Honda's VF500F Interceptor may have been considered the best handling motorcycle of the 1980's, but its styling was rather run of the mill. Fast forward 30 years and its square tubular frame and plastic bodywork looks about as impressive as VHS reruns of MacGyver. So where do you begin when you've got a VF500F sitting in your workshop and the desire to create a cool Cafe Racer?
Craig Rodsmith's '84 Interceptor project began when a fellow builder offloaded it to him. As Craig put it "He gave up on the idea of trying to make it cool." Initially he was also stumped by the outdated Honda, but with a workshop full of fabrication tools and years of coach building techniques up his sleeves he took up the challenge.
"As usual I wanted to make it look like a traditional Cafe Racer, but somewhat outside of the box." says Craig. "I planned most of it in my head and because I do all the metal work and fabrication I don’t need to rely on drawings."
"One of the first things I decided to do was run the air intake through my custom gas tank, which was quite a challenge." Honda's V4 engine configuration sits the carb inlets under the tank so channeling air straight through it was the most direct method, despite creating some design and functionality challenges.
"The original bike was suffering from outdated 80’s styling. To create what I wanted I had to get rid of the square headlight, all of the plastic and of course the mismatched original wheels!" (One of the unusual features of the Interceptor was a front wheel with a smaller diameter than the rear. The thinking was that it would reduce wheel inertia resulting in improved steering, but this idea was soon superseded as wheel and suspension design improved.) "I went with a pair of 17 inch F2 wheels and decided to add the F2 forks and brakes as well, giving it a more balanced look. It's also improved the handling a lot even though the Interceptors were know for being great handling bikes in their day."
Using traditional metal shaping techniques Craig handmade the bikes aluminium fuel tank, fender and rear cowl. He modified the sub frame, shortening it and adding a hoop for more balanced proportions. The deerskin leather saddle, stitched together by JB Seats, was one of the only parts of the bike Craig didn't complete himself. Liking how the leather looked against the polished alloy he rolled panels into his bodywork and inlaid more of the deerskin hide.
For a more classically styled front end Craig also fabricated a one off headlight. The round design suits his classic design and it also helps to tidy things up by having the custom made instruments integrated into the bucket and the top clamp. To dress up the rest of the bike its engine was stripped back to bare metal and side covers polished. All of the bikes fasteners were replaced with stainless steel bolts and stock rubber hoses swapped out for braided items. To add some tonal variation to the polished parts of the bike Craig also nickel plated the coolant tubes, suspension brackets, sprockets and a few other smaller parts around the engine.
Despite all the work done to erase the 80's styling the aftermarket exhaust won Craig over. "My favourite thing about the bike now is the belly pan I made and the Yoshimura mufflers that were on the bike when I first got it. It had been laid down at some point so the Yoshi's were pretty rough, but I managed to get them to look pretty good again."
Craig's revitalised an outdated classic using raw materials, hammers and hours of hard work, showing us that just about any bike can be transformed into a cool Cafe Racer. How do you think it compares to the original?
Photography: Steve Neilson
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