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I've got an '83 GL650I and have been toying with the idea of doing a cafe racer build. Mechanically, the bike has been bulletproof and is my "daily" driver. I keep seeing incredible builds from others and I think it's something that I'd like to try. One of my biggest concerns starting this build turning a great running bike and turning it into a never-ending project. I was looking for some feedback from others that have done this kind of build and what are some realistic expectations I should have going into this project.

To save from getting too far into this project without losing focus, my thought was to build the bike in phases. In theory, something like this:
  • Phase 1 - Front End
    • Remove handlebar and replace with clip-ons
    • New hand controls, bar-end mirror. Ideally, running all cables internally
    • Possibly new gauge cluster
    • Exhaust
    • Relocate pegs and forward controls
  • Phase 2 - Rear End
    • Cut rear frame
    • Add new seat & pan
    • New front fender
    • Paint
  • Phase 3 - Upgrade
    • Remove airbox; replace with Mikuni carbs and pod filters
    • Upgrade mono-shock
    • Possibly swap front fork
    • Possible radiator upgrade
Between working fulltime and having two littles at home, I only get occasional nights & weekends to pick away at this in my garage. I'm a cubicle jockey by day, but have a lot of casual experience with the mechanics and bodywork, MECP certified in 12v electronics and accomplished woodworker. I think I've got enough experience and skills to build this on my own, but again, I might also have my head in the clouds.

So... here are my questions... Any thoughts on how realistic this kind of build would be? Anything "hidden" thing I should know before ordering parts and going past the point of no return? What is a realistic budget for this kind of build?

For reference, here are some of the bikes that I've seen that have inspired me. My goal would be to have a final product somewhere along these lines.
201420
 

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1978 CX500 "The Grub", 1983 GL650I "Nimbus"
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Make your changes reversible, for as long as you can. Through phase one that seems doable. That's also where handling and driveability would be most affected, so you have a chance to backtrack, if needed.
Once you cut the frame, you'll be committed.

Randall
 

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'84 CX650E that is evolving into a GL500
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17,293 Posts
Welcome to the forum. Please add your location to your profile and your bike's model and model year to your signature so that you don't have to remember to tell us every time and we don't have to keep asking when you forget (see Forum Settings link in my signature).

And welcome to the world of antique vehicle ownership (they own us, not the other way around). Your bike is about 4 decades old and the Previous Owners may or may not have done the maintenance necessary to keep it safe & reliable so it is highly recommended to download the Factory Shop Manual for your model (available through the CX Wiki - link in my signature) and go through all of the service procedures, regardless of whether your bike has reached the specified mileage.
I also recommend looking on all rubber parts with suspicion because rubber does not age gracefully. Check the date codes on your tires and replace them if they are over 5 years old no matter how good they look & feel because old rubber simply cannot flow around the irregularities in the asphalt well enough to grip, especially if it is cool or wet. If your bike still has the original rubber brake line(s) (should be replaced every 2 or 3 fluid changes = 5 or 6 years) I recommend shopping for modern stainless braided ones (they last practically forever and double the life of the fluid).

The best advice anyone can give you about customizing any vehicle is to get it safe & reliable in more or less original condition and use it for a while before you start making any changes (it sounds like you are already there) so it can tell you what changes it needs to make it do what you want/need better.
I'll repeat that because it is the single most important factor in building a successful custom vehicle: Changes made for the sake of fashion almost always result in something that does not function as well as it did originally so before you make any changes think long & hard about how they will affect the way it works and if they won't improve it put your time, effort & money into changes that will improve it.
Here's an example: You say you want clip on bars AND forward controls. Have you thought about the position your body would have to be in with that combination? With that combination your feet would be almost directly under your hands, a position that will stretch your back uncomfortably. Before investing in the parts put the bike on the centrestand, with a couple of boxes to put your feet on and lean to where the bars would be, then sit like that for an hour. If it hurts don't do it.

That approach almost always results in something you actually want to keep and use but making changes based on style or on what someone else (who may or may not really understand how the changes affect the way it works) has done often results in a piece of expensive yard art that you can't stand sitting on for more than a few minutes and might even be dangerous.
 

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My situation is similar to yours, busy home life, busy work schedule etc. Heck I even take inspiration from the same bikes as you :) When I did my GL build I came to realize, there was no rush to finish the project, so I took my time, planned appropriate time to do different tasks etc. And I went over everything, put way too many new parts on this bike :) It took me two years but I really enjoyed the process. One key thing for me was having another bike to ride at all times :)
201444
201445
 

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Maybe it just a miscommunication? Most bikes with clip-on handle bars have rear set foot pegs, not forward placed foot pegs? I can't even imagine that scenario or why you would want to do that?
 
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