Found a $300 CB550


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I've been looking for a good 70s era Japanese bike to do a cafe racer project. My current ride is a 2019 Yamaha MT10. I've been looking for a few years but have found the asking prices to be relatively insane. 2 months ago I saw an ad on Craiglist for a $300 77 CB550 basket case. Even as a basket case, it struck me as too good to be true. Nonetheless I was the first to look at it and it was all there except for the exhaust. It had 9800 miles on the speedo and the owner had begun some of the fabrication. It was excellent work so I was encouraged. H e also included about $200 in new parts. He was the 2nd owner after his cousin (who painted the motor red). The motorcycle was garaged for it's entire life and not much rust. I figured there would be some kind of catch but I said I'll take it and paid him the $300 and threw it on my truck. He even included the motor stand.

I got it home and started doing an inventory and assessment of what I needed and work that needed to be done. I probably could have painted it and got it running fairly easily but I wanted more. I decided that the original fabrication was good and so I was going to go with that and so far that's what I've done. As I started researching, I found Murray's carbs and had to have them. They were too cool and have great reviews. * Interesting side note: Murray came out with an new / updated manifold that eliminates the adapter and mounts directly. He charged me an additional $80 to return the old one and get the newest version. That set the tone for this build. I'm 66 years old and love the modern technology on new motorcycles. My concept for this bike became remain true to the original machine but update everything I can with modern parts. Then....I discovered M-Unit Blue and Motogadget. If I wasn't doing this build, I would have never had a reason to look at it. The more I researched it, the more I knew I had to have it. At that point, all bets were off. I knew I was going to spend a lot of money on this. I'm 66 and have all of my bad habits well under control....except for motorcycles of course. More to come.
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It's interesting to see these basket case projects that get abandoned. I think once they are looking at the motor, carbs, wiring and money reality kicks in and they sit. I've been wrenching on my own bikes since I was 13. I'm far from a master mechanic but I have some skills and will not stop researching stuff until I get the correct answer on how to do something. I am also in construction and was a fairly successful musician. I mention that because I've learned what professional results mean. When you decide that's what you want, that's what you get. I'm doing this because I love doing it. I want a gorgeous old motorcycle. I'm willing to do the grunt work to have one.

As I said, the entire motor was painted red and had years of grime on it. I think this is the point where the guy I bought it from gave up. I Youtubed a million videos on stripping, cleaning, painting and polishing an old motor. What I found out was that almost all of the videos ended up being half assed when you started to look closely. Most motors end up getting repainted black and when they zoom in, you can see that they look like an old house where the siding is scraped and repainted. Looks good from a distance but bad up close. I'll say this, painting stuff black seems to be the go to method of doing stuff quickly without a lot of grunt work.

This is my motor after getting most of the red paint off. This is noting short of an ordeal but in my mind, if the motor doesn't look great than it's just going to be another mediocre cafe racer build. I'm not building this to sell so I'm doing the grunt work. I'm on my 3rd Dremel and gone through 150 little brass wire wheels as they disintegrate very quickly.
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Hunting and gathering.
I got a set of Murray's carbs for $700 and sold a set and a half plus rebuild kits on Ebay for $200. The one thing different from this picture is that the new manifold eliminates the rubber adaptors. These things are wicked cool and a big boost in low end performance.

Old stuff

BTW: I have a lot of good parts that I'm not going to be using which I'm putting on Ebay. Hoping to get a little bit of cash to put back into it. I have plastic side covers, original wire harness, tail light and turn signals, handlebars, headlight mount, fenders, original chrome rims, speedometer, tachometer, battery case and a few other things. If someone needs them, message me. More than anything I'd like to get them to someone that can use them for their build. I'm in Massachusetts.
NICE FIND! You're right about it costing $ $ $ to get what you want. There's always something we gotta have that's more expensive than we thought it should be! BUT, you can't put a price on FUN!
Here some pictures of the stuff I've bought. Not everything as I've topped the $4000 mark. I just ordered a set of American made fork tubes from Franks Forks and had a set of Hagon shocks assembled with the correct spring rate and a little bit longer to improve handling. This Motogadget stuff is so cool. I was intimidated by the wiring system until I saw this stuff. Now I decided on a complete rewire and I'm cautious and excited about diving into it. Although it doesn't do fueling, it has a lot of features that my MT10 doesn't or I had to add to it. The digital display does an amazing array of things in addition to the M-Unit. The quality of this stuff is among the best I've seen for motorcycles. Also got a keyless ignition. This allows me to have all of the features of a modern motorcycle with the old time stripped down look. Eliminating the stock wiring harness, tach, speedo and cables will probably save around 30 pounds and I'll get all of that electronically with the M-Unit. It also does outside air temp, tailight strobe, automatic turn signal turn off, eliminates fuses and relays. Works with LED lights and turn signals and can adapt control with a cell phone and so many other things. I also got an electronic ignition and A Ricks rectifier / regulator to run with a lithium battery. I'm thinking that along with the Murrays carb set that this will be a very reliable motorcycle.

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Learning to Polish Aluminum
Having figured out that Honda painted their motors, I learned what to paint and what to polish. I had stripped the tank covers on my 2016 Ducati Scrambler and polished them out but had to do more research on how to restore and polish old parts. It's mostly a process of wet sanding in stages and polishing in stages with different polishing compounds. There is a used tool store around the corner from my house and I bought a homeade work bench polisher that works really well for $24. I did the 3 outside cases, mostly to see if I could make them look good or if I had to paint them like the rest of the motor. I like the look of polished case covers and to my utter amazement, they came out pretty good. Once I accomplished this, I decided that I will change my plan of painting the hubs, rims and lower fork tubes black. I bought Chinese aluminum wheels along with new spokes which make me nervous but they look pretty good. (famous last words with Chinese metallurgy). Anyway, I'm going to polish out the hubs and forks.

I've looked at what seems like a million cafe racer type pictures and videos. As with new cars and motorcycles, I've gotten bored to death with making everything black. It just is so plain and common that it seems like 3/4 of these builds look the same. Same with metal flake paint. I'm going to go with an old school non metalic paint, as much polished aluminum and a tiny amount of black as an accent in a few places. At this point, there's not a ton of original things you can do on a Honda CB but I'm going to try and at least assemble a less than typical combination of parts and colors.

Check out my polishing so far. Not perfect but not embarrassing.
A STROKE OF GENIUS....But I'm not the genius.
I was all set to throw some money at a parts washer but found out real parts washer fluid is expensive and I was unlikely to get that much use out of it after this build. I googled diy parts washer and found this on YouTube. The genius said Tide powdered laundry detergent works like a charm. So rather than dropping a few hundred on a parts washer and fluid, i went to Tractor supply and bought a large galvanized pail and then over to Walmart and a box of Tide. Total $34. Results - stunning. Even though I bought a new counter-shaft sprocket, I threw the old one in as it was never removed and needed a chisel to get the grime off. This cleaned parts almost the original luster......with very little effort. It worked so well that I figured I had to share it.

More Hunting and Gathering
Thank God I'm not doing this for any reason other than I love doing it. I've sort of lost my mind buying new stuff but screw it.
So far, Murrays Carbs, M-Unit, digital display and other accessories noted previously, virtually all of the motor bolts, screws and nuts except for inside the bottom end ( figured brand new paint and polish and then gnarly looking bolts would suck), aluminum wheels, spokes and new modern tires, levers, perches and grips, sprockets, upper fork tubes and rear shocks, fork cartridge emulators, swing arm bearing kit, all new gasket sets, spark plugs, clutch plates and springs, pistons and rings, cool headlight mounting brackets, and an under seat tray from Cognito for new electronics. Oh yes, I got a cool set of rear sets by a guy that machines them in his shop. There's a few more but I can't remember it all. I didn't take pictures of all of this stuff but my office looks like a motorcycle parts department.
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I'm 66 years old. I started putting motors on my bicycles when I was 13 years old. I love 2 wheeled machines with motors. I owned motocross and woods bikes until I was almost 40. Never had a street bike. At 56 years old, my GF asked me to go with her and her son who was home on leave from the USAF to look at motorcycles because she knew I knew about them. When I geeked out at the bike shops she decided to buy me a new motorcycle for Christmas. So at 59 years old, she bought me a new 2016 Ducati Scrambler Classic. I didn't even know if I would like riding on the street. I told my GF, it's on you, my motorcycle obsession is back. Street bikes always seemed lame to me after riding motocross bikes. Anyway, I loved it. After a year, I traded it for a Yamaha XSR900 which was totaled when I got hit by a car in a parking lot.....along with my knee. It took me 6 months to be able to bend my knee enough to get on a motorcycle and then I immediately bought a 2017 Yamaha FJ09. A year later I traded that for a 2019 Yamaha MT10 which I spent a small fortune on Ohlins cartridges and K-Tech Rear shock and many other things. Covid gave me time to learn suspension which was fun and I'm actually pretty good at now.

I've decided to create this thread because everyone I know that has a motorcycle owns a Harley. I'm about as far from a Harley rider as you can get. I meet up and ride down in the Appalachians with a bunch of younger maniacs that I know from the Yamaha MT09 forums and can still keep up. I've put on almost 30,000 miles on my 2019 MT10. My problem, except on the forums, I have no local motorcycle friends so this kind of fills in. Feel free to comment, advise, criticize, laugh with /at or encourage me.
After a crazy amount of hours removing 2 layers of paint and grime from this motor I still couldn't get it in paint ready condition. I used aircraft paint stripper and then a Dremel with little brass wire brushes. Then blast the debris off with an air compressor. The brass wheels disintegrate very quickly and with the air compressor, I started worrying that there was no way that in spite of my precautions, that I hadn't blown some of this crap inside the motor. I wasn't going to do all of this work to lunch a motor because I got shit inside of it. So I took the top end off and apart. I figured besides the peace of mind that it was clean, I could get at the crevices that were impossible to get at when it was assembled, and inspect it while it was apart. The good news was that the pistons, valves and heads were in amazing condition and reflected a motorcycle with only 9800 miles on it. Still, as long as I had it apart, I honed the cylinders and bought new piston and rings and lapped the valves and cleaned up the mild carbon deposits. I also got much easier access to the cylinder, head and head cover and got them cleaned to my satisfaction and paint ready. It seems like a lot of people recommend Duplicolor engine primer and paint, so I went with that. The aluminum color is a pretty close match to the original Honda paint. I also used their engine clear coat which really seemed to make the final product pop in my opinion. My prep work was pretty good and I think the paint came out good. The top end paint is complete and I'm doing the final clean up and trying to figure out how to tape off the bottom end for paint. It's just tedious but that's the difference between having a decent final product versus a really nice one. No painted over scrapped up paint for me. Not show quality but probably close. I intend to really ride this motorcycle.....not pose with it.





MY next task is paint the bottom end. Then I can finally begin to assemble this motor. The motor assembly seems like a piece of cake compared to getting it cleaned up. I feel like with the carbs, pistons and electronics, this is as close to a brand new motor as your gonna get, Once the motor is done, I feel like it gets way easier.

Just a random photo of the CB550 rear tire standing next to MT 10 rear tire.
Questions and Advice Needed
Most of the work that needs to be done is pretty straightforward. I feel like the worst of it was cleaning up this motor and that's done. I still have some hunting and gathering to do. I'm looking for advice on finding a few parts.

I've seen a lot of people recommending a fork brace. Between 35 mm tubes and my fat ass, it seems like a necessity. I can't seem to find any except for custom machined billet for $400. Any suggestions.

I'm looking for one of those small paint able front fenders but for as many as I see, none really seems to be made exactly for a CB550.

I'm trying to figure out a way to keep road debris off the back of the motor. New bikes have a small fender in front of the rear wheel. Has anybody figured a good solution for this that looks good?
Motogadget Prices
When I was trying to buy out the M-Unit and accessories, there were no companies in the USA that had them in stock. I decided check with Motogadget directly in Germany. They have an option to change the language to English and then it's easy to navigate their site. It turned out that they had all of the products in stock so I bought direct from them. The surprise is that they showed a price included taxes and did not account for the strength of the dollar. Currently the dollar is so strong against the Euro that the prices are substantailly lower then if you bought them in the USA and this includes shipping. They were easy to deal with and no problems at all. An M-Unit Blue that is $479 plus taxes and shipping in the US cost me $366 including shipping direct from Motogadget. You have to wait until you see the final bill and then it reflects the actual lower price. It's a good time to buy products from Europe.
I was trying to decide what to do about fork tubes. They are clean up to the triple clamp but some rust above them which was covered by the headlight brackets. I could clean them up but they're just going to rust again. I could get Chinese tubes for around $200 but they would probably rust even faster. I bit the bullet and spent $375 to have Franks Forks in Missouri make me a set. The forks are turning out to be inordinately expensive for ultimately what is still a somewhat mediocre set. Tubes $375, Cartridge emulators $160, Springs $130 and if I get caps with preload adjustment another $130.
I also had a Hagon rear shock assembled. I picked the color, spring weight and got an inch longer to get it to steer better. Another $429 but it seems like 99% of these cafe builds end up with super cheap ass suspension. I do the suspension on my new bikes and have become pretty competent at it. I rebuilt the forks on with Ohlins cartridges on my MT10 and have gotten decent at setting it up. It's taken a few years to learn but it's so easy to access good info and how to's.
It's difficult for me to build this and then say screw it and put crappy parts on it or do stuff half assed. This is already way past being sensible with the money I've spent.....especially when you consider that I probably won't ride that much as I am very addicted to the performance of modern motorcycles. Still, I'm enjoying the journey a lot. In the end I want to have a great running and handling bike that is reliable and cool.

BTW: I'm getting the Hagon shocks from Bella Corse. So far they have been good to deal with. Franks forks were also very good to deal with.
I've seen a lot of people recommending a fork brace. Between 35 mm tubes and my fat ass, it seems like a necessity. I can't seem to find any except for custom machined billet for $400. Any suggestions.
Not the best pic, but it was handy. Get on ebay and search 'vintage motocross fork brace'. I think I paid $25 for that one and polished it up myself.
I have used the inner front fender support as a fork brace. After removing the fender it can be made to look pretty decent.
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