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the “Eurolook”, as Honda chose to label the angular look of their bikes like the CB900F and CBX, had quickly become outdated.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.