CAL'S CALI CAFÉ
A custom Honda CB550 with some choice modifications makes its way to the Motogp paddock for a very special moment with the LCR Honda team and Cal Crutchlow.
For most people, reality TV is little more than vicarious entertainment. But for transplanted Irishman Paul Crozier, the Cafe Racer program on Velocity five years ago became pure inspiration. After seeing one particular episode, Crozier decided to craft a vintage custom of his own—and then impressively followed through.
In his first effort at bike building, all Crozier wanted initially was to upgrade a classic Japanese bike with contemporary parts that would allow enthusiastic trackday use. This vision later evolved to imbue the bike with a full LCR Honda racing theme, since Crozier had gotten to know team owner Lucio Cecchinello personally.
The bike started life as a 1976 Honda CB550 Four, to which Crozier added a 2009 Suzuki GSX-R600 front end fitted with Rhinomoto crash sliders. Curt Winter at BTR Moto performed frame mods to clean up appearances and also added a rear frame loop and brackets for custom rear-set controls. Cognito Moto turned out a billet front hub, and fitting 17-inch black Excel rims let the bike accept modern Avon 3D Ultra Sport rubber, 120/60ZR front and 150/60ZR rear.
The swingarm retains its original length, but BTR Moto triangulated it with steel tubing, similar to the early AMA Superbikes’ flex fix. After being introduced to Öhlins suspension importer Dan Kyle, Crozier had a pair of Öhlins shocks for a twin-shock Kawasaki streetbike lengthened 10mm to match the ride height of the GSX-R fork.
Honda CB500 and CB550S from the ’70s are sweet-running bikes but not powerful in stock form. To give his build some muscle, Crozier had the engine cylinders bored 3mm to achieve 605cc, had the crankshaft lightened by 3.75 pounds and balanced, added a mild street cam, ported the head, and fitted 26mm Keihin CR carbs. An open 4-into-1 Motogp style stainless-steel exhaust was specially fabricated by BTR Moto. It features a laser-cut exhaust screen and carries the distinctive Arrow logo plate, just like the LCR bikes. He also replaced the stock ignition with an optically triggered system by C5 Ignitions. “Magnetic pickups are an improvement over the old points systems but can still be off by 5 to 7 degrees,” Crozier says. “Optical ignitions are much closer—1 to 3 degrees.”
The fuel tank is a late 1960s Wards Mojave 360 steel unit—now considered one of the hottest tanks for retrobike builders—for which Crozier’s father-in-law, O’neal Durgin, created a matching seat base and tailsection in fiberglass. The tail holds the battery and electronics, giving an extra-clean look to the middle section of the bike, which originally housed an airbox, battery, and electronics.
Fenders and headlight stays were fabricated in aluminum by BTR Moto, gracefully patterned after the tank and tailsec- tion. For some extra bling, Crozier added various Rizoma components, including a clutch lever, front master cylinder, reservoir, and brake lever with racing guard, throttle and handgrips, turn signals and bar-end mirrors, and swingarm spools.
The pièce de résistance is the Lcrpatterned paint job by Owaga Designs, white with the same array of sponsor logos as the Motogp bikes wear…plus CBR1000RR badges on the gas tank. “Although the build took years, a point came when I had to pick a color scheme,” Crozier explains. “I thought, ‘LCR has been very kind to me over the years; why don’t I try to build a bike honoring the team and its sponsors Arrow, Rizoma, and Öhlins?’ That’s how it evolved.”
As for the unique “LCRCAFE” California license plate, Crozier ordered that shortly after starting the project. Although he didn’t connect it at the time, the plate features the abbreviation “CAL” (for California) in one corner. This was met by a rather startled Cal Crutchlow when Crozier took the bike to the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) Motogp round in Texas in 2016, its coming-out party.
“Cal sat for photos on the bike in full leathers,” Crozier grins. “He was freaking out. He said, ‘My name is on the plate! Is this a real license plate?’”
While showing the bike to the LCR Team, Crozier got a surprise. “Lucio was inspired and asked if it would start up,” he explains. “It was finished only a week before COTA, and I was a nervous wreck because we had wired the bike but never fired it. I kept thinking, ‘Did I get the firing order right?’ I said, ‘It’s wired but there’s no gas or oil in it.’ So we filled it with Castrol and pump gas and engaged the rear-wheel starter from Crutchlow’s racebike!”
Fortunately, the Honda started immediately (with the LCR and Repsol teams and even Marc Marquez’s dad looking on), its engine wailing through the open collector just as Crozier had dreamed about four years prior. And in a happy numerical coincidence, both the fourcylinder machine and Crozier turned 40 years old last year, which was also the 20th anniversary of the LCR Team. That’s a great result for a first build and an even better redemption for an old CB550 Four.
TO GIVE HIS BUILD SOME MUSCLE, CROZIER HAD THE ENGINE CYLINDERS BORED.
LCR Cafe owner Paul Crozier (left) is with Cal Crutchlow and Curt Winter (who modified the frame and swingarm) at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, presenting the bike to the LCR team. Crutchlow's signature adorns the handmade fiberglass tailsection.