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Better than new: A TÜV approved CB550 cafe racer

Honda CB550 cafe racer by Elemental Custom Cycles
If there’s a style of bike resistant to trends, it’s the classic Honda CB café racer. If you keep it simple, avoid the checkered stripes and the temptation to chrome everything, you can’t go wrong.

The flipside is that it’s also hard to make an impression with a build in this style—unless you get all the details absolutely perfect, with spot-on stance and not a nut or bolt out of place. Just like Thomas Lambert has done with this pristine CB550 F.

Honda CB550 cafe racer by Elemental Custom Cycles
Thomas runs Elemental Custom Cycles from his workshop in the ancient Bavarian town of Neustadt an der Aisch. It’s one of those small towns in the middle of nowhere, with both Frankfurt and Stuttgart more than two hours away. But Thomas’ reputation transcends distance.

The client for this CB café racer had a specific brief. “He was bored by the mass of BMW builds around, and wanted something classic and reliable,” Thomas says.

Honda CB550 cafe racer by Elemental Custom Cycles
After a little digging around, Thomas found a 1977 Honda CB550 F. In its day, it was probably the best balanced of all the CBs, but this one had fallen on hard times. It was in “pretty poor condition,” but it didn’t matter—a ground-up rebuild was on the cards.

Thomas’ goal was to make the CB550 look “like Honda could have built it this way in the 70s.” So he stripped the Honda down, took the SOHC transverse four engine apart, and started returning everything to factory spec—or beyond.

Honda CB550 cafe racer by Elemental Custom Cycles
The motor was rebored, equipped with new pistons and bearings, and given a head job to increase compression. To squeeze out even more power, Thomas has also installed rebuilt PD51 carbs taken from a CB650 and open air intakes.

The 4-in-1 exhaust system on old CB550s tends to rust, so Thomas hand built a new one. He’s kept reasonably close to the stock look, but used stainless steel—and topped off the pipes with a black Leo Vince muffler.

Honda CB550 cafe racer by Elemental Custom Cycles
Before returning the engine to its rightful place, Thomas cleaned up the frame, installed new triple clamps, and got most of the chassis parts and wheels powdercoated black. He also changed all the old screws, bolts and spokes to stainless steel parts.

The stance needed work too. “The rear end on the CB550 is too low,” he points out. “There are two ways to get the lines right: lower the front end, or lift the rear end.”

Honda CB550 cafe racer by Elemental Custom Cycles
“Most CB builds are too close to the ground, which makes them ‘show and shine’ bikes. But we wanted to keep the CB550 comfortable for longer rides, and decided to lift the rear end with new YSS shocks.”

The front fork tubes were rusted, and like many other parts, Thomas couldn’t find OEM replacements in Europe—so he had to order new ones directly from Japan. While overhauling the suspension, he also switched out the stock fork springs for upgraded units from Wilbers.

Honda CB550 cafe racer by Elemental Custom Cycles
Thomas has replaced the front brake master (and caliper) with aftermarket OEM-spec parts, and plumbed in stainless steel brake hoses to keep the stoppers nice and tight.

He’s also added clip-ons to ramp up the café vibe, but removed the electric starter and made it a kick-start only—to save weight. Other new parts include the classic round headlamp, rearsets, LED indicators and a tiny (but bright) LED taillight.

Honda CB550 cafe racer by Elemental Custom Cycles
A ‘brat style’ seat suits the lines of the old CB550 F well. “We built it from scratch, with an aluminum base plate and a classic brown leather cover,” says Thomas. “And the classic deep blue tank has four layers of clear coat.”

In keeping with the spirit of Minimalismus, Thomas has reduced the wiring loom to a minimum with a new harness and discreet pushbutton switchgear. Motogadget supplied the turn signals and the compact analog MST Speedster gauge, which weighs less than 100 grams (3.4 ounces).

Honda CB550 cafe racer by Elemental Custom Cycles
Anyone who knows the 1970s CBs will instantly spot that this is a custom, despite the factory level of fit and finish. But Thomas has made sure his build is street legal in Germany, and passes the strict TÜV approval process.

With a number plate attached to a slender bracket extending beyond the rear wheel, the Honda can be ridden straight out of the photo studio and onto the street. And that is an achievement in itself.

Elemental Custom Cycles Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Images by Christian Motzek

Honda CB550 cafe racer by Elemental Custom Cycles