The Honda CB550 was the most well-balanced Honda of the 1970s. It lacked the iconic CB750’s awe-inspiring power, but it had a sturdier frame and was lighter and quicker. The Honda CB550 could be described as Honda’s “Goldilocks bike,” as the CB750 was too big and powerful for many, while the CB360 and CB400 were too tiny.
As you moved closer to the upper end of the CB360’s speed range, it became less stable. The CB550, on the other hand, was ideal. The Honda CB550 was first released in 1974 and was produced for only five years, until 1978.
In some ways, the Honda CB550 was a “bug repair” model, evolved from the CB500 and was designed to boost not only power but also address the technical flaws that plagued the CB500. The Honda CB550’s engine was the same as the CB500’s, but with a capacity increase to 544cc, boosting power to 50 horsepower at 8,000rpm and torque to 30.4 lbs. ft at 7,500rpm.
From The CB500 To The CB550
Honda released the CB550 in late 1973 for the 1974 model year. The Honda CB550 was the successor to the CB500, which was produced from 1971 to 1973. The editors of Cycle magazine remarked about the newly released Honda CB550 in the December 1973 issue: “Thousands of motorbike riders would think the  is still the same machine.” It’s not the same at all.
Honda CB500 Vs Honda CB550
The Honda CB550 is a far better motorbike than the 500, thanks to fixes to key issues and a few minor tweaks. Apart from a bit more mid-range, fixing the 500’s two major weaknesses, an ill-shifting transmission and a clutch that can slip, makes the largest difference in the 550,” they stated. The CB550 was powered by a single overhead cam, 4-stroke, transverse 4-cylinder Honda engine.
The powertrain had a 9:1 compression ratio, with a bore and stroke of 58.5mm by 50.6mm. Four 22mm Keihin carburetors mixed fuel and air, and four exhaust headers went to four different mufflers, two on each side of the machine. To aid reduce wear, the engine was mounted in a dual-downtube cradle steel frame, and the front forks were modified from piston-valve to free-valve design.
The Honda CB550 now has the same instruments as the CB750 above the fork. An audible beeper was included in the new hand control switchgear to remind riders to extinguish their turn signals, a feature that many owners later removed.
Brakes consisted of a single disc in front and a drum in the back, with a visible wear indication of a red line on the backing plate. When the arrow pointed at the line, a red arrow on the brake actuating arm indicated that the shoes needed to be replaced.
The Cycle test came to a close quickly. The experts indicated that a CB500 owner should not trade up, and a CB750 owner should not trade down unless the weight of the larger motorcycle was a concern. “Should a novice rider invest in a Honda CB550?” Yes, absolutely”.
Honda CB550 Colors Availability
Sunrise orange, green metallic, and maroon metallic were the three colors available for the 1974 Honda CB550K0. The Honda CB550K1 had dark green instrument faces in 1975. The paint was candy jade green or sunrise orange with a black and gold tank stripe. The tank stripe was retained on the 1976 Honda CB550K2, which was painted candy garnet brown.
A wide red and gold stripe separated the two colors, and the fuel-filler cap was now covered behind a lockable cover, with the side cover logo reading “550 Four K.”
When Honda released the CB550F in 1975, a sibling joined the CB550K. The F models had a four-into-one exhaust system, as well as a different gas tank and seat than the “Super Sport” café racers. The Honda CB550K and the 550F had similar engine characteristics, but the sportier variant only lasted three years, with production ending in 1977.
The “K” and “F” versions were available at the same time. The “K” and “F” models were mechanically identical, with the same components. The “F” had a lighter exhaust silencer kit, fewer chrome trimmings, altered side panels, and somewhat flatter handlebars as the key modifications.
On the other hand, the ‘K’ was designed in the style of the 1969 Honda CB750. Although each fork slider had a mount for a brake caliper, both F and K models had a drum rear brake and a single front disc brake. Because the stainless steel brake disc was not perforated or holed, it was prone to skidding in damp conditions until it heated up enough to evaporate any surface water.
The Honda CB 550’s Engine
The engine was fed by four 22mm Keihin carburetors in classic Honda fashion. The engine’s compression ratio was 9:1, indicating that it liked leaded “super grade” gasoline. The engine was a standard Honda in-line four with single valves (eight valves) and a single overhead camshaft.
This engine was built as a unit with a five-speed transmission and was installed transversely in the frame. That five-speed transmission fixed the CB500’s gear-change issues and was nice and crisp to use. The Honda CB550 was also updated to include a patch for the CB500’s clutch sliding issue. Because the Honda CB550’s engine was substantially lighter than the CB750’s, it handled much better and was a lot easier to ride.
Exterior Of Honda CB550
The Honda CB550’s frame was a steel cradle with twin down-tubes. It was a sturdy frame that was constructed adequately for the bike’s weight and power, and it substantially improved the bike’s handling. The telescopic free valve front forks were 35mm in diameter, while the rear shocks were twin shocks with controllable pre-load. The Honda CB550’s front brakes were a single caliper single 11″ disc, and the rear brakes were a drum. The brakes performed admirably.
The seat height was fixed at 31.7″ (805mm), making it a decent choice for those of us who aren’t 6′ plus. This motorbike was appealing to newer riders as well as those searching for a lively and entertaining road bike because of its low seat height and lightweight. Wet weight of 423lb/192kg for the Honda CB550K and slightly less for the “Super Sports” Honda CB550F.
The front wheels were 19″ x 3.25″ and the rear wheels were 18″ x 3.75″, with a 55.3in./1,405mm wheelbase. The gasoline tank held 3.7 US gallons (14 liters) and had a filler hidden beneath a key-locked cover on top of the tank on certain later models of the Honda CB550K and all models of the Honda CB550F. It functioned satisfactorily and provided some security, but all did not welcome it well.
Honda CB550 Fuel Consumption
There are countless examples of mint CB550s. A 130 mph speedometer, a tachometer with a redline of 9,250 rpm, and a five-digit odometer with little under 5k miles are displayed. Turn signals, oil pressure, neutral, and high beams all have indicator lights.
The 544cc SOHC inline-four delivers 50 horsepower in stock condition due to four 22mm Keihin carburetors. Five-speed transmission with a chain drive sends power to the rear wheels. According to the vendor, a general examination was completed when the bike was first purchased, and two oil changes have been performed since then.
Fuel consumption was estimated to be between 40 and 50 miles per gallon in the United States. However, in real-world road tests, the Honda CB550 averaged around 40 miles per Imperial gallon, and when pushed hard, it dropped to 38mpg. This bike could comfortably cruise at 70mph in fifth gear at a comfortable 6000 rpm and had a top speed of more than 90mph, with some believing it could just hit the ton (100mph).
The Honda CB550 would sing along the highway for those of us who think 70mph is an excellent comfortable cruising speed, the rider conscious of the high-frequency buzz of engine noise that would make its way through the helmet. Still, the buzz was surely not accompanied by vibration. The seat can be uncomfortable on extended rides, although there aren’t many motorcycles that don’t meet that description.
Honda CB550’s Performance
There were no faulty neutrals, missed upshifts, or clunky downshifts with the gearbox on our test machine. It’s nothing like a 500. Due to a newly reworked drum and shifting mechanism, Honda is back in the game. Instead of being splash fed, both sides of the transmission shafts are now pressure-supplied with oil.
The CB550 is not one of many Honda vehicles with a clutch friction point that is far too low for some people’s tastes. The 500 unit’s total makeover helped, yet it appears that everything is not well. Some encountered issues with slippage at the dragstrip with the replacement unit, which performed flawlessly in normal, everyday operations.
The unit began to slip after the third successive run, in which some have recorded an elapsed time of 14.025. So, despite new “enhanced” friction material and slightly stiffer return springs, the new clutch does not appear to be able to withstand much abuse.
We believe the new 550 has the potential to break into the 13-second zone. A reduction in the primary ratio has also been implemented, allowing for larger shafts to turn the Morse Hy-Vol primary chain, resulting in a longer and more sustainable lifespan.
The engine’s left side cover is entirely devoid of any clutch mechanism or device; everything is now on the right, behind a new diecast clutch cover with an external adjuster for easy, trouble-free maintenance. Clutch pull is still modest; in fact, it’s approximately as light as most mass-produced motorcycles. The push-button will not ignite the starter motor until the rider retracts the clutch while the machine is in gear; an excellent safety interlock.
High-Quality Components Of Honda CB550
A quick glance reveals precise assembly and high-quality components; a closer look reveals an excellent overall finish. It gets better if you pop the side covers, unlock and lift the hinged seat, and push even harder. When troubleshooting, careful and accurate wire routing reduces ambiguity. Rubber seals, dust coverings, and other small details ensure that the electrics are as safe as they appear.
There are even spare fuses for the fuse panel, which is positioned in the middle of the room. The lighting and switches are in good working order. This one has an audible alert that lets you know when they’re turned on. There’s even a lane-change feature integrated into the switch, which we’d want to see become standard practice in the industry.
Because both bikes have the same instruments, CB750 riders will recognize the Honda CB550’s. The readability during the day and night is excellent, and a positionable trip odometer is incorporated. The classic warning light panel, as well as the rock-hard handlebar grips that people have been complaining about for so long, make an appearance on the new Honda CB550.
There’s no denying that the Honda CB 550 is a more powerful motorbike than the 500, but having more of everything isn’t always a good thing. The Honda CB 550 is around $100 more than the original 750 Four and $250 more than the original 500, with a suggested retail price of $1600.
The Honda CB550 has no issues when it comes to routine maintenance. However, given the intricacy of four-cylinder engines, the normal owner would be wise to leave the crucial tune-ups and adjustments to his dealer. These are scheduled every 3000-miles, with oil changes advised every 1500 miles.
The Honda CB550 is a very cost-effective vehicle; it’s practically a personal way of getting back at the oil companies. Given the current gasoline scenario, we’d like a larger fuel tank than the 550’s 2.7 gal., which only provides for a cruising range of roughly 100 to 120 miles before the reserve is required.
The Honda CB550 will appeal to most people as a medium-displacement motorbike, while the price may put some people off. It has enough power and comfort to handle all of an owner’s long-distance travel needs, yet it isn’t overpowering in everyday use.
The Honda CB550K was the first of two CB550 models, and it was designed in the same style as the CB750 at the time. The riding position was “sit up,” and the exhaust was split on each side into two.
Every year of the bike’s manufacture, the paint scheme changed as follows:
- Flake sunrise orange, boss maroon metallic, and freedom green metallic were all available on the Honda CB550K0 in 1974. The tank had a two-tone color scheme with a black panel on the side that was edged in gold.
- Candy jade green and flake sunrise orange were featured on the Honda CB550K1 in 1975. The black side panel with the gold outline had a slimmer form. The instrument faces were modified to a dark green color.
- Candy garnet brown was also available on the Honda CB550K2(1976). The black side panel with gold outlines reverted to the 1974 design, which was the same as on the CB750. The hue of the instrument’s face has changed to a pale green.
Candy garnet brown and excel black were available for the Honda CB550K3 (1977). The side panel of the gasoline tank was painted red with a gold outline. A “550 Four K” symbol has been added to the side cover. This model introduced the “bathtub filler,” a fuel filler hidden beneath a locking top cover flap. This adjustment was designed to better meet the needs of the American market.
Candy alpha red and excel black were available for the Honda CB550K4 (1978). A gold pinstripe has been added to the side cover. The design of the seat has been modified to a dual contour form.
The Honda CB550F
Without question, the Honda CB550F is the prettier of the two variants. The Honda CB550F was the “Super Sport” model, with a conservative café racer styling that didn’t place a premium on the “racing” aspect.
The handlebars of the Honda CB550F were slightly lower, rising barely two inches above the headstock. As a result, the riding position is a little more forward-leaning, but it’s still comfortable, and it’s definitely better at highway speeds.
The Honda CB550F’s looks, on the other hand, are what set it apart. This bike has very little chrome, basic paint on the tank and side plates, and a four-into-one exhaust system that looks a lot more professional than the two on either side of the Honda CB550K.
The four-into-one exhaust system improves the bike’s appearance, but its mass means that the pipe can scrape the pavement if you’re cornering at a foot-peg igniting lean. The Honda CB550F favored gear-changing before a corner with gradual acceleration through it for fast cornering. Attempting to enter a turn while braking and changing gear resulted in a wiggle in the tail end, which served as a gentle reminder that the Honda CB550F is a sportbike, not a race bike.
Each year of manufacture, the paint scheme changed as follows:
- Candy sapphire blue with flake sunrise orange in Honda CB550F0 (1975). On the side panel is a sticker that reads “Honda CB 550 Four.” Instrument faces are dark green.
- Flake sapphire blue and shiny orange in Honda CB550F1(1976); Same colors as for 1975 but different names). The instrument faces are light green with a dark brown seat.
- Candy sword blue and presto red in Honda CB550F2(1977). Side covers are painted simple black with a gold tank stripe. The seat is black. The fork boots are no longer in use.
Honda CB550 Polishing Period
The instruments were fixed and several lenses, such as those on the signal lights, were replaced. Many of these old Honda rear taillights are prone to corrosion in regions that are hard to access and properly restore. The original metal bodies were spot-welded together after being pushed together.
Brady, who built this, ripped the body apart on this Honda CB550K, had the sections chromed, and then TIG-welded the whole back together. It was polished in-house to make the red plastic bulb cover look brand new.
Brady conducts blasting and polishing on these motorcycle restorations to guarantee they have the right finishes. All of the engine’s components are included in this. The casings of Honda CB550K were powder painted in a silver hue that Brady claims is as near to the original Honda as he can get. Powder coating was also applied to the cylinder and cylinder head to achieve the desired dull finish.
The plain crankshaft bearings were in fine condition inside the engine; however, one of the transmission bearings felt squeaky and needed to be replaced. The top end was in good shape and only needed to be cleaned and reassembled. The engine side covers were polished first before being brushed.
Brady used his buffing wheels to duplicate the lightly polished, brushed metal appearance on the float bowls and carb caps. The front brake master cylinder was also re-anodized to match the Honda color scheme. This was done by USA Anodizing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Honda CB550 Exhaust And Paint
Brady worked with the original exhaust system, spot welding holes in the mufflers, and smoothing the surface before chrome plating. Weld was used to repair large dents in the header pipes, which were then smoothed out before being nickel-plated and subsequently chrome-plated.
The gas tank and side covers were repainted in the original excel black, and badge replicas in Australia provided new emblems. Brady realized that the warning decal on the gas tank should be on top of the clear coat rather than under it after speaking with a number of people. A correct Honda cover was placed on the seat by The Upholstery Shop in Fredonia, Wisconsin.
Honda CB550 Four Facts:
- The Honda CB750 was launched in 1969 and created the “superbike” term, but the CB550 Four has a better frame and handling than its popular predecessor.
- The CB500 Four is less powerful than the CB750, but the CB550 has a larger engine and makes more mid-range power than the CB500.
- The CB550 has a significantly better 5-speed transmission, upgraded front fork valves, and uprated rear suspension than the CB500.
- The CB550 is designed to accommodate dual front discs, making it a good candidate for a café racer, with crisp handling and a gusty engine.
- The CB550 has the same features as the CB750, such as gauges, audible warnings to cancel turn signals, and an electric starter, but is more affordable.
- Honda offered two CB550 Four trims: CB550K with higher handlebars, and the CB550F with lower handlebars for a more forward riding position.
- The best CB550 Four models are the later ones (post-1976) due to rocker arm and alternator issues.
- The CB550 is a good choice for regular riding and is considered one of the most sensible mid-70s bikes you can get.
- A good-condition CB550 Four typically goes for $2000-$4000, making it more affordable than the CB350 and CB750.
- The Honda CB550 Four is often referred to as the “Goldilocks bike” because it is not as heavy as the CB750 or less powerful as the CB350, making it just right.
Final Verdict On The Honda CB550
The Honda CB550 is one of Honda’s most attractive and practical motorcycles ever produced. It was a well-designed, simple-to-ride, and consequently, a simple-to-enjoy motorbike that coupled Honda’s “boring reliability” with superb handling and modest weight.
This was the bike to buy if you wanted a motorbike with all the comforts of a Honda that wasn’t a lightweight toy or a heavyweight superbike, but rather a bike that was just perfect. That is still true today, and a good-condition Honda CB550 is a great purchase. They’re also an excellent starting point for a custom bike build, though we think the Honda CB550F versions are so good-looking that they don’t need much tweaking.