Our project bikes have all required some degree of “customization.” Most of it’s been fairly basic, ranging from installing an aftermarket exhaust on a Honda CB500 Four to fabricating mounts for a replica Ducati fairing on a BMW. This time, it’s different.
The Triumph TR6 we tackled way back when wasn’t a build as much as an exercise in a low-budget rehab, highlighting the fun of putting a tired old Brit bike back on the road after years of neglect — with a few minor modifications thrown in to keep things interesting. The Honda CB500 café that followed was more involved, but we still kept major customization to a low level. A lot of spit shine and expertly applied paint go a long way toward making a bike look special.
And while our 2010 Triumph Bonneville Bobber looked massively different than how it left the factory, it was mostly an exercise in bolt-on building. Hinckley Bonnevilles have inspired a major cottage industry, making it pretty easy to “build” your own Bonneville from readily available parts, as we highlighted.
None of these builds have been restorations, and that’s on purpose. A comprehensive restoration requires marque-specific skills to properly execute. But specials and custom cafés are another game, as the final results are a matter of taste and interpretation. A botched Honda CB750 restoration is a truly ugly thing, but a café’d CB750, even if it’s not done the way you’d do it, if it’s done well it should be worthy of at least some level of respect. All of this is kind of a setup for the discussion of our 1983 Honda CB1100F resto-mod.
Getting into it
Although somewhat rare in our little corner of the universe, resto-mods are common in the classic car world. Go to any major hot rod or vintage car event and chances are good you’ll see somebody cruising the area in what looks like a bone-stock 1957 Chevy Bel Air, but powered by a late model, fuel-injected Corvette engine backed up by an overdrive automatic trans, with disc brakes hiding behind custom rims.
That’s sort of the essence of resto-mod, and that’s the spirit Herm Narciso and Jason Paul Michaels, the moving forces behind café and custom parts specialists Dime City Cycles in Largo, Fla., are challenged with channeling into our Honda CB1100F.
Interestingly enough, although a build got Herm and Jason moving down the café route in the first place, they started Dime City Cycles as a parts business pure and simple, not as a custom build shop. According to Herm, their first build started with nothing more than a Honda CB450 gas tank. Jason dug the tank, so that was their starting point. That tank and the subsequent build pushed them further into the classic café scene, and as they looked for parts and inspiration they realized there was a business to be built supplying other café riders with the bits they needed to build the bikes they wanted.
That was in 2008-2009, and since then Herm and Jason have built Dime City Cycles into one of the highest profile café parts shops in the country. The builds they’ve completed since launching Dime City — some profiled on Café Racer TV — have been executed more to showcase what you can do with an old Honda than to prove Dime City’s mettle as a custom fabricator. While Jason loves raising Dime City’s reputation in the category with builds, at some levels Herm would like to stay focused on what he sees as their core business, sourcing and supplying an ever-expanding inventory of parts for custom bikes.
This is Herm and Jason’s first resto-mod, and we spent the day with them at their shop as they tore into our project Honda.
The day starts with Jason videoing the bike for reference and future video opportunities. A marketer at heart, Jason loves the audiovisual part of the Dime City builds and he’s obviously enjoying himself, absorbing every facet of the bike as he looks for details to help define the final build.
As the minutes tick by Herm’s eager to get the camera out of the way so he can get his hands on the bike. Physically tearing the bike down to its constituent parts is clearly a big part of how he processes the details, and for a minute there’s some friction as Jason insists on getting the last piece of footage while Herm impatiently walks around the shop. “C’mon,” Herm says at one point, “are we just gonna shoot or are we going to work?”
The initial tear down is predictably quick, taking no more than an afternoon. But Herm and Jason don’t just unbolt parts and toss them aside. Major bits come into discussion as they’re pulled, and Herm barely has the gas tank off before calling one of the guys in the warehouse. He tells him to bring over some fiberglass aftermarket tanks, at the same time grabbing a ladder to reach an old Honda tank hanging on the shop wall. He places the Honda tank on the CB1100F’s almost naked frame and stands back, moving it around looking for a sympathetic position.
Jason joins in and they play with the tank for a few more minutes until the other tanks arrive. They move through three tanks, dismissing them all, and then Jason reaches into his toolbox and grabs a drawing tool. Holding it up to the side of the Honda CB1100F gas tank, he draws a line starting at the lower edge of the tank’s raised side panel, where it arcs down at the rear, tracing back and up to the rear lip of the tank. It’s a graceful curve, perfectly connecting the two planes of the tank. “The stock tank’s perfect,” Jason says. “I can cut off the bottom, work in new metal, maybe remove the side panels and set them back in closer.”
The more they get into the teardown, the closer, literally and figuratively, Herm and Jason get. Any friction that seemed apparent at the beginning of the morning is gone as they toss ideas back and forth with an increasing level of excitement. Jason starts pulling the exhaust, but stops to consider cutting the header pipes to position them to mock-up a new exhaust. Herm moves to the front end and calls Jason over to give him a quick rundown on the Honda’s then-innovative TRAC (Torque Reactive Anti-dive Control) system, which links the brakes to a valve to modulate fork compression. They both agree it’s cool, but does it present an opportunity or a hassle? Jason grabs a Suzuki GSXR upside-down front end that happens to be lying around and they spend the next 15 minutes measuring it.
A few hours later we’re picking up the Honda’s parts and loading them into Herm’s truck. Herm and Jason are in an animated discussion about where the build can go and what it should be. They’re following a process familiar to them, looking for opportunity, opening doors until they find the right one. Stay tuned, because the fun’s just beginning. MC
Read as the Honda CB1100F Rebuild continues.