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BLACKSQUARE Motorcycle: Beautiful Essence

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We like to look at custom motorcycles as much as anyone, but few draw our attention like the BLACKSQUARE. We love form, but we also love function, and this machine weighs just 375 pounds and packs the potent Honda CB550 four-cylinder engine. Here is what the BLACKSQUARE creator has to say about this particular custom (don’t forget to visit the BLACKSQUARE website for additional photos and build details):

BLACKSQUARE is a unique custom motorcycle based on a HONDA CB550. It was built with the objective to optimize form and function, and to maximize the power to weight ratio. In other words, a custom motorcycle that is elegant and simple in appearance, and which is safe and fun to ride. The solution was in pursuing a minimalist approach with attention to detail. Everything that is not essential for the machine to run has been eliminated. There are no instruments. No mirrors. No front fender. No switches. No blinkers. No conveniences. No luxuries. A headlight, taillights and a license plate holder are present and functional since they are required by law. The motorcycle is street legal.

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Only the frame, engine, front forks, rear wheel hub, and side covers were retained from the 1977 original. All other motorcycle components were either custom-made or custom-fitted. Aluminum, brass and stainless steel were used for all new custom motorcycle parts such as foot pegs, clutch and brake pedals, seat pan, brackets, velocity stacks, exhaust pipes, wheels and spokes, and many others. As a result, the motorcycle’s weight was reduced to a total of 375 lbs. This makes it possible that machine and rider could weigh a combined total of 550 lbs. Considering the engine’s displacement is 550 cc, this translates to 1 cc for a pound of weight. That is as good as a 2014 PORCHE 911 Carrera 4 weighing in at 3,353 lbs. and sporting a 3,456 cc engine!

This is one of the nicest looking customs we have seen in a long time. It appears to involve impressive attention to detail, and excellent fit and finish. Be sure to tell us what you think in the comments section below, and note that there is a form for providing feedback to the creator of this machine on the BLACKSQUARE website.

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77 Comments

  1. richard says:

    I had a 500/4 back in the day and can tell you the motor is anything but potent. Wet lettuce springs to mind.

  2. rg500g says:

    There is no shortage of craftsmanship in the build, but not that much art sad to say. The gas tank is the redeeming factor, but the rest is entirely too derivative. The drum is a missed opportunity – a quad leading shoe ala Suz kettle or a Grimeca would have been the business, but the hipsters won’t know how to keep the shoes in tune. This is still by and large a ‘polish and paint’ job, apart from the tank. This is a journeyman effort that would grant the builder a staff job in a custom shop, but I’d not quit my day job if I thought this was going to win any significant awards.

  3. Lenz says:

    Beautiful in the final finish but as with many artwork customs the practicalities of actually using it on the road are compromised.

  4. Rudedog4 says:

    I don’t understand the attraction of drum brakes, especially on a bike that originally had a front disc. Otherwise, cool build.

    • mickey says:

      Something you don’t see everyday? Something some young riders have never seen? Different look? Something rare? Something basic and elemental to go with the rest of the bike?

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        Drum brakes are certainly more old school, but I think disc brakes are both more basic and elemental. To my eye at least.

        • mickey says:

          I don’t know Jeremy, with a drum brake you have a pivot and 2 shoes, an arm a rod and a pedal or cable and lever assy for the front. With a disc you have a Master cylinder with fluid and a plunger, a lever,a hose, banjo bolts,a caliper assy with 2 to 4 pistons and seals, some slide pins, and some pads, a disc and carrier. Twice that for a dual disc set up. Then again you could have a mechanical disc like some small Honda street bikes had. Having worked on both I’d say the drum is far easier to work on and maintain even if it’s not as efficient in stopping a speeding motorcycle.

          If discs were more basic and elemental why weren’t they invented first?

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            Sorry, the “to my eye” disclaimer was suppose to communicate that they *visually* look more basic and elemental – especially since the components are out in the open to be seen. Too me, the drum is like a fairing. A design loses “elemental” once you cover it up – akin to putting a full fairing on the rest of the bike. I agree a drum brake is a simpler device. From a visual impact standpoint, I find them uninspiring. But that’s just me.

          • mickey says:

            Ahh English language is sometimes hard to understand. There really were some exotic looking drum brakes around in the 50s especially on racing bikes, but the brake on this bike isn’t one of them, it’s just a run of the mill drum brake.lol. Looks like it came off a CB 450.

          • MGNorge says:

            Could have come off any of the CB’s of that era. The drum brakes that I always thought looked “cool” (pun intended) were the conical types the Triumphs and BSA’s had early on, polished up with the open air vents.

          • mickey says:

            Yessir that’s a cool one.

      • Rudedog4 says:

        Form should follow function. I’d rather that the bike stop reliably, than have it look “cool”. Coolness is highly subjective; reliable stopping is not.

    • Kagato says:

      I don’t care about the brakes–I DEMAND a video or at least audio clip–no music.

  5. Randy says:

    I agree with Mr. Fraser. No front fender?…….It’s like riding in the rain, but it’s stones, not water.

  6. Colors says:

    I like the brass appointments, I’d like them more after a day in the rain tarnished the shine off of them. The bike is beautiful.

    The description… function? well I don’t doubt it works so yeah I guess so. But really, drum brakes? antiquated suspension? THOSE TIRES? Be real, this bike is all form. Displacement to weight ratio is not power to weight and therefore doesn’t really effect performance. If its putting 45 ponies to the ground I’d be surprised. At 375lbs, 45hp is not notable.

    I still think its a sweet bike, I’d be proud to own it. But blacksquare should not brag about how functional/fast/able this bike is. This bike is a looker not a performer.

  7. Kagato says:

    the more I look the prettier this little scoot gets : – )~

  8. Beasty says:

    Nicely done.

  9. Butch says:

    Reminds me of the “gold accent option” on the 90’s Toyotas.
    All that is needed is a pair of those gold slip ons like my mom used to wear.
    Follow the yellow brick road . . . . . . . . . . .

  10. Ian Danby says:

    Clean simple minimalist – what’s not to like.

    Grumps

  11. MGNorge says:

    This bike takes me back to the CB500-4 that my brother “cafe’d” out in the early seventies. He replaced the tank with a fiberglass road racing styled one along with a small padded seat and cowl. A 4 into 1 Kerker exhaust, Tomaselli clip-ons, rear sets and abbreviated front fender completed the deal. Engine was stock, ran like a jewel and was crazy loud. Once when out on a test beat, I mean ride, I found myself being ushered to the side of the road by a member of the local authorities. The nice officer just wanted to check the bike out, no invitation to their ball given. Fun bike, stock suspension and all.

  12. d8niel says:

    Meh.
    The bike is tacky and doesn’t seem to want to be ridden.
    Or at least, I have almost no desire to ride it.
    Not even the ‘golden ratio’ design justification can save this build from obscurity.

  13. Gary says:

    Very nice, this made my day. It speaks a language that few corporate design teams would understand anymore. The elemental machine in itself is what’s beautiful, not all the crap stylistic plastic you drape over it. But alas, the BLACKSQUARE would be completely unrideable…for it doesn’t have 6-stage traction control.

  14. Dave says:

    Amazed at all the snarky criticism. This builder’s reward for his work is that he now has *exactly* the bike he wants (and I didn’t see anywhere in the text that he intended to sell it). None of us who didn’t build a bike to this level of detail can say the same.

    Hats off to you, Kyrill. I think it’s beautiful. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  15. Martin says:

    Pretty, but as-is, it’s a museum piece or a start to a good project bike.

  16. Montana says:

    This article strikes me as an advertisement.
    “potent Honda CB550 four-cylinder engine”?
    Only to those who haven’t owned one.

  17. Selecter says:

    Good attention to detail, and it looks like quality work, but it’s very much the same-old-same-old, bland cafe-racer rebuild. A solid B for workmanship, and about a C- for creativity.

  18. Rich DuBarton says:

    Very nice cafe’ racer. I’m a former Cafe’ rider the first was a 1948 Matchless 500cc single , later a ’66 Triumph TR6. I moved to bobbers, but always looked back to the cafe’ days. When Honda built the GB 500 , I had to have one. It stayed in my stable of BMW sport touring bikes for a long time. When I go to the Barber Vintage Festival, I think cafe’s are among my favorites. In my day mirrors were always required.We used dental mirrors hanging down from the grip and always bobbed. I’ll tell you my 1971 BMW R60/5 had better drum brakes than did my 1976 BMW R75/6 disc brake.

  19. Dino says:

    Beautiful bike! Right down to the essence… Motor… Cycle…

    Sure, disc brakes are better than drums. We should run fenders, turn signals, air filters, etc… But this is clearly NOT a daily rider. I doubt that is what they intended.

    But a piece of art that looks great, and invokes all kinds of memories from anyone who ever was touched by the cycle bug. And on a nice day, you can take this art outside and flog it as much as you want (or dare)!

    My only objection is the line of hyperbole about 1cc of engine per pound of bike… Many other bikes exceed that random spec easily. 1800cc cruisers weigh half of their engine size, but will likely have a hard time keeping up with this lightweight 550cc. Light weight is the impressive spec. We could put it on the dyno and talk power per 1cc. But it is still not very relevant as this bike was also not designed to be an ultimate sportbike.

    If I had the means, and the space, I would gladly park this bike in my livingroom to enjoy it every day. And on a nice day, I would make sure there was no nasty Carbon building up in the motor!

  20. Frank says:

    It’s hard to believe all the criticism about this bike. Compared to what modern ADV bikes, sport tourers, and standards coming out of Asia look like, this is a gem. You want mirrors or different parts here or there I agree…add them. But if this bike doesn’t strike a fundamental design cord within you my opinion is something basic and elemental in you with regard to motorcycles has either died or gone to sleep.

    • Selecter says:

      Or we’re just bored to tears of seeing exactly the same thing from “custom” builders, over and over and over again.

      • joe b says:

        Or we’re just bored to tears of seeing exactly the same thing from “custom” builders, over and over and over again.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        What would you build or like to see built? I really would like to know and am not being critical of your comment. It just got me thinking: virtually every style of bike has been done “over and over”. So seriously… what would you like to see built?

    • VFRMarc says:

      Amen, brother. Anyone can personalize it to taste. This is VERY nice.

    • Thrus says:

      One thing left out of your equation is that some of us are younger then the whole Cafe phase. I see a bike redoing a style from the past, nothing wrong with that, that has 0 nostalgia value to me. problem with the style is it has been done over and over and over so there is nothing unique about the cafe look. Is it clean, yes; however it is hard not to do clean when you have very few cables/wires to deal with. It is a nice bike and well done but there is nothing to jump out at anyone here that doesn’t show up by the dozen at bike events. Many of us commenting on features missing are used to them being there as they are required to be street legal in our area. Mirrors are a big one for many as we have been, or nearly have been run off the road and will not ride anything that won’t let us keep track of the other vehicles on the road for our own safety.

      • mickey says:

        Care to mention a style that HASN’T been done over and over and over again? Not much new in the world of motorcycles. DN01 and NM4 maybe, but those are pretty much universally despised as a styling exercise.

  21. Jeremy in TX says:

    I really like seeing those old air-cooled fours used in these projects. As far as the bike is concerned, I like it except for the gold accents. A little too much trumping of function here to achieve the builder’s vision for my tastes, but most of those builders are guilty of that.

  22. billy says:

    Although they are claiming this bike is street legal it clearly isn’t.

    The license plate angle is illegal. Also, where is the horn?

  23. Kyril says:

    Thanks everybody for your comments. Much appreciated. Perhaps I can answer a few of the questions? The bike is not a “trailer queen” and has never been taken to a show. I don’t own a trailer. I have ridden it more than 500 miles and everything works just fine. You are right, it is not the most comfortable bike; that’s for sure. But, on the other hand, it was never meant to be. The headlight brackets (of which there are 4; two on the sides, one at the top and another at the bottom under the headlight) are not “generic” – I made them myself. The velocity stacks (never a great idea, but always good looking) are protected as much as possible, of course, by the original inner fender from dirt being thrown into them by the rear wheel. Mirrors could easily be added, if desired. I agree: the original suspension on any of the bikes of that era is relatively poor.

    • mickey says:

      Kyril, welcome. This is a tough crowd so don’t take it personally. They hardly like anything no matter who makes it.

    • dino says:

      I love to see a bike that nice, that really gets ridden!

      Most comments postedare expecting a lighter/cheaper/practical daily rider for some reason. Many that don’t post are just enjoying the look, and concept of what you have done,and enjoying the memories invoked by it, or dreaming of how they would build their own!

      Good job!

    • Kagato says:

      I bet your scoot sounds wonderful : – ) kudos to you for making your own ride! I wish I had the skills and drive to build one for me. I want at least a semi-modern engine with the styling cues of a Suzuki Stinger, which was a 100cc two cylinder (I think) I love the scrambler style high pipes!

    • Gham says:

      I like the tank,nice work.

    • cyclemotorist says:

      That is one beautiful motorcycle!

    • Dale says:

      Wonderful.

  24. MGNorge says:

    Drum brakes add to the retro look but perhaps an aftermarket disc setup could have been complimentary to the theme while retaining the virtues of disc brakes? If the shoes are arched accurately into the drum, drum brakes can be very powerful and even self energizing, but won’t dissipate heat as fast.

    Those pipes probably sound great!

    • BergDonk says:

      Way back when I built my 1972 CB500 I used a Ferodo lined Suzuki 4LS front brake on Ceriani forks. Way better than the stock disc, as long as you were going forward.

      Lots of other mods too, Yosh CR box, Alloy rods, 750 pistons, Yosh can, 750 carbs etc etc. The frame ended up being monococque too, with the tank panels pop rivetted onto a steel frame sealed with Kreem. Ahhh, the memories!

  25. paul246 says:

    Nice exercise but agree with some of the other comments, especially using velocity stacks with no filtration on the street. Engine wear will be accelerated.

  26. mickey says:

    I’m old school and kind of like it. There are some bits I’d do differently like the headlight mount and the seat, and I’d lose the gold bling. probably wouldn’t be comfortable for over an hour as is, but It’s not a touring bike for pete’s sake. Would be fine for a run up the canyons and back on a sunny Sunday morning, and as long as it’s dry you don’t need huge fenders. Drums aren’t as good as discs of course but they ran drums on the Isle of Mann up until the late 50’s running at bodacious speeds. As cafe’s go, it is one of the better looking one’s I have seen.

  27. Thrus says:

    Seems that it would have been fairly easy to add mirrors that distracted less then the throttle cables. Really all the talk about fit and finish and then two cables just sticking out there. They talk about custom made or fitted parts and then show a photo of a generic headlight bracket with holes to fit the light where needed. the seat is almost cosmetic with the amount of padding that it looks to have, if you want to ride further then from your trailer to the the bike event.

    Over all in my opinion it would look very nice parked at a bike show and then put on a trailer to take it back home for whoever buys it.

  28. Doug Miller says:

    C’mon guys, be nice. This is a period build. Damn nice effort and something that could be put together using most of the original parts from the donor bike. The Honda 550 was not a barnstormer and the spindly fork tubes and drum brakes, while certainly not leading edge equipment, are entirely adequate for the performance parameters of this motorcycle. This bike demonstrates what can be done when an individual uses imagination instead of just emptying his checking account to build a custom. Really nice job. I would be proud to ride this bike.

  29. Rich Thomas says:

    “Everything that is not essential for the machine to run has been eliminated.”

    Ummm surely one rear light would have been enough then?

  30. States it is street legal, but would not pass in New York without mirrors, horn, turn signals, and maybe exhaust system. Nice piece of art, but not a real street bike.

  31. TimU says:

    Just more moto-jewelry. No real motorcycle here. I’d never ride a drum front brake/no front fender bike on a public road. Just sit and look at it. That’s all it’s worth. (Frankly I think it’s a waste of a good motor).

  32. Looks good, but have you ever ridden a street bike with no front fender and no mirror?

  33. Tommy D says:

    It’s all about that tank. Very much a copy of the Egli Vincent. I would rather have the HONDA CB1000R dual headlight concept that never showed up. Having lived through those 70’s bikes I’ll pass. No brakes and hinged frames… I like the modern interpretation of older bikes. Bikes like Ducati’s Scrambler. There is something about going with the back to basic motorcycling look, but keeping modern design standards like Brembro radial mount braking.

  34. Southwind says:

    Now this looks like a real world motorcycle. Impressive attention grabbing stature.
    I liked it at first blink. Very Nice forethought.
    The components of it day were more than just safe for the times and roads. Had a New 1975 CB550 and it was a smooth, reliable machine. This is a good work, custom history.

  35. MCmotoHistory says:

    This is weak. It’s pretty but drum brake in the front, no fender combined with velocity stacks, do you actually ride this bike? And the rear just looks unfinished. I guess you don’t need mirrors if you don’t ride. Form and function? Not so much.

  36. Provologna says:

    It is almost impossible to believe how weak, spindly, and inadequate were forks of that era (at least compared to modern sport bike standards).

    Oh, the bike…yeah, she’s sweet fer sure.

    • Always cracks me up when people comment about suspension and tires on modern bikes. The original CBx had 35 mm fork tubes and a 4.25×18 rear tire.

    • Curly says:

      What doesn’t show on old forks is the tube wall thickness. They were typically a lot thicker than modern tubes which keep weight down by making the walls much thinner. So the old forks do work fine up to a point and that should be enough for this bike which likely won’t ever be ridden hard.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        I’ve ridden plenty of old bikes. You’re not fooling me for a second! 🙂

        • todd says:

          There are many people who can ride an old bike faster than most people can ride a modern bike. Don’t get caught up on the newer is better bandwagon when 90% of it is rider skill.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            “There are many people who can ride an old bike faster than most people can ride a modern bike.”

            Completely irrelevant. Modern brakes, suspension and frames are way better than their vintage counterparts. Period. A given rider’s skill level does not change that fact.

            To Curly’s point, the old tube walls were thicker, yes, but the diameter of the tubes has a far greater effect on flexing than wall thickness. Modern tube walls are thinner because the large ODs allow them to be.

          • todd says:

            How is that irrelevant? Parts are only as good as what the rider can get out of them. On paper they are better but in application even modern bits and bikes will not improve a rider. I’ve seen it many times, People I’ve ridden with have “upgraded” their bikes over the years but they still aren’t any faster than when they were on the old bike, me included – save for the experience gained over that time.

            I have a mixture of old and new bikes in my garage. I can’t ride any faster on my new bikes as I can on the old bikes. Yet, on the way home from work tonight, I somehow caught myself in the middle of a group of sport bike riders on Redwood Road. I was riding my old Seca 650 but managed to hang with the leader and lose the guy behind me on my way home. I’m glad I wasn’t on the Ducati because it would have been a lot harder to keep up!!

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            Todd, I can’t say I’ve had or observed the same experience. I’ve owned a couple of old bikes, and I found the limits of those machines rather quickly. And I don’t consider myself a particularly good rider. Though I can’t deny those old bikes offered a great learning experience.

            Modern components are just undeniably superior to the old stuff, and they allow me to push new envelopes and sharpen my skills. Just because some other rider doesn’t have the desire or discipline to tap into the huge performance potential offered by modern hardware (and now software) over yesteryear’s doesn’t make the modern component itself any less effective. I just care whether I can go faster and/or ride safer than I could before. And that has never failed to be the case for me with upgraded components, particularly suspension and brakes.