1961 Honda CB92 Benly

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Some of Honda's early roadsters were rather bulky and unattractive, but that certainly wasn't true of the CB92.
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Honda CB92 Benly
Years produced:
Total production: 24,251
Claimed power: 15hp @ 10,500rpm
Top speed: 75mph (est.)
Engine type: 124cc single-overhead cam, air-cooled parallel twin
Weight (dry): 110kg (242lb)
Price then: $495 (1961)
Price now: $5,500-$14,000
MPG: 110 (est.)

Flat-out on a long, straight road just outside Daytona Beach, I’m doing my best to squeeze every last drop of speed from the racy 1961 Honda CB92 Benly. In an attempt to cheat the wind as much as possible I’m hunched down over the silver-painted tank, peering through the tiny flyscreen, my chin almost touching the friction steering damper knob above the top yoke.

Between my knees the parallel twin engine is straining every sinew, beginning to vibrate just a little more as the revs get higher and higher. In front of my eyes, set into the headlight, is the angular speedometer, whose needle is flickering slightly as it goes through 70mph … 75 … 80 … Until the Honda just breaks 85mph before I finally decide that’s enough and shut the throttle, mindful that surely no elderly roadster should take such abuse for long.

Fast for its day
In reality, the Honda CB92 Benly Super Sport — to give the bike its full title — was not quite as fast as its speedometer was suggesting. Its true best was about 75mph, even when ridden by a smaller and more aerodynamic jockey than I. But that’s still very impressive for a 125cc roadster when you consider that this bike was built in 1961, and that the model was introduced way back in 1959. If anyone wonders how Honda rose to dominate the motorcycle world so rapidly, almost half a century ago the CB92 provides the perfect illustration.

Quite simply, it’s a brilliant little motorcycle: handsome, fast (for its capacity), beautifully engineered and very well equipped. When it was launched, the Super Sport wasn’t merely the fastest 125cc bike around; it could also embarrass many much larger machines on both road and track. The CB92 — along with its same-sized siblings the C92 roadster and high-piped CS92 tourer, plus other models including the 250cc CB72 — helped make Honda’s name in the early 1960s, and paved the way for the bigger bikes such as the CB450 twin and CB750 four that came later in the decade.

The inspiration for Honda’s early twins had been German firm NSU’s 250cc Rennmax parallel twin, on which Werner Haas had won a second consecutive world championship in 1954, the year that Soichiro Honda visited the Isle of Man TT during a trip to Europe. Honda’s first twin-cylinder model, the C70, duly appeared three years later with a similar capacity and angled-forward parallel cylinders, though without the Rennmax’s gear-driven twin cams.

The 1958 Honda C92 Benly showed the world that Honda was serious about performance and took the idea of smaller, higher revving cylinders further than the earlier C70 Dream. The 1958 C92 twin-cylinder 125cc Benly produced 11.5hp at a then-amazing 9,500rpm.

Essentially a smaller version of the C70, for 1959 the C92 received an electric start and a dual seat (still a single seat on some Japanese models) to become the C92 (CA92 in America). Alongside this was the CS92 (as mentioned above) with high exhausts. But the most interesting variant was the CB92 Benly Super Sport 125 (B indicating sporting), which was also released in 1959.

The first Super Sport
Some of Honda’s early roadsters were rather bulky and unattractive, but that certainly wasn’t true of the CB92. From its big front drum brake, its low handlebars set behind that racy flyscreen and the humped fuel tank with its rubber pad at the rear, the Super Sport is purposeful and aggressive. With its pressed-steel frame and leading-link forks it’s undeniably dated, but even now it looks good in a way that very few bikes of similar age can approach.

The Honda’s compact, air-cooled engine gives few visual clues to its performance. It has a chain-driven single overhead camshaft and a 360-degree crank. Like the more softly-tuned C92 and CS92, this model gets its 124cc capacity through oversquare dimensions of 44mm x 41mm. But the sportster’s higher, 10:1 compression ratio and bigger, 20mm Keihin carburetor help increase its output by 3.5hp to a claimed 15hp at a heady 10,500rpm.

Riding the 1961 Honda CB92 Benly
Like many CB92s, this bike had been raced in its early days. When bought by its current owner it was complete, with just over 20,000 miles on its bores, but scruffy and fitted with a racing single seat and megaphone exhausts. The owner — whose father was a Honda dealer in the 1960s, and who’d already restored 10 previous CB92s — managed to track down the necessary parts through a network of contacts. By the time he’d finished, the bike looked almost like new.

I’m 6ft 4in, so I’d wondered whether I’d be able to fit on such a small machine, but I needn’t have worried. Although the Honda weighs just 242lb dry (which is 22lb less than the base-model C92) and has a compact 49.6in wheelbase, the knee cutouts in its tank gave plenty of room. The footrests are pretty high, but the low seat is long enough (despite having no provision for a passenger) that I could sit well back, allowing a crouch forward to reach the flat handlebars.

The ignition key is in the side of the headlamp, and even before I pull away the Honda makes a good impression. This little sports bike has the convenience of an electric starter — and one that worked the first time. Just in case, there’s also a kick-start lever for emergencies. Once warmed, the little twin immediately settles into a smooth, steady idle. Such characteristics are taken for granted these days, but that effortless starting, like the fact that this bike is rattle-free and oil-tight, was worthy of comment when it was new. 

Despite its parallel twin layout, the Honda engine is reasonably smooth, even when revved hard — and you certainly have to do that. As might be expected of such a racy small-bore bike, almost all the performance is in the upper part of the rev range. Peak torque of just 7.7ft/lb is produced at 9,000rpm. Without the benefit of a tachometer (which should perhaps have been a standard item) it’s impossible to say exactly where the power kicks in, but there’s a distinct step at maybe 7,000rpm, and to go fast you’ve got to keep it above that figure at all times.

On a flat road, the Benly is quite content to keep up a steady 60mph in the highest of the gearbox’s four ratios, with a bit of gentle acceleration available provided you don’t mind getting tucked down out of the breeze. But I can’t afford to change up into top gear too early, at say 50mph, or let the cruising speed drop to that figure when battling against a slope or headwind. If I do the engine suddenly goes flat, the revs and speed drop further, and I’m forced to tread down to third to build the revs and the bike’s momentum once again. At least the four-speed gearbox, with its conventional left-foot, up-for-up shift pattern, works very well aside from a couple of false neutrals. The clutch also seems well capable of taking the high-revving abuse required for a rapid getaway.

If the engine is predictably impressive, the Benly’s handling is also better than I’d expected given the bike’s age and reputation. When new the Honda was criticized in road tests for its hard, under-damped suspension, a typical fault of early Japanese bikes. But on the generally smooth Florida roads I’m riding, that isn’t really a problem. Although the ride is quite harsh, the CB92’s firm feel at both ends is in pleasant contrast with the soggy suspension of many other bikes of similar vintage.

King of the corners
By modern standards even this tiny bike, with its 30-degree steering geometry and 18in diameter wheels, isn’t notably quick-steering, and its inherent stability makes the bike seem unlikely to need the friction steering damper at its headstock. But for all that the lightweight Honda is an easy enough bike to throw around. Its cornering ability, enhanced by generous ground clearance, had much to do with the CB92’s giant-killing performance.

The forks’ leading-link layout and firm springs ensure that the bike stays very stable under braking, even though the Benly’s big 203mm, twin-leading-shoe drum is capable of giving as much stopping power as the narrow ribbed front Dunlop tire can handle. Even in 1964, the British magazine Motor Cycling rated the Benly’s unchanged front brake as “among the very best we have ever tested,” adding that the smaller rear drum was equally fade-free and unaffected by rain.

So too, predictably enough, were the CB92’s electrics — and it was well-designed features such as that, as well as the bike’s performance, that gave it such an appeal.

The Benly’s small oil capacity meant that the oil had to be changed frequently, but provided that was done, the engine was capable of withstanding hard use with no ill effects. And the rest of the bike was engineered to the high standard for which Honda, for whom Mike Hailwood and Australia’s Tom Phillis won the 250 and 125cc world championships in 1961, was fast becoming known.

The Benly Super Sport’s looks, speed and reliability won plenty of admirers and were enough to keep it in production for a further three years, gaining a slightly softer suspension along the way. Its high-revving nature and equally high price meant that for road use Honda’s more powerful and only slightly more expensive 250cc CB72 was in many ways a more sensible buy. But for riders wanting a sporty small-bore sportster for road or racetrack, the CB92 was second to none. MC

CB92 production figures
A Honda CB92 Benly is a fairly rare sight, yet according to keeper of the Benly flame Ray Davis (www.vintage-honda.com), more than 24,000 CB92s were made between 1959 and 1964.

That’s a lot of CB92s, yet only a handful found their way to the U.S., a market Honda would dominate after just three years of sales starting in 1959 when the CB92 was introduced. While Honda dropped the CB92 in the U.S. after 1962, the model continued in other markets through 1964. American Honda sales figures show U.S. sales of 14 CB92s in 1959, 288 in 1960, 246 in 1961 and 51 in 1962, for a total of 599. Bill “MrHonda” Silver (a specialist on early Honda restoration; www.vintagehonda.com) pegs the number at just over 1,000.

Honda also supplied a factory racing kit for the CB92, which included go-fast goodies like an open megaphone exhaust, racing camshaft and a 13,000rpm tachometer. Starting in 1961, Honda brochures included the CB92R, which was a standard 92 but with racing parts from the Honda parts bin. As far as Ray can determine, the CB92R only ever appeared in U.S. sales brochures. And while some models were delivered to dealers with at least a few of the race parts already installed, he suspects it was mostly a dealer equipped model.

Proper identification can be difficult, as the CB92R didn’t carry any unique markings. And since few owners can trace their bike’s history back to the day it left the dealer’s showroom, any CB92 with the proper period parts can call itself a CB92R, even if it’s not. American Honda sales figures show 148 CB92Rs sold in 1961 and 268 in 1962.

Oh, how things have changed
From a 1962 Honda Motor Cycle Owner’s Manual are the following riding suggestions, translated by Honda for the “American Motorcycle Rider.” 

1. At the rise of the hand by Policeman, stop rapidly. Do not pass him by or otherwise disrespect him.
2. When a passenger of the foot, hooves in tight, tootel the horn trumpet melodiously at first, if he still obstacles your passage, tootel him with vigor and express by word of mouth, warning Hi, Hi.
3. Beware of the wandering horse that he shall not take fright as you pass him. Do not explode the exhaust box at him. Go soothingly by.
4.Give big space to the festive dog that makes sport in roadway. Avoid entanglement of dog with wheel spokes.
5. Go soothingly on the grease, mud, as there lurks the skid demon! Press the brake foot as you roll around the corners, and save the collapse and
tie up.

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