There’s no shortage of custom bike builders these days, with custom choppers, bobbers and cafe bikes popping up like mushrooms after rain. Many are simply parts-swap machines with different bars, a custom seat, new paint and some parts lopped off or added to meet expectations of The Look the builder/owner wanted. Others are fantastical creations that rarely turn a wheel on actual pavement – pity, that.
Then there are bikes like this Honda CB550 bobber, called Blacksquare, by builder Kyril Dambuleff of New Jersey. One look (fantastic photo gallery shot by Dambuleff above) and you know this is next-level craft. But the story behind the bike may be more fascinating than the machine itself, because Dambuleff isn’t some garage-dwelling gearhead with a ton of free time and customization experience. This is his first custom bike.
Long story short: Dambuleff, a long-time rider and man of many talents, bought the low-mile 1977 Honda from a seller on eBay for $900 despite already owning other motorcycles (two BMWs), not because he’s an avid customizer or restorer, but because he didn’t feel he knew enough about… motorcycles.
More specifically, Dambuleff wanted a bike to simply tear down so he could really understand how engines worked and how the different systems on a basic motorcycle functioned together.
He’s in good company. Many motorcyclists today are about as familiar with the intricacies of their bikes as they are with brain surgery (brain surgeons excepted, of course). New motorcycles today are becoming more and more like new cars: computerized, homogenized, technofied, increasingly sterile. Seems like we only know something is amiss when the well-named idiot light goes on or a message appears in the LCD display. Off to the shop it goes.
ABS, EFI, traction control and all the rest are great rider aids and make for amazing performance, but new bikes today aren’t exactly something you strip down in the garage with your own tools like riders did in decades previous. That pre-digital simplicity is what drew Dambuleff to the all-analog CB550, carburetors and all. Building the brass-tinged masterpiece the CB eventually became was not in the plan – at first.
I guess I forgot to mention up top that when Dambuleff isn’t figuring out internal combustion processes for fun in the garage, he’s doing expert woodwork, taking magazine-quality photos (film degree: USC), pouring words into his website, or working for GE (science degree) in a very technical capacity. But I digress.
Following his Buy It Now moment, the CB (below) arrived on a truck, complete with ape-hanger handlebars, a funky seat, ugly backrest and other modifications that were right in line with its 1970s heritage. But, only 5K miles were on the clock. In other words, a bike literally begging to be taken apart.
And come apart it did. Four times in total before Blacksquare was fully realized. Dambuleff said that with the help of a mechanic friend, they took the bike apart for the first time and he began poking about in the heart of the CB550, which he says was chosen for its immediate availability, not because he has a soft spot for old Hondas.
Once apart, the mysteries of internal combustion became, well, less mysterious, and when it was time to piece the venerable Honda back together again, Dambuleff decided he’d like to make a few changes, a few… improvements.
As anyone who ends up sinking a boatload of cash, time, blood and sweat into a bike build can tell you, those are very, very infamous last words.
Rather than detail in minute detail how the details of the build came together, I urge you to head on over to Dambuleff’s excellent website dedicated to the bike. Set aside some time. He goes into lengthy but engaging tales of how the Blacksquare came about, from the brass bits to the name (hint here) to how the bike conforms to The Golden Ratio on multiple levels. Like I said, set aside some time. It’s worth it.
But, really, why the brass bits? Dambuleff said that, of course, he wanted it for the look, and initially, just the carb bells were brass. But when he ordered a pair of chrome marine spotlights with the intention of using one as a headlight, some polishing indicated that under the chrome plating, the lights were solid brass. It was a fantastic accidental find. He stripped the chrome off one light and installed it as the headlight, and as the build went on, he added more yellow bits, mostly brackets and fasteners, that complimented the headlight and bells, but he also stopped well short of overkill.
Now that the Blacksquare bobber is complete, Dambuleff said he isn’t interested in making similar bikes for others and he’s also not interested in selling the Blacksquare, which he says gets plenty of time out on the road. But is the Blacksquare his first and last custom? Definitely not.
Following the completion of the Blacksquare bobber, Dambuleff said he took what he had learned from his mechanic friend while tearing down that first engine and got ahold of another CB550 (they’re not exactly rare) and rebuilt its engine from the crank up – solo. So now he’s got another engine and chassis ready to roll, and he’d like to do another build, this time with a smaller tank and other stylistic adjustments that better show off Soichiro’s iconic four-banger.
Looks like the Blacksquare is going to get a brother.
All photos by and courtesy of Kyril Dambuleff.