Vintage Motorcycle Racing with the Honda CB160
The perfect vintage racing bike
Chris Page (#47), Mike Polkabla (#167) and Bobby Hawbaker (#290) play for the camera on their Honda CB160s at Miller Motorsports Park, Tooele, Utah, at last year's Bonneville VintageGP.
Photo by Stephen Clark
Roaming around the outside of the track, a muffled buzz growing louder and louder, I could swear a swarm of killer bees must be heading toward me. Then I remember; oh yeah, this is vintage motorcycle racing with the Honda CB160.
I had barely noticed them in the past, hiding far away from the bustling pits of modern road race bikes at the local Washington club races in the Pacific Northwest. The modern-day bikes and racers had taken main stage with their monster trailers, color-coordinated leathers and custom painted helmets, parading and prancing in front of the spectators. But around the corner, hidden under the trees on the dirt section of the pits was a little sideshow: the Honda CB160 racers.
Watching them reminded me of how, when I was a kid, my buddies and I would set wooden stakes in the dirt to make a racetrack. One person would throw their hand up in the air, and the race was on. I remembered what fun it was to race without the pressure or expectation of winning. It felt good, and it’s exactly what these riders get to feel every time they race.
In this case, the riders are a loose group of racers including Group W Racing from Washington and the Flying Circus from Oregon, who exist for no other reason than to just have some good clean vintage motorcycle racing fun.
Honda CB160 vintage motorcycle racing
The Honda CB160 vintage motorcycle racing phenomenon started out more on a dare than a marketing plan. Back in the late 1980s, British Columbia racer Karl Rader got tired of listening to riders gripe about the high cost of racing. So to prove a point, Karl grabbed a 1960s Honda CB160, took off the lights, safety wired it and raced it in the 250 class, finishing mid-pack. The message was delivered: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to race or have fun.
In 1990, Tim Fowler was working a race when Karl and some other riders buzzed by him on their 160s. “That could be interesting,” Tim thought, so he got a broken CB160 from Karl and set about on his first racing career. “For a long time there were just two or three of us who would pit together,” Tim recalls. “It was like a big secret that we were getting away with something because we would get placed in the back row of a modern class or wherever there was a slot for us. If we were lucky there would be two vintage day races for us in Oregon and Washington and a few club races for our season. Then it just sort of caught on as the vintage guys got tired of blowing up and fixing their bikes. We gave the Oregon racers one bike in 2001 and they came back with nine race-ready CBs the next year. Joe Pethoud from Vicious Cycle in Portland took 22 junked CBs and made nine fast race bikes. Now we were having grids grow to 10, 12, 15 racers and then up to 30 bikes.”
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