Retro Write Up is all about showcasing South African custom motorcycles of all shapes and sizes, with a particular focus on old school styling. We however also have great love for stock standard, unadulterated motorcycles which have been lovingly preserved or painstakingly restored. To chop and change a pristine original motorcycle is crazy, although certain models are so butt ugly in standard form they benefit from an extreme makeover. In our experience, even professional customisers refrain from modifying motorcycles which are too original. Purists see the customisers as a threat to the preservation of motorcycles but the truth is that for every motorcycle which is in as new condition after thirty years, there are hundreds in near scrap condition. It is the customiser who breathes new life into these dying motorcycles by using them as “donor bikes” which evolve into new and exciting motorcycles.
Our featured Honda CB550 bobber’s condition when first acquired is described by its owner, Jarred, as “derelict”. The CB550 was available from 1974 until 1978. It is described in most articles as being one of the best all rounders of its time. It has a four cylinder, single overhead cam, wet sump motor which produces 50 hp. It is lighter and more nimble than the CB750 model and has a top speed of just over 160 km/h.
CB550s are in great demand for restoration and customisation alike. Jarred bought two as a job lot. This was the worst one of the two bikes, a non-runner with rims rusted through. The front forks were bent and so he installed slightly longer CB900F stanchions into the original shocks. It is hard to believe that the custom tank is off a Yamaha SR250. The rear mudguard is the original chrome item which was relocated and dechromed. All the spray painting was done by Jarred, including the frame and rims. There are no powdercoated parts on this CB550.
Jarred fabricated many of the parts himself. He produced the moulds to create the exact replica CB500 side covers out of fibreglass. A 550’s conrod is used as a mount for the Startline headlight. He made the seat pan and machined many of the fittings. The intake trumpets on the carbs were specially spun. Startline apes round off the bobbers front end. A ’60s model CB77 switchgear is used on the handlebar.
The exhaust system is an attractive feature. TNT made the exhausts based on the original CB550 Supersport’s 4 into 1 system. Each header pipe runs individually into the slashcut pipe.
A Mini engine mounting was used as part of the fabrication of the top mounting points for the solid struts which replace the rear shocks. Jarred also machined the side mount number plate bracket. This after market tail light is the business.
It is pretty amazing that this motorcycle was not built by a professional builder. The imagination in the design, quality and finish on this bobber is of a very high standard. The second CB550 Jarred bought is nearing completion, this time as a cafe racer. We cannot wait to see it.