Home » This 1974 Honda CB550 Was A Steal And A Fine Example Of The Universal Japanese Motorcycle: Member Rides

This 1974 Honda CB550 Was A Steal And A Fine Example Of The Universal Japanese Motorcycle: Member Rides

Member Rides Cb550
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Who among us has not drooled endlessly over the offerings on Bring A Trailer? I myself have thrown in many a bid, knowing they were too low to meet reserve or were low enough that should I win by some miracle, the amount missing from the bank account would be low enough I would not be immediately served with divorce papers.

Autopian Member Ben, on the other hand, went for it. After having a classic Honda many years prior, and then cycling through a number of more modern motorcycles, he felt it was time to return to the classics and discovered the beautiful 1974 CB550 featured here among the offerings on BaT. After patiently watching others put in their bids over the duration of the auction, he jumped in at the last moment and took it home! Along with Ben’s lovely CB, we’ll also take a look at his other cars and learn how he went from a long line of manual-only machines to owning two automatic crossovers.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Welcome to Member Rides, where we share the cars and stories of Autopian Members. The potential to be featured here is a perk for Autopian Members of every level, from the ultra-affordable “Cloth” tier all the way up to “Rich Corinthian Leather.” Click that link and join today!

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The Honda’s CB series is one of the most well-known and respected motorcycle lines ever offered in the US, first hitting our shores in 1969 with the genre-defining CB750. In an era when most bikes were still twins, the refinement of the four-cylinder, 750cc machine and its signature four individual exhaust pipes helped Honda dominate the world of motorcycles. In ’74, Honda introduced the CB550 as a lighter, cheaper option.

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What’s your current lineup?

● 1974 CB550
● 1999 Miata
● 2022 CX-5
● 2022 Outback XT
● 2015 Honda NC700X

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Here’s the CB550 with one of Ben’s previous bikes, a 2007 Honda CB900.

How was the Bring A Trailer buying experience?

Buying on BaT was lots of fun back in 2020. My auction win in 2020 was clearly one of the more modest ones on BaT. I don’t think they would accept this bike now, given how the site has grown and matured. I knew I was bidding on a bike from a trusted seller, and had not seen it in person. There’s always a shade of caveat emptor; my bike did need more work than the auction implied. One of the coolest aspects of buying on BaT is being invited to their “alumni” events. My wife and I attended in 2022 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. he won the drawing for the private tour! It was great to feel like a member of the community.

Above: the video Ultra Motor Source created for the Bring A Trailer auction

What drew you to the CB550?

My first motorcycle was a 1972 CB750 that I had owned back in the early 1990s. I’d owned other more modern bikes in between, but the time was right in 2020 to start looking for an inexpensive older bike. I had never ridden the 550, but heard it was in some ways even more fun than the 750. You know, the whole “slow bike fast” kind of thing. So away I went.

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Any modifications?

I have added an electronic regulator/rectifier from CommonMotor for more reliability and upgraded and rebuilt the front brakes (stainless lines etc.) but otherwise, it has mostly been catching up on deferred maintenance – tank cleanout and sealing, carb rebuild, fork rebuild, chain and sprockets, etc. It is a great time machine to a different era, and I love taking it out here in southern Wisconsin for backroads rides to small towns for weekend morning coffee, for example, or to the Slimey Crud Run.

What led to the addition of the NC700X?

I wanted to get into light touring/medium-distance touring and the 50-year-old CB, while tempting, wasn’t the right choice. So I looked for a while for budget rigs. I looked at KLRs, F series BMWs, SV650s, and a slew of others. It came down to a couple of things: I have almost always been a Honda guy; and the NCs are undervalued and thus a good buy. I’ve had it for a year now and love it. I’ve done one small tour to the U.P. of Michigan, and a bunch of regional rides. It is just so easy to rack up the miles.

2015 Honda Nc700x
The NC700X and Honda’s other NC-series “adventure” bikes are practical, reliable, and fun. Honda photo, of course. 

How did you get into cars?

My father was a car guy. My family is a car family. Dad could identify any car made from about 1925 to 1985 at a glance. When Dad met Mom, he drove a convertible Skylark and she drove a Karmann Ghia convertible. Some of the interesting cars that passed through our household were a 1951 Ford woody wagon, a 1966 Lincoln Continental convertible (my mother’s daily driver for much of the late 60s and early 70s); Renault 18i Sportwagon (manual!); first-gen Honda Accord; 1986 MB 300E; 1974 VW Thing; and many many more. When I was 19 I got a modest inheritance and bought a 1985 SAAB Turbo; my brother used his and bought a 1974 VW Westphalia. While the SAAB is long gone, he still drives the bus (now Subaru-powered). I’ve always tried to drive interesting cars, even for my daily driver. At the age of 52, I got my first non-manual transmission daily driver (the turbocharged Outback with the regrettable CVT).

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How did you come by the Miata?

Much like the Honda, I had been interested in getting an older convertible for a while and had been keeping a passive eye out for NB Miatas and a few other makes and models. Not that it is very similar, but as a child, my family had a 1966 Lincoln Continental Convertible, and as a teen my brother and I owned a VW Thing, and the long-dormant convertible virus awoke in me. It was not exactly part of the plan, but I was driving along in November 2021 and saw it for sale at a local shop. I checked it out, took it for a quick ride, and put down the deposit. After a second visit with my wife, it was ours. It is mostly stock other than suspension upgrades and Momo wheels. Also like the Honda, “slow car fast” applies here. It is a blast. The jury is still out about perhaps turbocharging in the future.

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There’s a nice trio to greet you in the garage. That’s the Honda NC700X on the left.

What drove you towards the Outback as your first ever automatic daily?

The Outback replaced a long line of manual sedans, and is meant to fill two roles. We needed something with more towing capacity since my wife changed her daily driver, and the 2014 Mazda3 was getting tired. I would have purchased a manual if they were still available, but alas. I wanted the XT for the turbocharger, and for the increased towing capacity. I did not want the CVT, but tradeoffs happen. Overall, it is a very nice car. I do agree with some of the common complaints you may have heard about these. The CVT is the first, by far. The second is the overly boosted, dead-feeling steering. It is just not engaging to drive. And the UX isn’t great. The over-the-air update last year helped, but the touch screen is merely meh. But the car fills the need.

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Screenshot 2024 06 04 At 1.41.00 pm
Keeping each other company during a tornado. [Ed Note: I need to talk to Ben about his Bicycles, big RivBike energy –PV]

How does the CX-5 compare to the Outback?

The CX-5 is my wife’s daily, and the most recent in a long line of Mazdas we have owned. In general, it is a much nicer driving experience than the Outback, even with the now-dated 6-speed auto.  It is a genuinely nice car, engaging to drive, and so forth.  But I am not going to tow with it or take it camping, for example.

Given my feelings for these two cars, when it is time to trade again I think the CX-90 is on the list.

What vehicles have previously taken up residence in your garage?

● 1980 Honda Civic Wagon 5MT
● 1983 Renault 18i Sportwagon 5MT
● 1984 Chevy Cavalier Wagon 5MT
● 1985 Saab 900 T 5MT
● 1961 VW Bus 4MT
● 1974 VW Thing 4MT
● 1984 Subaru GL 4×4 wagon 4MT
● 1993 Subaru Impreza 5MT
● 1992 Dodge Minivan 5MT
● 2002 Mazda 626 5MT
● 2007 Mazda 3 5MT
● 2014 Mazda 3 5MT
● 2007 Nissan Frontier 5MT
● 1972 Honda CB750
● 1992 Yamaha Seca II
● 2007 Honda CB900

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There are some themes here. Manual wagons for example. Not on the list, because it was my father’s car, was a 1950 Ford “Woody” wagon with a flathead V8 and a three-on-the-tree manual transmission. I drove that a lot when he owned it decades ago. It was a great beach wagon.
I think some of the more interesting cars on my personal list was the Renault – let’s just say quality control at the factory was an issue – and the manual first-gen minivan. How many Renaults did AMC sell in 1983? It couldn’t have been many. On the other end of the spectrum, that manual Dodge van was beast mode. I agree with David Tracy about his feelings toward his manual minivan in Germany – although mine wasn’t diesel.

What’s in your dream garage?

● 1965-73 Porsche 911 longhood
● Jeep CJ5
● Saab 900T
● Mercedes Benz W123 Turbo Diesel
● VW Squareback
● VW Thing
● Subaru Brat
● Volvo V90
● First-gen CB750 (SOHC)
● BMW R series – maybe a /7?
● Honda Trail 90-110
● Honda CL350
● Oh, and keep the Miata and the CB550, of course.

That’s quite a diverse lot. What appeals to you about your choices?

Some of them are nostalgia. I drove a 1985 Saab 900 Turbo throughout college, and miss it constantly. Taking a line from Neil Young, I “missed a shift on a long decline”, in my case coming into Tucson, and could not afford the transmission repair at that time. I extended my visit to Arizona, sold it, and bought its polar opposite – a 1984 Subaru GL 4×4 Wagon. I drove that for years until it rusted away once I moved to Wisconsin. So those two experiences inspire the Saab and Brat on my wish list. The Thing, too, because I had one back in the day. I also had a 1961 VW camper and a 1966 Beetle, so there’s the motivation for the air-cooleds. Others on the list, like the Honda Trail, the W123, the CJ5, R Series – just cool vehicles I haven’t owned but would love a chance to try.

Thanks, Ben! If you’re a member and would like to have one (or a few) of your cars, bikes, trucks or anything else interesting in your fleet considered for Members’ Rides, just click over to the Member Survey link in the welcome email you received when you became a Member. And if you’re not a Member – what are you waiting for? Join today!

Story images by Ben; top graphic image via Bring a Trailer

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Colin Brown
Colin Brown
15 days ago

Renault 18i Sportwagon! I thought I owned the only one. Much better car than its reputation would indicate. If it’d had more horsepower that would have helped, but the guy I sold mine to took it happily to 260,000 miles. Had a Honda CB350, but it was a clunker compared to the CB450 I’d just learned to ride on back in that era. Had the German car disease for a long spell, but my wife and I drive Alfa Romeo products now and I’m riding a Ducati into the sunset of my cycling years. We have some eclectic tastes I guess.

Russ Evenhuis
Russ Evenhuis
15 days ago

I had a 1975 550F between high school and the army. I bought it used in 1985, I think I paid $200 for it. Looking at BAT, they look like they’re going anywhere from 4k to 11k.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
15 days ago

That is a gorgeous bike. I’m not a big classics guy but this one definitely forced a little blood through my stony heart.

WR250R
WR250R
15 days ago

Fantastic bikes. I had the pleasure of riding one once and the sound from that motor made me fall in love with the classics

WaxhawFive
WaxhawFive
15 days ago

Great buy!! I love my ’75 CB550F Super Sport, and it’s also orange (but with added gold metalflake!!) My fun car is a ’69 Volvo 1800S, my daily is a ’15 V60 wagon. I live in Waxhaw NC and around town I ride a ’66 Vespa blue badge!

Last edited 15 days ago by WaxhawFive
WaxhawFive
WaxhawFive
15 days ago
Reply to  Brandon Forbes

My wife (her car is a Giulia Ti Sport) would gladly pay the membership just to force me to clean out the garage enough for a picture. I have become the neighborhood bike shop for all the kids, so my space is jam packed. I also have three kids of driving age, so there’s also a mint ’90 190e Sportline, a C30 and a Z4. Plus my wife has the fastest Vespa, the 300GTV. My list of past vehicles is long and eclectic.

Scootershapedmotorcycle
Scootershapedmotorcycle
16 days ago

My first bike was a CB550K and I lived that thing. Bought used in 1988, an upgrade from the 100cc Vespa I’d been riding. What a great bike for North Carolina at all seasons. Went to see my future wife sing in a winter concert at UNC and it had snowed – sudden patch of honest to freaking god snow on the highway at 55ish mph on 15-501 and I held steady and straight and it was fine. The shimmy at 37mph not so fine. The crash that ended its life, also not fine. For a long time, I’d put on the helmet I wore head first into a pile of bricks, and I would let flashbacks keep me from riding again. Never rode something that big again. Eventually came back to an 85cc, then 150cc, then 250cc, and now 300cc scooter and that’s enough for me. But wow do I still have fond memories of that CB560K and all the crazy places it took me.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
16 days ago

A kick starter and a center stand. You win.

Mike
Mike
16 days ago

Love this. I have a 1977 CB750 4K that’s been sitting for FAR too long waiting for me to build a garage/workshop so I can rebuild it.

10001010
10001010
16 days ago
Reply to  Mike

I have an ’84 CB700SC with a broken starter chain that’s been sitting for years now 🙁

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
16 days ago
Reply to  Mike

I just worked on my ’71 CL350 for the first time in like 5 years. Then I pushed it in to my home office so it sits there mocking me and reminding me to play with it periodically.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
16 days ago

Divided sky the wind blows high.

Nice assortment of vehicles there. And hey, the XT may be CVT laden, but at least it can get out of it’s own way unlike the non-turbo.

Last edited 16 days ago by Taargus Taargus
Bqpqfb
Bqpqfb
16 days ago

Nice catch! -Ben

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