Honda CB550

Honda CB550Now that I have my motorcycle license and have been driving a 250 for two weeks, I’ve been actively looking for a motorcycle to buy. Yesterday someone told me about a 1978 Honda CB550Four K that’s for sale, so I visited the seller and fell in love with the bike: it’s in perfect condition. The seller’s asking $2000 (Canadian) for it, which is steep for a bike that old, but it IS in top condition, and the seller is willing to help me maintain it (although it needs no maintenance now; it’s ready for the road).

I think I’m going to get it.

131 Replies to “Honda CB550”

  1. I just bought my first bike. A 1978 Honda CB550K. I love it. I read a post from Dave saying that luggage racks are hard to find for 78’s. I cannot seem to find one anywhere and I do a lot of commuting back and forth to school and work and skateboarding spots and a luggage rack would very convenient. Is there anywhere you would recommend looking for one?

    Thanks for the great site.

  2. I haven’t seen luggage racks for the 550k but I haven’t looked for them either. Your best bet is checking a dealer or googling for it. I just wore a backpack.

  3. When I got my ’78, the rear tire was getting on in wear and I knew I’d need a new one soon. The J.C. Whitney catalog provided me with several alternatives–I got one that is about half an inch wider than the original but fits on the original rim and that improved the ride and handling incredibly. I was afraid it might rub a bit as there’s not a lot of room back there but it’s been just fine.

    The J.C. Whitney catalog, by the way, can be a great reference if you’re looking for things like tires, seats, luggage racks, etc. Often they will have lists of the models a particular item fits–it’s as good as a cross-reference chart in a repair manual and a lot more fun to read!

    I once bought a ’77 sissy bar for mine intending to hang a backpack on that. It just plain wouldn’t fit. The seat pan and the rear shocks are configured completely different and I believe the shock bolts are larger in diameter. The ’78 seat is actually larger and presumably more comfortable than the ’71-77….it’s just problematic in that most of the accessories out there won’t fit. As far as I know, MOST of the rest of the bike (brakes, cables, etc.) is the same throughout all model years.

    Might be worth putting a “saved search” on eBay and just waiting for a ’78 luggage rack to show up. I have seen several–just finally decided to keep my bike “all original” and bought a Gold Wing to play with.

  4. Thanks for the tips. Another quick question if you don’t mind; I am having a hard time keeping the bike running when I start it cold. I have to really rev the engine and mess with the choke and idle before it will idle on its own. Once it’s running though, it sounds slick and it runs like a top. Could it be a carb problem? Or is this common with older Hondas? I haven’t been able to get the safety inspection yet because I’m waiting for my headlight to come in the mail, and I don’t know anyone else who knows anything about bikes. I’m learning as I go.

  5. Mine tends to be “cold-blooded”–I leave it on full choke when starting cold and generally the first time I stop at an intersection or the like I have to pull the choke out or it dies (it is possible to tighten the collar around the choke knob so it will not let off quite so quickly–the manual shows it rather well but it’s difficult to describe). Also when cold the idle speed seems to low. Once it warms up it’s just fine and idles perfectly. I’ve always just figured it was part of the bike’s personality. Once you get rolling somewhere that will get you into high gear you shouldn’t need the choke any more and by the time you go a mile or so it should warm up just fine.

    A lot of people swear by “Sea Foam” or similar and I have always dumped a can of carburetor cleaner into the first tank of gas in the spring (there is inevitably some of last year’s gas left in the tank, and though I add Sta-Bil, things can still get crudded up). Does it smoke at all or otherwise act unusual when warmed up? If it’s running smoothly when warmed up, your carburetors must be in pretty good shape.

    I do find it worthwhile to keep in mind that these are 30 year old bikes and entitled to have a few quirks. Mine never fails to amaze me for reliability even though I have had a couple of minor problems over the years–mostly they were problems only because I didn’t yet know how to look for them. Like everything mechanical I’m sure my 550K still has some surprises left in it but as of this writing it’s fired up for another year and running like a watch.

    Keep in mind that with a few small changes, Honda is still selling the smaller CBs as Nighthawks. The line seems to be a wonderful case of something that never broke and so never needed fixing (though they could do something about the really nasty hard sharp-cornered seats on the new bikes….a sure-fire recipe for a case of bike butt even on short trips!).

  6. It smokes a little when starting up, and I can smell fumes but she runs beautifully. It’s a ’78 and only has 20K miles. It looks and acts brand new so I’m sure it just has some crap in there that needs to be knocked out. Thanks again for your help!

  7. I emailed a question to Jody and he suggested I post it on here. So here it is.


    Ever since I bought my ’78 CB550FourK, I have been visiting this site with questions about my new favorite possession, and so far the answers I have recieved have been very helpful. The reason I am sending this is 1) thank you and 2) what do you know about extended travel on a bike like mine? It only has 20K miles on it and it is in fantastic condition. Let me be honest. Ever since I saw The Motorcycle Diaries, I have dreamed of embarking on my own version of the trip. The factors are: Guevera did 5,000 miles on a ’39 Norton 500 in 1952. I would like to do about 7,000 on a ’78 550. My question is, do you think it is possible for a ’78 CB550 to take that kind of a trip? I basically want to circle the West including a stretch along the coast–from Seattle to San Diego. It may be a bit of a romantic idea, but I don’t mind. I want to do it sometime in my life. Preferably before I graduate college. If you get a chance, please let me know if you have any ideas or advice or warnings or insults or anything. Thanks, once again.


    St. Louis, MO

  8. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible. I will say that taking my 550K on a roundtrip of around 50 miles leaves me pretty much done for the day, so unless you’re planning to travel in short legs, you’re going to feel pretty beat up pretty fast (granted, you could invest in a custom seat if you can find one, set the suspension as soft as you can without it bottoming out, etc.–all of which might be of some help). Also get a throttle lock or at least a “throttle rocker” which will allow you to hold the gas open just by resting your palm on it–much easier on the right hand if you’re at all prone to the “death grip” cramping that I am.

    More serious is the issue of maintenance. In 1952, I suspect it was not difficult to get parts for a ’39 Norton, that is if one could find a motorcycle shop at all. In 2009, the primary source for ’78 CB550 parts is salvage–I’ve never been able to find an area cycle shop that has been willing to so much as change out a tire because of the age of my bike. So you’re going to have to know your machine inside and out and carry every imaginable spare, along with a good tool kit. In 7,000 miles you’ll go through several oil changes, several valve tappet adjustments or at least inspections, probably a few clutch and cam chain adjustments as well. If you’re still running on your original wheel bearings, replace those before you start out–ditto for brake shoes and pads (and do EVERY upcoming maintenance procedure before you leave the garage!). Expect at least one unexpected mechanical problem in 7,000 miles…..obviously, carry a load of fuses and bulbs and a can of Inflate-N-Seal (though that will only take you to the next tire place), but remember that Murphy’s Law loves to pop up in connection with old bikes and there’s no way you can carry a spare for everything.

    Just a thought: if you want to take an extended ride on a 13 year old motorcycle of approximately the same size, keep in mind that the equivalent right now would be a 1996 model. If your budget will handle it, there are plenty of used machines out there in the same size class which would be far better suited to the task–more power, more comfort and more durability. There have been design improvements which increase reliability and reduce maintenance, and chances are you’ll be able to find parts for a ’96 bike at a decent-sized cycle shop and very possibly a mechanic who will work on it as well.

    I think you’ve got a fine idea, and if by any chance you’ve read Robert M. Pirsig’s “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance” he claims to have taken a lengthy cross-country trip carrying a passenger and luggage on a 28 horsepower machine (never have learned what the make and model may have been)–about half the horses of a CB550. But once again, it was a new machine or nearly so when he took the ride. I suspect you’ll be a lot happier getting a not-so-vintage bike and completing the trip than you would be starting out on your classic and ending up having to have it trailered home. Trust me….that’s no way to end a trip!

    Keep us posted and good luck.

  9. The old CB’s were great bikes for sure. Had a 74 750k, and also a 78 later on. A friend of mine had the 74 550cc…. We put many thousands of miles on those bikes back in the day…the 74s were bought new. I think your trip would be great.

    I have an older 84 Goldwing now and took a similar trip, leaving from San Antonio,TX going diag. up to Seattle, then taking the 101 hwy all the way to San Diego, Then back to San Antonio. Had the wife on the back. We averaged about 350-375 miles per day so we could enjoy the trip. It was not a race. We stopped for many sites along the way which were places I had never been. A great trip.

    I made similar trips on my 75 Goldwing when it was new…loved that bike also. Damned X-wife sort of allowed it to be stolen after I had it for 13 yrs and was maintained in perfect condition. Oh well!!! life goes on. My 84 wing is serving me well, but would love to get hold of an old CB550 or CB750 again. Lots of memories on the CB’s.

  10. I have an ’81 Wing….absolutely love it and that one was made for the open road. One can literally ride all day without becoming saddle sore.

    Since my last post I discovered that Robert M. Pirsig’s odyssey was ridden on a 1964 Honda 305. There are actually pictures from the trip on the internet if you look a bit (try a Google for “Robert M. Pirsig’s motorcycle”). He had hard luggage on the sides and so much stuff piled up on a luggage rack that I’m amazed the bike would move or stay upright. And carried a passenger besides! Definitely a testimonial to what a Honda bike will stand up to–Pirsig went through the Black Hills and who knows where else but the only mechanical failures he mentions in his book are the chain guard coming off once and a need to adjust the carburetors for high altitude. He does mention the rear tire wearing down visibly, which I presume was the result of overloading the bike.

  11. Hi Boys (and girls if any others here!)
    CBs are great, fun rides!
    I am a female rider and have been riding a CB 550 since ’78 and love it. Still have it and ride it. I ride my brother’s Harley now and then, and am thinking of getting a softtail, but love my current ride (actually have two – the 550 and a 750, both in near mint condition). Near mint except for the fact that my teenage son dropped the 550 and cracked the left side cover (he is healing nicely!!!!) So, my question is this – does anyone know where I can get a replacement? I tried ebay and will continue checking it out, and have tried parts stores with no luck. Anyone have one for sale from an old bike you are parting out or anything? Leads on vintage parts dealers? Thanks for any help, and have fun, ride safe!

  12. Hello a dane in trouble ;-)

    No mechanic in Denmark wants to help me. So now I’m trying the Internet.

    I have a honda Cb550f ยด76 that blows the main fuse every time I start the engine. When I turn on the ignition, the light turns on fine and the fuse does not blow but when I start the engine, either by kickstart og electrical start, the fuse blows as soon as the engine starts to run. The engine can run for maybe 5 sec max.

    The problem just accured out of the blue. A couple of times the MC ran okay and I could drive maybe a couple of km. But then the main fuse blows again. The wiring seems okay and the battery is fully charged.

    I hope someone can help me. A not so capable mechanic but eager to learn and eager to drive ;-)


  13. See the comment directly above yours.

    Have you checked to make sure that you have the proper fuses? I switched to ceramic fuses and they seem to last much longer.

    I’m no pro, but have you checked the wiring in the ignition and starter? You could have a freyed wire or a bad connection.

    At least your fuses are blowing and not melting your wiring! (Glass half full)

    But you should try they are extremely helpful. Everything I have learned about my 550, I learned from them.

  14. Hello, can someone help me on have en electric cb550 diagram. I just finish my chopper but there’s a problem to mantain on the engine. my mecanc feel is an electric problem, maybee the stator? inigtion? I need some feedback, thnaks.

  15. Apparentlly its start ok but after 2 or 3 minutes start off. my mecanic> think is the stator, I print a electric diagram so my mecanic can chect> every detail. After that I don’t know

  16. Here’s a pdf version of the cb500 or cb550 service manual if you’re interested…
    View 14355713-honda-cb500-cb550-workshop-manual-pdf

  17. CB550 K contantly blows fuses. Replace the fuse box as fine cracks develop in the back of it. I did this and it worked for me.

  18. anyone know where I can find a shop manual in english for a Jawa 1969 california or a manual for a 1972 r/5 bmw…the beemer I can probably find…I have been having difficulty with the Jawa…english that is……


  19. I just found this website the day I brought my newly purchased 78 CB550k home. Enjoyed reading about all of your experiences with your bikes and gives me some insight as to what I can expect from mine. My bike is a very nice, original with 31k miles on the speedo and currently runs great. Brought it home on wet roads and had lots of squirming around from the tires, which are old and hard. Living in Washington state I can expect lots of wet roads so I need some info on what tires to buy that will work well on wet or dry roads that provide a very stable feel to the bike. I seldom will be riding with a passenger and will be taking trips of less that 100 miles on everything from freeways to two lane mountain twisties. Any ideas from you experienced owners? Thanks

  20. When I first got my CB550K I noticed that it tended to “wander” on grooved roads (a common problem with many bikes and not a hazard–it just feels weird) and also on gravel. The rear tire was approaching replacement and I thought that might be the culprit, so I decided to live with it until the following spring, when I replaced the tire. That didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference, so I decided to check out the suspension. I presume you have checked your tire alignment, swingarm bearing, etc.? A loose swingarm or a rear tire out of alignment could cause the sort of problems you mention. Also at 31K miles it’s possible that your wheel bearings are a bit loose or at the very least need to be repacked.

    In my case, everything checked out okay, but just for the heck of it I decided to tighten up the rear shocks just a bit. There are five settings from mushy to very firm–if I remember right these bikes were delivered with the shocks on the middle setting. I tightened mine up one notch and the change was incredible! The bike really holds onto the road now and handles far better with a passenger. Riding solo, it’s a bit stiffer and the jolts on rough roads are a bit tougher on the back, but the improvement in handling more than makes up for it. If you ride a 550 much over 50 miles or so you’re going to know it the next day anyway, at least that’s been my experience. You might as well have as much grip on the road as you can get.

    Tightening the suspension also decreased the effects of passing vehicles considerably. I used to have to brace myself when a truck was going past in the other lane. Now I hardly notice any effect.

    Can’t speak from riding on wet pavement as I just can’t bring myself to take my 31 year old bike out in the rain!

  21. Just purchased a Honda CB550 for $50.00 us. Its rolling basket case but, it’ll give me something to tinker with. I’m stripping it down to the frame and removing the carbs to rebuild any suggestions on carb rebuilding?

  22. Im rebuilding my 76 CB550F. It runs, with a little white smoke, but I plan on changing the head gasket and a few others. The Oil pan nut is stripped, need a new one, and Im looking for a wiring harness. Preferably brand new. My rear tail lights do not work. I could try to build one off the ole one, but I dont even know what gauge wire I should use and where to get it. Any suggestion would be nice.

    Im painting everything satin black, with off-set satin red racing stripes down the tank. I think I’ll also throw on a green four leaf clover on the racing stripes. Im can painting it all…hahahahaha, hopefully it turns out decent (I use to build plastic models and learned my painting skills there).

  23. I purchased a 1974 Honda CB550 that I had been waiting for two years to get a chance at it. My friends son brought this thing home that he dug out of a barn. It was rusty, covered in loads of dirt and grime and lasty completely encased in cow poo. It was laying in my friend Donna’s garage in this condition that my eyes layed first site upon it and I fell in love. He cleaned it up adjusted the carbs a bit (needs a bit more but runs like a champ) then sold it to his ex-step dad. Then he had his ex-step sons father rewire it. A month ago he bought a Honda VLX 2004 (I think 600cc?) with every thing on it. So he asked if I wanted it for $500. This is my second 4 cylinder bike (other is 1982 Yamaha XJ650J). I also have a 2006 Honda CMX250 Rebel (laugh all you want I am 110-115 pounds and 5 foot 8 inches tall so anything I ride is gonna be fast even a 250cc Rebel) that I bought new. I love all my bikes but the CB550 is that center piece. I have already begun the restoration fortunately not much needs done. I am not going to do a full stock restore but more of a close to it with what I can find easily and replace the stuff I can’t with things I like. The handle bars got to go they are mini ape hangers. Don’t ask because I have no idea what they was thinking. Came out of the cow poo with them on there. I am trying to find a rebuild kit or a complete new pet cock. Any one know where to get one? Will the CB750 (1974) work and where do I find that? I haven’t found any yet.

  24. Paul, when in doubt, search eBay–it’s a gold mine for old CB parts. If you don’t have a service manual, invest in one and read through it–you’ll be amazed at how many of the frame and chassis parts are interchangeable for most 1971-1977 models (engines are another matter, though some 350s and 550s are the same engine with different heads). You should have NO problem finding a set of handlebars, a petcock, and any number of other items.

    Some mentioned earlier the possibility of switching out the rear swingarm and replacing it with one from a CB750. I’m not sure if this allows the use of a larger rear tire or if it’s just heftier to allow for the extra horsepower. I do know that the 1971-1977 350s and 550s (and everything in between) have essentially the same frame (the 350 Twin might be different). All of these are significantly overbuilt compared to similar models sold by Honda now. My CB550K and I would guess your machine as well has two alloy steel down tubes on the front. The current 250 Nighthawk, and a number of larger bikes, have a single down tube made of aluminum.

    My 550 is rated at 58 HP and supposedly will top out at over 100 MPH though I believe it would become airborne well before that. I cannot imagine that you will ever have any shortage of power. I weigh significantly more than you do and have no trouble quickly getting up to and maintaining 55-60 MPH at 4300-4500 RPM.

    If you find that the seat is a bit high, you can buy “lowering links” from JC Whitney which will lower the seat 2 inches–very handy if you want to keep the stock appearance or avoid the cost of a custom seat. Depending on how much distance you plan to cover, you might want to consider padded hand grips and/or a throttle lock. The stock grips are made of a pretty solid plastic and just a bit too skinny for comfort unless you have quite small hands. Good gloves help a bit, but bigger, softer grips would be a LOT better.

    How long was that bike sitting in the barn before someone pulled it out? You may want to give it a thorough “engine flush” before your next oil change, just to make sure any sludge is well and truly cleaned out. Speaking of oil changes, several people make adapters which will allow your CB to use readily-available screw-on oil filters instead of the sometimes difficult to find stock “cartridge” filters. I believe they cost around $40, but will make oil changes a breeze, and actually keep your oil cleaner than the stock rig. These should only be added if you are not determined to keep your rig 100% stock, but are extremely handy.

    By the way, I believe service manuals recommend changing the oil filter every other oil change. If you want to keep a 32 year old bike happy, change it EVERY time. Oil filters are very cheap insurance.

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