When we left our cafe-racer project, we had all the major assemblies: frame, suspension, motor, bodywork, electrics and wheels. All that’s left to do is put it all together and get on the road for some riding impressions.
It’s easy to say all you need are a motor, frame and wheels, but we all know that’s not true. Your bike could have the greatest motor and best-handling frame, but if there’s nowhere for your ass, hands and feet it’s kind of worthless. I knew that for a cafe racer to be a cafe racer, it had to have clip-on bars (or clubmans, if you want to do it half-assed) and rear-set footpegs. I don’t mean to sound elitist, but I see a lot of motorcycles pimped as “cafe racers” with stock footpegs and clubman bars, and very little other modification. Low bars without rearsets make no sense — it’s like wearing the top half of a Superman costume with jeans and sneakers. It may be more comfortable, but it just looks wrong.
To make rearsets, rather than buying fancy pre-made ones, we decided to do what a period modifier would do — make our own. Charlie O’Hanlon at Charlie’s Place cut up an old handlebar and used his welding skills and odds and ends to fab up some … interesting-looking but very functional rearsets. They mount to the stock passenger footpeg/swingarm mounting plates, a great way to get two functions out of one part.
For handlebars, I decided to go with what I know. Woodcraft Technologies is a terrific company that has been supporting racers and trackday riders by building strong, affordable, high-quality rearsets and clipons that are easy to install and repair. The Woodcraft 3-piece design allows assembly in minutes (you don’t have to pull the top triple off to install), and replacement bars are only $15. Woodcraft makes the clipons in sizes from 29-55mm, covering just about any bike with forks (the CB400F fork on this bike uses 33mm tubes). Of particular interest to the 40-plus crowd—accessory risers that bolt on to the Woodcraft clamp to lift the bar up an additional 3 inches for touring or trackday comfort. Sadly, the risers won’t work on the CB350—the top triple clamp pinch bolts get in the way.
For lighting, I didn’t need to look too hard for a solution. Taiwanese company Emgo makes a whole range of bolt-on stuff for cruisers, sportbikes, dirtbikes, ATVs and cafe racers. A classic chrome 7-inch headlight bucket with a 55-watt H4 halogen bulb—what more did I need? Emgo also sells inexpensive chrome brackets, or polished aluminum ones if you want to get fancy. Emgo sells through dealers, so call your local parts counter for help. For a taillight, I sourced an LED taillight/brakelight/license-plate lamp combo unit with built-in license-plate bracket for less than $25 from CapscoMoto.
I gave a lot of thought to brakes, but in the end, we decided the stock CB400F setup would work. The antiquated single-piston front caliper should be fine for such a light bike, but to be sure, Charlie added a steel-braided front brake line and rebuilt the caliper and master cylinder.
Everything else was replaced with OEM Honda parts—a large number of which are still available through your local Honda dealer’s parts counter—or aftermarket replacements from companies like Motion Pro or K&L supply. We left final-drive gearing stock, and a simple, period-correct non-O-ring roller chain sends power to the back sprocket. One embarrassing niggle we found on final assembly—the Jemco exhaust for the CL350 (this project started with a CL350 frame) is a 2-into-1, which means I can’t use the centerstand, as the exhaust crosses under the brackets. Since the stock sidestand mounts to the footpeg brackets, we would now have to make our own sidestand, which we’ll weld to the lower frame rail. In the meantime, I’d have to find a wall, tree or friendly passer-by to hold my bike up when it was parked. How authentic can you get?
The final hurdle—the rubber grip pads on the gas tank, which we had removed so we could paint, were so old and dried out they proved impossible to persuade back onto the freshly-painted tank, even after warming them with a hair drier. Luckily, a poster on a discussion forum I frequent recommended a product called Rubber Renue from MG chemicals. A blend of xylene and methyl salicyate, Renue is smelly, hazardous and very effective. After a two-day soak in the wintergreen-smelling stuff (wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated place away from your house, unless you’re already divorced) the two pieces were as soft and flexible as brand new. I can image this would be a very good solution for those hardened carb boots that can hang up a carb cleaning on an old bike for days. The grips went right on, although they still don’t sit perfectly flush.
Finally, I got a voicemail from Charlie—your bike’s ready to ride.
Next: Riding impressions.