Life is full of variables, oddities and options, but how many Honda CBX/Ducati 999R hybrids have you ever seen?
In late September of 2014 a buddy from work asked if I wanted his 1982 Honda CBX for free…as in no charge. I thought back to the day when I first heard of these beasts with the 6-into-1 exhaust system, and how I decided on that day to own one before passing on. Here was my chance. I told buddy I didn’t want to take his junk to the dump for him but I would swing by and have a look. What I saw blew me away: it was all there; nothing was missing. I didn’t really have any room for the Honda CBX, but I couldn’t just leave it there. So into the back of the truck and home it went.
After a few nights the bike made its way onto my workbench, where an oil change was the first point of business because it had been under a tarp in a field for the last 15 years. When I went to source filter and oil at my local Honda dealer here in Kelowna, BC the parts guy looked at me like I had just grown an extra head. “You have a what?” he said, before making an offer to buy the bike sight unseen. I told him it was given to me and the previous owner’s wish is that I make something of it.
Being a big Ducati 999R fan with two of them sitting in my basement along with almost enough parts to build another, it was obvious to me what had to be done here. I just wasn’t sure to what extent this venture would take me. I love the café builds see on TV, but the lack of updated suspension and brakes on those bikes just wrecks it for me, and would never want to own one in that kind of tune.
On Google I found thousands of images of modified Honda CBX bikes: some with GSX-R or CBR front ends, single-side swingarms, and 916 noses and tails. I saw them naked, and turbo-charged and supercharged, but not one that had been crossed with a Ducati 999 let alone the R model. So that would be my challenge—to build a DUDA (Ducati/Honda) as I called it then.
After stripping the bike of all the stuff I would never need in a million years, I discovered these parts are worth dollars to the right person. The right “person” was TimsCBX.com with whom I horse-traded parts over the phone.
Out from my parts room came an Öhlins triple tree for the front of the bike. Nope that isn’t going to fit; the main tube was as big as the stock Honda downtube with absolutely no room for bearings.
That’s when I called my good friend Roger Goldammer, a multi-time winner of the World Championship of Custom Bike Building series, who agreed that what I was trying to do could in fact be done. With that vote of confidence I installed the headstock to the frame and began the process of sourcing a rear suspension setup. The only fitting thing would be to graft on the 999R’s suspension towers though I couldn’t quite imagine how this was going to work. There was no way in hell I was going to use the air ride suspension of the stock Pro-Link. I could see it in my head, but couldn’t explain it to the world champion. No worries. Roger said that given enough time he could figure the geometry for a safe and properly suspended frame.
By now the parts were coming in daily and I had my plate full with this build. Then, my sister in Ontario called to tell me our mother was sick with stomach cancer. I dropped everything and flew back to help out with anything I could; the bike could wait. On the flight there I could only imagine what was going to transpire in the next few months and was deeply saddened for the second time in my life. The first was when my Dad passed of the same disease five years earlier.
My mother Iris was one tough nut: always happy, loved to talk, a smile on her face even when she slept, but now things were different and there was nothing I could do to fix them. I had the bike in the back of my mind pretty much 24/7 but Mom was in there every millisecond as well. It was kind of strange when it hit me, but it was like an omen—my mother’s name was Iris, her favourite colours were purple and blue and she mainly wore white with those two accent colours to go along with her outfits. These colours were basically the stock livery of the ‘82 CBX, and at that point I let my mother know I was going to name the bike after her. RIP Mother.
After my mother’s passing I had quite a bit on my mind and found the only thing I could do was to work on IRIS, and that I did. I now had a frame that was going to work with the motor and the geometry was pretty much bang-on, or so I thought.
When the frame came back from the powdercoat treatment I put together a mock-up to see where the weight balance would be. With the forks on, the motor in, the swingarm attached, and both wheels attached to the rolling chassis, I discovered there was far too much weight on the front end and the steering angle was too steep.
The easy solution was longer Öhlins forks with radial mount brakes. But, the only bike on this planet with longer Öhlins forks and radial brakes was the 2010 Ducati Multistrada. I searched eBay for three weeks and came up with nothing. Dan Kyle had one set left for five thousand American dollars. The project had come to a halt. I was gutted, but there was no way I was spending that kind of money on forks for a bike that would only be ridden on Sundays and to a coffee shop at that. My good friend and riding buddy who also happens to be a master machinist suggested he could build a custom tripletree top that would drop the forks the 1.75 inches needed to balance out the bike. The build was back on track! Owen Lloyd has helped me so much with this build, and introduced me to things like 3-D printing parts. He’s another person I could not have done this without.
So with the bike pretty much balanced, and the proper steering geometry back in place I pressed on. Wiring this thing was next in line and what a metric mess it was. Since I wasn’t using the cable driven speedo I had to come up with something else, and the same was true of the cable driven tach. Motogadget from Germany was the answer, and what a smart package it is. While shopping their website I came away with bar-end turn signals and a set of über-cool signals for the rear end along with a keyless radio frequency ignition system. This thing was starting to look the part and I couldn’t wait to see it breathe, but first it needed an exhaust system.
I sourced one at eBay and even though I needed only the muffler I was forced to purchase the whole thing. So, it was back to Roger who made a custom exhaust cut from the original Kerker 6-into-2 and fashioned it to rise under the seat just like the stock 999R.
After all was said and done, I had changed the ignition system from the old brush type to modern electronic, replacing the coils with a bigger, better Accel silicone wire set, and new cables for the throttle and choke. Carb work was done by Old School carbs, ceramic-coated exhaust was added, BST carbon fibre wheels were fitted, and the list goes on and on.
The one thing I never gave much thought to was final drive. The Honda CBX came with a chain that could be used in logging or mining—I think it was a 620 or something like that. BST sprockets can be had only in 520 but after much time on the computer I found a company in Germany that will build sprockets any size you want. I was relieved to find it took only three weeks from the time I ordered till it got here—love them Germans.
A couple stats about IRIS. The bike started life as an ‘82 Honda CBX weighing 287 kg (633 lb) and has been whittled down to 213 kg (468 lb). The steering angle has been altered and is now adjustable for two different settings via Ducati’s eccentric steering head.
The stock Honda frame also lost almost two inches overall length with the steering head change. A powdercoated magnesium headlight bucket was sourced and installed, all turning signals are now LED along with a digital LED dash (and the RF keyless remote starter), all the electronics have been updated to modern spec, and an alt/generator replaces the old clutch type generator/rectifier of the Honda CBX (one thing that never really worked that well for the stock bike).
The oil cooler is from a 1990s GSX-R 1100, while the rest is pretty much OEM 999R with the exception of the front fender from a 1098 (I wanted the Moto2 look fender covering more of the fork than the conventional one). There’s a full carbon fibre Ducati Corse solo tail and nose shroud along with a set of Blackstone Tek wheels to help shed the girth of the bike along with a Ballistic battery coming across the counter at $500 (sweet Jesus that’s a lot for a battery). Once I got into this build I quickly found out there was nothing low-budget about it.
The stock wiring harness was put on a diet as well with only the working wires left to do the job needed and all tucked into the headlight bucket for easy access. The cable clutch system has been altered to Magura Hydraulic which makes pulling the lever a breeze—nothing about this project was low budget.
A bit about myself: at age 55, I’ve now been riding since 11, and doing my own repairs since I could remember. I have built many bikes in my life, but what started as a Ducati or a Honda always ended as a Ducati or a Honda. Never have I taken on something like this and wouldn’t recommend it without the right people for support.
Quite a few people said to me, “Have you lost your mind, or are you just trying to get rid of some income? If it’s option No. 2 why not just buy a boat or a horse, they are a sure guarantee to burn up extra income at a fast pace.” With all the naysayers from the get-go on this project, I found all the more reason to move forward and make them see the ray of light. In the end it worked out well for me. One of the best comments I received was, “It looks stock.” Thank you very much, job completed! And now onto my boat; there’s no way I’m buying a horse!
by Steve Whiting Canadian Biker Issue #317