HONDA CAFE RACERS
Another gem of a barn find: the Rickman Honda CR750
By Greg Williams January/February 2012
Paraphrased from motorcycleclassics.com
Some folks are lucky enough to have an American Pickers moment of their own. In 2008, Keith Lee of La Crosse, Wis., had his. That summer, Keith heard about a barn in eastern Wisconsin filled with junk — the good, dusty mechanical kind of junk we’d all like to find. A friend of his had already been in the barn and rescued a couple of Puchs, and a trio of Ducatis and a couple of Moto Morinis had been unearthed and already sold. But word was there was still another motorcycle lurking in the barn; a never completed 1975 Rickman Honda CR750 kit. Keith was intrigued.
Getting the scoop
Keith knew enough to know the unfinished Rickman was likely a special machine, but he didn’t know much about the British manufacturer. Before calling the seller about the kit, Keith conducted some research on Rickman Bros. Ltd.
As he discovered, Rickman Bros. was started by brothers Don and Derek Rickman, whose motorcycle roots go back to the late 1950s when the pair was successful in scrambles-type offroad events. Always looking for a competitive edge, the Rickmans began piecing together their own machines using engines, frames and forks from different British bike makers. As early as 1961, they built their own special, the Metisse, with a Rickman Bros. designed and manufactured frame. The name is French, and roughly translates to mongrel, or anything of mixed ancestry.
Constructed using 531 Reynolds manganese-molybdenum steel tubes, the frames were lightweight yet ruggedly built, and wore a coating of bright nickel plating, the latter becoming a hallmark for the company.
Rickman frames were sold in kits, and in order to complete the machine an owner had to have either a sacrificial motorcycle or an extra engine and plenty of parts. Power plants commonly used in Rickman frames included B.S.A., Matchless and Triumph. Included with the scrambles frame was a fiberglass gas tank, seat base, tail unit and side panels.
In the mid-1960s, the Rickmans branched out into the world of road racing, constructing frames for the highly successful AJS 7R and Matchless G50 singles. Finding great success with their competition road frames, the Rickmans turned their attention to the new crop of multi-cylinder Japanese motorcycles appearing on the scene in the early 1970s, including the Honda CB750 and the Kawasaki Z1. To their benefit, Honda and Kawasaki built extremely strong and reliable engines, but truly sport-oriented enthusiasts felt chassis development in the Japanese products was left wanting.
The universal nature of that sentiment was underscored in a July 1974 article in Cycle World magazine, in which the editors said, “Don’t sell that monstrous four-banger just because it wiggles like a wounded snake every time you even think about tilting it from a vertical plane. What you need,” the editors continued, “is a new chassis to put around that mill. One that isn’t designed to be the best for a given price, but one that is designed to be the best. Period.”
Enter the Rickmans’ chassis kits, which by the mid-1970s had become the hot setup for both street and track when fitted with either Honda or Kawasaki engines. Craig Vetter was the U.S. distributor for Rickman products, and the kits he sold included the bright nickel-plated frame and swingarm sprung with British Girling shock absorbers and fitted with a Borrani 18-inch alloy rim at the rear. A Spanish Betor fork anchored another 18-inch Borrani rim up front, and both were shod in Dunlop TT100 tires. British Lockheed disc brakes were included in the package, but what really set the Rickman apart was its brilliant orange, 4.2-gallon fiberglass gas tank, seat and tail section, fairing and front fender. In a word, gorgeous.
Putting all this to use, however, required a donor motorcycle. In the case of the CB750, the machine yielded its engine, complete with carburetors and exhaust, handlebar controls, speedometer, tachometer, side covers, and side and center stands. About the only thing you didn’t need off your old Honda was its flexy frame.
After doing his due diligence, Keith realized the Rickman CR750 he’d found, one of an estimated 300 built, with an unknown number of those coming to the U.S., was indeed a special machine. Although he’d yet to actually see the bike, Keith called and talked to the owner — who wasn’t really sure he wanted to sell it — for more than an hour to get a description of the Rickman Honda. Keith persisted, and in the parlance of the American Pickers, he verbally “pulled the trigger” on the deal...
Read the whole article at motorcycleclassics.com
What a fantastic cafe racer this is! Hard to know where the old Honda SuperHawk ends and the cafe conversion begins. The paint work is exquisite, the cafe seat and tailpiece perfectly complimentary, and all that chrome and polished steel combine to make this little Honda an absolute eye-catcher!
1975 Honda XL350
Love to take this super-light little Honda 350 cafe racer on the track to wind it out. It certainely looks the business. In fact, other than the classic eye-friendly paint scheme, road-going lighting and plate holder, it looks ALL business!
Honda CB450 Cafe racer
Found this little gem on BIKEEFIX.com, a great spot for unusual and nicely described motorbikes, among many other things. Says BIKEEFIX...
"Honda’s CB450 never quite met its sales expectations, despite being one of the few 1960s motorcycles to hit the magic 100bhp/liter mark. Honda claimed it was a 450 with the power of a 650—and yes, it was a technological step forward from the British twins of the time. Buyers got greater reliability, an electric starter and more advanced engineering inside the DOHC parallel twin, which included unusual torsion valve springs.
This elegant CB450 is a 1969 model that was rebuilt as a cafe racer by Shaun Stewart of Slingshot Cycles, [oops, the website has now crashed] a Virginia-based outfit that specializes in manufacturing brake hoses for classic motorcycles. The rear seat is actually part of a Yamaha XS650 fuel tank, while the front end is a hybrid mix of CB550/CB750F components strengthened by a homemade fork brace.
The stainless steel exhaust system is also homemade, and the headlight bucket has a built in tachometer. Shaun likes to customize a couple of bikes a year as a sideline, and he’s done a great job with his cafe racer: it’s the perfect machine for blasting around the Appalachian mountains and Shenandoah Valley."
Honda Evo concept
Is this what you'd like to see Honda bring to the showroom? A GoldWing engined cafe brute, it's something of an oddity but judging from some of the GoldWing based power cruiser/streetfighters we've seen, it would certainely add some spice to Hondas' lineup. Probably never happen, owing to the current economic drop-off, but we can dream, or you master builders out there can use it as inspiration!
Very classy Honda CB160
What a beauty! Everything looks perfect and right out of the box factory custom. But you can bet Honda never made such eye candy at the factory. Some evil genius has put together this CB160 with taste and skill that renders this bike a work of art.
I'll bet she sounds as sweet as she looks with that open pipe too.
Scott Biscotti from Milwaukee, the builder of this bike has contacted me and sent these details:
"The bike was a marriage of 2 seperate cbs I purchased off eBAY. One was a enduro and the other an actual early AHRMA racer. Im a huge fan of Nortons and love the look of the featherbed Manx but couldn't afford one.
So, I thought it would be cool to make a smaller cheaper version, aka the mini Manx. I approached it as a typical restoration by completely dismantling both bikes and using the best parts.
I purchased Akront rims and painted the hubs black krinklecoat. I also had stainless spokes and the rear wheel built to suit a wider tire in the back. The engine was basically stock. The AHRMA motor was toast.
Now for the best part. The tank was an idea I had to use 2 stock cb160 tanks and have one cross sectioned and add 6" to it to create that classic CR look the early Honda factory bikes had. My close friend Jeff Stephens did all the welding and custom work on the tank. You can check out some of his stuff on the MilVinMoto website under the name Godffrey's Garage. He does amazing detailed work and is a superb craftsman. He also incorporated the tank to be attached to the mounts the original tanks used.
I wish I would have taken close up photos of that but it was years ago. The seat was from the racer but it was too wide almost as though it was made for a larger racebike. So I had to split it down the middle and customize it to fit just over the frame tubes.
The paint scheme was something I thought up out of respect for the old racers. The old racebikes sometimes used other parts if needed after crashes and sometimes had to improvise by using different colored bodywork. And if you wonder how it sounded, it was ear-piercingly loud!
Unfortunately it didn't have the horsepower to back up the look and sound. I think I used the enduro sprocket by accident so it only would top out at about 60mph. I didn't really need 1st gear. As soon as the clutch opened it had to be shifted into 2nd right away. Performance wise I would rate it as a glorified moped. but like I said, I had limited funds at the time and couldnt get the things done that I would have liked, like porting the heads etc...
It only cost me about $1000 American to build this and only because of Jeffs' friendship. He told me if I had been some stranger who wanted the tank done like that, he would have charged at least $800. He only charged me $200.
After riding it around Milwaukee one season I ended up selling it on eBay to some guy down south. I totally regret selling it but I used the money from the sale to buy a wideline featherbed frame which now is a current project of mine."
Supercharged Honda GoldWing cafe
Found this incredible supercharged Honda GoldWing cafe racer on the very entertaining Naked GoldWings website. It was built by the obviously talented and inspired designers/mechanics at Randakks' Cycle Shakk and is featured as the November,2010 Bike of the Month and no wonder!
If your into this stuff you should check them out. There's much more detail and photos on this red rocket available there.