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Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

MD Project: CB350 Cafe Racer, Part III

Kirk at Custom Design delivered perfect paint and razor-sharp racing stripes.

Yes, we all have projects moldering in our garages, don’t we? I know a guy who recently finished the Ford hot-rod project he started in High School. Good for him, but he’s in his mid-50s, so I don’t feel too bad that my cafe-racer project, which I first told you about in March and then updated you about a little later has been dragging along for almost two years now. But unlike some projects, it’s actually taking shape. I know I promised we’d talk about the motor, but aside from gathering parts, not much has happened there, so let me show you the cosmetic stuff that has come together.

Something about polished aluminum just makes us happy...

My goal was a light, fast and functional machine, one I would feel comfortable riding on a racetrack. But that doesn’t mean it has to look like a duct-taped pile of crap like the racebikes I rode in the past, either. This time I would do it right, so I called up Kirk Taylor at Custom Design Studios in Novato, California. Kirk is best known for building lean and stripped-down V-Twin bobbers—his work has been featured in dozens of magazines and in Tom Zimberoff’s book Art of the Chopper II—but as he does business in Marin County, a twisty-road mecca for sportbikes, he doesn’t shy away from lightweight stuff, either. So I handed him my battered gas tank, ugly, heavy chrome front mudguard and minimalist race tailsection so he could look over the pieces and tell me what he would do with them. He instantly got what my project was all about and told me to come back in a month or two.

What I got from him showed me what a master painter and customizer can do and why they can charge so much. The tank was rusty, dented junk, but now it sparkles with thick, liquid-looking paint, and the scabrous interior has now been professionally stripped and finished with a good-quality anti-rust coating (no, it’s not one of those $30 kits you get at your local motorcycle shop that if it’s not perfectly applied starts to flake and clog your carbs with chunks of coating, but a more expensive kit designed for professional marine use). The big, gangly fender was now cut down to a reasonable size (and weight), stripped of chrome and painted to match the tank and tail section, complete with perfectly executed double racing stripes.

The tailsection/seat is also coated with Kirk’s thick, lustrous paintwork, reminding me what a difference there is between do-it-yourself or budget auto bodyshop paint and the product of an experienced pro like Kirk. Sure, it’s (very) expensive compared to the actual cost of you spending hours in your garage (or the alley behind your house) sanding, filling, prepping, primering and shooting, but unless you have years of experience and the expensive equipment that Kirk has, your results (to put it mildly) may vary. My results, not to put too fine a point on things, consistently look like crap.

We opted for the optional black-anodizing on our aluminum rims to match the blacked-out tank and frame.

The deep black of the bodywork matches my new wheels. I had Raber’s Parts Mart get a set of 18-inch Sun rims and stainless-steel spokes and find a subcontractor to lace them to my freshly polished hubs. It took a little longer than expected, but the new wheels look great—and while I didn’t weigh the original wheels, the new ones are easily half the weight of the old steel rims, which should vastly improve braking, handling and acceleration. I just have to select tires (I’m leaning towards Pirelli Sport Demons).

It should all look great with my JEMCO exhaust system. In 1969, Jon Easton started selling his hand-made steel exhaust systems to all kinds of racers, including dirt-trackers, roadracers, motocrossers and micro-car racers. His name comes up when you inquire about getting the best power for your buck, and full exhaust systems start at an incredibly low $225. What a JEMCO system isn’t is quiet—I haven’t heard a JEMCO-equipped CB350 run, but based on the experience I had with a JEMCO muffler on an FT500 Ascot I road-raced, I’m expecting to have to push my bike way down the street before I start it, as I like my neighbors liking me. JEMCO products also don’t look very pretty, but Easton doesn’t make pipes for the custom crowd—he builds them for racers. Hopefully, it’ll look better when I get it painted or ceramic finished (does anybody have suggestions for finish for a steel exhaust system?).

Jon Easton's work isn't pretty, but it works very well.

The finishing touch is the stock top triple clamp, back from Pilgrim Plating in San Rafael, California. There, owner Kim took good care of me, stripping the stock crinkle-coat finish from the aluminum part and buffing it out to a bright sheen. I’ll probably have to polish it again in a year or two, but it looks great and only cost me $40.

So now we have most of the basic pieces. When I get my front suspension back from SuperPlush, I’ll mount tires to the wheels and take everything back to Charlie’s Place so he can start assembling everything into a rolling chassis. That’s when this will start to get interesting.

Next: Suspension and Motor


  1. mocktar400 says:

    White colored exhaust might look good with your white stripe 😉

  2. tla says:

    if you’re really broke, you can vht hi temp clear coat before spraying vht black paint. it’ll last longer that way.

  3. Jason says:

    Jet Hot Coating has a bunch of grades/colors ( & tends to drastically reduce surface temps of the pipes. On faired bikes, it makes a huge difference – on the vintage bikes, it looks badass & lasts forever! I manage a small cycle shop not far from Jet Hot’s corporate offices (and live even closer) – I have seen the results first hand & have been impressed. Some of the paper published magazines have reviewed their services too. Well worth the investment on the last CB750 we had coated. Hi-temp paint (even the 1200 degree VHT stuff) comes off in a couple of months…

    • Bud says:

      I can vouch for Jet Hot. I’ve had Jet Hot coated headers on my Camaro for several years now. Much lower temps under the hood now. And it’s held up well. But it doesn’t look like chrome, its more a flat silver finish. I think on a bike I might see if they had a black coating, might look better.

  4. gsbeliever says:

    Yamaha makes a great tank cleaner and neutralizer (2 part system). Just be aware that if your tank is really groddy, it could take up to four days of soaking (directions say 4 hours?!). I kept a 5 gallon bucket handy and dump the solution into that when I wanted to check the progress. Need more time? Just dump the solution back into the tank. As for a tank sealer, the POR-15 is excellent, goes on like liquid metal and hardens like steel (they even include some fiberglass cloth to seal minor leaks). Just don’t buy the POR-15 kit, the cleaner sucks for anything but the lightest crud, definitely go w/ the Yamaha cleaner.

  5. mocktar400 says:

    Gabe, your bike project looks great. Jethot coating is a brand name of a powder coating and there is another company in Fresno CA. Caps powder coating, that make a similar coating called Brite Hot coating in silver that can be polished to look similar to chrome. Used on race car exhausts and show cars and show bikes. They also offer a Porcelain coating that looks like glass coating and was used on old cars to keep them from rusting, Thinking black porcelain would look great with your color scheme. Check em out at Best of luck on your project cafe racer.

    • Gabe says:

      Thanks for that info…I decided to go with boring black hi-temp powder coat. The budget is starting to bend!

  6. Conan says:

    Man, this is making me regret my current plan to fix and sell the GL500 in the garage…it could make a cool little cafe racer.

    Looking forward to the updates!

  7. jimbo says:

    Loooove the black/white…for this particular bike still leaning toward Honda’s classic red/white/blue (unrelated to flag colors).

  8. Steve says:

    Very nice Gabe! You are definitely doing this Cafe Racer “right” with all top shelf componets & high quality work. I’m sure you will not be disappointed. I’ve loved 350 Honda’s since I was a kid in the early 70’s…seemed like everyone had one & some tricked them out a bit. I prefer street tracker handlebars since I come from a dirtbike background & stock gear shifter location…. but clip ons & rears sets are very cool!

    In ref to the raw JEMCO exhaust… like others have noted… a “wrapped” pipe always looks cool & is functional as well… Ceramic coating would be cool too.. or you could just polish the stainless… or some combo of wrapped & polished… gonna be cool no matter what you decide…
    thanks for sharing!
    Can I ride (wheelie) it when you are done??

    • Gabe says:

      Don’t know how good it will wheelie, Steve! But you are welcome to try, as long as you have something interesting for me to ride…

  9. Nate says:

    Oh man… I am officially transfixed.

  10. Stinky says:

    Might have to forsake the Duc this winter for an old 350 that’s been a corner queen of the garage for years.

  11. RichBinAZ says:

    Get the pipes jet hot coated. They have a matt black that sucks the color out of the room, or the sterling silver looks nice

  12. Billygoat says:

    Definitely blue the exhaust (the charcoal bluing to me looks best). That will look incredible.

  13. venator390 says:

    Gabe, For those of us who might be willing to part with the extra bucks, what “more expensive kit designed for professional marine use” was used to clean your tank innards?

  14. Motowalt says:

    Be careful placing those freshly-painted parts and rims on rough concrete for the photo shoot-or you could end up with tiny scratches on everything.

  15. John Bryan says:

    Yup – polish it and blue it up with a heat gun. It’s almost a cliché anymore but header wrap on the down pipes would fit the “look” too. But don’t paint/coat it black – why make that nifty exhaust disappear when the polished and blued steel would set off that lovely black paint job?

    • Gabe says:

      It’s not stainless–won’t it rust if I just blue it?

      • Billygoat says:

        No. The do the same for guns and they don’t rust. But we don’t swim with them. Do you really plan to run your baby in the rain? If you dunked it, it might rust.

      • Billygoat says:

        Call Tracy at Turnbull. She said the bluing does offer some protection and she is looking for an appropriate motorcycle project…Turnbull Mfg. Co. Phone: 585-657-6338. The only problem MAY be the high heat used for the process, but since this is motocycle exhaust, it’s designed for high heat.

  16. Pistoffguy says:

    Hot gun bluing for the exhaust. Looks good and you can still see the nice welds of your exhaust