Bringing you the world's best café racers, trackers, scramblers & custom motorcycles

‘Amber’ Honda CB550 – Thirteen and Company


Posted on January 5, 2017 by Andrew in Café Racer. 20 comments

I was flicking through my old record collection over the Holiday break. I’ve been seriously thinking about getting my turntable working again and dusting off a few of the many pieces of vinyl I haven’t heard in over a decade. Going through the records that had convinced me to part with my hard-earned dollars, I had one very clear thought, “Gee, I was easily amused in my teens.” There we just so many bands that seemed amazing at the time that now seem really damn gimmicky. It’s funny how age and maturity bring such clarity.

It made me wonder about Pipeburn, and what we’ll all think of the bikes we post in ten years. Now I may be wrong, but I’d happily bet a crisp new $50 on the fact that this one will still wow us… and then some. Meet the very mature, and very elegant ‘Amber’ CB550 from California’s Thirteen and Company.

“The goal with this build was to design a motorcycle that was approachable to any rider,” says Thirteen’s Kyle Vara. “Something that displayed a real balance of maturity, elegance, and attitude.” In other words, something that was the polar opposite to my vinyl copy of Hootie and The Blowfish’s ‘Cracked Rear View’, then. And probably all the better for it.

“We started with a restoration that went all the way down to the nuts and bolts. The motor remains a stock displacement Honda 550cc four. Then we planned out a clean cafe build that would feature a two-part silver and clear powder coated colour scheme and a custom subframe.” And then he got to work.

“The seat was handmade with reclaimed Italian leather, and was then matched to some imported Italian grips. The seat cowl was also handmade to match the brushed steel tank; both were then professionally clear coated to resemble a dense, deep, glass-like finish.” Kyle notes that countless hours were spent sanding, buffing and polishing any and every aluminium part on the Honda.

“Then the wiring harness was made from scratch, giving us a streamlined wiring solution.” It’s a nice option if you can manage it, but as any builder will tell you, many people have been brought to the edge of insanity wiring bikes. Clearly, Kyle has managed to escape the asylum.

It’s a chrome fetishist’s wet dream

Mechanically, all aspects of the bike have been revamped. The carbs received a full overhaul and are now topped by four stainless steel velocity stacks that also provide a visual highlight to the bike’s good looks. Keeping the whole chrome party grounded, Kyle mounted a pair of vintage-style Coker Diamond Tread tires, along with new set of D.I.D. chrome rims and spokes.

It has an all-in-one LED rear brake, tail and turn lights subtly integrated into the bike’s new rear loop. And the custom stainless steel 4-into-1 exhaust gives the ‘76 Honda‘s voice a bit of meat, without making it too tiring on longer rides.

We’re no experts, but shouldn’t that rear tyre be attached to the bike?

“When we first started to put together ideas for this build, we stumbled across some photos of early 1950s European sports cars. For us, that era of cars embodies an elegant, rich and mature style that we knew we wanted to recreate in this cafe 550. The colour scheme was inspired by Porsche’s signature silver and deep brown, and then we mixed in an assortment of hand-polished aluminum parts. We’re couldn’t be more pleased with the overall appearance.”

As opposed to building bikes to customer specifications, Kyle says he likes building bikes that are entirely his own design, and then selling them when they are finished. It allows him to have full control of the creative process and removes the natural limitations that customers bring when it comes to price, color or specifics. “With that said, we will always build bikes for clients as we are a business and we have to pay the rent. We just prefer to build our own,” he notes.

The most challenging part of this build for Kyle was deciding on a seat cowl profile that was inline with his overall vision of the project. “We have made many cafe-style seats in the past, however this one called for a cowl that was a bit longer and lower. After a couple of hours beating and rolling it through the English wheel, we had come up with something that really fit the part.” I couldn’t agree more.

Kyle closes by noting that this isn’t a usual build for Thirteen and Company. “What I like about this Honda is that it broadens our range as a company. We typically like to build edgy, race-inspired bikes. But I think that this bike breaks that mold.” So with a choice of race and edgy or maturity and elegance, which one would you choose? Tough call, yes? I agree. Let me put on some Hootie and the Blowfish to help us all decide. Hey – where are you all going?

[Thirteen and Company: Web – Facebook – Instagram | Photos by Kyle Vara]








  • jlgace

    Spectacular ride. If they could have rolled the tank seams and made the cowl one piece with the frame (or look like it) I think it could go from spectacular to masterpiece. And I say this with no real love for this model. Well done guys.

  • JayJay

    Nice one to start the year. A classic beauty. Keep it up.

  • the watcher

    I look at my teen record collection (Dylan, Velvet Underground, Hawkwind, Jethro Tull, Motorhead, Rory Gallagher, the Stones, to name a fraction) and think “fuck I was cool”. That’s your luck, eh? Nice little cafe racer, but.

    • Actually, the Hootie reference was hyperbole. I always hated them. It’s mostly very good bands. New Order and Joy Division were my faves, but there’s heaps of Stones, Beatles, Kraftwerk etc. in there. But there’s some woeful ones as well. Just not Hootie woeful… 😉

      • guvnor67

        Between yourself and The Watcher you have my favourites covered_ Hawkwind, Jethro Tull, the mighty MOTORHEAD (RIP Lemmy n Philthy), and Joy Division, New Order and Kraftwerk, and the Evergreen Rolling Stones. Add some Can, Sisters Of Mercy and heaps of Leonard Cohen (also RIP) and ,well, musical magic. The bike is awesome too, a symphony of style and quality!

        • While I do like Can, i’m more of a Neu! and Faust guy myself…

          • guvnor67

            While the tone of this conversation is bas(s)ed on music (see what I did there?!), what was the first single you ever bought? And what is/are your fave riding or driving song?

          • the watcher

            a: “What a waste”, Ian Duty and the Blockheads. ZZ Top, b:”Party on the patio” (or practically anything else up to and including the “Eliminator” l.p.)

          • guvnor67

            Damn, now you’ve got me thinkin; ZZ Top “Tush” or “Heard It On The X”, or “Sharp Dressed Man”. I now have a gazillion great songs thumping through my scone .. I believe a long overdue vinyl weekend is looking good! That and a ride to a local ‘Rod Show on sunday. Damn life’s good!!

          • the watcher

            Never forget, “She Wants a Pearl Necklace”!

          • guvnor67

            Does she work the Canteena?!

        • yamahard

          “…it flies, sideways thru time…” See what I did there?

          • guvnor67

            Yup! “And I’m still feeling mean!”.

          • the watcher

            “Every time I go out, I think I’m being checked out. Faceless people watching on a TV screen.” Wow! How fucking good were they, huh? Mid 70’s , prophetic or what?

  • Tell me again how chrome is out of fashion at the moment.

  • AB

    Look, really nice build – but I was thinking – ‘yeah, clean but nothing special’ – so I searched Pipeburn for ‘CB550’.
    And just like going through my old music collection I found some real gems.

  • Triton67

    I have never been into Jap bikes but this one looks great ! job well done

  • Rubens Florentino

    I always loved the sound of the Hondas “Four ^. This one looks just perfect and I even liked the combination of silver and chrome.

  • mtnsicl

    That’s rad!!

  • The CB550 is done over and over again and it gets really difficult to stand out in this crowded area, but damn! They nailed it! Beautiful machine!