Monday, December 20, 2010

Long Beach Motorcycle Show Report: Old-School Cobra Customs

Dain Gingerelli ran into Cobra Engineering’s Denny Berg at the Long Beach motorcycle show this past weekend. Here’s what Berg had to say about a couple of bikes of his that almost stole the show.
Let’s face it, we’re not as young as we used to be. Most of the photos of me in action during my road racing years are in black and white, for crying out loud, and no disc brakes. So yeah, we’ve all gotten a bit older and a lot of us have moved on, and now we’re into different kinds of bikes and a different style of riding.

Nowadays a lot of us like to look back at the bikes we lusted after when we were younger. All of us remember bikes that we fell in love with early on and you never really forget those first loves. Your mind keeps them suspended in a time warp and in an idealized place up on a pedestal. But not everyone is willing to get down and dirty and go through the headaches of locating and restoring a vintage bike. And even when you do restore an old bike, a lot of times it never meets those idealized visions that exist only in your mind. 

Where’s all that horsepower you felt when you rode your first CB750, or the sound of that first 305 Scrambler racing past the high school? So what I’ve done here is to work up a couple of customized bikes that are evocative of a couple of long-passed-on Hondas that really hold a special place in my memories–the RS750 flat-track bike that Bubba Shobert raced to three consecutive championships in 1985-1987, and the iconic 305 Scrambler.

I chose the Honda Shadow RS as the starting point because it’s a good, solid platform in stock state and it’s easy to take it in a variety of directions. As a 750 V-twin it’s a natural for the Shobert homage project. On the other hand, the original Honda CL77 Scrambler 305 was a parallel twin and not a V-twin, so that project was meant to be evocative of the 305’s styling and looks rather than being a replica or true representation. Of course, a machine displacing 750cc is more in keeping with today’s tastes; where the 305 Scrambler was viewed as a hot performance machine back in its heyday, now a machine of that engine displacement is considered to be pretty small. The first time I rode my brother’s 305, I was convinced that no other motorcycle in the world could be as fast as that bike. I bought it from him after he stuffed it into the rear bumper of a pick-up truck, and my love affair with the Honda 305 began.

As you can see, I’ve converted the flat-tracker custom to a single-shock rear suspension that’s kind of like what the race bike used. I used a custom-made Progressive Suspension shock bolted to the modified and braced stock swingarm. It rolls on 19-inch flat-track-style wheels laced to lightened stock hubs, and the pipes are upswept on the left side like Bubba’s RS750. Also, Bubba’s bike sported a red, white and blue paint scheme, so those are the colors I chose for this bike. 

The guys at M3 Racing in Minnesota had the molds for the original RS750 race seat, and gave me the paint codes to the original colors. They restored Bubba's race bike, which now resides in the Barber Museum. I fabbed up the front number plate/headlight, radiator air dam and catch tank, foot controls, and all the other custom parts. I used as many stock parts as possible, modifying them if necessary. 

The rear part of the stock frame was cut off behind the engine, and I bent up a new subframe to hold the seat. I used the stock gas tank, but removed the welded seam and added a flush-mount gas cap to make it look like a fiberglass racing tank. All of the electrical components are reduced, simplified, or relocated to give the bike a “racy” look. The back end is raised 1.5 inches and the front dropped 1 inch to steepen the head angle. There's an endless list of modified and custom parts that went into building a bike like this, but it sure was fun to build.

The original 305 Scrambler was pretty small and tidy compared to bikes now. So with this custom project I tucked in the rear shocks and side covers 1.5 inches on both sides to slim it down a bit. I modified the stock seat base, adding longer skirts on the rear to give the seat a ’60s look. The round Honda Wing badges and kneepads on the tank rekindle memories of the old 305 fuel tank. 

I welded a set of classic Scrambler up-pipes complete with heat shields that give it a 305 look, but they're on the right side of this bike. The silver-finished engine, classic air cleaner and cross-head case screws give this bike more of the 305 look. I found an original early Honda taillight assembly at a local bike graveyard, and bent up a rear grab rail behind the seat. I welded a cross brace to the stock 1-inch bar and used the stock controls with vintage Gran-Turismo grips. I used a reproduction early headlight and made some 305 replica light mounts. I think that certain parts on the original 305 Scrambler were iconic, like the pipes of course, and the tank, headlight mounts, seat, fork boots and other “touchstone” parts. The early Honda red/silver paint job really makes it all come together.

I really enjoyed working on these two customs because they gave me a chance to look back at two of my favorite machines from days gone by. Doing projects like these is a great way to reconnect with your own motorcycling past, but in a different way than if you were tinkering around with some vintage bikes. Also, these bikes are very distinctive, not the usual run-of-the-mill customs with chopper styling and lots of chrome. Most of the time, when someone hears the term “custom motorcycle” the image that comes to mind is a raked-out slammed-down cruiser. Instead, here we have two bikes that we’ve customized for the purpose of taking a trip down memory lane, back to our more youthful days; that in itself made these projects plenty of fun. And thanks to Honda for the memories.


  1. I wonder if he'd consider a trade for an 'o7 Ducati?

  2. Great looking custom...

    Honda Scramblers and high school, what an image.
    Jerry, you must be my age. And that's what's amazing... my age and still building bikes!

    Very cool bike, Jerry

  3. Great bikes, Honda should build them both.

  4. I bought a Shadow RS in April and it's a sweet motorcycle. It's definitely not a cruiser. It's more of a flat-tracker, like the VT500 Ascot.

    Come on, Cobra. Get some of these parts out there. The flat-tracker look is perfect for this motorcycle. It has potential but calling it a "Shadow" doesn't do it justice.

  5. I couldn't say it better. My RS is a true joy to ride, and is NOT a "cruiser" in any way.

  6. Ciao,
    I also designed a scrambler based on the rs...
    if U want U can see it at this link: