Project Café: Rebuilding a 1973 Honda CB500


Project Cafe 1 

How many times have you heard that old credo, “buy the nicest bike you can afford?”

I can’t count how many times editor Backus and I have told friends that if you’re going to restore a bike, especially something common, take your time and find a decent example. Don’t buy the cheapest one you can find, because the $400 you might save in purchase price will be spent later in parts, time and headaches. Of course, we never listen to our own advice.

The problem is, we’re impatient. Heck, sometimes we’re just downright lazy. Because it wasn’t long after we decided that our next bike should be a Seventies Honda of some sort that one of Backus’ buddies e-mailed him a photo of his latest barn find, a 1973 Honda CB500 Four, which sounded like the perfect project bike to us. The CB in question was complete (even if the front brake caliper was in a bag), but it didn’t run. It was for sale, and, importantly, the price was right. It was obvious this bike had led a hard life and frankly, the closer we looked, the rougher it was. And while that didn’t scare us, in hindsight, it probably should have.
So of course we bought it.

Project Cafe 3 

But we’re also optimists. We didn’t see a nasty, worn-out pile of junk before us. We saw a smooth, sleek café racer, complete with a nice 4-into-1 pipe, low bars, a custom seat and/or tail fairing, maybe a different tank, new paint, new tires, custom wheels and more. And with sponsoring our project, we knew we had a great source for information and parts. Bring it on, we said. 

mike gill
3/29/2012 5:14:06 PM

while you are in the top-end rebuild, check the cylinder head cover for wear on the rocker arm pins and in the holes the pins go into. many times the parts have oval patterns worn into them, making accurate valve adjustments impossible. a bulletin came out ca. mid-'76 describing a running change in production of cb550's that cures the problem with a kit of modified parts that will retrofit to the cb500's as well. the kit is discontinued and the individual parts were available for a while, but may only be available now from salvage.

Rory Wilson
3/13/2012 7:06:05 AM

Love the Honda cafe build project. I am busy building a custom Z650 Kawasaki which also started out looking rough, and the more you strip the more horrors are revealed. Also detonated piston (Moriwaki big bore kit) brakes that don't brake, seized swing arm bolt etc. I can't resist cutting and grinding things, so have modified frame, swingarm to mono-shock, revised bodywork etc. I do all the work myself - welding, paint/airbrush design, fibreglass work etc. Great fun though. How do I go about posting progress pics and story of my build on this site?

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