I met Skylar in June of 2016, the night before I moved to Tennessee. Right away, I was attracted to his scrambler style honda he rolled in on at a local barber shop’s anniversary party. Whenever i see a motorbike that catches my undivided attention, I have to meet the rider and know their story. Right away, Skylar seemed to be real friendly, and from what I can tell and see, very passionate about his Honda, and motorcycles in general. As soon as I found out he was in the process of overhauling this Honda scrambler, I immediately asked him to partake in doing a article on his process, and our second bike feature was born. Read below to find out the complete story behind his build.
BIKE FEATURE 002
I picked this bike up about a year ago after getting the itch for a motorcycle again. She’s a 1973 Honda CL450. Originally called the Black Bomber, the CB450 debuted in 1965. It was Honda’s first “big” bike and was able to “do the ton” straight from the factory. The 444cc engine has several unique features for a ‘60s air-cooled twin. The engine has dual overhead cams and torsion bars rather than valve springs. It produced 45-47 hp when new, giving it an impressive power to size ratio for the time. Because of its interesting engine layout, some owners quip that the 450 is when Honda decided to make a Ducati. The engine does require a bit of maintenance but nothing horrible. The CL models are scrambler versions of the CB; they came with a larger front wheel, scrambler style high exhausts, higher handlebars, and a bit different gearing.
This particular model was the cheapest complete classic Honda up for sale on my local Craigslist at the time. The bike had clearly been dropped, explaining it’s deflated price, and had been given some questionable modifications by the previous owner. The battery had also leaked acid all over the frame, eating away paint. The bike ran poorly and was in need of new rear shocks as well. The previous owner also seemed to be going for some sort of chopper/cafe hybrid as the bike sported forward controls with Euro-style bars and megaphone mufflers. The tank had an urban camouflage paint scheme, which, I think, cheapened its look. It was rough.
Despite these faults, the bike had character. The previous owner had purchased the bike from the original owner’s widow, who had kept the bike in storage since the ‘70s. She had probate papers for the bike, indicating that her husband had passed away not too long after purchasing the bike. The original owner’s name was Don Rankin. He engraved his name and initials on several of the engine covers. He apparently was in the Air Force, as the forks are still sporting his DOD and Offutt AFB parking passes. One of the reasons I love old machinery is the history involved with them. Knowing someone else loved and cared for something helps breathe some life into these old machines. It gives them character. The bike was a little rougher than I was looking for at the time, but the price was right. It was these little personal touches from the original owner that pushed me over the edge into buying it. She also only had about 8k miles on her. I loaded her in the back of my truck and then began the process of tearing her down.
I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with this bike when I first got her, but I knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to build a sparkly cafe racer that would look good with a twirly mustache and a Sepia Instagram filter. I am an adherent to the Wabi-sabi aesthetic, and find beauty in the imperfect. I wanted to keep her a bit ratty, and retain the street-like charm of the bike. I also wanted to create as simple a bike as I could, as cheaply as I could, using materials readily available to me. This was my first real motorcycle project, and I wanted to experiment with her a bit. I wanted to see what I could get away with using the tools currently available to me. All the work was done in my backyard using hand tools. Some of the parts required a bit of fabrication. I use that term very loosely, as I mostly used an angle grinder for the task. I realize that there are extremely skilled and able fabricators out there who can create amazing things. I am not a fabricator. I am a guy in his backyard with an image in my mind and a general idea of how to achieve it. Despite the lack of formal skills and hardware, I have a working knowledge of mechanics, and a pretty good knack for getting things to work.
Since the battery was leaking acid everywhere, I decided to start there. My goal was to get rid of the battery box and clean up all the electronics. With the goal of frugality in mind, I decided to “build” a capacitor instead of buying a smaller battery. I wired together four 10,000uF capacitors to create one 40,000uF capacitor. Because of its small size, I was able to tuck it behind the horn, thus hiding most of the wiring. Three kicks is all she needs to charge up and start firing—on warm days she only needs one kick. I then went to my local bike graveyard to find an exhaust and some trim pieces. I was able to find an old, rusty, repaired scrambler exhaust for cheaps. I cut off the rusted muffler, wrapped the repaired portions, and slapped her on. Since I was now running a shorty exhaust with pod filters, I installed some larger jets. The bike is a bit choppy at partial throttle on account of the short exhaust/pod filter/capacitor combo, but she purrs at idle and screams at full tilt.
Next I decided to focus on the foot controls, as the forward controls just weren’t doing it for me. Some fuckery had been done to the kickstand by the previous owner, so, instead of trying to find original hardware, I decided to work with what I had. I dismantled the forward controls and built a DIY rear set with them. I cut down one of the pegs to clear the kickstart and fabbed up a brake lever using the a lever from the forward controls. Unlike some of the kits you can buy, my rear sets still position my feet below my body, rather than stretching me out. It adds a bit of sportiness without reducing my control over the bike.
Finally I tackled the aesthetics of the bike. I wanted to stick to my Wabi-sabi theme, but it did need some coherency. I stripped, sanded, and painted a little design on the tank. I didn’t clear coat anything, and sanded the paint a bit to keep it raw looking. My main concern with the paint was to cover up some areas where the previous owner attacked it with an angle grinder. I wanted the tank to continue aging with the bike rather than staying young like an Orange County trophy wife. I also didn’t want the mild steel to turn to dust, so I gave her a rub down with some Mop ‘n Glo (old dirt bike trick). I found a pair of emblems at the junkyard and threw them on as well. In order to clean up the license plate, I picked up some random fender at the junkyard. I cut it down and mounted it under the seat. I tore apart the side mount bracket and turned it into a rear mount bracket using a sledge hammer. In keeping with the minimalist nature of the bike, I installed some drag bars and removed all the hand controls save the brake and clutch levers. I relocated the kill switch to the top of the headlight, and installed a headlight switch on the back of the headlight. The turn signals were busted when I purchased the bike, so I did away with them as apart of the cleaning up process. Some riders will hate me for this, but I don’t care as long they don’t drive into the back of me. I use hand signals, and figure if people don’t see the big ass LED light lit up and hear the scream of my downshifting exhaust, then they probably aren’t going to notice the little orange lights blinking.
The bike is pretty much where I want it right now. None of my projects are ever finished, but she is at a point where I feel comfortable just maintaining her for a while. She’s definitely not as complete or well thought out as lots of the custom bikes I drool over, but I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished so far. I’ve used this project as a means of both keeping my mind occupied and to teach my daughters about motorcycles and engineering/mechanics in general. In both those regards it has been a great success. They have both been very interested in the project, and love to help me out with tasks. Now this project has cooled off (for now) I’m looking to do something fun with a domestic bike.
-Skylar Schustky (IG: @skylissimo)