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1981 Honda CX500

Posted on December 16, 2013 by Scott in Brat, Racer. 19 comments

The CX500 has had a bit of a resurgence over the last few years. Bike builders have seen their potential as a low cost donor motorcycle that has a great looking, reliable engine. We’ve seen them transformed into café racers, street trackers and even the odd bobber. But they almost always have one thing in common – Comstar wheels. Thanks to their shaft drive, rear drum set up it makes it very difficult to change the wheels, hence the reason they usually have the stock Comstars on them. So when Jerry Swanson was given his brother-in-law’s non running CX500 ‘parts bike’, changing the wheels was one of the many things he wanted to do. But first, he needed to get the weeds off it.

“My Brother-in-law gave me this 1981 Honda CX500 last year” says Jerry. “He bought another 1981 CX500 that was running and in decent shape, this was the parts bike that came with it. It had no tank, no seat, no title, bent handle bars, bent crash bars, broken blinkers, etc. It had weeds growing up through the frame and looked like it had not run in 20 years. I checked to see if the motor turned over, it was not seized. In fact it still had good compression, miraculously. My brother-in-law did not need any parts off the bike so I had myself a project, and a challenge.”

Jerry has never been a big fan of the CX500 in stock form. “They are rather homely” he says. “But, the motor looks really cool and I had seen a couple fixed up and knew there was potential. So I started by removing all the ugly from the bike, and there was a lot. I had to strip it down to the frame and wheels before I get envision the direction I wanted to go. Even then I was put off by that ugly jog in the frame under the seat. It ruined the lines of the bike I wanted to make. So I cut off the seat loop/ shock mounts and built a new tail section. Then I could see the bike I wanted, a vintage inspired cafe racer style custom bike.”

Jerry sent the improved frame off to get powdercoated, cleaned up the motor, replaced a couple gaskets, and also powdercoated the stock Comstar wheels. “When I got all the parts back I mounted new vintage style rubber and began putting the bike together. After I had the bike in roller form I couldn’t deny the fact that the wheels were really not working for me. Actually I hated them. The whole project was on hold until I found a solution to wheel problem.”

So Jerry wanted some classic spoked wheels but he couldn’t find any to fit the unique CX500 rear set up. “So I came up with a simple solution” he says. “I created an adapter ring that bolts onto the stock CX500 Comstar hubs and allows you to mount a spoke rim of any dimension you like”. Jerry now sells these spoke rings to other CX500 owners wanting to change their Comstars to classic spokes on his site

As soon as Jerry mounted the spoke wheels to the CX500 the planets aligned and he found harmony at last. “The rest of the build went smoothly” he says. “I replaced the wire harness, lights, coils, and battery for reliable trouble free riding. I rebuilt the carbs and built a custom 2 into 1 exhaust. I used a vintage dirt bike tank to slim down the bike a bit. I made a slim two up seat to fit the custom tail section and covered it with black vinyl. I applied the two tone grey paint myself to finish it off.”

This build may have started out as a garden ornament, but Jerry has transformed it into one stunning and understated CX500. The slim tank, paint scheme, side numbers and of course the spoked wheels, all help give it the classic look Jerry was after – and he couldn’t be happier.

  • Sun

    Gorgeous piece of art! Is this lvely bike for sale?

  • Stephen

    This is the cx500 Honda should have produced!

  • Paul McM

    Now THAT is a nice, intelligent, well-though-out build that retains some of the useful features of the original while being lighter, better looking, and (I would have to guess) better handling. Sensible bars — that are not too low. Intelligent chassis. Good clean exhaust routing that won’t burn body parts and doesn’t need wrap to make a hipster fashion statement. Beautiful paint on the tank with interesting lever switches at the front. Simple but functional turn signals. A working centerstand that makes sense on this chassis. Most importantly, an ergonomically correct riding position (though I would like to see a little more seat padding). This is a build by a guy with a brain (and good craftsmanship skills) who came up with a clever adapter ring at the back. Kudos.

    • bartsky

      Shame about the car radiator….

  • Ryan

    Lovely build! The comstars definitely put me of buying a CX.

    Any chance you could build an adapter plate for the Yamaha XS750/850/1100?? You’d make a killing from us lot as we’re dying for an alternative!

  • E Brown

    I like this; I’ve always had a soft-spot for the CX.

  • Davidabl2

    “This is the cx500 Honda should have produced!”-Stephen
    And Honda might still be selling them if they had done that.

    At least in their home market, where the other Japanese big 4 bikemakers seem to be able to sell plenty of bikes that they don’t sell in North America ;-0

  • Septic the Sceptic

    Looks great for a flying maggot.

    Beginning to miss tail pieces to finish off seats.

  • Best looking CX I’ve seen in a long time. I admire the way Jerry found solutions to problems that other people would have given up on. Like the wheel problem. Love it.


    Awesomely beautiful. “Understated” makes it that much more so

  • Joel E Cervantes

    Baller build man. Big up on the spokes problem solving.
    Nothing on your build, but I figure if a Company was to put a shaft drive on their bike, they would build it so that the rear wheel would actually line up with center unlike chain drive.
    Your bike is the tits

  • Lewn

    Really I don’t understand the point of making an 80s bike look 60s. The 80s will eventually come back into fashion, and then people will realize the original is an iconic enough bike to be just lightly resto-modded.

    Still the work done is very nice and the bike sits well, and the way that spokes have been used is genius and taking a basket-case and turning it into this is hardly the crime of the century.

  • Patriccio

    I bought a CX500 in ’79 & drove it around the country for about six months. The thing loved to cruise at 72 mph. I put over 14 thousand miles on it. When I got home, I tried to cafe it out w/ two-into-one exhaust, flat bars, fork brace, but nothing I did compared to this lovely unit. This is so sleek, & it looks light enough to palm (balanced w/ a beer in the other hand, of course). Very nice work.

  • VanDijk

    Paul McM…there zhould be a LIKE button under your comment. I agree. A great vision has formulated here. Class!

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  • I don’t agree that the eighties uninspired designs will ever turn heads the way the sixties and seventies do. The lines are too blocky and unflatteringly exaggerated. The nineteen eighties’ auto and moto designs are probably what killed Raymond Loewy (he’s still rolling in his grave. The reason late sixties muscle cars fetch such prices today isn’t simply because they are old “er.” Their design actually had something to say, rather than “our automated sheet metal techniques make it cheaper to make an uninspired K-car.” Case in point… Suzuki and others have chosen to make motos like the SR400. Dodge has resurrected the Charger and Challenger. I don’t think we will see a Dodge Aries any time soon.