By the 1960s, Honda was hitting its stride. After starting out in 1948 as Honda Motor Co. Ltd., producing its first complete motorcycle, the Dream D, in 1949, then starting production of the Super Cub in 1958 and starting American Honda Motor Co., Inc. in 1959, Honda was on a roll and ready to start flexing its engineering muscle.
The ’60s were a time of social and political upheaval, and in that decade Honda turned the motorcycle world upside-down as well. The company released a series of models that set new standards for engineering, performance, utility and fun. Here are nine such motorcycles that helped build Honda’s reputation.
1960 CB92 Benly Super Sport
Although introduced in 1959, the little Benly Super Sport deserves inclusion because it is such a little jewel: a 124cc single-overhead-cam parallel-twin that made a claimed 15 horsepower at a then-awe-inspiring 10,500 rpm. The CB92 showed Honda could build a small-displacement, Euro-style roadster with real credentials.
1961 CB77 Super Hawk
The CB77 Super Hawk established Honda as a serious manufacturer of serious motorcycles. The 305cc single-overhead-cam vertical twin could compete with larger-displacement motorcycles of the time, and did so with clock-like reliability, incorporating oil-tight construction (a rarity at the time) and electric starting.
1963 CA100 Super Cub
Introduced in 1958, the Super Cub is perhaps most memorable for one of the most famous advertising campaigns in history: “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda,” in 1963. At a single stroke, motorcycles in general, and Hondas in particular, seemed less threatening, and more fun, all due to a 50cc step-through that went on to become one of the best-selling vehicles in history.
1964 CT200 Trail 90
The Honda Trail 90 was almost as successful at getting Americans riding off-road as the Super Cub was at getting them on the street. Small, tough, reliable and easy to ride, the Trail 90 could go almost anywhere.
1965 CB160 Sport
For many American teens, the CB160 Sport was their first big bike. The inclined parallel-twin had a family resemblance to the CB77 Super Hawk, and had enough punch to cruise at freeway speeds. Light, dependable, with electric starting, a steel-tube frame and double-leading-shoe front brakes, the CB160 was an essential rite of passage for many.
The CB450 showed Honda could make high-performance, large-displacement motorcycles. The 444cc vertical-twin showcased Honda’s GP technology with double overhead cams, the only production motorcycle to use that layout at the time. Later CB450s, with five-speed transmissions, were actually better motorcycles, but the K0 forced the world to sit up and take notice.
Honda had already learned how to compete with two-strokes in Grand Prix racing: cylinder and valve multiplication, with smaller, lighter parts allowing higher rev limits. The six-cylinder 250cc RC166 was perhaps the most complete and sublime expression of that ideology. In 1966, Mike Hailwood charted a perfect score, winning 10 of 10 races, and the world championship.
Along with the Super Cub, the CB350 was one of Honda’s greatest sales successes. Why? Because it embodied what would eventually become many Honda motorcycles’ greatest strength: balance. The CB350 did many things well—commuting, touring, a bit of sport riding—and it had by then typical Honda quality and reliability. No wonder it sold so well.
The first CB750 shook motorcycling’s very foundations. Apart from Honda, no one else thought it was even possible. A Grand-Prix-inspired four-cylinder with hydraulic front disc brake and epic performance and reliability, all at an incredibly low price thanks to Honda’s modern manufacturing methods. Only from Honda. It took other manufacturers years to catch up.