Guide to 125-250cc Honda Street Twins
Find out about collectible motorcycles from Honda, made between 1959 and 1979.
By Bill Silver
Honda made its mark on the motorcycle world with small, affordable bikes, and grew well beyond that to create some of the most important performance machines ever built. Classic Honda Motorcycles (Octane Press, 2012) is a guide to the collectible Hondas that gives prospective buyers a leg up on the current market for groundbreaking classics like the CB77 Super Hawk, CB92 Benly, Dream 300, CB750, CB 400F, as well as 1970 to 1979 models that are quickly becoming classics in their own right. In this excerpt, find a guide to Honda street twins, including several sport and touring models.
You can buy this book from the Motorcycle Classics store: Classic Honda Motorcycles.
CB92R Benly S.S. Racer 125
Once the beachhead was established in the U.S. with the Honda Cubs, bigger-displacement machines were introduced. The 1960 Honda 125cc CB92 Super Sport and 150cc CA95 Benly were rolled out as alternatives to the beginner bikes and they were real eye-openers for novice and experienced enthusiasts alike. The CB92 featured an alloy fuel tank, side covers, front fender and 8-inch magnesium, double-leading-shoe brakes on the front wheel. An angular fuel tank, with a wrap-around kneepad, and the short, flat, handlebars gave an immediate impression of power and style. Honda claimed a stock CB92 would go 81 mph and about 85 mph for the race-kitted CB92R version. The YB (accessory) parts list included a racing-style seat, 13,000-rpm tachometer, megaphone exhausts and numerous racing-spec engine parts, allowing a power curve to reach over 10,500 rpm. This kind of performance from a street-based production motorcycle was unheard of in 1960. Even the “convenient” Benly sister machine, known as the CA95 Benly 150 Touring would reach 70 mph plus, and both had single-carburetor two-valve cylinder heads, electric-starting, oil-tight engines, and amazingly detailed fittings on each machine. What was really astounding was the fact that Honda could mass-produce these bikes by the thousands, making hundreds of editions every day!
CA95 Benly Touring 150 (late)
Benly 125 Super Sport (1959-62)
CB92 Benly Super Sport 125
CB92s and a one-year only CB95 (150cc version) were sold first in Japan in 1959. These machines were even used as practice bikes for the first Isle of Man races attended by Honda riders. The bikes were powered by a wet-sump, OHC, two-valve-percylinder, t360-degree-firing, parallel-twin engine producing 15 hp at 10,500 rpm. The camshaft was driven by a chain from the left end of the crankshaft. The transmission was a four-speed unit, with wet clutch and electric starting. Front suspension was a leading-link design and wheels were 18-inch front and rear, spoked to magnesium 8-inch hubs, and fitted with double-leading shoe brakes on the front. The large-capacity 6-volt batteries were charged by a permanent-magnet generator, also driven off the left end of the crankshaft.
The 1960 bikes had Benly tank badges, rather than Benly 125 shown on the later versions. The first bikes had alloy tanks, side covers and front fenders. The original cables were of smaller diameter and the levers had small ball-ended tips. The tool kits were quite complete and included the tire pump lock keys, scissors and a tire patch kit. The lockable tire pump was located on special brackets below the fuel tank.
Service and overhaul is pretty much standard Honda, if you have been working on many of the era’s models. It helps to have watchmaker genes in your makeup, as everything is on the small side when overhauling the engines and making carburetor changes. They aren’t particularly complicated, but it does have an orderly and definite sequence in which to do maintenance or repair operations.
The suspension is very taut and you are continually bounced around on either the stock dual or the YB racing seat. The eight-inch brakes are overkill on a 275 lb. bike; application of the front binder causes the leading-link suspension to rise up sharply.
If you happen to be CB92 shopping, bear in mind that many minor and major changes were made to the bike during its production life. Three different crankshaft designs were used in the first three years of the machines, plus numerous other detail items were modified or changed according to U.S. safety standards. The windscreens were not on the approved list, as the part numbers for the screens and attaching hardware were deleted on subsequent parts lists after 1964. There were four different taillight assemblies, four different fuel tanks, a couple of transmission changes, and the original alloy body parts were superseded by steel replacements. Many CB92s were improved with the adaptation of CA95 154cc top ends. Oftentimes the original 124cc cylinders, heads and 18mm carbs were tossed, making restoration-to-original specs projects almost impossible. There were many crankshaft failures in the first two years and often a whole CA95 motor was transplanted into the chassis. Be aware both engine side covers and kickstart/shifter shafts are narrower than the 154cc Benly counterparts.
A series of C92 125cc Benlys had low-compression pistons and a crankshaft that was not supported between the crank throws. Honda sold the CA92 in 1959 only. Sometimes these bottom ends (or whole engines) are employed to revive a CB92 chassis. The engine cases will be stamped C92 and not CB92, so look carefully. Some CA95 cases have had their numbers modified in an attempt to match the chassis numbers. Generally, the engine and chassis numbers are within 150 numbers of each other. Serial numbers in 1960 were CB92-60-XXXXX or CB92-0XXXXX frames and CB92E-01XXXXX engines, 1961 was CB92-1XXXXX frame and CB92E-11XXXX engine; 1962 featured CB92-2XXXXX frame and CB92E-21XXXXX engine series identification numbers. Frame numbers are generally found on the left side of the frame at the rear, just behind the left side covers. Whole books could be written about the minutiae of these machines. In all, some 24,000 units were produced from 1959-1964. After only fifteen sales of 1962 models, the model was terminated in the U.S. However, production continued and bikes were sold in Europe, the UK and Japan through 1964. Those bikes generally have 3XXXXX and 7XXXXX serial numbers for the 1963-4 models.
As these bikes often trade hands for anywhere from $1,000 to more than $12,000, you really have to be astute to prevent yourself from getting burned by an incorrect or unoriginal restoration of these unique models. Check serial numbers at the very least, and try to contact those who have restored them in the past to verify correct features pertaining to each year’s model. Getting a copy of the Honda parts manual will be of great assistance in this case. It is probably too late in the game to begin a restoration of a CB92, unless it is very complete and in generally good condition to begin with. CB92s are definite conversation pieces and worth having if your goal is to own a truly unique and classic Honda model.
As a final warning, there have been a few CA95 chassis that have been modified to accept CB92 forks, fuel tanks, seats, etc. and passed off as CB92s. A famous fake was shown in the 1974 Phil Schilling book The Motorcycle World, unbeknownst to the author. It was later discovered to be a 1962 CA95 with a CB92 front end, mufflers, wheels and bodywork.
I know all about this bike because I owned it in the late 1980s and discovered the serial number issue.
CL125A and SS125A (1967-69)
In late 1967, Honda returned a pair of 125cc street twins back to the market in the forms of the SS125A and CL125A, both based upon the CD125 base model, sold elsewhere. Looking at the parts manual, one would think that they had revived the tooling for the CB92, as the design of the engine was very similar. Both engines shared the similar left side chain-driven camshafts, four-speed gearboxes and single-carb cylinder heads. The carburetor was now a CV-style, with a rubber-diaphragm-controlled slide, and although the engine internals looked the same, virtually all of the part numbers were different. The frame was a stamped steel unit similar to the S90’s. There was a nice tube-frame, dual-carb version available outside the U.S., but it was never released here.
SS125A Super Sport 125
The SS models had a longish, racy-looking silver fuel tank and slight riser handlebars, giving quite a sporty effect, while the CL125 Scramblers featured the Baby Scrambler look with cross-braced bars, rounded fuel tank, abbreviated fenders, different-patterned seats and large 125 plastic tank emblems, with accompanying rubber knee pads. From 20 feet you could confuse the CL125 with a CL160, so similar were they in style. But performance-wise they were very tame and sales were not up to expectations. They were bumping heads with leftover CB/CL160s, as well as the new 175s, and the bikes were quietly dropped in 1969.
Noteworthy Collectibles: CB92 All Years, SS125A and CL125A.
CB160 and CL160 Super Sport and Honda Scrambler (1965-68)
In mid-1964, Honda finally filled in the gap left by the loss of the CB92s, in the small-bore street bike category. CA95s were the only available small-twin option during the time between 1962 and the release of the 160s in 1965. The newly designed machines were little jewels, crafted in the likeness of their CB/CL77 big brothers. The cam chains now ran down the center of the two cylinders and pair of 20mm carbs was fitted to the dual-port cylinder heads. Electric starters graced the CBs, but were deleted on the CLs, until a run of CL160D models were released in mid-1967, when the electric starters were returned to the bikes again. The original CL160s were black-framed with silver tank, side covers, and fork legs, whereas the CL160Ds were available in the standard quartet of Black, Scarlet Red, Blue, and White, just like the CB160s had been all along.
The D-kit scramblers were created by installing a Scrambler conversion kit to a CB160 chassis. These kits featured metallic orange or blue fuel tanks, similar to the early CL175s. The standard CB160D bikes had color-matched fuel tanks and frames. Over the years, I often heard about dealerships having dozens of CB160 mufflers, tanks, seats, and handlebars in stock, due to the large number of D conversion kits used to supply the demand of Scrambler-styled bikes.
CB160s were cherished by young riders who couldn’t afford the CB77s (or whose parents wouldn’t let them ride a big motorcycle). Equipped with full-size 18-inch wheels, the bikes were a joy to ride, and the 7-inch double-leading-shoe brakes were just as powerful as the 8-inch binders on the bigger bikes. 160s were sturdily built in typical Honda fashion, and a little heavy at 279 lb. With the standard four-speed transmissions, though, the only way to get the most out of the machine was to ride it wide-open all the time. Rated at 16.5 hp at 10,000 rpm, they were just freeway legal, at least in California. They were hot sellers just about everywhere in the U.S. The little CL160s were often found running in the tracks of the CL77s, out in the back-country hills and fire roads, owing their popularity to their relationship to the hot-selling, full sized Scramblers. This is a fine series of machines, and they have excellent handling and braking characteristics in addition to their very stylish looks. The CB/CL160-175s are actively roadraced in the AHRMA racing series, all across the U.S. A whole race bike can be built up for just a few thousand dollars, then raced for much of the season with one or two sets of tires and little in the way of repairs or serious maintenance.
Noteworthy Collectibles: CB160(D) and CL160(D).
CL160D Scrambler 160D
CA92-95 Benly (1959-70)
CA92 Benly Touring 125 (C92)
The Benly series of electric-start parallel-twin touring bikes ranged from the one-year only 1959 CA92 to the early/late CA95s, which were available until 1964. Benly translates to “convenient” in the Japanese language. These were practical, clean, efficient and low-cost transportation bikes for many Japanese and European riders. Many countries outside the U.S. have restrictive licensing regulations that follow either displacement or horsepower limits for early riders. This was never a factor in the vast expanses of the U.S., so these small-bore machines usually found homes with riders with height or inseam limitations.
The Benly series 125-150-160-175cc engines ran a parallel path with the Super Sport and Scrambler bikes, evolving from the side-cam-driven 150cc engines to the central-driven 160s, then a short-lived slant-engine 160-based CA175, before the final incarnation as a nearly vertical CD175. All of these series’ machines had single carburetors, and all featured the similar styling of the angular fenders, sheet-metal frames, enclosed drive-chains, and the same, poorly damped leading-link front suspension and 16-inch wheels, except for the CA175s. The CA175s were named Touring 175 models (just as the 160 versions were called Touring 160s instead being of another Benly). Introduced in early 1968, they had telescopic forks and round shocks, headlights and fenders, but still retained the pressed-steel frame construction.
CA95 Benly Touring 150 (early)
CA72 Dream Touring (late)
Little Street Twins Get Bigger: CB175, CL175, and SL175 (1968-73)
The CB160 and CL160 were upgraded to 175cc and finally given a five-speed transmission as well. Oddly, perhaps due to the popularity of the scrambler-style bikes, there were no CB175s offered for one year in the U.S. The first 175 series machines were all CL175K0 models, which continued the slant-motor design of the 160 series. In 1969, the 175s followed the tradition of the CB160s (looking like their bigger brothers, the CB/CL77) and became junior versions of the larger CB350s, both in style and in engine configuration; the cylinders being raised to near vertical. The new 175 machines were joined by their Motosport brother, the SL175, in 1970. The SL175 ran only until 1972, while the CB/CLs sales continued until 1973.
CB175 Super Sport 175 (early)
CB175K3 Super Sport 175 (late)
CB200 and CL200 (1974-76) and CM185-200-250 (1978-83)
The 1974-76 CB200 and CL200s were the replacements for the CB/CL/SL175 machines. The CB200T had a novel cable-operated front disc brake, while the CL had to make do with the usual double-leading-shoe front brake. There was a one-year pause in the small-bike product line, until 1978, when the new CM-series Twinstar mini-custom was released, first as a 185cc version for two years, then in 200cc sizes for 1980-82 (both four-speeds). Honda revised the machine as a restyled CM250C with a new five-speed transmission in 1982, then added a toothed-belt final drive for 1983. These were all low-powered, single-carb twins. They did have a redeeming value by being so low to the ground; many beginners or shorter stature riders felt comfortable learning their motorcycle riding skills on them.
In 1985, a serious redo of the little CM250 twin morphed them into junior-sized cruisers, now called the Honda 250 Rebel (CMX250C). This revamp sparked a huge interest in these baby wannabe choppers and the dealers were swamped with orders for them in the first year. It was one of Honda’s top-selling bikes in 1985, and there was even a Limited edition with gold trim and pseudo-flamed decals on the tank. They were pretty much all done after 80 mph, but the little disc brake, fitted on the front of such a light machine, gave some of the shortest stopping distances ever recorded at one of the motorcycle magazine’s test beds. Spurred by success of the 250s, Honda dusted off the old three-valve CM450 engine and rewrapped that in Rebel clothing to answer the critics of the 250s low power output. The six-speed, three-valve engine propelled the low, lightened 450 along quite smartly, but the bubble had burst after the 250 Rebel’s novelty wore off and the rather expensive 450s languished in dealer showrooms.
Noteworthy Collectibles: CMX250 Rebel 250 Limited.
1986 CMX250CD Rebel 250 Limited
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Classic Honda Motorcycles by Bill Silver and published by Octane Press, 2012. Buy this book from our store: Classic Honda Motorcycles.