Blue Cat Motorcycle

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Healing a sick Honda. Part 3

Posted on 15 Mar 2011 in On The Lift | 6 comments

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In part two, Jeff and I got the CM400 drivetrain completely sorted out. For the first time in almost a year, my wife’s 1981 CM400 Custom was finally running and running well, but it was still missing some much needed character. We lowered the lift and parked the bike off to the side.

Jeff took a long look at the CM. “You know what I’d do with this bike?” He walked over to the bike and started pointing things out. “Bench seat. Drop the bars. Then, I’d tuck these turn indicators in and maybe go to a smaller brake light.” BlueCat has built so many great looking Cafe Racer bikes, I was curious why Jeff hadn’t suggested something more in that vein.

“It’s all about the wheels,” he explained “because you don’t have the old spoke wheels on this bike, you don’t want to do clip-ons or a bump-stop seat or anything like that.” So rather than shoe-horning the bike into a style that doesn’t fit, we’d embrace the more modern aspects of the bike and just work to simplify and improve the style and functionality.

I loved the approach. Thing is, this isn’t my bike. It’s my wife’s bike. She knew we were working on the mechanical stuff, but the customization was something we’d only talked about in passing. I wanted to surprise her with the changes, so being the crafty fellow I am, I spent the next few days weaving these ideas into conversation with The Mrs. I’d put it to her as “Jeff and I think it’d be pretty cool if we did _____ to your bike. It’d really clean up the look.” I knew she wanted a bench seat and lower bars for sure, and I got her to surreptitiously agree to the other modifications. Like I said, crafty.

With her unknowing agreement, we were on. Jeff and I needed to change the fork seals anyway, so we used this last piece of maintenance as cover for customizing her bike. Nate from Vinyl-Lux came by for the original seat and our black ops customization was underway. Over the next couple of weeks, Jeff and I transformed this little bike. Here’s where we started:

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Notice the high handlebars, the stepped cruiser seat and just how wide the blinker lights are. Jeff kept calling them “lollypops” which is just what they look like stock. We started with the handlebars. There was a set of low, pull-back Yamaha bars just lying around the shop, so rather than a set of Bikemaster euro bars, we nabbed those and they were a perfect fit. We test fit the hand controls. Everything looked good, but the cables and brake line were now way too long. The clutch effort was all wrong and the throttle wouldn’t snap back when opened. The stock mirrors also pointed straight up like Mickey Mouse ears. Those would have to go too.

It was time to divide and conquer. Jeff pulled the tank and started shortening the rear turn signal stalks. I pulled the headlight and disconnected the blinker lights from the harness. The lights themselves clamp onto knurled stalks, which to my surprise were actually steel and pretty beefy. The sparks flew and we trimmed about 3″ off each stalk front and rear. The difference was great. The blinkers were now in a proper proportion to the other lights on the bike.

Jeff then started shortening the control cables. It’s amazing that the main control mechanisms for the bike are really depending on about half a drop of molten metal to keep them working. I trust it, but it’s definitely weird to think about. Meanwhile I swapped the now too long rubber brake line for a new braided stainless line and fittings. It could stand to be a few inches shorter, but it ought to be a real improvement in stopping power.

Nate from Vinyl-Lux dropped off the seat and it looked amazing. He’d flattened out the step with brand new closed-cell foam and a custom cover. He even matched the piping and stitching to the color of the bike. A great, personal touch for a custom seat.

With the controls, brake line, blinkers and new mirrors sorted, it was time to put it all together. I bolted the tank back on and we tested all the blinkers and lights to make sure the electrics were in good shape. Everything was appropriately blinky, so it was time for the moment of truth. Putting the seat on meant the complete package. Here’s the result:

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I couldn’t be more satisfied with how this turned out. With just a handful of small, simple changes, a nifty but somewhat generic little Honda has become a truly unique, snappy little bike. The custom seat adds a subtle feminine touch as well. We didn’t really “cafe” the bike, so I asked Jeff if there was some term we should coin for this kind of customization — call it a “Diner” or something. “I don’t know that there’s a word for it, but all we really did was undo all the ugly ’70s design and push the look back toward the ’60s where it belongs.” I like that approach. This little bike is now so much more timeless. That’s a win in my book.

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The real question, however, is what would The Mrs think? This is her bike, after all, and we’ve done all of this customization Overhaulin’-style. Jeff threw a bike cover on it, and I set up a time for us to swing by under false pretenses. Once we finally made the unveil, she was thrilled. The seating position was perfect, the bars were at just the right position and seeing the whole package she couldn’t be happier with it. She even likes the old bits of surface rust on the frame and other pieces of patina that show how a bike need not be new to be cool. The CM finally had character. It always had good bones, but now it’s the full package.

Here’s everything done to the bike from purchase:

  • New tires, front and rear
  • New chain and sprockets
  • Full carburetor rebuild
  • New engine-side carb boots
  • New engine gaskets, head and cylinder
  • New-to-the-bike handlebars and custom cables
  • Custom Vinyl-Lux seat made from the original seat pan
  • Turn indicator stalks shortened about 3″ front and back
  • Dan Born

    Congrats guys, you managed to take a practical, yet somewhat less than esthetically pleasing bike, and wth a little creativity build a cool street bike. I can always tell a bike is cool when no individual part garishly jumps out, and instead the bike is easily viewed as a complete package, as it should be. Keep up the good work. My wife is definately jealous.

  • Thanks Dan, we’re really happy with the results. Nate just added a strap to the seat and it really made for a nice finishing touch.

    CM400 Custom seat, now with strap

  • Alicia

    The first time I checked out the Blue Cat site, I read this entire blog post and drooled over this bike. A year and a half later, I discover that I actually WORK with the “Mrs.” mentioned in the story. Imagine my surprise. Small world!

  • Gavin

    was wondering what you did to shorten the cables, thank you

    • It’s pretty easy and there’s only one critical measurement.

      1. Remove your cable from the motorcycle
      2. Pull the inner cable all the way to one end or the other
      3. Measure how much longer then inner cable is from the outer cable (sheath) and write this measurement down. Precision is critical here so use millimeters.
      4. Snip off the barrel at one end of the inner cable, leaving as much of the inner cable as you can. Don’t just arbitrarily snip it off.
      5. Remove the inner cable
      6. Now mark your outer cable to its new length. This need only be within an inch or so, but leave yourself enough slack so that when you move the handlebars back and forth, you’re not pulling or pushing on the outer cable.
      7. Cut off the outer cable to length. If you can reuse the old end fitting, do so, but otherwise you can get replacement crimp fittings from Motion Pro
      8. Thread the inner cable back into the outer cable
      9. You’ll need a new brass barrel with a hole drilled into it to replace your old barrel. This barrel must be brass, because we’re going to solder it. You can either buy these barrels from Dime City Cycles, or you can make your own from solid brass rod.
      10. Measure and mark your inner cable to be as much longer than the outer cable as it was before, but don’t cut it yet
      11. Slather flux onto the cable and down into the hole in the brass barrel
      12. Slide the brass barrel over the inner cable and place it against your measured mark — small vice grips can old it in place, but don’t over-pinch the cable!
      13. Using a small pencil torch, heat up the barrel and cable. You’ll see the flux start to bubble. Once it’s good and hot, introduce solder into the joint. If your parts are hot enough, the solder should actually suck itself into the gap. If the solder isn’t drawn into the gap, you’re not hot enough yet. Keep going.
      14. Now you can cut off the excess cable and file off the excess solder
      15. Re-install your now shortened cable on the motorcycle and file away your inner vs. outer cable measurement so that you can make that cable again in the future if necessary.

  • I love the look of this bike. I like how just a few simple styling mods changed the look and feel of the whole machine. Great job!