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Honda CL 360 – ‘Willow’

Posted on August 19, 2011 by Scott in Bobber. 63 comments

“So why did you name the bike Willow?” This is the first question we asked Troy Helmick, the builder of this amazing bike. “Willow trees are strong but fluid” he replied. Very zen, sensei Helmick. Troy is a retired photographer who now runs an Alpaca farm in West Virginia. “It is my attempt to evoke a picture in a person’s head when they hear a name and then couple that name with the image they see before them in my machine” he explains. This bike was reborn on a farm in West Virginia. Willow started life as a 1974 Honda CL 360 before Troy found her on her side, rotting behind someone’s garage. The build was inspired by the era of the board track racers — they were brutal machines, elegant in their simplicity. The pictures you see before you are Troys redefined interpretations. Photographs and words by Troy…

“The natural tendency that I have is to lean toward the organic side of things. I hand bent all the tubing for the frame to match this thought process. Other pieces were hand bent and forged as well, such as the brace between the chain stays, the headlight ears and, I’m sure a few other bits I’m forgetting.”

“The build took me just over a year to finish. It was all hand built in my backyard garage with very limited tools, and an even smaller budget. Through good Friends and family, I have received a lot of thankless help along the way. Doug from DEK suspension in Pittsburgh gave me the idea to use my old rear shocks as external springs on the front. The internal springs were removed and I made adjustments to the oil to allow for dampening changes. Jim at Alchemy Upholstery in Pittsburgh covered the seat for me and a good friend Lee, a machinist from just outside of Portland milled the handlebar clamps. I built the bars and the headlight mounts by hand and welded them together. The grips are tennis racket grip leather. The clutch and brake levers are Roal Enfield Knock offs. They are solid brass but pretty ugly so they received a lot of trimming.”

“The velocity stacks were hand built by “Cannuck plumber” who resides in British Columbia. Dime City Cycles now carries the stacks for anyone to purchase on their website. Luckily I got in on the copper stacks as a one off test sort of thing, and I am thankful for that. They turned out amazing.”

“A close friend walked me through building a fiberglass tank. Jim from RivrStyx in Albright, West Virginia is a composite specialist and was willing to allow me to do most of the work and use his shop. He kept me on a short proverbial leash, and I would be a fool to think that I didn’t try his patience at times. The paint is rattle can and Tyler Elliott from TE Customs did the hand pin striping and lettering.”

“The wheels received a lot of work, then were drilled for vents and brass screens. Afterwards they were coated with black appliance epoxy. The motor was stripped bare and was coated with high temp paint. The Honda logos were carefully shaved, then the cases were hand polished. The fins on the points cover were shaved, drilled and polished. Brass screen was also used there.”

“The coils are Chevy LUV coils fired by a pair of CB750 condensers. Most of the wiring is internal and was soldered together and sealed with heat shrink tubing. The wiring was simplified since there are no turn signals, dummy lights, speedometer, etc. I found a cool little taillight and swapped out all of the mounting hardware with brass lamp fittings from the local hardware store.

I built my own throttle, brake, and clutch cables. The thumb screw for the brake linkage is an extra brass gas shutoff valve. It was disassembled and the valve portion was drilled and tapped.”

“After a year of building, I’m sure that there are many, many details that I have forgotten, and I apologize for that. It has been a journey. In the end, like the board track racers of the past, there is not much there that doesn’t need to be. She is slightly raw, but functional.”

As this was a bike that was developed from the somewhat zen thought of the strength and beauty of natural forms, we thought it would be fitting to end with an apt and elegant quote from one of the Ming Dynasty’s most famous Zen schollars and teachers, Hanshan Deqing (憨山德清) who famously said, “The fundamental nature of all phenomena is close beside you, but you do not see even that; yet you still go on talking of your inability to see what is far away. And by the way, “willow” is a totally bitching name for a motorbike and any bike that has that name will totally rock. Peace out, mother lovers.” Surely there’s something in that for all of us, yes?

You can check out the full evolution of ‘Willow’ on the Zen Cafe Master site: Alternatively, you can view another extensive build thread on The Chopper Underground.

  • Robert

    I would not have cared what kind of lines this machine had. I am caught up in the paint work and fine use of brass trimmings and well bend and placed copper tubing.

  • VonYinzer

    Troy, very well deserved my man! One of the most beautiful machines I have ever had the pleasure to see in person.

  • beatnic

    Troy, you've poured your heart and soul into Willow, and it shows.

  • revdub

    I am very impressed. This is such a beautiful bike and the story of how it came to be is equally great. Kudos on an amazing build.

  • Kanticoy

    You know I love it brother. Well done and Congrats on the ending of a long fabled tale. I'm proud if you man.

  • Niels.D

    And to think this is the fourth time he's rebuilt this little CL 360 into beautiful machines. What will this transform into next, Troy? Are you finally happy with it?

  • Love this bike…very Zen-like….a great inspiration!

  • KDubya

    I'd like to see some pictures of the guy riding this

  • Maritime

    To KDubya – If you go To and check out the build thread you will see a pic of him riding. He rides it for sure.

    Well done Troy and I can't wait to see her in person!

  • Gamnoparts

    I cannot overstate how much I absolutely LOVE this bike…

  • JustinLonghorn

    Yes sir, perfection.

  • Nodine

    Proportion is perfect. Wonderful to see a build that is near excelence in all respects.

  • represent!

    Is the Willow the endgame evolution of this bike, or will she morph into something again?

  • skillet


  • GuitarSlinger

    Thats a winner from any perspective , from the name down to the smallest of details .

    And to quote David Wilcox ;

    " Its Fine .. Leave it like it is "

  • Fredrick

    Nice ride! Love to see a video of it rolling along!

  • kenoath

    Hell Yea! makes me want to run to the shed and start tinkering

  • Walter

    Just beautiful! As soon as I saw the bike and the name I was sure that it was designed to be a "rigid soft tale" meaning the long swooping rear triangle design will flex a bit over bumps. I was surprised not to hear that mentioned. I'm sure it is plusher than a straight up hard tail.
    Was this a consideration in the design? Great work, love it!

  • Nickwiz

    Very nice. Steampunk motorcycles are al the rage it seems. I like the faux vintage style. I'm lucky enough to have the real vintage but this bike and its like are the next best thing. Big Thumbs up here.

  • Glenn aka revheadgl

    Well done Troy. Simply an amazing looking bike and it definitiely raises the bar on tbuilds of he humble Honda twin.

  • mattblatt

    if a willow tree was a motorcycle it would look like this, this bike is PIPEBURN worthy

  • Borat

    Vely niiiice…..

  • me

    wow!!! extreme beauty! Hats off.

  • Ash Bali

    'Elegant simplicity' that's apt. It breaks with convention on several levels yet remains an evocative modern interpretation of traditional board trackers. A lot of great personal touches put into the bike.Cheers, Troy.

  • neat bike, and some great fabrication and finishing skills are evident there. That taillight is a repop of the old Lucas MT211 from the 1930s. I don't want to complain much, as he's got great vision. But I think it would look better with a few less inches of wheelbase in that rear frame section. The Rajah spark plug clips from the 19teens are a nice touch, as are the multicolored tracers in the HT leads. A bit more clearance between the front tire and the headlight might come in handy on bumpy roads. 🙂

  • Ratchop

    Hey pete…thanks for stating the obvious. You must know so much awesome information…I bet your girlfriend just loves to sit next to a cozy fire and listen to you squawk tidbits of super useful facts…But we dont think your intersting, and we dont phuck you. So keep it in that big ol noggin of yours.
    One mans opinion against anothers.

  • Kim of Copenhagen

    Pete, thanks for the brake light info. Now I know what to search for.

  • @Ratchop Tough day at the office? Let's keep it civilised, please…

  • sbanes81

    I would love to have plans on how to make the clutch cable. Love this bike! You nailed the "simplicity" with all the copper work, the paint, the pin striping! Perfect! I can look at this bike for hours and still find something new and yet the bike is very easy to look at not at all over done.

  • Great bike!
    Nice to see some yinzers on PipeBurn being so far from yinzerburgh.

  • It looks like something Hank Young would build

  • Cafepete

    Very cool! Love the colors used. Very inspiring!

  • SVA

    Damn that's a hot machine!

    • Luiz

      Troy very nice work! Congrats.
      Have you consider to sell this bike?

      • Troy

        @d32bb93d4f0004c98103a0efc5d192ff:disqus Thanks for the kind words. I plan to hold onto this one.
         I have dreams of commissioning builds though. 

  • Kristen

    BEAUTIFUL!!! Love the name!

  • harland


  • Troy, as usual I'm late to the soiree, but it looks like the bases have been covered well here as far as compliments go.
    I loved this bike when it was a little blue cafe racer, I loved it when it was a brown and gold laced bobber, I even loved it when it was first traditionally hard-tailed but what I feel about this machine now would be difficult to put into words. I'll have to chalk that up to observing the evolution (vicariously) first hand.

    What I can say is that there are builders out there that build fine motorcycles from someone elses' refuse.
    Then there are the 'creators', those who take that same piece of rolling canvas and invest something more from the soul. It's obvious that that's what you've done here. I was more than happy to contribute in some small way my friend, you deserve all the kudos you have coming from this. Revel in it mate!

  • rubbersoul1991

    it's all been said before but to me this is one of the best builds I have ever seen. class on every level.

  • mickjaggernaut

    This is an amazing build! Great work!

    What kind of tires are those btw?

  • Mark

    this is just beautiful!!! simples

  • Amanda

    What a gorgeous bike. This is really something to be proud of.

  • Tyler Elliott-TE Customs

    Such a beautiful machine. A true work of art. I am honored to have played a small role in putting the finishing touches on Willow.

  • Troy

    I really appreciate the kind words from everyone. I cut my teeth on this build so its fantastic to see it so well received. I Learned to bend tubing without much distortion and learned to do fiberglass. I wanted the frame to look fluid from just a glance so I bent electrical conduit and duct taped it together. I then took early morning silhouette photos and tweaked the emt tubing it until it took shape. Then made cardboard cut outs for different shaped tanks until I found the one I liked. Then more silhouette photos and tweaking. I guess the rest is history. Couldn't have done it without the help and support from a lot of fantastic people. Thank you to those involved. You know who you are.
    Riding video:

  • Coldsunshine

    This is what you get when an artist builds a bike. I’m working on an ugly ass 1987 Shadow VT750. Having an art degree, I soon realized that I would not be happy unless I redid the whole bike. If mine turns out half as nice, I’ll be happy.

  • Forrest Tinsler

    Absolute stunner

  • Twistedchild


  • Shobhit Gupta

    no suspension for the rear wheel?

  • Rich

    I want to buy this bike!

  • Hanoisteve

    Nice work and original detailing on the gas line!

  • Alejandro

     Mucho estilo caballo…

  • Zevgoldman

    It is beautiful but looks to be uncomfortable to ride. The reach from seat to handlebars would put me in traction for a month.

    • Troy

       The ride is actually pretty comfortable. I posted a link to a video of me riding in an earlier post. Here is the link to the video again in case you missed it and would like to get a better idea:

  • greg

    nothing but sweet !!!

  •  Great pictures!

  • Well done Troy that is one sweet and sexy machine! If it rides anything like it looks you must be a very proud and happy man!

  • Great  bike…and the name fits perfectly.

  • Beautiful, but I’m wondering how it looks with a rider.

    • Saw the video and it looks alright–rider got a wet ass though.

  • Mitchel

    Very nice bike Troy!! Did you use the original wheels from the Honda…like them !!

  • I need this, it has my daughter’s name upon it’s gorgeous tank.