Blue Cat Motorcycle

Viva Midwest

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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