Everyman Tracker Build Pt. 7: Custom Pipes, Panels and More

Bike EXIF Honda CB550 Tracker Fabrication
“How are we doing
on the CB project?” The question weighed heavy on my brain as I considered the plateaued progress of our 1975 Honda CB550F project bike—dubbed the Everyman Tracker. Not unlike the gems collecting dust in your garage, our bargain-bin Honda had been put on the back burner for more pressing matters, and a mad thrash was needed for my superiors to keep the faith.

I was realistic when cooking up the antidote for stalled-project syndrome, planning to knock out a few odds and ends and the big fabrication jobs that remained. While we didn’t scratch every item off the list, I’m chalking this up as a win—with restored enthusiasm for the build. Sometimes the progress is small compared to the pile of grinder dust on the ground, and there’s no denying how far this bike has come since we traded four Benjamins for it.

Honda CB550 Custom Exhaust
Budget Exhaust Overhaul

The exhaust on your classic motorcycle speaks volumes (heh), but in the case of our dirt-cheap Honda CB550, our rusty old aftermarket pipes told a tale of damp storage and trends passed. I have no idea who made these old megaphones or if I could make them look acceptable, but our limited budget meant I had to give it a shot. Inspiration came from carefully curated Instagram reels, and I devised a plan to shorten the pipes significantly and add a pair of cones at the end to breathe new life into this old exhaust.

I started by hacking 4” off the end of the megaphones, which also freed up the welded-in baffles. We’re not begging for attention here, so I dissected the old baffles and cut them shorter to be reused. After a boatload of cutting, fitting and prep work to deal with all the rust, the old baffles could be reinstalled in nearly the same fashion as whoever made them.

With the easy part done, it was time to fabricate some cones from scratch—a process that involved more arts and crafts than I care to admit. A pattern can be made by rolling some paper into a cone, cutting the end off, and giving it another go when none of the dimensions are right. The finished pattern gets transferred to steel, and you’ll want to go with a thin gauge if you’re rolling it like I did.

I dug up a scrap piece of 20 ga. (.032) steel for the cones, which matched the thickness of our old aftermarket exhaust and rolled easily on our combination shear, brake and roll. I was able to get the shape 90% of the way there, but that last 10% would have to be carefully honed in as the cones were welded to the pipes.

MIG welding 20 ga. isn’t that difficult, but I can tell you it’s less enjoyable with .035 wire on your spool and a big ol’ Millermatic 350—the only welder I had available at the time. Instead of laying beads, the pipes and cones were joined one tack weld at a time, and you’ll inevitably need to fill in spots as you dress the welds.

The transformation is subtle, but it looks a lot better than the dated megaphones we had before, and the cost was next to nothing. Besides time and consumables, the only expense involved was replacing the missing exhaust hardware—which unfortunately consists of four separate pieces per pipe. Still, that’s far cheaper than any aftermarket options available for this old bike today.

Honda CB550 Custom Bodywork
Scrap Bin Bodywork

As our CB550 makes the leap from sofa-clad cruiser to stripped-down hoonmobile, it’s clear we need to come up with new bodywork to compliment our truncated front fender and bitchin’ Tuffside Street Tracker saddle. While you can find plastic universal number plates on the web, we had a stash of 14 ga. (.064) aluminum (probably 3003?) and I was dying to give it a go.

I experimented with several different shapes for number plates for the sides, wasting countless hours in the Cardboard Aided Design phase. Classic rounds didn’t work, but the Honda’s chassis has a pair of tubes that run parallel with the shock, so mirroring that line was a must. The final shape does just that, along with enclosing the triangular open area that will house our battery, electronics and air filter.

There’d be little pride in a pair of flat sheets affixed to the sides of the bike, so after laying my patterns out on our scrap aluminum, I took the whole 2’ sheet over to the bead roller for some flair. I want to say that feeding the whole sheet into the bead roller helped control warping, but I’m no expert and I’ve heard this can be better handled by wheeling the part first. I started with the step dies and put a 1/4″ step up on the number plate area, and put a 1/2″ round roll ahead of it. With the bead rolling finished, I rough cut the plates on the band saw and used a flap wheel and files to get the final shape.

Now we have some snazzy plates, but these need to be attached somehow, and we ideally want a tool-free fastener so critical components can be accessed in a pinch. I elected to use some self-ejecting dzues fasteners, which are nice because the quarter-turn fasters are retained by the bezels. Meaning once you turn them and the panel is released, the dzues isn’t on the loose.

The process started with removing all the tabs on the frame that secured the old plastic side covers, allowing for final fitment of the new aluminum pieces. The self-ejecting dzues faster has a unique backing plate, and these need to be fitted and welded to the frame as well. Before the comments section lights up, I’ll say that the wing-nut-style dzues fasteners are just placeholders—since they’d be all up in your business. I have to order in more of the regular slot-style fasteners, and these will get riveted to the aluminum panels.

With the sides done, I moved to the front and made a simple, but nostalgic, rectangular plate with the same 1/2″ step in the panel. It’s cut out to accept an LED, but I need to devise some mounting tabs for the panel so I can get the LED aimed right. The bare aluminum pieces were begging for a little something, so I scoured my garage to find my old brushes and 1 Shot paint and laid the best stripes my beat-ass hands could manage. I’m mixed on whether it was a good effort, or good enough, and I’ll look at it again with fresh eyes later.

Honda CB550 Sprockets
Mirrors, Chains and Sprockets

The last thing this audience needs is a reminder to replace ancient chains and sprockets, but we decided to upgrade some while we were in there, and you may want to as well. I ordered 520 sprockets from Sprocket Specialists, as they supply completely custom units to your specs.

We geared down a bit on the front steel sprocket, and the rear is aluminum with the ‘hot slots’ option to spice things up. It’s lighter than stock and a good-looking sprocket, but the Honda’s hub seal retainer covers a lot of it. I was also bummed to find their lead time was a lot longer than expected, and the rear sprocket required a good amount of file work to get it fitting right.

Honda CB550 Sprockets
To complete our re-gear, I ordered a D.I.D. 520DZ2 chain with great specs and a hint of flashy gold color at an affordable price. We went with a standard chain instead of an O-ring or X-ring chain, because if memory serves, both are too wide and will wear into the oil seal on CB550s—unless you work over the front sprocket on the lathe. That’s something to be aware of when you’re swapping chains and sprockets—point is, always do your research and double-check measurements.

motogadget mo.view classic mirror
Looking for an easy win to go out on, I riffled through our parts stash for other trick bits and found our motogadget mo.view mirrors. Besides being super adjustable and an exceptionally well-built piece, the mo.view is glassless, and the mirror surface is actually polished aluminum. With mirrors being one of the first items to make the trash when you start tinkering with a bike, it’s hard to overstate the value of a mirror that doesn’t feel chintzy or look like an afterthought.

After all that, I certainly need a cold one. I have a few things to tidy up now, and hopefully, the next time you see this machine we’ll be tackling the electrical—my favorite

Honda CB550 Custom Bodywork

Bike EXIF thanks MotogadgetTuffsideBridgestoneLowbrow Customs and Biltwell Inc. for supporting our Honda CB550F tracker build.

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