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LACQUERED FINNISH. Sami Karvonen’s ‘Woodie’ ’77 Honda CB500 Cafe Racer

Posted on October 10, 2017 by Andrew in Café Racer, Classic. 43 comments

The Scandinavians and beautiful woodworking. They go together like cafes and racers or Trump and super hold hairspray. Any Scandinavian, Norwegian, Danish or Finnish house worth its salt should have some amazing examples. And in the Finnish house of school teacher and bike builder Sami Karvonen, the example is this superb four-pot Honda CB500. Got wood? You have now…

“I‘m a school teacher and working with bikes is just a hobby for me,” says Sami, quite humbly. “I have always loved to work with my hands and do creative things. For a few years, I have been building fixed gears and single speed bicycles. I have also been restoring some old ones.”

A few years ago, Sami happened upon a bunch of cool cafe racer photos when he was looking for some ideas for his bicycle building. And that was all that it took. He knew straight away, he just had to build a cafe bike. “When I was twenty years younger, I used to have a Honda CB; that‘s the last time I had a motorbike. That bike was for everyday riding, all I really did to it was some basic maintenance to keep it on the road. So I didn’t have any major experience in building custom motorcycles before I started this project”.

So, choosing the project bike was easy for him: it was CB all the way. “I tried hard to find a good one and luckily I found it nearby in Northern Finland. The bike was a Honda CB500 K3 four from 1977. It was more or less in neat, original condition. It would have been easy enough to restore the bike, but it wasn‘t what I really wanted. I already had a vision in my mind so I did some sketches on paper, but mostly I followed the picture I had in my mind“.

“Because this was my first motorbike project, I spent a lot of time on the internet looking for advice, tips and inspiration. I can say that internet was by far my most important tool during the project.” Sami originally bought the bike in November 2016 and started disassembling it immediately. The engine was working fine and he had no intention to up the power, so it was just given a service and left alone. “I just cleaned, polished it and changed some wiring, tubes and the air filters”.

The frame was cut behind the original seat and modified for a seat cowl, which Sami welded up himself. Making a wooden seat was one of the big ideas he had from the very beginning. “I planned the stripes of wood so that they continued from the tank to the seat and beyond to the seat cowl. The darker wood is teak and the lighter one is birch. How did I do it? First I sawed some arches and then I glued them together. The rest was just hard work, filing and sanding”. Then the footpegs were changed and moved backwards. For adjustments, Sami fabbed up some triangular aluminium pieces thanks to a friend’s CNC machine.

“Go on. make another Finish/Finnish joke. I dare you…”

“Maybe the hardest thing during the project was sanding all of the parts for painting and polishing. I honestly thought it would never end, but of course it did. Then, all the lights were changed; I wanted a big, chrome headlight and minimal everything else”. To this end, the LED tail light has been integrated into the bike’s back loop.

Sami says that choosing the colour wasn’t easy. He wanted it to look vintage, and finally he decided it would be grey with light beige stripes. All the painting, including the seat lacquering, was done by local professional car painter Sami Virpi. Clearly, he’s done a great job.

“Apart from those two, one of the biggest challenges for me was to find the time for the project. Because of the daytime job and family, my time was really limited. The 2017 riding season had already started, but my bike was still in pieces. Finally, I started my summer vacation and I worked every day for two weeks straight to finish it”.

“I’m very happy with the end result. For me, the bike looks clean and cool. I feel very proud riding the bike in the few sunny, warm days we have left here. When I’m meeting other bikers I have got a lot of admiration, but also a lot of questions. Mostly about the wooden seat and it’s hardness. They also kept saying that it looked quite elegant and that it makes my bike more unique. I agree”.

[ Photos by Toni Linden ]

  • guvnor67

    I like this a lot, but can’t help thinking he could’ve gone against the grain and built a board track racer. With a satin Finnish on the seat he would’ve nailed it! I’ll be here all week folks!!

    • Groan…

    • Bultaco Metralla

      it would have been plane sailing

    • I pine for a seat like that.

      • guvnor67

        They make them in Oakland . . .

        • I thought it was Ashville.

  • the watcher

    Beautiful bike spoilt by its supposed USP!

    • Hardly a gimmick!

      • the watcher

        What would you call it? I’m intrigued to know.

  • martin hodgson

    Love this, super slick build! So many bikes in the last few months that are actual ridden are being built to an absolute show standard… the bar is being raised!! The metal work is so nice, the paint is only ever as good as the prep work and this is excellent! Love the seat too, to get the lines matching up so neatly, brilliant!!!

    • guvnor67

      Agreed. Where the seat meets the tank is particularly nice. And the colour choice is spot on.

  • Soapy Loofah

    Pretty sure that’s a seat from a KTM 690…

    More seriously…this is a very pretty build. A lot of nice choices were made that work well together – similar-sized wheels, short pipes, just enough chrome, it all comes together in a tidy package.

    • AB

      Could be a Ducati seat …..

  • Greybeard1

    #$%#@*&^ tires!
    Beautiful build overall but the seat hurts all the way over here.
    Even when I stand.

    • MayDayMoto

      Padding is over rated.

      • Bultaco Metralla

        No it’s not

        • MayDayMoto

          uh… I know you are, but what am I?

    • Have you tried a warm bath?

      • Greybeard1

        Not while riding.
        Is that a new Corbin product?

    • Bultaco Metralla

      You and me both. I once had a Ducati GT860 and I used to joke that I was going to soften the seat by restuffing it with crushed gravel. I used to lose feeling in my legs and had to stand on the pegs to get circulation going.

  • MayDayMoto

    Absolutely gorgeous.

  • Lovely bike. I agree with Martin that we are seeing bikes that are actually being ridden by real people that are having a lot of fun. The seat is beautiful. Cushy seats make my back hurt. After all, I spent 16 years of my life sitting on wooden seats in school without damage.

    • the watcher

      Exactly. Wooden seats are for children, toilets and penitents. Fucked if I’d subject my 50 year old plums to such a needless pounding.

      • Some guys pay good money for that… 😉

        • Greybeard1

          And some guys make ’em wait their turn!
          What can I say, I was pretty.

      • Bultaco Metralla


      • Greybeard1

        70 here.
        Prunes. ;o)

    • Good point!

    • AB

      Your wooden school seat was not travelling at 60mph and bouncing up and down potholes …..

      • I don’t know where you went to school…

  • Fido Zombie

    Agree with Greybeard about the tyres – hardly cafe racer. Also think the no front guard look is overrated.

    • MayDayMoto

      I’ve given up on offering my opinion on tires and the lack of fenders. If this was my bike it would be running Avon M26 or Bridgestone BT45’s, and certainly would have a front fender. Both easy and quick fixes. The fender mounts are still there on the fork legs. And tires are consumables, meant to be replaced anyway. Doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a very nice bike, in my opinion.

      • Fido Zombie

        Yes the tyres and no guard are small distractions from a very tastefully done bike.
        I like the old school analogue speedo but was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t perfect alignment of the seat and tank stripes at the interface point.

        • I’m thinking it’s more parallax error than poor alignment, no?

          • Fido Zombie

            Maybe, but the seat hump end alignment looks spot on.
            Anyway I’m sure I could live with it.

  • Andy Rappold

    My Kudos for that incredible build from a follow collegue . Teachers can do it !! Now start another 😉

  • AB

    Sometimes with a different idea a builder cannot see the forest for the trees…….they branch out without thinking what knot to do, leaf out a tried and tested design and end up rooting the final product. I’ll stop barking now………

    • guvnor67

      I think we’re screwed!

      • Greybeard1

        Discourse is the glue that bind’s us.
        I’m knot at all concerned.

  • the watcher

    1000 miles on this and it’ll be the only “woodie” in his life. Casino Royale?

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  • Guru B

    Hi, I am amazed by this bike, is there a way to contact the builder? thanks.