Feature write up about my 1981 Honda CM400C bobber.
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A bobber is a style of building a motorcycle. Other styles are chopper, cafe racer, sport bike, naked bike, etc. In theory, any motorcycle can be built into a bobber. The term bobber refers to the rear fender being “bobbed” which basically means shortened. That is the ethos of the whole bobber is to make a simple bike. Take all the superfluous parts off and have a good time with the bike. Bobbers have a non-modified frame/front forks, vs. choppers which often modify the frame and install longer forks for the raked look. This is very expensive, vs. building a bobber. Bobbers can be thought of as similar to rat rods, or more akin to early hot rods in that the guys would remove everything to be light and functional vs flashy but slow, like customs or lowriders (generally). This is the story of my bobber.
I have been a car guy since I was about 14 but I actually had a dirt bike before that, about 12 years old. When I got out of college and was able to work on stuff, I migrated to motorcycles, since you can fit 5 or 6 motorcycles in a one stall garage and work on them vs. one car with very little room, and bikes are cheaper, and still tons of fun!
My bobber was built from a 1981 Honda CM400C. The last C is for Custom which means it has a different gas tank and options than other CM400’s such as the CM400T. This was very beneficial to me in that I believe the Custom gas tank is a good looking tank from the factory.
My father’s cousin is the oldest owner of this bike that I am aware of. He had not ridden this bike for as long as I can remember. Sometime around 2007 he gave the bike to my younger brother. My brother did a little work to it here and there but mostly it sat in our machine shed and collected dust. Around 2012 after I graduated from college I was reading a lot of magazines and finally had a little money. I started talking my brother into starting to build his first bobber. He did get a good set of handlebars made (he’s a welder by trade). He had also already removed the stock airbox and installed the individual pod filters for each carburetor (there are 2).
I got the bike in Jan 2013 and took it back to Iowa with me. A myriad of things were done to build the bobber. The huge seat had already been removed and I finished that job by removing the rear half fender and tail light assembly. I also cut the frame to make it shorter. Then a LaRosa solo seat was installed. I also removed the stock battery mount and built a small box and used a bike rack mount strap to hold the battery in and I painted the battery black to make it blend in more.
Since I had removed the rear taillight and license plate mount I fabricated new mounts for those and installed the Iron cross tail light. Turn signals are via hand signals.
My brother had also installed the exhaust extensions with the fishtails. I removed those and ran without that part of the exhaust for a while. After a small run in with Johnny Law, and a warning for a loud exhaust, I cut the fish tail part off and put some baffles in the straight part and reinstalled the straight pipes. Of course, being an old bike the muffler under the bike had rusted some and one of the pipes fell off, so until I get back to fixing that the bike is back to no exhaust after that under-bike “muffler”.
I painted the tank silver and ran the bike for a while with no front fender. Being that I got the bike in the winter/early spring I was often driving in the wet parking lot and quickly decided I needed a front fender. Luckily the Honda has a nice rounded front fender (vs a square type fender like a Yamaha Virago of the same vintage. I reinstalled the front fender but painted it black to blend in. That looked good, in my opinion.
I also left the chain guard installed,and have not repainted it yet. This is another utility thing. As I actually drive the bike, I’d rather not be covered in chain lube. I have seen tons of bikes in magazines that have neither of these things and I wonder how they ride without a front fender and chain guard.
I also did a lot of little tuning that comes with a 30 year old motorcycle. I cleaned the carbs, changed spark plugs, tuned the clutch release, etc.
This bike is an incredibly fun little bike for running around town. It’s not extremely powerful (about 30 hp) but it’s very light and it revs to around 10,000 rpm! It’s actually quite comfortable with the handlebars and seat the way they are. I have put about 1500 miles on it in the last few years and continue to drive it mostly around town, although the longest ride I taken it on was about 90 miles. I have also had a friend, who’s new to motorcycles, ride this bike around as a starter bike. It’s great because it’s not a bike you get to worried about if it gets a scratch or is driven in the rain.
1980’s bikes are pretty cheap to buy as far as buying a motorcycle, or any project goes. But make sure you check ahead of time, because parts can be expensive! A new/used coil for my bike is something like $400! while that’s all a whole bike costs also! Of course there are workarounds for everything, it just depends on how resourceful you are. Forums are a great place to get knowledge on older bikes. One I like is http://www.DotheTon.com My name on that forum is ajh1989, add me if you decide to get on that forum. There are also tons of bike specific forums with tons of gearheads who have probably already fixed the problem you are encountering, especially if it’s a 20 or 30 year old bike. You won’t be the first person to have had that problem.
Overall, bobbers are a great start to working on your own stuff. They are cheap to buy. Cheap to modify and cheap to insure! So what are you waiting for? Go out and buy a bike and chop it up!
Have you already bought/build a bobber/chopper/cafe racer/naked bike etc. Share it in the comments below!
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