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A blue custom 1974 Honda CB550 cafe racer at IMS Outdoors Chicago 2021

Bring a Trailer Bargain of the Week: 1978 Honda CB550 Cafe Racer

Often overlooked compared to the CB750, the Honda CB550 is arguably the better-balanced and better-handling motorcycle. It also makes a great candidate for cafe racer builds. And if you want a classic cafe racer that won't break your budget, the 1978 CB550 currently listed on Bring a Trailer is worth looking into.

Though it’s no stranger to ground-breaking exotics like the RC30, Honda owes just as much of its motorcycle reputation on inexpensive, well-engineered machines. But though some of these classics have gotten less affordable over the years, especially as stock examples dwindle, bargains are still out there. Off-road fans, for example, can get their cheap kicks on a CL Scrambler. And if you like the look of a classic cafe racer, the 1978 Honda CB550 on Bring a Trailer should be right up your alley.

In stock, Super Sport or cafe racer form, the Honda CB550 is a solid classic middleweight motorcycle

A blue custom 1974 Honda CB550 cafe racer at IMS Outdoors Chicago 2021
Custom 1974 Honda CB550 cafe racer | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit
1974-1978 Honda CB550 (CB550K/CB550F)
Engine544cc air-cooled inline-four with four Keihin carburetors
Horsepower50 hp (Silodrome)
Torque30 lb-ft
TransmissionFive-speed manual
Front suspension35mm telescopic forks
Rear suspensionPreload-adjustable twin shocks
Seat height31.7″
Curb weight423 lbs

Although the CB750 was a certified success, Honda’s attempt at miniaturizing it with the CB500 and CB350 Four didn’t quite pan out. But you know the old saying about success and trying. And it was second time’s the charm in this case with the 1974 CB550, aka the CB550K.

While the Honda CB550 is similar to the CB500 on paper, it’s a significantly better motorcycle overall, Silodrome says. For one, its 544cc engine makes more power, especially in the mid-range. Its five-speed transmission also shifts better and its clutch doesn’t slip as much. Also, the CB550 has better standard suspension than the CB500. And though it still has a rear drum brake, Honda gave the CB550 not just a standard front disc, but the capability to add a second.

The rear 3/4 view of a blue Custom 1974 Honda CB550 cafe racer at IMS Outdoors Chicago 2021
Custom 1974 Honda CB550 cafe racer rear 3/4 | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit

The Honda CB550 isn’t as iconic or as powerful as the CB750, but it’s also lighter and stiffer. As a result, it’s a nimbler, better-balanced motorcycle, Silodrome reports. These attributes were further boosted by the CB550F Super Sport. Like the smaller-capacity Honda CB400F, the CB550F had a different exhaust, flatter handlebars for sportier riding, less chrome, and different side panels. It’s technically not a factory cafe racer, but it comes close.

But while Honda never offered a CB550 cafe racer, the motorcycle’s approachable, fun-to-ride, affordable nature made it a popular conversion candidate. Even today, the CB550 is a regular donor bike for custom cafe racer builds. And the 1978 bike currently listed on Bring a Trailer is one of them.

Looking for a premade authentic vintage cafe racer? There’s one up for grabs on Bring a Trailer

This 1978 Honda CB550 has the archetypal cafe racer elements: a solo seat with an upswept rear, flowing rear cowl, and clip-on bars with bar-end mirrors. But while it still has a rear drum brake, this CB550 has dual front discs and modern stainless-steel brake lines. Furthermore, those dual discs are drilled—another helpful modern touch.

In addition, this Honda CB550 has some powertrain upgrades. Firstly, a Forsetti big bore kit bumps the engine up to 600cc. The engine now breathes through a custom four-into-one stainless-steel exhaust and four Keihin CR carbs with open-element air filters, too. Also, it has a modern solid-state regulator and rectifier. Plus, the tail cowl now houses the battery and wiring harness.

Finally, this 1978 Honda CB550 cafe racer has some additional cosmetic mods. The rear subframe was modified by a previous owner and painted black. This bike also has LED rear strip turn signals, custom shortened front turn signals, an H4 headlight, custom bottom and top triple-tree fork clamps, and rear-set aluminum foot controls. And the four-cylinder engine was refinished in black and silver before being clear-coated.

Although this bike’s true mileage is unknown, it’s in great shape overall. And the selling dealer recently overhauled the brake master cylinder, installed new Kenda Challenger tires, and replaced the drive chain.

This 1978 CB550 is a classic motorcycle bargain

As of this writing, this 1978 Honda CB550 cafe racer is listed at $3000 with three days left in the auction. That’s below-average for an excellent condition bike like this; the typical price is about $5100, Hagerty reports. And the price gets even better once you consider how many new parts this motorcycle has.

Speaking of parts, this Honda CB550 likely won’t suffer some of the glitches earlier CB550s suffered. For example, pre-1977 models’ alternators didn’t charge the battery below 3500 RPM, while pre-1976 models’ valve rockers can twist over time, Hagerty says. And this 1978 example has solid-state ignition, which is significantly easier to live with than the original system.

So, if you want to live the vintage cafe racer motorcycle life without spending too much cash, this 1978 Honda CB550 is worth looking into.

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