This is my brother’s 1980 Honda CX500c, which he rebuilt himself over a year, along with the occasional help from neighbours and friends.  But most importantly, because of the hardship Tristan went through during this time and the losses he endured, his bike truly is a first light from a dark night.

A custom Honda CX500 cafe racer detail image showing rocker cover

Tris lives in a hilly suburb west of Brisbane city. He moved there from our home in Sydney 11 years ago, shortly after meeting a girl there on a holiday and, after various other relationships, good jobs and generally great lifestyle over the years, he hasn’t looked back. He’d regularly make trips back to Sydney, however, to catch up with close friends, our Mum and I.  We’d often hear how good it is there; nice girls, easy going life, yadda yadda yadda. Unlike me, he hadn’t really settled down with a house and family like I had. Even though he’s only a year and a half younger, he wasn’t in any rush either. However, he had met a great girl and they seemed to click. He and Amy eventually bought a house together, went riding together (yep, she rode bikes) and just looked good together. They even did that pre-kids testing thing (that he will most definitely deny) of buying a puppy; a super cute French bulldog they named Ralph, who went everywhere with them. Things were bright.

“Unfortunately, there’s that shitty saying about good things and the bright began to dim.”

A custom Honda CX500 cafe racer
A custom Honda CX500 cafe racer detail shot showing front forks

Early 2013, our Mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which floored both of us. She was given 6-9 months to live. In, Sydney I had the support of my family. But in Brisbane, Tris’ relationship with Amy started to strain under the couple wanting different things in life. Not the best of timing. Then in early April, after having disappeared for two days, Ralph, Tris and Amy’s biggest joy, was found accidentally drowned in the neighbours’ pool. Wracked with grief, Tris and Amy ended their already deteriorating relationship soon after. It was a triple hit that would have sent a lesser man to darker depths.

Tris threw himself into his work as a distraction from pain of the hits he’d taken. He soon found that the respite of relaxing at home after work was too much time for thinking. And so he decided to buy his first project bike, a 1981 Honda CX500X, to keep him occupied.

A custom Honda CX500 cafe racer front headlight
A custom Honda CX500 cafe racer

When he told me about the CX, I was glad and relieved. I knew it would be something that would give him a new focus and allow him to exercise his creativity, which he lacked the opportunity to do in his work. Whenever he came down from Brisbane to visit Mum we’d often talk about his progress on the bike, the various updates and people he’d involve in getting things done that he couldn’t do himself. From hearing these updates, it often felt like there was a community growing around this build, around Tris. From the neighbour who works on fighter jet machine guns, to Steve at Ellespede, Nick at Niccom Engineering and all of Tris’ local mates who would drop in to say g’day and offer their thoughts over a beer and a tinker.

Cam Elkins from Stories of Bike and his brother having a beer and a chat
Tris and I having a quiet beer with dinner the day after our Mum died.

Even after Mum passed away, Tris would try to find time to work on the bike. When he wasn’t working or travelling he’d be near consumed by the time he had with the CX. Tris most likely found his time with the bike as a way of letting his subconscious grapple with the trauma he’d experienced. I’m sure he was turning things over in his mind, but the CX gave him the opportunity to reduce the intensity of it, to address it on his own terms and not that of runaway grief.

Over the next year I’d see photos of updates, and while everything looked pretty impressive, I never really got to see it for what it really was in the pictures. During the New Year just gone, I’d decided to ride my own Honda GB250 up to Brisbane to hang out and maybe even go for a ride.

A custom Honda CX500 cafe racer detail shot

When I got there and saw the CX sitting in the centre of his carport, I could truly appreciate the work that had gone into it. I knew Tris could be very particular about his build projects and I’d seen this kind of neatness, precision and passion in an FJ Holden that he’d restored 15 years or so ago.

I got to ride it briefly on that New Year trip, but the bike was still being broken in and I was probably too tired from the ride up to Brisbane to really enjoy it. But when I came back 7 months later, it was tuned to perfection. Grunty and, despite what the chunky tyres would tell you, surprisingly agile. As I leaned around Brisbane’s city corners and streaked over its’ bridges I certainly caught more than a few heads turning, nodding in appreciation. The total look of the bike was iconic and the dual BMW headlights are a standout.

A custom Honda CX500 cafe racer tank shot

Here was a machine that Tris had truly made his own. As I took note of the two-tone colour scheme, a factory Mini Cooper “Pepper White” frame and tank and matt black everything else, I couldn’t help but think it was more than simple styling. When I remember the shit year that Tris had in 2014, perhaps these matt black interiors and engine housings were something reminiscent of that time.

But light always comes from dark. There’s a book I’m fond of by Terry Pratchett in which a fictional civilisation live underground, which doesn’t sound pleasant, but a wise character says, “In the dark, the eyes open wider”. I’m sure that when Tris is riding his CX and he glances down, that he might see glimpses of the gloom below, which is fine, because it only makes the light all the more better.

A custom Honda CX500 cafe racer