The sections below are just a simple overview of how the build progressed – including the major things that I learnt along the way.Visit and Like our Facebook page if you enjoy motorcycle related content!
Before I take you with me on this adventure – I’ll give you my ‘up front’ check list for any Cafe Racer build! Numbered below is a shortlist of a few things I have learnt from my first time on this journey. I will definitely try another build (maybe soon so watch this space) but the points below would have really helped me if I was starting out on this process again!
Buy a ‘runner’ with all parts of the original motorcycle actually ‘on’ the motorcycle if at all possible. Buying a motorcycle that comes in parts is asking for trouble – there’s no way to tell if all the parts are there and no way to tell if the engine is in any way good. Even if you plan replace all the parts – I found that I learnt a massive amount from taking the old pieces off!
Do not under estimate the time commitment required. I worked at this project every other night for around a month and a half, I was organised. (This was not just a ‘cosmetic’ build – see details about the gearbox and cylinder heads below!)
Be sure that your base bike is ‘common enough’ that there are plenty of ‘retro fit’ parts or breakage parts available (search eBay before you buy the base motorcycle to check that there is a good number of listings that at least mention your prospective machine)
Check the gear box, and examine the smoke from a cold start. Unless you are a up for a really big challenge make sure the gear box is running cleanly up and down all the gears. If the exhaust smoke is blue – you’ve maybe got oil ingress issues coming into the combustion cycle – which means at the very least you ‘could’ be looking at a top end tear down and rebuild. White smoke more often indicates water ingress, a fueling issue, air / carb issue, whilst black smoke can indicate similar issues as above or compression problems: the combustion cycle and associated pressures may not be burning the fuel efficiently.
Create and stick to a budget! After you’ve built a really neat budget, with lots detail , take the total and add 20% : I promise you the project will overrun. The biggest mistake I made when it came to budget considerations – was not considering I might have to buy lots of additional tools which I did not already have in my arsenal – a Torque Wrench, a Feeler Gauge..do you think you’ll need a Carb Balancing Kit?
Buy the Haynes manual– please don’t even hesitate on this one – especially if you’re delving into the engine. This was my bible for this build!
Keep your work-space tidy and organised. When you take pieces apart – either tag them – or set on a piece of paper or cardboard underneath them – write a note about that part on the paper to help in future reassembly.
Have a vision! Be sure you know roughly where you going – things will change along the way but it is important you have an end goal for your newly created machine. Use Pinterest to create a board with images of inspiring examples to get the juices flowing. Check out our Pinterest Boards when you are on there!
The story begins with bargain!
I set my bike budget at just £500, and gave myself £400 for the rest of the build. I did some research and decided a Honda CB250 model circa 1980’s would be a good option. I watched a few of these come and go on Gum-tree / Craigslist / Ebay… BUT.. I was patient. Then one Saturday morning I saw a 1980 Honda CB250 Superdream come up for just £250!
Yes, it was too good to be true – it looked stock (and ‘restored clean’) in the pictures but….
It was running very very smokey (I mean – I couldn’t see the Sun after starting it). The gentleman who was selling it had tried to solve this himself and bought a couple of separate engine heads – but he just didn’t have the time to investigate or put the time into swapping out an alternate head for the existing one.
The second, and main issue, was that the 2nd gear was ‘lumpy.’ While it shifted into 2nd OK – it made an awfully unpleasant notching & grinding noise. The other gears appeared fine, and the clutch engaged OK, but something was very wrong with the gearbox.
As well as the spare engine head unit – the seller had also sourced a reclaimed gear box from eBay – but again he simply didn’t have the time to do a full engine dismantlement and reassembly. The bike had been sitting in his shed for years – an abandoned project.
If I bought this – I knew I was in for a full engine dismantlement and reassembly – and all of this on top of the other ‘Cafe Racer’ modifications and additions I wanted to do!
In hindsight – as per my ‘list’ above – I would definitely look out for a more mechanically sound engine, as per my list above!
So, with almost zero mechanical experience (but a willingness to learn) , I paid £250 for a running (very very smokey) Honda CB250 SuperDream, with most of an entire spare (used) engine thrown in!
Just a note : the story and images here are a not a full guide on how to build a cafe racer – it is just a short insight into SOME of the trials , tribulations (and fun!) of my journey, but I hope you have fun reading it!
Now, while I highly recommend the Haynes Workshop manual – it still takes a lot of mechanical common sense to tackle something like this. When it comes down to it – you basically have to start unscrewing things and stripping the thing apart.
I bagged and tagged sets of screws and bolts as I went: in fact I put everything I removed that was small enough into bags, my advice is to write a note on the bags to tell you where the parts inside belong! (Even make a note of the Haynes page and paragraph you are on!) This little bit of extra time and care taken ‘up front’ really saved me a lot of pain when it came to reassembly.
So here we go!
There was a considerable number of other challenges to get this bike through a UK MOT service and fit for the road (many of which I haven’t even mentioned in the above summary article!). It still had a few niggling issues when I sold it unfortunately – but I was upfront with the buyer that it was still facing some issues.