Honda CL77: The Gentleman's Scrambler
Don Johnson's 1967 Honda CL77.
Photo by Nick Cedar
Years produced: 1965-1967
Claimed power: 27.4hp @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 85mph (est.)
Engine type: 305cc air-cooled SOHC parallel twin
Weight (dry): 319lb (145kg)
Price then: $707 (1967)
Price now: $2,500-$4,000
MPG: 40-60mpg (est.)
Don Johnson looked at the Honda CL77 in the back of the truck. He had driven a lot of miles to pick up the two-wheeler he had “won” on an online auction, and here it was, old and tired, and not at all as advertised.
Even though the auction photos didn’t show the actual color of the chassis, which was in reality the wrong shade of red, it still wasn’t the bike Don expected. The photos also didn’t reveal the useless wiring harness and the bodged repairs all over the bike, which was supposed to have been a more or less stock 1967 Honda CL77. “The threads on Honda mirrors are two sizes, 8mm and 10mm. Someone took a grinder to the threads on the mirrors of this bike so they could jam them in the holes, wrecking both the mirrors and the holes they screw into. That’s just one example of what this bike was like,” Don says.
Looking closer, Don was within an inch of tearing up his cashiers check and going home. But nostalgia is a powerful thing, and the mistreated little critter in the truck looked too much like the bike he had owned many years ago when he was stationed with the Army on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. He took the Honda CL77, knowing he was in for a whole lot more work than he had anticipated.
Getting to the CL77
It was during World War II that American riders really became familiar with British motorcycles. This was also when American riders started getting introduced to British offroad competition events such as trials and scrambles, the ancestor of today’s motocross. As offroad riding surged in popularity in the U.S., trials and scrambles joined enduro and desert racing as popular weekend motorcycling activities for riders here.
But competitive motorcycles for these forms of competition weren’t available from the dealer showroom floor. Early on, American enthusiasts competed mostly on heavily modified but still heavyweight V-twins. British singles — which also needed a lot of work to be competitive — became available later, but prior to the first Honda imports in 1959, any small, lightweight motorcycle available to the average American was typically low tech and gutless.
When Honda entered the U.S. market in 1959, it spent a lot of time and energy expanding the market for motorcycles in the United States, convincing Americans that nice people rode around on two wheels. Honda’s success opened the door for other Japanese manufacturers, who started offering high powered models designed specifically for the American. As interest in offroad riding continued to build, Honda turned its attention to designing lightweight, powerful bikes that would excel in the dirt.
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