Missed opportunities, long delays and even being hit by a car didn’t hold back Mitch from building his ultimate orange CB750
Have a look what I just bought, boys...” “Jeez, how old is it?” “What are going to do with it?” “Why?” It’s 40 years old. I’m going to customise into a café racer and it’s time for a change.”
I had just become the proud owner of a 1974 Honda CB750 K4.
I originally wanted to use a Honda CX500 as the basis of my project after seeing a beautiful one online by Moto Mucci. I was drawn to this model for its Moto Guzzi style, east-west engine configuration as something a little different. Deep discussions began with my cousin, Chris, and mate, Mick, on ideas for the project, potential colour schemes, tyres and seats. The hunt for a good donor bike began.
I’d been looking for a CX500 for months, trawling the usual likes of eBay and Motorcycle Trader. There were a few around but mainly basketcases with high kilometres and too rough for me to take on.
I came across an early ’80s example with a recently rebuilt engine and a clean and tidy body, so I gave the guy a call, but was shattered to hear he’d just sold it. It was in concourse condition and the envy of his club.
After explaining why I wanted one and what I was planning, he said “I wouldn’t sell it to you if you’re going to chop it up and make a café racer.” Fair enough. He gave me a few tips for things to look out for on CX and sent me on my way. Back online I went.
I was always partial to the CB750 but they were out of my budget for a café build usually fetching well north of $6000.
But on a morning eBay trawl I found one for $4500 ‘Buy it now’ and in Melbourne. It ticked all the right boxes: low mileage, running engine, reasonable bodywork, close to home and within budget. I was straight on the phone.
“Jeez, you’re the second person to call me about the bike and it’s only been listed for an hour!” I dropped everything and headed down to have a look at it with my trusty voice of reason, Chris. On arrival the seller gave us the usual tour showing what was good and what he’d done and the bike's minor blemishes.
I took it for a spin. Good old Honda reliability. It started first shot, moved through gears smoothly, blew no smoke, but the brakes... Wow! I knew it was something I was going to have to get used to coming from modern bikes, but they were terrible and would be one of the first things to address.
I decided buy it. Finally, after the countless months of searching, I’d found a perfect donor bike for my build. Time to start planning the build.
My goal was to create a café racer that was unique yet remained connected to its origins with improved braking and handling.
I started sifting through the mountains of café racer images and parts online for inspiration.
The bike was blue with the original tank stripe, but I decided on the colour early: the CB750’s original ‘Sunrise orange flake’. I had no luck finding the vibrant colour in paint shops and without a sample for them to match, I settled for 'Candy tangerine' by Spray Chief.
As for sourcing parts, first came the Dime City Cycles, which has just about everything you need. I bought speedo, cables, billet top clamp, headlight bracket and clip-ons from the Florida-based online business.
Motolana was my source for headlight ears which aren’t the usual universal type. Joker Machine in the US sells a lot of billet parts for CB750s and I picked up the horn bracket, brake bar, brake rod and tacho plug.
I decided to go with Tarozzi rearsets from Precision Performance Motorcycle Parts in Queensland. Paul was very helpful in helping me work what linkages I needed and made sure I had all the parts required as I mounted them on the pillion ’peg mounts.
It was like Christmas in my office over the next few months with packages arriving frequently.
I stripped the unnecessary bits from the bike and began fitting the shiny, new parts. I fabricated some brackets to mount the rear indicators and number plate.
The time had come to look at the brakes, suspension and wheels and I was out of my depth. After reading about Motorcycle Trader’s CB750 café giveaway bike I called Brian from TT Motorcycles in Mornington, Victoria, who picked up where I left off.
When I explained the need for better braking and handling, Brian made a few suggestions including swapping the front end with a CBX1000 or CB750F. The fork legs are compatible in the CB750’s triple clamps and come with all the brake components I needed.
I picked up a complete CBX front-end on eBay which came with discs, forks, calipers and master cylinder. Brian’s quote included fitting the new front end, replacing the rear shocks, building new wheels, anodising a bunch of parts as well as painting and polishing the engine.
In the meantime, I sent the tank, side covers and seat to a friend, Adam at All Paint Finishes for painting. I did all the prep work to save some coin which involved a lot of sanding and patience. I learnt there’s a lot more to the paint work than I expected. Multiple coats of primers, black for the panels on the tank, masking, four base coats, five candy layers and so much clear coat I lost count of how many coats are on these parts and sanding between each. All the hard work was worthwhile, however, once that tank made it out in the sunlight.
Hurdles & High Fives
I’m sure Brian got sick of me calling every fortnight for updates, but he had his own problems, delays from suppliers and make his annual pilgrimage to the Isle of Man TT.
First problem was the twin discs set-up and finding a hub to suit the spacing. The second was fitting the speedo drive. I’m not sure if Brian will be keen to do another twin-disc conversion after the headaches of this. After weeks of unsuccessful sourcing the right hub, he sent the existing one to the engineers to be machined to suit the spacing and disc pattern. After that the new wheels could finally be built.
Once the wheels were back, however, the speedo drive wouldn’t fit and were throwing off the spacing. This involved sending the fork legs to the engineers to shave a few of millimetres off the inside. The rest didn’t take long to finish after that and Brian even delivered the bike to me. I couldn’t be happier with Brian’s work and it all came within budget.
Thankfully, my mate Vinnie helped out with wiring, which was a piece of cake for him and within a couple of hours we had it all hooked up, tidied and firing.
Believe it or not, the trickiest thing of this entire build was fitting the fuel cap and latch. With all that paint on the tank it required surgical precision with a Dremel to shave some paint off and keeping the small spring in place.
It was physically painful, too, because I’d broken my right wrist after coming off another bike from being hit by a car only a few weeks prior. This further delayed finishing the bike by having to undergo surgery and six weeks in a cast then a further six weeks in a splint.
In the meantime, I sent the bike to Izzy at Suspensions R Us in Gembrook who did a great job setting up the front end. From there it went directly to Tim at In-Tune Motorcycles in Ringwood for a dyno tune who also did a great job improving power output by approximately 20 per cent.
After getting the bike back, I was finally able to take it for a ride.
Now that I’ve ridden it a few hundred kilometres, I’ve a few things to change. The rearsets need to be relocated higher and further forward and I’ve already ordered a new set of Tarozzis with mounts. I also need to adjust the clip-ons and get a custom-made speedo cable to neaten the front end. I’ve found a place in Flemington, Melbourne, that does custom cables called ‘Speedscreen’.
A big thank you to all the people who helped with the build including Chris, Mick and Vinnie for your help and advice, Brian at TT Motorcycles, Adam at All Paint Finishes, Izzy at Suspensions R Us and Tim at In-Tune Motorcycles.
Words: Mitch DeKretser. Photos: Jeff Crow