By September 22, 2008

1980 Honda CB400T: And baby makes three.

Hey, what should one man with two motorcycles do? Buy a third one!

I’ve been wanting to accessorize/customize a motorcycle for awhile, but have been afraid to tinker with either one of my “real” bikes. A few months ago I started looking around for a motorcycle that I could buy for less than $2000.

This was harder than I thought it would be. 😉

Before we begin, a quick set of definitions: a streetfighter motorcycle is generally a sportbike that has been stripped of its fancypants plastic fairings as much as possible. A cafe racer is a more upright “universal” bike that has been reduced to its bare minimum parts, with the occasional stylized seat or front fairing thrown in for fun. Then there’s a bobber, which is a minimalistic cruiser. Lastly there are rat and survival bikes, which are extreme machines that cobble together any part necessary (including those not meant for motorcycles) to stay on the road.

My desire for a streetfighter had two mutually exclusive goals. I wanted something that was street-worthy, and something that was cheap. Most sportbikes that were in my price range were crashed at some point. Some were dropped or laid down at “low speed,” which meant there may or may not be frame damage. Other bikes were plain old jacked up. One bike was completely missing a front end. Too much work for me.

I did find, through the kindness of a fellow member of Ars Technica, a 1991 Suzuki GSX-R 1100 for $1000. Stilts gave me a lift over the weekend to look at it, and I learned a few things really quickly. One, I don’t want to fuck with a bike that has a weird transmission problem, no working brake light, and won’t run without a fully-engaged choke. Two, that I am too old to cuddle up in the position necessary to ride a sportbike. If I could comfortably mount a GSX-R, I wouldn’t be typing this right now because I’d be fellating myself. I passed on the GSX-R, and by extension, the streetfighter idea. No naked sportbikes for me. I turned my attention to a cafe racer-style universal bike and found this little guy for sale:
beep beep hi i am dependable japanese universal

This is a 1980 Honda CB400T. It had a six year production run in various permutations (1975 – 1981). It is a 400cc parallel twin. My model year has a six speed transmission. It has some modern conveniences like an electric starter and disc brakes, but still has carburetors and a manual switch for the main and reserve tanks.

I took this little guy for a test ride today and bought it thirty minutes later. It’s a damn hoot.

The previous owner bought the bike as an upgrade to a Honda 250 Rebel. He bought the Rebel as a starter bike. He moved from the Rebel to the Hawk, and was moving up from the Hawk to a Vulcan, which is more of a cruiser-style bike. He bought the bike from its original owner, who took very good mechanical care of the bike. The bike has been repainted and there is a new gas tank on it (the old one had rust on the inside, which is somewhat common). The tires aren’t in great shape, and the front brake line feels rough in a spot, but the bike is otherwise awesome-o. It could use a carb tear-down, something I need to learn how to do anyway.

I am going to paint the bike black as soon as possible. I plan on removing the chrome luggage rack off of the back, and possibly the front and rear fenders. I’d also like to re-route the turn signals. The headlight will probably get swapped out for something else. I may also put a true cafe racer-style seat on it, but the fiberglass for that will cost about 15% of the bike’s value.

Yeah, it does seem like a lot of work, but it’s mostly cosmetic. In my mind, it’s less of a “custom” bike and more of an “accessorized” bike. There will be no dramatic frame chopping, or swapping of parts from different bikes. There will be some tune-up involved, but the bike is absolutely street-worthy and has state inspection until 9/2009.

For $1000 it’s a good start for a nimble, fun little bike. I am re-christening the bike “Adama,” after Battlestar Galactica character William Adama. They share a lot of attributes: long in the tooth, effective but outdated technology, and dependable in a pinch.

Stay tuned for more custom work.

Posted in: motorcycling

10 Comments on "1980 Honda CB400T: And baby makes three."

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  1. Starbuck says:

    CONGRATS on the new baby 🙂

  2. Spectre says:

    I love those old Jap cafe style bikes. They are so much fun.

  3. fishsprout says:

    You should’ve gone for a kick start bike! 🙂 The new bike is cutsey, i’d ride it!

  4. brent says:

    i use my cb400 for school and i have been looking for a rack to mount a trunk. what did you do with yours?


  5. drfaulken says:

    Hey Brent,

    It’s up in my attic. I am keeping it, the passenger pegs, etc in case I ever want to sell it.

    Do you live in the United States? If so, check eBay for “cb 400 rack.” There is a company selling new ones for about $110, and you can find used ones for as low as $30 or so.

    Good luck, and keep the shiny side up!

  6. Jen says:

    I just bought a silver 1980 Hawk this summer, and was wondering if you’d consider selling original headlight and right side cover (you mentioned you’d be painting them black?). I’ve been watching ebay for a while and have only been able to find black side covers. My headlight bucket is also cracked. I would greatly appreciate it, but understand completely if you want to save them for reselling the bike in the future.

  7. Chris says:

    Good luck with the new project, the CB’s are great! If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out: Streetfighter Motorcycle Forum

  8. Mark D says:

    What a pretty bike! I’ve got a good condition ’78 Hawk, with the kick start (nothing impresses the girls more than kickstarting your bike!) in pure 70’s orange. I named her Farrah (for Farrah Fawcett, obv). I’d love to see you turn this into a sweet cafe racer; as a simple, naked standard parallel twin, I think its a very British bike in function!

  9. Joel says:

    I bought an 81 honda Hawk, anyone knowing this bike happen to know where I can get a new master cylinder?

  10. the Jerk says:

    Do you still have the luggage rack for it? Would you consider selling it if you do? Or at the very least do you know the part number of it?