We have said it before and we will probably say it again; we support the resurrection of sad and neglected motorcycles, not the wholesale destruction of well kept, tidy and original motorcycles. There is a school of thought which believes customisation of any rare motorcycle is sacrilege and that a motorcycle should always be restored to as close to original condition as is possible. This is impractical. The best examples of original motorcycles are always those that have been nursed from new and are still in showroom condition. Most motorcycles do not have it that easy and after thirty years or more of abuse and neglect are almost impossible to restore back to original condition without spending an absolute fortune. No matter how pristine the restoration, some self appointed critic will find fault with the motorcycle’s originality. To use an older, unloved motorcycle as the foundation for a new fresh custom motorcycle allows for creative expression whilst avoiding the endless quest to find the long discarded original parts.


Although we support and respect our local professional custom motorcycle creators, we have special respect for the guys who go it alone and build their own motorcycles in the discomfort of their home garage, workshop or dining room. Our featured beauty, a 1976 Honda CB550 Japanese Brat Style bobber is a perfect example of a nearly scrap motorcycle being reinvented by its owner, Justin from East London who did most of the work himself.


The Honda CB550 was launched in 1974 and the final year model was 1978. Although seen as the smaller version of the CB750, the CB550 has a wet sump engine with the oil contained inside the single overhead cam, four cylinder engine, unlike the CB750 which has a dry sump engine with a separate oil tank. The CB550 is more compact, lighter and more nimble than the CB750. Its 50hp engine provides a top speed of over 160km/h via a five speed transmission. With proper servicing and maintenance, the engine is capable of covering 160 000 km. There is huge nostalgic demand for the CB750s as donor bikes for cafe racer and other custom projects. The lighter and smaller CB550 may actually be a more suitable candidate.


Justin purchased this CB550 as a neglected non running motorcycle for a reasonable price. I saw photos of this motorcycle before the rebuild and it was in derelict  condition. The purchase price no longer seemed so reasonable when Justin discovered that the engine had bent valves and needed an overhaul. Not one to give up easily, he imported the parts from England and repaired the engine. Justin says that the parts were not too expensive. Delivery from England to Johannesburg took three days and a further nine days to East London. The coastal rust required a complete ground up rebuild of the motorcycle. The wheels, spokes, rear shock springs and frame were sandblasted and powdercoated black. Justin sprayed the rear shocks and the front fork legs black to match. He acquired and fitted the 4 int 2 exhaust. CB550s came equipped with electric and kickstarters. Note the old school bicycle pedal fitted on the kickstart lever.


Justin had shortened the rear subframe. Using PVC and a heat gun, he formed a new seat pan which moulded itself into a perfect fit on the frame. The seat is upholstered in tanned goats leather. The original mudguards were shortened and reinstalled. All the spray painting was done by Justin himself. When his father saw the blue that Justin had chosen to spray the petrol tank, he reminded Justin that this was the same blue that his own CB750 had been painted many years ago when Justin was a young boy who used to wait in the driveway for him to get home from work on his motorcycle. Possibly the colour had imprinted itself in Justin’s subconscious mind. It is common in this style of motorcycle build to discard the side covers and relocate the electrics to leave a clear area within the frame. Justin decided he would rather retain the side covers which were ironically already missing on this motorcycle when he bought it. He managed to find side covers, painted them black and installed them. Justin feels the CB550 looks more substantial with the side covers fitted. I agree.


The original headlight has been retained but the glass has been painted with high heat glass stain to provide the striking yellow colour. The small indicators and taillight are aftermarket items as is the single small gauge. Pro Taper motocross handlebars are fitted with bar end mirrors. The deep treaded tyres add to this Brat’s rugged appeal. Justin is quick to mention that this motorcycle was built to be ridden every day and not as a showpiece. It looks like he is in the fortunate position of being able to ride a showpiece every day.


We feel honoured that Justin allowed us to be the first guys to feature his newly completed CB550. The stunning photos were taken by professional photographer, Candice McGregor from East London. Justin would like to thank the guys on the Wild Dogs Forum for all their input and advice. He says building this motorcycle has made him new friends all over South Africa. Is that not what its really all about in the end?