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Honda CB77 Cafe Racer JUST BIKES BUILD OFF 2012 WINNER
JUST Bikes 04/02/2013
For a small team, Mid Life Cycles pulled off a big win at November’s Australian Motorcycle Expo in Melbourne. The Cremorne-based motorcycle service and custom business claimed victory in the 2012 JUST BIKES Build Off – at their first attempt!
Mid Life’s creation, which carries the name of BBM (Black Bomber’s Mama), is a café racer with all the classic touches – clip-on bars, rearsets, ducktail rear, stripped guards, old-style tyres and highly polished chrome. Mid Life Cycles’ Michael Catchpole described the look as “California custom meets back-to-basics Sixties racer”.
One of Michael’s own bikes, what became BBM started as a 1962 Honda CB77, known as the ‘Super Hawk’ in the US. Some work had already been done before Michael acquired it from a local enthusiast, including boring the stock 305cc twin out to 350cc. Michael suspects this, along with a few other minor changes, had been done with racetrack applications in mind.
As it had already been modified, the Mid Life Cycles team agreed that the bike would serve as a better base for a custom build than a back-to-stock resto. The offer to participate in the JUST BIKES Build Off confirmed the decision. So, what would the Mid Life entry to the Build Off look like? Initial inspiration came from Lossa Engineering in Long Beach, California, which has created a number of cool 60s-era Honda customs.
An early decision the team agreed on was to keep the original black and chrome factory Honda fuel tank with its retro badges. The choice of seat was just as easy – Mid Life added a fibreglass Ducati 750SS-style unit that offered a neat tail with space to conceal the lightweight lithium Shorai battery and electrics. Mid Life Cycles’ ‘Director of Design and Detail’, Jim Clark, lengthened the seat pan and fitted a custom light into the tail.
Wherever possible, Mid Life Cycles try to use local businesses for outsourced work, so when the seat unit needed painting and upholstery, Glenn Stevens was entrusted with the former, while Garry Blackman Trimming took care of the latter. Located just two blocks from Mid Life Cycles, Garry is a well-known name amongst custom car enthusiasts, and the detail and skill seat-maker Steve Todd applied to the custom motorcycle seat was evidenced in the zipper access to the tail-unit, a la Ducati.
Next job was the exhaust. Mid Life tried a couple of different exhaust and muffler set-ups before settling on a set of after-market engine pipes that were only average in terms of chrome quality. “The pipes cried out for ceramic coating in black,” Michael said, so they were sent to Andrew Newman at The Blast Factory in North Coburg. At this stage, the carbs are still the stock CB77 units, but may be swapped out after further testing – spirited testing, of course!
At the front end, what to do about the lighting was also a subject of debate amongst the Mid Life team. “We tried a couple of different headlights and were tempted to rebuild and re-chrome the non-original headlight that came with the bike,” Michael said. This unit had an ammeter set into the shell and a very retro green neutral light, but just didn’t look right.
“In the end, Jim insisted the bigger, flatter headlights just didn’t fit the new sleek look of the emerging custom,” Michael added.
Inspired by the headlight on a Ducati Mk3 450cc Desmo single in the workshop, Mid Life invested (heavily!, Michael added) in a sleek NOS item manufactured by Aprilia for the early-Sixties Ducati singles. It arrived from Mama Italia in all its chrome-shell-and-Bakelite-switch glory. Needing some slimline mounting brackets to do it justice, Mid Life had the right thing on the shelf – bought from MotoLanna on spec “because we liked the look of them,” Michael said.
The instruments that came with the bike were a pair of later-model Honda units, quaintly marked out with what looked like white-out correcting fluid to suggest gear-change points. These, and the ugly bracket they rode in on, were tossed in the parts bin and a single, MPH speedo from Steve “Carpy” Carpenter (CB750.com) was assigned to duty and set within the sexy curve of the custom triple clamp.
Mid Life reckon the bespoke triple clamp is one of the details that make this bike, and it’s impossible to disagree. The factory triple clamp, with its projecting mounts for the handlebars, would have destroyed the low horizon line of the seat, tank and headlight. The solution? Michael had to allow another big bite out of his wallet so Peter McWiggan of Manta Enterprises, Melbourne, could fabricate a replacement. Crafted from a single piece of billet alloy (and the ideal accompaniment to the beautifully-made clip-on ‘bars by Rod Tingate in Wonga Park), the finished triple clamp looked so good that Mid Life have considered doing a limited run of these units for customers. “Not even Lossa Engineering has done it this well,” Michael said.
While the headlight and triple clamp were still being sorted, the rare Borrani wheels were entrusted to one of the best – Phil de Gruchy at Lightfoot Engineering in Melbourne, who polished them to a high standard. “The polished alloy hubs and rims were too good to disappear under a layer of black powdercoat,” Michael said “so we decided on heavy-duty black spokes instead.
“One of Phil’s reliable suppliers powder-coated the custom spokes and Phil re-laced the rims and fitted new bearings. When they came back to us, the finished wheels looked like they should go straight to the pool-room!” Instead, they were sent to Antique Tyre Supplies for a pair of classic Firestone hoops. This was a detail insisted upon by Jim Clark, and in terms of the overall appearance and look of the bike, was spot-on.
Jim’s expertise and eye for design was also evidenced in some of the details applied to the Mid Life Honda at the JUST BIKES Build Off at the Melbourne Bike Expo. These included Tomaselli rear-sets, Brooks leather-wrapped grips for the Tingate clip-ons, and lightweight bar-ends made from maple wood – a real individual touch.
At the Expo, the finishing work got underway in earnest. “Mike Darling found that he could chew gum and talk – and make up cables, speedo mountings and other bits – all at the same time,” Michael said with tongue firmly in cheek. New coils and electronic ignition (which should make starting the notoriously finicky CB77 engine more predictable) came from Charlie O’Hanlon of Charlie’s Place in San Francisco. Jack at City Auto Electrical had the tricky job of tying all this together with a brief of: bare minimum and mostly hidden. “And don’t forget he had to do this using the early-60s Italian switches inside that Gina Lollobrigida of a headlight,” Michael added.
Details that drew attention at the JUST BIKES Build Off included that headlight, as well as the “steal-stopper” forward-swinging kickstart, custom tail unit, Borrani rims and minimalist pipes. The Mid Life Cycles creation drew more than just attention at the JUST BIKES Build Off. It drew a lot of votes as well, resulting in a popular and well-deserved win for the Cremorne-based business.
Michael concedes that ‘Black Bomber’s Mama’ (a name it acquired after the Expo) still has some details to be added, while the Mid Life team are also looking at options to make BBM a little more road regulator friendly. These include the possibility of fitting things like some custom shorty mufflers, unobtrusive indicators, a small chrome horn, and maybe even a small front guard. “We’ve already devised a fork brace, so it isn’t out of the question, and maybe the lightweight bar-ends will make way for minimalist mirrors,” Michael said.
These features, or others, can be added to suit the prospective new owner, as Michael will be selling BBM to fund Mid Life Cycles’ next project. Asking price for this one-off custom Honda café racer is “somewhere in the mid to high-teens”. For further details, call Michael on 0408 129 169.
To see the JUST BIKES Build Off-winning BBM in the metal, drop in to Mid Life Cycles at 22 Cremorne Street, Cremorne (Richmond), Victoria. www.midlifecycles.com.au
Mid Life Cycles JUST BIKES Build Off
1962 Honda CB77 parallel twin engine (305cc) in a CB72 (247cc) frame
Engine bored out to 350cc
Borrani alloy wheels front and rear
Twin leading shoe (2LS) 8-inch drum brakes
Factory fuel tank