Skin Deep - Honda CM400 Cafe Racer


One of the things that isn’t often talked about when we feature a custom motorcycle build is what condition the donor bike was in. Buying secondhand motorcycles or any vehicle for that matter is fraught with risks. Years of neglect can be hidden beneath a freshly cleaned exterior or a few new parts. Whether you’re planning on pulling your latest motorcycle purchase completely apart or riding it as is you need to be cautious as the last thing you want is to be spending all your entire build budget simply getting the thing to run right.



Marco, a tattooist from Toulouse France well aware of the risks when buying a secondhand motorcycle. Since his teenage years he’s been unbolting and bolting bits onto the bikes he buys and has had his fair share of flawed motorcycle investments. Along with his career spent applying artwork to epidermis he and a friend rent a small workshop space where they build custom bikes. Up until now Harley’s have been the focus of their work, but for his latest personal project, Marco’s obsession with café racers saw him searching for a Honda.



From the outset, Marco knew that finding an old Honda that had been well maintained would be a challenge. Thankfully extensive searching uncovered a decent 1981 Honda CM400 at a local workshop. “The bike was already nice looking but not enough to my taste, and there were a lot of items to fix,” says Marco. “I needed to take a few steps backward to prep the base a little more before I could move forward with the custom work.” So the first stage of the build was a full mechanical overhaul to get his Honda project running right. During the thorough engine rebuild, the pair also designed and built the bikes radical custom exhaust system and tuned the carbs to suit. Once Marco was satisfied the CM400 ran well he moved his attention to its styling.



To create a truly unique rear end Marco sourced a the single-sided swingarm from a VFR 800. After cutting away the stock subframe a mono-shock mount was welded to the frame and the swingarm coaxed in to place. The VFR rim was then fit with wide Bridgestone rubber. A custom upswept rear loop went on to the frame next which he fit with a cafe styled fiberglass rear cowl. For the seat Marco used his skill with a needle to stitch up the leather saddle, using the leftover material to cover the foot and shifter pegs. Beneath the seat, he also built a stash box for storing the battery and mounting the ignition.



At the pointy end of the motorcycle, Marco has fit a set of forks that are a Frankenstein mix of Honda and Triumph parts. The forks internals were stiffened to suit the revised riding position and the brakes upgraded to twin discs. With the ignition relocated Marco kept the dash clean by installing a single speedometer from Daytona Japan and fit color-coded fish scale grips on to the clip-on handlebars. The fuel tank is also a custom addition that he sourced from CB700.



Being a tattoo artist Marco has a soft spot for curios and he’s added a few to the Honda. On the triple tree and brake reservoir are ornate embellishments and the unusual pole you can see sitting above the swingarm is actually a walking cane that contains a hidden dagger. According to Marco, the changes to the bike have been a radical improvement both visually and functionally.




Photography by Indiana Anders

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