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Wheels on Reels

Classic motorcycle videos selected by the editors of Motorcycle Classics

The Early History of Honda Motorcycles

honda cb160 engine 

Honda Motor Company, Ltd., was the brainchild of one of the true visionaries of the world, Soichiro Honda - the central character in the early history of Honda motorcycles. Honda repaired cars and motorcycles for a living while pursuing the hobby of auto racing. In the 1930s, he started manufacturing piston rings, a business that ended shortly after the war did. A year later, in 1946, Honda started selling motorized bicycles to war-ravaged Japan desperately in need of cheap transportation.

The moped business took off, and Honda started building his own engines. In 1949, Takeo Fujisawa, a master of organization and finance, joined the operation. Profits were invested in the company. In the early 1950s, Honda was able to borrow one million U.S. dollars from friendly banks to buy American and Swiss machine tooling. As a result, the factory was able to economically build clean, reliable motorcycles with advanced features.

By 1959, Honda was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. That year, the company established an American subsidiary and started exporting bikes to the U.S. By the end of 1961, Honda had more than 400 U.S. dealers selling models developed specifically for the American market.

The first bike in the CB series of sporty roadsters was the 125cc Honda Benly Super Sport, one of the first bikes exported to the U.S. The Benly was followed by the 1961 Honda CB72 Hawk, a 250cc overhead cam twin, and its big brother, the 305cc Honda Super Hawk.

The sport, the first Honda CB160, appeared in July 1964. It was soon followed by the Scrambler, with high pipes, and a touring model with wider fenders and only one carburetor. The CB160 range was restyled and souped up in 1969 as the Honda CB175.

Here is a four-part video discussing Honda and its history of success in the Isle of Man TT: