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’73 Honda CB250 – ‘Isabel’

Posted on April 23, 2012 by Andrew in Café Racer, Classic. 47 comments

Ahhh, steampunk! How I love thee. Let me count the ways. Lighter-than-air warships. Wind-up robots that make cool whirring sounds. Weaponised steam locomotives. Vast subterranean cities built by armies of leather-goggled minions. Gunpowder-driven external combustion engines driving giant tanks. Analogue push-button typewriter computers cooled by water and made of brass. Soldiers driven by steam boilers and programmed by punch cards. Giant steel submarines filled with grand copper organs and suspended walkways and stained glass portholes and rivets. And, well, that would have been about it for my personal steampunk list of coolness if you had asked me last night. But tonight it’s different. See, my imagination has just been expanded by exactly one hyper-cool machine, but this one’s not a special effect or a pen and ink drawing. It’s as real as you or I. Her name is Isabel and she’s the product of one particularly over-active imagination that lives inside the head of Tasmanian Andrew Knott.

Here’s Andrew. “I’m a 33 year old graphic designer and photographer, only been riding about 4 years, but have taken to it like a duck to water. Prior to Isabel I had (and still have) a BMW R1200GSA which I love, and is great for touring and two-up stuff, but isn’t really suited to the amount of just around town riding I do, so I figured I might just get a fixer-upper for a runabout bike, get me to the shops and back and teach me about the basics of bike mechanics. Now I wouldn’t really want to take her into town and leave her anywhere – so I still have no knockabout bike.”

Mmmm – brassy

“I’ve really dug the retro cool vibe that has snuck in to the world over the last few years, and mostly the REALLY-retro Victorian-inspired stuff. So I decided if I was going to do a custom old bike, let’s make it properly old! It also afforded me a bit of leeway in the customising department, as I’m no mechanic, or metal-worker, so if I went with the idea it was to look all old, knocked about and ‘hand-made’ then all those little imperfections that it was sure to have would add to the character.”


“it was painted purple, with really horrible
girl’s push bike kind of handle bars”


“I found an old 1973 CB250 that had a 350 engine it that was for sale locally, just a really neglected old Frankenstein bike that I figured would be perfect for my needs, simple, common, easy to find parts and knowledge for and reliable. It didn’t run, wasn’t registered and was painted purple… with really horrible girl’s push bike kind of handle bars. Took her home, stripped her down and started from scratch. Turned out the engine was mechanically in good nick, had good compression and I just needed to rebuild the clutch.”

…and with a few small mods she can make some mean moonshine

“So I kicked off with the gauges. I wanted to get them just right for the vibe I was going, and then basically build the bike around them. I copper-plated the housings, designed the faces and got them etched out of brass, and replaced the needles with old clock hands. It worked for me, and the rest of the bike flowed from there.”

“I knew I wanted to have a old carbide lamp housing for the headlight, I’d seen it done on a chopper ages ago and really liked the idea. So I tracked down an early 1900s carbide lamp on Ebay that was useless as an actual carbide lamp but perfect for a housing. And the originally headlight went in almost perfectly! And it kind of went that way for the whole build, everything just seemed to work.”

Technically, you’re only breaking the speed limit in ancient Rome

“So then I got the whole frame copper-plated. Still makes me laugh to this day. Sending a sand-blasted frame off and and having it come back in shiny, shiny copper just made me giggle. Though it was way too shiny, but it turns out if you spray copper with a vinegar/salt solution you can make it look almost like the statue of liberty in about an hour… so with a bit of that and then some polishing back it started to look the right age.”


“if you spray copper with a vinegar/salt solution
you can make it look almost like
the statue of liberty in about an hour”


“I ground the tank and guards back to bare metal and clear coated them with some clear engine enamel which I then baked in my oven (much to my girlfriend’s displeasure). They had some great scars too, really fit in well with the rest of the bike’s character. I wanted to have all the materials as honest as possible, very little paint if I could help it or only if it made aesthetic sense.”

“The bike didn’t have any airbox covers when I bought it, and they are quite rare now, so I figured why not make some little leather saddle-bag covers. I found an old leather satchel at the tip, pulled it to pieces, cut it in half and they worked a treat. Found some old typewriter keys that I replaced the control switches with, some brass cable adjusters, a clock key for the trip meter reset, brass hand grips and got a few other bits brass plated – a rare thing these days apparently!”

“Got quite a few great ideas and help from a few forums too. Someone posted up a great old bike than had all it’s fuel lines done in copper tubing, which i loved, but didn’t know how I’d be able to do. I tracked down some 1/8″ copper tube and formed it around in the shapes I was after using a champagne bottle and it was actually stupidly easy.”

Again with the scotch

“There was no question that the seat had to be done up like a Chesterfield, and I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find someone to do it for me – but it turns out if you ask a motor upholsterer to do diamond tufting they say it’s a furniture upholsterer’s technique, and you ask a furniture guy to do a motorbike seat they just look at you like you’re an idiot. So the only option was to do it myself! A few Youtube tutorials, some damn nice leather from Sydney, a few more scotches, I had a Chesterfield seat.”

“There’s still lots of little bits I’d like to do, there will always be something I reckon. The next thing to try is to do some home electroplating. There’s no one is Tasmania that does brass-plating, so I’d like to have a go at a few small parts. And the indicators are wrong, I still need to find something for those…”
Check out the complete build thread over at DoTheTon. Thanks to Jon for the tip.

  • God damn you disqus. I want to see what others are saying about this bike!

    Great imagination and excellent execution.

  • Degan_mckaig

    Very interesting build, very unusual idea’s. Congrats on a great job “2 Thumbs Up” from me.

  • GuitarSlinger

    Hmmmn . This one I’m a bit conflicted about . On one hand I really like it : but on the other , something bothers me about it . Maybe if they dumped the whitewalls and the exhaust wrap ? Hmmmmm. Yup ! I do believe that’d do it , placing it firmly on my ‘ Like ‘ ( eeesh hate that term of late ) List . 

    • I’m glad that he’s new to motorcycles, and is building and learning and stuff. But it is jarring to see all the parts from mixed eras put onto one machine. I agree that changing the tires and removing the pipe wrap would be an improvement. And it really isn’t hard to get that acetylene headlamp to work on acetylene (or get one with a carbide tank and generate gas in situ like his taillight). I’d prefer to use one on a bike of that era though. The best part is that he’s now learned some new fabricating skills that he can apply to his next builds.

  • Mondo

    Bang-on Steampunk! Kudos to the photographer too! 

  • Harry

    Actually the photographer IS the owner and builder… You can check the progress on the DoTheTon forums, it is really impressive!

    • Richard Brandt

      and on

      Way to go, Noddy – you’ll remember I wanted to post you some brass geegaws so I could see some of my cast off parts in print…guess I should have hurried up! Looks fantastic.

      “rich ard”

  • I’m having to use some copper on my current build (it’s a story, not a long one, but a story), so it will have some of that “steampunkyness” whether I like it or not. I think it looks cool using copper.

    • GuitarSlinger

      FYI ; Copper hardware and BRG ( British Racing Green for those who do not know ) is a killer combination that supercedes ANY categorization . IMHO a killer combo on car or bike .

  • JohnnyBaremetal

    I really like this bike. The only thing that i would „change“ is the size of the front light and the pruple lights on the side. But all in all this really has some fresh thoughts in it. Well done, and he looks happy…

    • JohnnyBaremetal

      Hmm the tank decal could have covered the whole spot where the original decal was…

  • ecosse

    i dig the steam punk thing as much as the next guy.

    but if you’re real quiet you can hear the gentle pleas from this bike…”kill … me…”

    • a really big king kong

      seriously it’s a cb250 … this was
      the best thing to ever happen to it.

    • John Pfeufer

      Are you kidding? Friggin PIECE OF ART.

  • Docsliu

    I don´t like it at all.Where´s the work he´s done.Only major changes are the head,rear lights and the seat.
    Totally agree with Bill Redder.

    • clintonius monk

      You and bill are out of control again…….makes me worry…

    • Alister

      you are aware he made all the badges for the tanks and seat, built the seat himself, made the satchels on the rear, modified the stock gauges and re-fit an entire headlight and wiring into the lamp on the front, right?.. how about you show us some of your own work before so harshly critiquing others. I don’t see your bike on here..

    • a really big king kong

      are you an idiot and should I make a list of everything this guy did and how much time it must of took. yes head lamp retro fitted from an old par can next he created the custom dials, the adjusted front fender the powder coated parts of the rim the bronzed frame the custom seat with name plate the gold chain the custom grips and equipment the wrapped exhaust the custom weirs the modified spark plugs probably a complete rebuild of the engine the custom tail light…. all craftsman quality. use your eyes you dip shit.

      • John Pfeufer

        I second… and third that!

  • Daoud

    With or without the headlight it sucks!!!! But, he must of had fun putting it togeather.

  • T Lenninger

    shit! this thing i grate! the only thing that bothers me is that Im finishing up my build whit the same idea… I just love the brass and the seat. thank you for  ruining  the novelty 🙂 

  • davmo

    Yes, let’s see.. Coal? Check. Kerosene? rightee-o! Oh no! out of whale oil again, and the convenience store hasn’t carried any since 1884!! Nice theme bike.

  • revdub

    The copper frame is really cool. I’d like to see it after it has aged a bit.

  • Jon

    Thank you Pipeburn! Noddy knocked this one out of the park. The first picture he posted in his build of his guages and I knew this bike was going to be amazing! Glad I could get you guys in touch with him.

  • Cliff Overton

    Well done Noddy – it was a pleasure to watch the build on the twins forum from first page concept drawing to reality. I reckon you pulled it off, and the steampunk world gives you a big ‘Huzzah’.

  • Car2nst

    Uh,damn….I thought I loved the Guzzi with the alloy tank but ya gotta love a bike that a bloke made for himself-the cat is spot on with all of it! The typewriter keys is really a nice touch.

  • Davidabl2

    copper..on some Japanese bikes you can replace the fussy little (plastic) chrome covers on your handlebar
    pinch bolts with copper pennies.. $.004 per set  of 2011 shield-back pennies or $10.00 for a set of pre WW1 “Columbia” pennies. If this is the case with “Isabel” may I suggest the “Columbias?”
     On my Kawasaki Vulcan, the pennies are almost a pressfit into the holes in the clamp, but sometimes Iose one on  bumpy stretches of road 🙂

  • Davidabl2

    I refer everybody over to take a look at the 1928 Windhoff..and it’s headlight 😉

    • Asshole welder

      That looks alot like the danish 1918 Nimbus kakkelovnsrør (stovepipe in english).   


    It has been months since I have seen something interesting in here. Thumbs up!

  • I’m generally sick of the steampunk concept, I love it at heart, but usually there are just too many superfluous nicknacks added.  This man seems to have done it right, the copper tubing is beautiful, and the use of actual vintage parts helps a lot. 

    • I agree. I really love the Steampunk style, but when it’s just a matter of hanging superfluous crap all over, it sucks. Besides, Harley Davidson has already cornered the market on hanging superfluous crap on ones bike. This builder added (mostly) things that actually are useful and work.

  • Asshole welder

    Add some brass fork covers, an remove the indicators, that would help alot on the “vintage/steampunk” look. I like it by the way, good job so far 🙂  

  • creatureparty

    I bought an antique brass headlight just like that for my bike. Then i realized it would look stupid so i put a light bulb in it. Now i have a cool lamp and a cool bike! but Im glad people are building bikes that make them happy, however, Im not glad people are still wearing cargo pants

  • Newenglandcarpentry

    So cool. Individualism. That’s the key.

  • SportsterMike

    At first I thought it was awful – but now I like it. Still not going to be able to leave it anywhere though…

  • Really its an excellent post.

    Thank you. 

  • I think all it needs is a J.C. Whitney chrome luggage rack with an old milk crate bungied onto it. That s all it needs to be perfect! Great work.

  • I gotta say i really like it. A little weird but in a very good way

  • Asdf

    Strongly dislike.

    I don’t understand how steampunk continues to enamour people. People put shit on goths and have done so for decades (and rightly so), but to the general public steampunk is somehow cool and awesome looking even though as an aesthetic movement it’s far more stagnant and even more ridiculously accessorised and impractical than goth ever was.

    On top of that, the application of the aesthetic is so half-arsed. See cargo pants and t-shirt in above photo, distracted by goggles.

    What gives?

    • What

      So it’s too steampunk whilst not being steampunk enough? That’s quite an achievement.

  • Classickmoto

    ive followed this from the beginning on the honda twins forum. hes done a great job in realising his idea and attention to detail. as its his first go hes done an awesome job…… cant say its not different……

  • milk

    its not really my cup of tea (earl grey if you want to know).. but I guess the guy has built what HE wanted. its a show bike… nice to look and admire the detail at but I would never want to own it, let alone ride it or be seen on it. just my two shillings.

  • Jennifer Dsouza

    I don’t like the color but like to ride this, as while driving atleast i can’t see the color of this. ha ha haaa. nice & well speedy car.
    Used RVs

  • Joseph

    This looks inspired from this bike…

  • jesse

    I LOVE THIS BIKE! I hope my 72 cl175 looks as great as this when im done.