Honda CA95 Benly Touring

Tomorrow’s Classics: 1960-66 Honda CA95 Benly Touring.

Honda CA95 Benly Advertisement

A 1963 ad for the 155cc Honda CA95 Benly by American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Photo By MC Staff

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Honda CA95 Benly Touring
Claimed power:
16.5hp @ 10,500rpm
Top speed: 63mph (period test)
Engine: 154.6cc air-cooled SOHC 4-stroke parallel twin
Weight (dry): 246lb (wet)
Price then/now: $460 (1960)/$800-$3,500

Although pop culture folklore says it was Honda’s little 50cc step-through that inspired Brian Wilson and Mike Love to write the hit song “Little Honda” featured on the Beach Boys 1964 Album “All Summer Long,” it could just as easily have been the little 155cc Honda CA95 Benly. The CA95 certainly fits as “just a groovy little motorbike,” complete with royal blue or magenta paint and a red seat.

Often called the “Baby Dream” for its obvious and intentional styling similarities to Honda’s own 250cc CA72 and 305cc CA77 Dreams, the CA95 Benly (which means “convenient” in Japanese) Touring used a pressed-steel backbone frame similar to the 124cc CA92 introduced in 1959 but fitted with a 154.6cc single overhead cam 360-degree parallel twin. Inside the engine was a small but sturdy three-main-bearing “anti-friction” crankshaft with a chain on the left side driving an overhead camshaft, which in turn actuated the two valves per cylinder by screw-adjustable rockers.

Drive to the 4-speed transmission was by gear through a wet multiplate clutch with chain final drive. The unit construction engine and transmission were housed in a horizontally split case that held the engine/transmission oil. An advanced combustion chamber design allowed an 8:1 compression ratio, which in turn meant Honda’s engineers could squeeze a claimed 16.5 horsepower out of the 155cc engine, or more than 100 horsepower per liter — a figure usually only reached by race bikes at that time.

The engine/transmission unit was suspended from a welded one-piece pressed-steel spine. A leading-link front fork was fitted at the front while a swingarm with twin shocks featuring square shrouds took care of the rear. The Honda CA95 rolled on 16-inch wheels front and rear (3-inch section front and 3.25-inch rear) with white walls as standard on later models.

Although not exactly light at 246 pounds, the Honda CA95 returned pretty lively performance as long as the engine was kept spinning quickly, reaching 20mph in first gear, 35mph in second and 50mph in third to a maximum of 63mph in fourth in Cycle magazine’s 1960 test. Cycle also found the engine to be “almost vibrationless,” while the dual mufflers produced a “whisper exhaust note.”

Cycle also praised the CA95’s leading-link front fork and swingarm rear suspension, saying it gave a “comfortable ride” while “shock is almost completely eliminated.” And while Cycle found the suspension somewhat soft, they were unable to make the springs bottom out. The brakes were also pronounced good, with Cycle’s editors saying the twin-leading-shoe front and single-leading-shoe drum rear “held firmly … even during panic-stop tests.” Also noted was the attractive styling (compared with other small bikes of the era) and high-quality finish of the Benly, with lots of chrome and a well-padded seat.

The Honda CA95 was also well-equipped, including a comprehensive tool kit and an item still unheard of on many larger motorcycles — an electric starter. That was an important feature and one appreciated early by Honda, a simple piece of equipment that made Hondas easy bikes for non-traditional motorcyclists entering the market to warm up to.

With their generous fenders, reliable running, electric start, easy low-speed handling and clean appearance, it’s not surprising that CA95s were popular with Americans from all walks of life, including members of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, or Shriners as they’re more commonly called; many ex-parade bikes are still in circulation.

As early as 1960, Honda was building 180,000 bikes a year. Although the company was a new player in North America, its production output was already exceeding that of most of its European competition. By 1963, Honda commanded an estimated 60 percent (90,000 motorcycles) of total U.S. motorcycle sales!

Together with its bigger brothers, the 250cc CA72 and 305cc CA77 Dreams, the Honda CA95 established a solid footing in the U.S. market. It also created a template for the CB160/250/350s that followed, while at the same time bolstering Honda’s brilliant and growing reputation for quality and performance. That so many CA95s have survived — and generally in spite of careless or even no maintenance — speaks to the soundness of their design.

Although you can still dig up most parts, some items (especially body and exhaust system parts) are getting hard to find. Small Hondas from the 1960s are appreciating rapidly, and there are still many old CA95s out there waiting to be found and restored. Get yours now!

Contenders: Small-bore rivals to Honda’s CA95

Ducati 160 Monza Junior
Claimed Power: 16hp @ 8,000rpm
Top Speed: 
Engine: 156cc(61mm x 52mm)
Price then/now: 
$529 (1964)/$800-$3,000

At the request of East Coast motorcycle importers Berliner Corporation, Ducati produced a smaller-capacity version of its successful 250 Monza for the U.S. market. To do this, Ducati simply dropped a smaller, 156cc engine into essentially a 250 Monza frame, fitted 16-inch wheels instead of 18-inchers (although with the same front fender), together with a standard Monza gas tank and side panels. Over a four-year production run, the Monza and Monza Junior were mildly restyled with more angular gas tank and headlight, but the basic specifications remained unchanged.

In its 1967 review, MotorCycle magazine said the Junior “handles beautifully ... with well-damped suspension and precise steering ... it’s easy to see why the Ducati 160 Monza Junior is such a ride-able bike.” The British magazine also applauded the Junior’s “excellent” brakes, “useful” acceleration and “lively” throttle response. All this combined with light controls, comfort and economy made it “an ideal commuter” in their book.

It may have been ideal in London, but it seems the Junior didn’t work so well in the U.S. market that spawned it. By 1967, Berliner’s unsold inventory was so big they refused a shipment of 1,800 160 Monza Juniors, most of which ended up in the U.K., where they took years to sell. Today, all Ducati singles are collectible — even the ones that were unloved in their time.

Harley-Davidson Scat 175
Claimed Power: 10hp @ 5,000rpm
Top Speed: 65mph (est.)
Engine: 175cc air-cooled 2-stroke single
Weight: 220lb
Price then/now: $475 (1962)/$700-$3,500

The penultimate model in a line of Harley 2-strokes that dated back to the Model 125 of 1948, the Scat was essentially a dual-sport version of the 175cc Pacer introduced in 1962. Intended as a road bike that could also be used offroad, the Scat added a sprung, high-mounted front fender, high-level exhaust, buckhorn bars and single saddle to the basic specification of the street Pacer. It was in many ways a precursor to the small offroad bikes that proliferated from Japan years later. Like the contemporary BSA D7 Bantam, the Scat used a 2-stroke engine based on the prewar DKW RT125 but now stretched to 175cc.

1962 was the only year for the model’s hardtail frame and from 1963 the Scat and the Pacer were fitted with Harley’s Glide-Ride rear suspension, a cantilever design that located the spring under the frame. The front end sported Harley’s Tele-Glide hydraulic front fork, which replaced the rubber band girder fork used on Harley’s 2-strokes from 1948-1951. It was in fact an early “upside down” design.

Neither the Pacer nor the Scat were successful in stemming the tide of Japanese and European imports. They were offered up through 1965, and the last gasp for the range was the street focused, fiberglass-bodied, Scat/Pacer-based 1966 Bobcat, the only 2-stroke offered by Harley-Davidson that year. MC