Working-Class Hero: Our everyman Honda CB550 Tracker Build, Pt. 1

Bike EXIF Honda CB550F Project Bike
Like most things in life, building a custom motorcycle is certainly a process. It starts with a vision, and (hopefully) ends with a functional expression of speed and style—but you’ll have to get your hands dirty to get there. Lacing wheels, trimming tabs and building an electrical system are just a few of the less glamorous tasks you’ll need to tackle yourself if you want to build a custom motorcycle at home.

While we won’t liken ourselves to the talented full-time builders we regularly feature on Bike EXIF, we know what it takes to build a fun custom motorcycle. And we figured there couldn’t be a better excuse to build bikes than to do it on company time. In the spirit of passing on some busted-knuckle knowledge, I’ll introduce our latest How-To series—a full bike build from start to finish, with all the heavy lifting covered.

Bike EXIF Honda CB550F Project Bike
With the management duped and a few key sponsors on board, we were ready to kick this thing off, but first, we needed a bike. I was foolishly left with the company’s checkbook and I had plenty of ideas, but I needed to keep this cheap if they’d ever let me get away with it again. ‘Please just buy something that runs,’ my coworkers urged me, but I just couldn’t abide.

I reasoned that buying a clunker would leave us more budget for mods, but really, I had already spied a 1975 Honda CB550F locally that was just begging for a new lease on life. And what could make a better story than that?

Bike EXIF Honda CB550F Project Bike
It was crusty in all the right places and screamed card-carrying AARP member with two-tone brown paint, a brown sofa on the back and a tin parking pass from 1983. The real kicker was the price, though, as the man wanted just $400—I mentioned we’re on a budget, right?

Despite being off the road for an even 40 years, the CB was actually in pretty good shape where it mattered. The engine turned freely, the paperwork was all there and the odometer showed just a tick over 13,000 miles. It’s complete (ish), but not too original to cut up; ripe to rise from the ashes as something a bit more exciting.

Bike EXIF Honda CB550F Project Bike
A café racer build is definitely the low-hanging fruit, but I was craving something a bit more controversial, and a four-cylinder, tail-sliding tracker seemed like just the thing. I’m thinking tracker bars, some gnarly rubber and a much slimmer replacement for that loveseat on the back. And there’s certainly something we can do with those two-into-one exhausts.

With the CB in the shop and on the lift, we leaned on a few friends in the industry for the big-ticket items. Thankfully, they didn’t ask too many questions before shipping the goods.

Honda CB550 Project Bike
So stick around to watch our little Honda CB550F tracker build go from rags to rugged riches, and do so in a fashion that most anyone can replicate. But first, we should probably make sure that our 550 four-cylinder engine still has some fight in it after a four-decade slumber.

Images by Dean Larson

Bike EXIF Honda CB550F Project Bike

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