’s too much mechanical work to list in detail (we’ve seen the job card, and it’s staggering), but it should tick over for a good many years. It looks good as new on the outside too, thanks to some vapor blasting, painting and polishing, and nickel-plating on smaller parts.

The electric system is all-new, and now runs with a Lithium-ion battery from Antigravity, a Motogadget m.unit controller, and a new regulator/rectifier from Rick’s Motorsport Electrics.

A Honda CB550 cafe racer from Thirteen & Company
Everything’s neatly tucked away in a custom-built electronics tray, with a battery box that uses 3D printed bits to hold the battery.

Moving to the chassis, Kyle cut-and-looped the rear, then de-tabbed the frame and swing arm, and cleaned up all the factory welds. He also fabricated a slew of new mounts and spacers, then had everything sand blasted and powder coated.

A Honda CB550 cafe racer from Thirteen & Company
The OEM front forks were rebuilt and lowered, and a set of classic chromed replacement shocks were installed at the back.

The wheels were completely overhauled, with chromed DID rims and spokes laced to the refurbished stock hubs, and wrapped in 19F/18R Coker Diamond tires. Kyle kept the brakes mostly OEM too, but treated the front disc and rear drum to an extensive refurbish job with a bunch of new parts. There’s also a new stainless steel front brake line from Galfer.

A Honda CB550 cafe racer from Thirteen & Company
To get Amber II’s lines just right, Kyle sourced and adapted the fuel tank from a 1975 CB550, then fabricated a tail bump to round out the bodywork.

The first Amber build featured a clear coat over polished metal, but he wanted a more robust finish for this version (especially since it’ll live in the humid climate of the Caribbean). So the parts were treated to chrome plating, with a hit of chic Italian leather on the seat.

A Honda CB550 cafe racer from Thirteen & Company
Finishing things off is a cockpit with a cleaned-up top yoke, clip-ons, imported Italian grips and refurbished controls and switches. (Kyle modded the switchgear to work with the Motogadget electronics, and converted the horn button to a starter).

There’s a 7” headlight up front, mounted on modified OEM brackets, and an LED tail light sunk into the subframe.

A Honda CB550 cafe racer from Thirteen & Company
“My goal was to build a bike that displayed a balance of maturity, elegance and attitude,” says Kyle, and we reckon he’s nailed it. Amber II might tread familiar ground with its classic lines and stance, but it elevates the genre to a level that few achieve.

And we’re sure customers are going to be banging down his door to build another, in no time at all.

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