We recently met up with Brett Johnson of Northbilt Customs in the heart of the racing capitol of the world, Indianapolis, Indiana where he has a shop on the famous "Gasoline Alley" home to some of the finest machine shops and racing specialists the city has to offer. We were actually visiting one such shop right there recently to have some XS650 valve work done when the shop owner told us about Brett and his incredible Honda scrambler project he was just finishing up, built from a CB350F. We said, well that sounds amazing but couldn't be possible since the CB350F was notoriously an inline four and scramblers are always two cylinders. We took a trip down the road to Northbilt to see for ourselves, walked through their garage doors and amidst an impressive line up of other vintage Japanese projects, like a beaming ray of light there it was, an actual inline four Honda scrambler! We took the bike out to a nearby feild to shoot some photos and find out some more about this concept custom "urban scrambler" they put so much work into. So here’s our newest feature on Northbilt Customs CB350F city scrambler they are calling the "CL350F!"
To start off give me your name and a little info on the shop.
I’m Brett Johnson and the shop is called Northbilt customs. The name “North built” comes from my grandfather who was named Dick Northham, he did a line of race products way back and it was called Northbilt products. His first one was a TQ aluminum midget wheel that he built in 1955, which is partly why we say we were established in 1955 on our logos. So yeah, that's where I get all of my fabrication skills from, the eye that I've got, that's all basically from racing and you can kind of see it in some ways. I try and keep everything very simple, clean, useful and functional. The shop is actually one year old as of yesterday too. We opened April 2nd 2019, it's been a good year so far and we have a great location.
So what brought you to gasoline alley in the first place? Just maybe like some of the history tied to the location?
Yeah, definitely. As a kid we had a Sprint car shop here so I grew up around here and on this road specifically. We know most of the people and their machine shops all throughout here. So if you are gonna be doing this kind of work I felt like this was the place to be doing it.
I actually am surprised there is not more bike shops here I definitely feel Indianapolis has a lot to offer in terms of motorcycles and custom shops maybe more than people realize especially with it being a racing city those who live here are heavily inundated with the speed culture that surrounds the Indy 500 track and all of its events so you might as well add motorcycles to that mix.
WelI I looked at it from the custom side too, it's like for fabrication you've got more resources for that in this city in a high concentration then quite possibly any other city around. I mean case in point I can think of 3 carbon fiber shops on even just the West side of town, most cities don't even have one. There's a lot of examples like that but along with that there is just so much here for machining and it's really just a great pool of resources altogether.
Well let's talk a bit about the bike and what the year make and model is?
It was built from a 1973 CB350F and it was a true “barn find” We ended up dragging it in here and it wasn't completely ratted out but it was pretty rusty, it did not run it barely even rolled the original wheels were completely destroyed and yeah the owner picked it up for right around $300 his original idea was kind of a scrambler or tracker sort of bike and we said yeah those are cool but the whole thing with scramblers is the exhaust. You basically just have to have it and he looked at his budget and decided yeah you definitely gotta have it. So we did it and it just turned out great. It's a stock engine but it's completely rebuilt, the cases were split, the whole deal. It has a dynatek ignition. It still has stock carbs but jetted for the velocity stacks and the exhaust then the shocks we had custom made at advance racing suspension here in Indianapolis. Then it has also CB360 forks then we did a 19" wheel up front the CB350 came with an 18" front and rear we did a 19 because the owner wanted dual sport tires and it just worked out best that way it's running Buchanan spokes and an 18" tire on the rear it was a complete frame up restoration sand blasted through-and-through we did the engine and frame 1st then the carbs. Lot of work.
Well tell me about some different machined parts on it or maybe some of your favorite parts from the build.
The high mount front fender mount that we designed in house is a definite favorite. We CNC cut it and then made it to where it have gator grabbers underneath with special grooves cut into them I wanted to do the same thing up there and it also doubles as what holds the fender up. I also like the little tiny guages, I think that kind of simplified everything. The brake stay also is pretty neat, that's a racing hold over with Heim joints on it from a race car. Then you definitely have the exhaust as another favorite, the exhaust is definitely a big eye grabber too.
Well I mean you just do not see a scrambler in line for motor it's so difficult to do and it's certainly a pretty adventurous idea so how did you even start to tackle it did you have your own mandrel bender or is this made out of a whole lot of sections of pipe?
It was definitely made out of several sections of mandrel bent pipe all from Cone engineering, the idea was I really just sat down and looked at a whole bunch of different scrambler exhausts and I thought about it for weeks and weeks on end. I did a lot of sketches and so on, I looked at triumph exhaust and especially other Honda scrambler exhaust and I figured out that I was gonna have to tuck the bends around the motor a certain way to keep them equal lengths. Coming from a racing background asthetics is sometimes 2nd, it's got a work right 1st and it was very important they were equal length and work correctly. So it was all the combination of that and wanting it to look like a Honda cuz throughout the build we kept referring to it as a “concept custom.” So it's sort of like what if Honda did build this??? So at one point it was almost like building 2 bikes at once. It was fun to kind of play with things like that but I still wanted stuff to look like it came from the factory, so that is kind of why we went with Honda 360 forks, it's still in the Honda family. It's like had they put a prototype together to do this at the time, this is what they would have grabbed other available parts to them.
You know you are absolutely right grabbing things from other models is something they definitely could have done.
It was really fun honestly…. this build started out as sort of a blank sheet of paper really.
Well it's cool when you can look at a blank sheet try to envision something and actually bring it to that gratifying moment of it coming to life that's really where some of the coolest bike parts and ideas come from, it's really someone saying OK this has not been done before let's see how we can make it work.
Which is kind of the idea of why we wanted to do something different. I have really only seen one other 4 cylinder scrambler and it was a guy in Florida with CB550 a few years. Another thing to note about the bike I tried to put stainless hardware everywhere I could every nut and bolt has been replaced with stainless and it blends with the whole scrambler idea of keeping things corrosion proof.
So who is the owner of the bike and what are his intentions with it now?
The owner's name is Jordan Rodgers and he really wanted a city scrambler or urban scrambler, that's why we went with the Continental Twinduro TKC 80s for the tire tread. They have really good road ratings and we believe they are about 40% street 60% dirt. Jordan is also our detailer guy so he is definitely Mr. Meticulous. He is really honestly the perfect owner for a bike like this, he will never abuse it but he does plan to actively ride it a lot though.
This is one of those bikes though it's kind of a tough spot to be in after you finish it because the bike is so well done and so beautiful but it's just sort of meant to get out there and get dirty! It needs to just be ripping down a field somewhere at full speed popping wheelies and living it up
Well our next question in regards to detailing who did the paintwork?
A guy named Adam Dominguez, he was a former Indy car painter along with his dad and brothers. They painted many of the winning Indy cars at the Indy 500 so some of the things that are really nice if you notice you won't be able to feel the stripes if you touched the gas tank. He does that all to Indy car specifications, it's just like on an Indy car all of the lettering is actually paint and it's all sanded down so smooth because they don't want the wind resistance of even something so tiny as 1 mil of decal, so that's how well he did the paint and that is why it was so easy for him to do this.
So the paint color choice is actually also a very specific color as well do you care to talk about that a little more?
It's a Porsche 911 Turbo yellow gold metallic Jordan the owner actually found it and truthfully he went back-and-forth for quite some time it was almost going to be blue and then Brown and then he found this color.
It's honestly just classy like this but it looks like it could get dirty if it wanted to. I mean it definitely blends well with the colors of nature all around it so that really makes the urban scrambler feel of the bike stand out.
Well tell me a little about the electronics and this fantastic box you have under the seat where everything is housed in?
That's a custom battery electrics Box that we designed in house it's got a lithium battery tucked in there as well basically keeps everything nice and dry and neat all in this one little compartment under the seat.
So I want to point out a neat little detail on the bike that most people wouldn't normally find as cool factor but let's talk about these very streamline turn signals.
In the rear they are combo white lower LED for the plate light and red LED on the top and they also double as the bolts to hold the license plate down. I wanted to really keep the lines clean on the bike with nothing out on the sides, so these made the most sense. Then on the front they are the brand new Kuryakyn lights that just came out only a couple of months ago they are super bright Amber led's.
So I noticed these are not stock handlebar risers these are Biltwell’s as well as the handlebars, is that right?
Yeah these are the Biltwell slim lines in black as well as the tracker bars. They just fit the bike great.
So in closing is this bike gonna be featured at any shows coming up soon in the next few months when events began to pick back up?
We have been in communication with the Hand built show so we are waiting to see how things work out with them, they have been very gracious so far. We have a few others in mind but definitely any show that is willing to have us we are willing to take it.
Well we hope to see it out at this years AMA vintage motorcycle days and many other events. Thank you guys!
You can check out their site at Northbiltcustoms.com and see what types of great services they offer for keeping vintage motorcycles on the road!
Photos and words by – Mike Vandegriff