Archive for April 11th, 2008

Old motorcycles represent millions of memories for about as many people. 

To the spirit of those who still find adventure behind the grips of an old motorcycle, I’m going to dedicate a post or two – as time permits – to early American cycling.  Some will be about Harley’s as well as other great rides from a time long ago.  They’re all old motorcycles now.

There is a lot of history written about Honda.  I owned several prior to the Harley switch.  The quick read is that company founder Soichiro Honda developed a design for piston rings in 1938 and started to sell them to Toyota.  During World War II, the manufacturing facilities were mostly destroyed, but Soichiro rebuilt the manufacturing plant and attached an engine to a bicycle which created a cheap and efficient transport.  Honda’s first full-fledged motorcycle on the market was the 1949 Dream D-Type. They followed up with many other scooters throughout the 1950s.

Honda introduced the CB750 motorcycle to the US in 1969.  The bike was targeted directly at the US market after company officials fully understood the opportunity for a larger bike.  It had 750-cc, 4-cylinder SOHC engine, electric start and disc brakes.  The motorcycle set the bar very high for manufactures.  Disc front brake and an inline four cylinder engine were previously unavailable on mainstream production bikes. And with a price under $1500 (US) it had significant advantages over British competition. 

The Honda four was so successful a number of smaller bikes followed.  The CB350 launched in 1972 then the CB400, CB500 and finally the CB550 launched in 1974.  All the models shared the same block with different bores.  The SOHC design was made until 1982, and it introduced to the biker public to a 10,000 rpm redline and 100 mph hot rod.  The “Supersport  F” models even had 4-into-one exhaust pipes and the CB400F model had 6-speed transmissions.  Yamaha had a couple of two-stroke motorcycles (RD350 and RD400) which directly competed and were faster and simpler.

As you might recall the 70’s were full of metal flake colors and Honda was no exception with “Candy Jade Green” and “Flake Sunrise Orange”.  I’ve read recently that a premium condition 1975 CB550K (four-into-four exhaust pipes) sold at Bonhams’s Legend of Motorcycle auction for over $7K.  Wow!

Whether you ride to rallies, spend hours tinkering, polishing adjusting or just sit in the garage admiring it, a lot of bikers think the Honda CB series were some of the best motorcycles ever made. 


Photo is courtesy of Henry Norris.

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