Karlys Honda CB550k cafe racer

CB550 honda cafe racer

When I first saw this cafe racer I knew I had to find out more about it. It looks like a very well built Honda Cb550. So I got in contact with Karly and she was kind enough to share her story of the build. Here is Karly.

I am a stay at home mom of 2 kiddos and am married to my high school sweetheart, Tanner Kothmann. Yes, we met when we were only 15! You will hear his name a lot in this, as he is the one who did this build. You will also hear a lot about Tyson, who is one of our very best friends. He helped a lot too. I’m blessed to get to put my time and energy into my kids and love this time in my life with them. They are 6 years old and 3 years old. Pure joy! I am also a License Professional Counselor and work one evening a week doing mostly marriage counseling. I love my job. I also love adventures. Any kind, which is why I think I took so quickly to this new hobby.

cafe racer honda cb550

I have zero history with bikes!!!! Ha! My husband use to race dirt bikes, and has owned a few bikes. But since we went to different colleges in different states, I did not spend a lot of time on his bikes. To make a long story short, one night over dinner, my husband and Tyson started talking about how I needed to learn how to ride Tyson’s scooter so I could go on joy rides with them. I was not that interested! Over a few months of Tyson giving me lessons, I started riding with the boys. Then for my birthday, Tanner got me a Ruckus scooter! I was pumped until I found out I needed a motorcycle license for it. Freak out! For Christmas I got motorcycle lessons at the local Harley shop and that’s what sold me on a motorcycle. I felt so much more stable and confident on one. This led to Tanner giving me a 1973 CL350 for Valentines Day. What a blast she is. I’ve had the opportunity to ride a number of really cool and different bikes between ours and a few of our close friends. I’m loving this new adventure.

cb550 cafe racer honda

Our workspace is a very crowded 2 car garage at our home. It is jam packed with 5 vintage bikes, a three wheeler, an early bronco, and more kids toys than is necessary. My bike, Paula Dean (ha!), is a 1976 Honda CB550k cafe racer.  This bike was purchased for $500 as total junk in May of ‘15, work started in August, and the maiden ride was just before Christmas. My husband and Tyson would work nights and weekends. I would hang out in the garage giving opinions and kind of learning small bits about motorcycles and what it means to build one. The awesome thing about Tanner and Tyson is that they are totally self-taught. If they came up against a problem with the build, they would search for the answer or come up with their own solution. These are some bright guys.

Tyson had hand built his custom CB750 cafe racer with input and help from Tanner with problem solving issues; and I think it gave Tanner the itch to give it a whirl. So between me desiring another bike, and my husband itching to try his hand at building a bike from the ground up, we dove in! After finding a complete piece of junk, this personal project began.  Tanner envisioned the bike and with creative support and encouragement to take on tasks that were risky, like cutting the sub frame off, from Tyson (he was a little more daring since it wasn’t his) and design and aesthetic opinions from me, the bike was off to a start. We basically did everything in our garage armed with basic tools and the internet; except the upholstery of the seat and powder coating.

CB550 cafe racer honda

If it doesn’t make the bike go, stop or turn its not on there.  I think many who look at this bike are under the impression that a minimalist bike like this is as easy as taking stuff off.  It is hard to explain/convince non-mechanically minded people that deleting or moving parts on these bikes complicate and burden the builder to find imaginative ways to make it work. Basically, they seem to think that you haven’t kept what they can no longer see. Everything that use to be in this void subframe triangle is somewhere else still doing its job. This bike has no gauges, no dummy lights, no center stand, no mirrors, no buddy peg, etc. (and no baffles hahaha).  Internally though, the bike has a dyna ignition and sophisticated updated electronics.  The fender mounts were shaved off the fork lowers before powder coating.  The forks were internally lowered to keep the billet top triple smooth (no slipped forks here).  The tail (cowl) is only big enough to hold the micro battery. The ignition is actuated with an RF controlled latched relay to clean the frame completely. The floorboard has not a single hole in it.  I love that people wrongly assume that it “is a battery-less build, so it can’t be electric start.”  There is not an electrical component visible. The back hoop has a small led running/brake/turn signal light recessed into the pipe.

The cb550 stock subframe dips down under the seat area.  This is normally covered up by a large overlapping seat.  Great effort was put forth to have the hard line of the bottom of the tank continue throughout the subframe. I knew that there weren’t going to be many things to look at on the bike, (minimalist) so that curved subframe would look odd next to all the hard lines on the bike.  It drives me crazy to see custom 550’s look like the seat bar is sagging from 46 years of labor. So the subframe was chopped at the tank and strait tubing/upswept hoop/shock mounts were welded in its place. All this work was done by Tanner.  There are: Internally lowered forks. Rebuilt motor. Every part on the bike is new, rebuilt, or fabbed. New 2.15” anodized aluminum rims laced with stainless spokes to old powder coated hubs.  Learning to lace and true wheels was a struggle. There were long nights spent on this part. New upper fork tubes.honda cafe racer cb550

Complete to the stator one off rewire. This is what took the most time, frustration, and effort and problem solving. As soon as the kids were in bed, Tanner would go out into the garage and work until 2am on the wiring. It took a lot of effort to keep the wires hidden and the bike looking clean.

My personal favorite detail on this bike is the seat strap. I lost my dad when I was a Senior in college to lung cancer. He was larger than life and was a wonderful father. After the seat was made, Tanner had the incredibly sweet idea to see if we could use one of his work belts as a seat strap. When we had the seat upholstered, our guy did a beautiful job of re-stitching the leather details on the ends of the belt closer together to be included on the strap. My dad would be grinning ear to ear if he could see me on a motorcycle! He would never have guessed that one day I would own a bike. But I am positive that he would be beyond honored that I take him along with me on the ride. It’s an epic tribute to who he was and how we remember him. Its rough and used. Not sterile or perfect.cafe racer honda cb550

We made the seat/cowl in our garage using Fiber glass, bondo, and florist foam.  Being a one off sub frame and loop it was apparent that nothing off the shelf would work. It took several attempts, and more floral foam than I like to admit but we made the seat/cowl from nothing.  There are several scrapped tries in the garage that were awful. As a builder working out of their home on their first custom build, it’s so hard walk away from something that you have 9 hours and $50 bucks in, with no promise that the next one will be better. Eventually we got it right, perfect.

cb550 cafe racer







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