MotorcycleDaily.com – Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

  • December 1, 2010
  • Gabe Ets-Hokin
  • Bob Stokstad
  • 43 Comments

MD Spotlight: Shelli’s 1976 Honda CB400F Supersport

Some of us are motorcycle philanderers—we have multiple bikes, buying, trading, crashing and selling them off like debauched sultans. But some of us, like Oaklander Shelli Bohrer, get attached to the bike they love and find it hard to part with them.

Seven years ago,Shelli was riding her much-loved ’75 Honda CB400F to the gym after work when a teenaged driver, “seemingly on a whim” turned into her path, hitting her bike. The teenage driver took off. As Shelli (who was uninjured—she’s in the motorcycle apparel business, not one to ride around unprotected) and witnesses scrambled to remember the car’s license plate number, incredibly, amongst the twisted wreckage of Shelli’s fire-engine red baby, someone noticed the front plate of the car lying amidst the shards. The driver turned himself in a few days later.

To call the immaculate headers and muffler on this Supersport “rare” is like calling Kim Kardashian “slightly annoying.”

Justice was served, but Shelli’s bike was a wreck. But even though the frame was twisted, there were still a lot of salvageable parts: the rare sidepanels with original stickers, the shocks that resembled the stockers but worked far better, and the miraculously rust-free four-into-one headers and NOS muffler. And then, as Shelli was planning to put the disembodied bits of her bike into deep storage, her friend Nancy offered to sell her daily-driver ’76 CB400F.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy Nancy’s bike because I was so distraught about my own,” recalls Shelli. “I didn’t think that I wanted to care about a bike that much again.” But to paraphrase Tom Petty, the heart has a mind of its own, and a deal was struck. Once again Shelli was riding a Supersport.

Shelli and her resurrected Supersport. Check the bike out at the D-Store if you're in San Francisco: 131 South Van Ness, or call (415) 626-5478.

If you don’t remember the ’70s—either because you were too young, didn’t yet exist or were too stoned—the Supersport was one of the iconic bikes of that decade. It was also important; it was Japan’s first stab at a cafe racer, with clean, minimalist European styling that was a departure from the 1940s-styled Brit bikes and 1930s-styled Harleys that dominated the moto-landscape. And it offered performance to match its low bars, rearset pegs and race-style tank—the six-speed motor revved to 10,000 rpm, the four-into-one exhaust sounded as good as it looked, and the 390-pound wet weight meant it was much more flickable and fun to ride than the bigger (and admittedly, way faster) multi-cylinder machines. It was only in production three years (1975-1977) and has since become one of the more collectible bikes of the ’70s, with clean examples fetching $5000 or more.

“That CB was the first bike that was really mine. I poured a lot of love and some money into it,” Shelli reminisces. “It was clean, reliable and fun…it was my baby.” Definitely worth saving, so she took her faithful-yet-tired ’76 and her boxes of parts to see Charlie O’Hanlon at Charlie’s Place in San Francisco. O’Hanlon is one of the luminaries of San Francisco’s vibrant vintage Honda scene (www.charliesplace.com; 415/255-0316), an undisputed master of getting vintage metal to run, go, stop—and look like new.

Two years later — hey, these things take time — the Supersport is better than new. “I have never owned a bike, new or old, that rides so nicely,” says Shelli. Charlie stripped the bike to the frame, the engine cases were repainted to look like new ones, the frame got a powder-coating, and every part was lovingly cleaned. Reassembled, you’d have a tough time telling the bike from a stocker, right down to the swingarm-mounted footpegs and giant DOT-approved turn signals.

You can’t get your youth back—but you can get the bike from your youth. And make it better than ever.

43 Comments

  1. mechanicuss says:

    graduatiing from high school in 1976, and big into bikes, I vividly remember that bike. Very distinctly different look from the CB350F’s. We idolize them now, but the bottom line is not many people bought them, hence the short run. By then we were all buying CB500’s and CB750’s and turning them into “Cafe racers”, and the CB400F just felt smallish and not that fast. An RD350 would walk off and smoke a CB400F.

    Speaking of high-revs – remember the CB175’s? I had one, a 1973, and it had a 10,500 RPM redline – dang, that little thing would WAIL at WOT. You could not resist THRASHING it. A local guy had one in a rigid frame and won a few local flattrack races with it and became somewhat famous in local circuits.

  2. smokey says:

    My first true streetbike was a 1975 bright red CB400F and I put many happy miles on it. It taught me how to bevel the footpegs in tight corners and had a wonderful exhaust note at redline (10,000 rpm!). Wish I would have never sold it, it was a true classic.

  3. Daniel Hunter says:

    When I was in high school (Westchester, near LAX, ’73 – ’76), a fellow student would visit his friends in my auto-shop class with one of these, except he had cut (bent or both?) the bars way down, modified at least the pipes and probably a lot more, and other than the headlight, the whole thing was black (flat, mostly, IIRC), pipes and all, plus a few stickers here and there. He was of Asian ancestry and (again IIRC) sometimes wore something similar to a kamakazi pilot headband.

    To me, it seemed to redline past 12k+ than just 10, and – being the first time I’d ever laid eyes on anything like an actual and entirely original (to me) “cafe racer,” – I thought for sure the guy was gonna get himself killed any day on it, if not any minute.

    I was quite impressed but also shocked anyone had the guts to ride something so seemingly suicidal (this while my brother and I were mounting borrowed 6-71 blowers on our ’70 Z-28).

    Great story. Great pics. I hope Shelli keeps her “400-4″ the rest of her long and happy life. Thank you for sharing this great blast from the past. Hats off to all, especially Shelli.

  4. greybeard says:

    We were not “too stoned”.

    We were stoned precisely right, thank you.
    ;)

  5. Ayk says:

    Congrats to Shelli on once again riding a gem. I bought a red one in 1975, broke it in for 100 miles, then rode it to Chicago and back from SoCal. My dad thought it was so cool, he sold his CL350 and bought one.

  6. Wilson R says:

    I wonder if Honda ever visits this site?

    I had a Honda 350 Scrambler when I was 16 but always wanted a 400F. The tank and the header make this bike a beautiful thing. Since we are currently in the retro mindset (Mustang/Camaro/Mini/Norton/Indian etc..) it would be great if Honda took notice and offered a 400F to the masses. It would surely sell to young and old alike! Perhaps Honda is not interested in making money?

  7. That’s not a bike is a piece of art

  8. Glen says:

    GREAT PICTURES! I love that bike. It was my first. I bought it new in 76. It was stolen in 79. Has anyone seen it? Clubman bars, Tommaselli grips, Koni Aluminum shocks and Conti-twins tires or yeah, and Kaw Z-1 mirrors.

  9. Vincent says:

    I laid awake many nights asking myself that most important question “400F or RD400″ over and over and over. I ended up with a very fast RD400C. Cycle Mag called it “A willing accomplish in crime” an it was.

    Still I loved those 400Fs and their jewel like engines. I rode that RD400 everywhere. Half the time with the front wheel in the air. Mid size mid 70’s bikes were just so much fun. I changed just about everything you could change to make the 400 faster and many big bikes just could not touch it from stoplight to stoplight. Great fun.

  10. steve says:

    bought my wife a new street triple for Christmas last year after riding her 400-4 for 20 years, it has been parked in the garage since but my 13 year old has taken a shine to it so it will receive some paint and polish soon.It has been a fantastic ride and she still longs to ride it again. How can you go wrong with the best package ever produced
    By the way your bike is beautiful happy riding

  11. Chris #2 says:

    I want to know how she gets that engine so clean. The thing looks like it just rolled off the showroom floor.

    • Gabe says:

      Charlie at Charlie’s Place had the cases bead-blasted. She says she hasn’t ridden it much yet, which is why it still looks so clean, but she will soon.

  12. Daveman says:

    Wow, great article that brings back memories. A fourth move in six years in 1976 at the tender age of sixteen allowed me to convince the (somewhat guilt ridden) parents to help front the cash and I sprung for a new leftover stock 1975 CB400F. Blue paint, four-into-one pipes…it was a teenage dream. Almost identical to the bike shown here. It was truly a bike with a magnetic personality for the era. You did not here the shriek of the CB400F racing towards a 10K redline anywhere else. It was quicker than many remember, I never fell behind friends on RD400s or CB550Ks. A 750 would run away slowly, but that was expected. Many an adventure over three years on the bike, including a few strange mishaps. Unfortunately, the parents sold it while I was away at college. It would be six years of college and overseas missionary service until my next bike, an ’85 CB650 Nighthawk. While I would never trade the awesome technology available today (think CBR1000RR or VFR1200F depending on your taste) such nostalgic icons will always have their place in motorcycle history.

  13. Tim says:

    Beautiful bike. One of my favorite looking bikes of all time.

  14. Mark Pearson says:

    Thank you for this article. I just picked up a ’78 CB750F and would like to do my own resto-mod, but I need some help. I’m having a hard time finding shops who do resto work in my area (the Ozarks). Anyone out there have any leads?

  15. GaryF says:

    Lovely bike … I remember it well. I rode its arch nemesis: a Suzuki 380 Sebring. It was a three-cylinder, air-cooled two-stroke. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Us old pharts need it now and again.

  16. Beaufort says:

    I met Shelli when she was the west coast honcho for Rev’it.
    That cool bike could not belong to a nicer person.

  17. Oakland Johnny says:

    I have a ’75 & it is absolutely a treat to ride. Aside from lack of grunt, it is my favorite bike to ride of my tiny two wheeled armada and hands down one of the best looking bikes of the era (in my humble etc.)
    As a young lad in the 70’s, this was the first bike I ever fell in love with. It’s small size must’ve appealed to me as a child & those 4 into 1 headers are still sexy to this day. It took me 30 years to finally get my dream bike, but as Shelli doubtless knows, this bike is worth the waitfor the fun factor alone, never mind it’s great looks.
    Shelli, I live in Oakland too. If your reading this, let’s go tip our 400Fs into some turns together someday. Claremont to Grizzly to Skyline to Snake out to C.V. & back perhaps?

  18. Bill says:

    Gosh what a grand story and bikes not bad also !

  19. mrhonda says:

    I have two of them here for sale on San Diego CL. AZ bikes and lots of work done on both. Have to sell to fund finishing my 1959 CE71 project. I roadraced CB400Fs back in the 1970s and early 1980s, in 6 hour endurance races. 33 mpg under race conditions! That was with a 458cc motor, Yoshimura cam and Yoshima header combo. Bike ran like a watch until I crashed it and they stopped the race to scrape me off the track at Ontario. Fixed the bike for $100, me… a little more. Still love to hear the bike running up through the nice 6 speed gearbox. Classic Honda Four!

  20. jimbo says:

    Gabe, sorry, forgot to mention: the images are great, especially the side view showing the headers!

  21. Mad Max says:

    It seems the correct URL for charlie’s place is:

    http://www.charlies-place.com/

  22. Big Bobby B says:

    I miss my supersport, I would like to see someone copy that exhust for some modern bikes
    (mainly my fz1). Who cares if you lose a few HP when you look that cool.

  23. jomama says:

    man those things were slow….

    • jimbo says:

      It takes effort to fathom the dichotomy that is Honda’s CB400F: one of the best looking SS bikes ever, yet IIRC less overall performance than the CB350 twins of the day. Certainly the CB400 parallel twin Hawk that arrived shortly thereafter made the four cylinder 400 look like it had dropped anchor, especially in cornering clearance (actually, the Hawk may have had more cornering clearance than any street bike of its era, better than some current bikes, and universes better than any so-called “cruiser” or “muscle bike” of any era).

      • joe broussard says:

        the 350/4 was even slower, but when the CB400f came out, the parts guy thought his was killer fast, but when he came out to race me on my old CB450 dohc torsion bar twin, and I did a burnout, he immediately said, “my bike wont do that”.
        I think the 400F was the first bike we sold in numbers, that immediately came back wrecked from owners just riding them off the road. before that, any bike that was crashed had hit something.
        the CB400f was the beginning of the “fashion bike” trend, and deservedly so.

  24. ukbiker says:

    The dashing style of Honda CB400F is absolutely stunning, even now models like these are most admired and want of every youngster. The old bike accessories looks perfect with this model…

  25. One of my all time favorite bikes. THE best looking exhaust pipe ever. And I definitely understand the desire to hang on to them. I just traded my RD400 Daytona after 117 years of ownership for an LC350. Great Story!

  26. PN says:

    I have one, a ’75. It was a real POS but I restored it completely. You have to ditch the tail light and turn signals. They’re way out of proportion for the rest of the bike, but Honda wanted to make its little 400 look like a bigger bike to the American market. It probably had to satisfy the DOT as well. I always liked how they looked, especially the cut of the tank. The header is fantastic. You can get a complete replacement from David Silver Spares in England. Nice,clean ones on eBay used to go for $1600-1800, then they got all out of hand. They’re probably back under $2K again. It’s a lot of fun to ride, very alive, and makes great noises. To me, Honda’s best bike ever.

  27. MGNorge says:

    Harkens back to a time when motorcycles and motorcycling seemed much more diverse. Good times! I believe the coating over cast pieces was to protect them from road chemicals. But some exposed to the elements, and most likely lots of UV rays, did yellow. Mine never did much but then I garaged my bikes and kept them cleaned up.

  28. Rob Blais says:

    I found one of these in a Sunday paper ad, asking $400. It was a rat, but ran and I paid $250. Had ape hangers, rotted muffler, and orange spray paint. Found original bars for $15, replaced the tires, found a suitable muffler, and rode it a little. What a cool bike! Decided to sell it, and was amazed at the response to the ad. Got calls from all over the country, and the first question was always “How’s the header?”. That alone was worth the asking price to some respondents. Amazing. Sold the bike for $2500, and the guy totaled it on the way home. Sad. Shame the manufacturers don’t produce more like it. Better to go fast on a slow bike than to go slow on a fast bike. Always.

  29. Hank says:

    had a yellow one – kick myself now for selling

  30. GMan38 says:

    Still one of the coolest looking bikes produced, even 35 years later.

  31. BATMAN says:

    Always wanted one. Used to be a Yamaha guy back then, had a ’75 XS 500 and later, a ’75 RD 350. But sure wish I could find one of those Honda 400’s now.

  32. jato says:

    I drool. Therefore, I am.

  33. Randy Singer says:

    This article made me feel terrible! I have an almost identical red 1975 Honda CB400F sitting in my garage. It hasn’t been a runner for years. I don’t want to spend the money to clean out the carbs, replace the rotting cables and tires, etc. My wife has wanted me to clear out the space that it takes up for years, but I love this bike too much to get rid of it.

    Every time that I see the bike sitting in the garage I both admire how beautiful it is, and feel bad for having let it go unloved. This isn’t just a motorcycle, it’s a friend that I grew up with. It took me to school everyday. I had this bike before I met my wife. It’s amazing how we get attached to such things.

  34. Joey Wilson says:

    Just stunning (and certainly nicer after two years’ work than when it was new). When will ‘they’ get it that there’s a huge market for 250 to 500cc bikes? The new little CBR that’s inbound is OK, but how about the VTR250 or the CB400 Super Four that are Japan-only for now? Or if you got to go big, bring the CB1100 that looks like this one’s all-grown-up grandson !

    Very happy for you, Shelli, glad you weren’t hurt in the accident, and the smile on your face says it all. You GO, girl !

  35. Latebraking says:

    This bike strikes so many pleasant chords with me, bringing back many happy memories of my youth. When I can indulge myself, I will have one of these. Nice feature, Dirck, and nice story, Gabe!

  36. Trpldog says:

    Interesting. On a ride about three weeks ago, we also saw another beautiful Red Honda 400 four at Newcomb’s Ranch up in the Angeles National Forest on Angeles Crest Highway -that bike reminds me of a fine watch. Very nice. Flashback City for sure!

  37. kawatwo says:

    If they sold the 86 Kawasaki 250 ninja exactly as it was then I would buy another one tomorrow. It was my first love. The CB400 SS has always been a soft spot as well. Nice bike Shelli.

  38. Rik says:

    Great story, and a nice 400F!! One to be proud of. I had a blue ’75 back in ’83,my first street bike, purchased it for $350, cleaned it up, rode it a while and sold it for $800, one of those bikes I should have kept around!

    Enjoy the ride Shelli!