Honda CB400N


I don’t mind being wrong when I make an incorrect prediction about something of which I don’t have great knowledge or have no real interest. If I say it will not rain and it does or if I say the Bulls will win and they lose; these incorrect forecasts leave me unaffected. However I take my motorcycle predictions very seriously. I therefore hope those people who heard me, back in the ’90s, loudly saying that motorcycles of the late 1970s and through the 1980s would have very little classic appeal or value, will forgive my ignorance. My logic and my eye told me that this would be the lost generation of motorcycles. I was wrong.


The motorcycles of the late 60s and early 70s oozed character. The motorcycles of the late 70s and 80s looked bland in comparison. The 90s brought the proper superbikes like the Yamaha FZR and Honda Fireblade which should surely have been the final nail in the 80s motorcycles’ coffin. In my mind, the “Eurolook”, as Honda chose to label the angular look of their bikes like the CB900F and CBX, had quickly become outdated. I do not enjoy admitting that I was wrong in my prediction but as an absolute lover of all motorcycles, I am thrilled to see how demand and therefore the value of these motorcycles is increasing. This was, after all, a boom time for motorcycle sales in South Africa and there are plenty of models to preserve, restore or customise available.


Our featured cafe racer is built around a Honda CB400N. This model was available in 1978 and 1979. In standard form it resembles a smaller version of the CB750F/CB900F models, with the flatsided tank flowing into the sidecovers and a square tailpiece and taillight. Its aircooled 395cc sohc parallel four stroke twin engine had three valves per cylinder, produced 27hp and propelled this light and nimble motorcycle to a 165km/h top speed. Honda’s strategy of increasing the appeal of the smaller capacity models by making them look like their bigger siblings meant that comstar mags were fitted as standard.


Chesney the owner and builder of this freshly finished and fine CB400N cafe racer relied on V Custom Cycles to execute some of his motorcycle’s fabrication work. He imported the tailpiece/bumstop from Dime City Cycles in the USA. V Custom fitted the Suzuki GS450 petrol tank. Not having sidecovers means that the battery and all the wiring had to be hidden. V Custom also fabricated and installed a new rear subframe to support the seat and provide top mounts for the rear shocks.


The original Comstar wheels have been painted black. The twin front disc brake and rear drum brake are original. In contrast to the white tank and tailend, the front shocks are painted black with black forkboots fitted. Even the engine’s barrels have been painted black.


The chromed front mudguard, sports silencers and a few other chromed or polished bits add just enough shine. Black clubman handlebars with bar-end mirrors have been fitted. The small speedo and revcounter have been spaced apart similarly to how BSA installed the gauges on the daddy of all cafe racers, the Goldstar.


There is a definite trend to build cafe racers out of smaller capacity Japanese models. This makes sense. These motorcycles are fast and nimble enough to enjoy but less complicated to build. Chesney’s CB400N is sure to convert many prospective builders to this way of thinking.

By | 2013-08-13T23:07:22+00:00 August 13th, 2013|Categories: Articles|4 Comments


  1. Marko 25th December 2013 at 11:22 pm

    walking your way, I also wanted to buy small Japanese bike, and I found cb400N, but quite a lot of people discourage me in the process of transforming it into cafe racer. But I went that way , so now I’m in the process of making ” all black cafe racer “, and article like yours gave me some more additional bust. BTW great looking bike you have.

  2. Drew 13th February 2014 at 6:39 am

    I’m doing one of these up at the moment into a Scrambler. Awesome bikes. Just noting that you have certain statistics wrong. There were both a restricted version and unrestricted version of this bike. The 27hp version wont reach 140km/h. It’s the unrestricted 43hp version that will hit 165km/h. Also, there’s no way you’re going to hit 165km/h on the standard CV carbs with pods. Every time I see one of these bikes with pods attached to the standard carbs I cry. Either leave the airbox there or do the right thing and install some round/flat slide carbs. Other than, it’s a very beautiful build indeed. These bikes make a perfect cafe racer with their peaky engine and nimble handling and this is a great example of what can be done with the CB400N.

    • Mark 10th December 2014 at 6:00 pm

      Hey Drew it sounds like your man that knows what hes talking about ,ive just purchased a cb400n that i want to custom build into a cafe racer ,(my first project)
      when i open up the engine i found out that the crankshaft had twisted off on the clutch side ,do you have any ideas on where i could find a new crank shaft or where i would be able to repair the original ?

  3. Mark Massyn 12th December 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Hey Drew ,it sounds like you know what your talking about ,ive just bought 1978 cb400n
    and also want to build up a project bike (my first of many ) ,but when i opened up the engine i realized the crankshaft has snapped off at the pressure plate ,do you know of some one who can repair or sell me a crankshaft ,thanks

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