Something Special: 1966 Honda S65

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The S65’s high pipe suggests offroad as well as street potential for the little single.
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The S65’s high pipe suggests offroad as well as street potential for the little single.
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The S65’s high pipe suggests offroad as well as street potential for the little single.
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The S65’s high pipe suggests offroad as well as street potential for the little single.
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Narrow and light, the S65 was in its day the perfect two-wheeler for students and riders on a budget.
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The S65’s high pipe suggests offroad as well as street potential for the little single.
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The S65’s high pipe suggests offroad as well as street potential for the little single.
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The S65’s high pipe suggests offroad as well as street potential for the little single.

1966 Honda S65
Claimed power:
6.2hp @ 10,000rpm
Top speed: 56mph
62.9cc air-cooled OHC horizontal single, 44mm x 41.4mm bore and stroke, 8.8:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry):
171lb (78kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG:
1.7gal (6.4ltr)/190mpg @ 25mph (claimed)
Price then/now:

America was changing in the early 1960s. Music, film and literature all reflected a younger demographic — a demographic of teenagers born immediately following the end of World War II. The baby boom was booming.

At the same time many of these youngsters were coming of age, a plethora of relatively inexpensive, high-quality, small-bore Japanese motorcycles were flooding the scene. Although there had been plenty of small bikes available before this, such as BSA Bantams, NSU Quicklys and Triumph Cubs to name just a few, leading Japanese manufacturer Honda pioneered the North American market in 1959 with the introduction of its quaint little step-through C100 Cub. Oil-tight and easy to run, Honda’s cheery little 50cc 4-stroke singles became the transportation of choice for many, and particularly for youngsters.

Quickly realizing the potential for small-bore bikes in America, in 1960 Honda launched the C110 — a sportier version of the Cub. Like its Cub sibling, the C110 featured a pressed steel monocoque frame. But instead of a step-through the C110 frame had a spine, which meant a gas tank where a proper motorcycle had its gas tank, right between the rider’s knees.

In 1964, Honda followed the success of its C110 with the sporting S90, followed by the S65 in 1965. While the larger S90 was the more popular of the two motorcycles, the charms of the S65 are hard to ignore.

Teenage transportation

Born and raised in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, Don Schoonenberg found his S65 in August of 1967. Back then he wasn’t much concerned about its features; he was just happy to have some transportation. “The family cars always seemed to be at a premium,” Don says. “With two older brothers, everyone always seemed to be using them.”

Having earned his driver’s license a couple of months earlier, Don realized he needed his own set of wheels. When he learned a friend was selling a 1966 Honda S65 with 1,100 miles on the odometer for $150, he didn’t hesitate. “It looked like a real motorcycle, and it was affordable,” says Don, who had been working part-time jobs since he was 11.

Don would ride the S65 to his odd jobs, plus back and forth to school and to the beach. “I think what made that little Honda fun for me is it gave me instant freedom,” Don explains. “I could ride 15 miles across town to play volleyball. It really opened up the world for me.”

Two years later, Don enrolled at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, some 90 miles from home. On weekends during the winter, he’d ride the bus or hitchhike back home. In good weather, he’d ride. Sticking to the back roads, and avoiding the freeway, Don could maintain 55mph — as long as the pavement stayed relatively flat. “Back then it was pretty much a helmetless experience, and I’d wear a pair of sunglasses for goggles,” he says. “I’d strap my book bag to the luggage rack and I’d carry an Army knapsack on my back. At the university, the S65 was the envy of the campus.”

Stored but not forgotten

Don rode the S65 until 1971, when he stored it away in his dad’s garage and bought a 1950 Willys for general transportation. With just more than 5,000 miles on the odometer, it was mothballed but not forgotten. “There were a lot of memories wrapped up in that little bike, and I didn’t want to sell it,” Don says. “It took me to places I otherwise wouldn’t have gone.”

The S65 didn’t lead to a lifetime of motorcycling for Don, as it was almost 30 years before he bought another bike. In 1998, he bought a 1998 Harley-Davidson 95th Anniversary Edition Wide Glide. He calls himself a fair-weather rider, and the H-D has covered only 15,000 miles.

Don likes his toys — literally. He has a collection of round-fender Tonka trucks circa 1954 to 1957, and he has a fully restored 1955 Chevy Bel-Air. While visiting a car show, he stumbled across someone displaying a Honda CB350. As the pair began talking, Don allowed that he had an old S65, and the CB350 rider suggested that Don should get it running and show it off.

“Prior to that, I didn’t really know about classic motorcycle magazines or that anyone would be interested in my old motorcycle,” he says. At about the same time, a friend from a local lawn and garden dealer also suggested Don should get the S65 running for short rides. “He recommended I call up Brady Ingelse at Retrospeed, and have him get it going. I thought it would be wonderful to ride it again, so in the fall of 2012, I put it in the back of my truck and drove it to Retrospeed.”

Retrospeed in Belgium, Wisconsin, is a full-service repair shop catering to both vintage and modern machines. The company also specializes in complete overhauls. Initially, Don was only going to get the Honda running, but as he and Retrospeed owner Brady Ingelse talked, Don decided to have the bike completely restored, even though the S65 wasn’t a rusty, crusty mess. It had always been stored properly indoors, so the little 62.9cc overhead cam engine still turned freely.

Restoration begins

At Retrospeed, the S65 was first made to run, and run properly, with several test miles added before being completely disassembled. “We need to be 100 percent happy with the mechanicals before we tear it down,” Brady explains.

The pressed steel frame consists of the headstock, spine and rear fender, with the rear swingarm and front fork also pressed steel. Front suspension is by Honda’s leading-link system, first seen on the Cub. Small hydraulic shock absorbers are tucked inside the hollow steel legs of the fork, and the lower links pivot on bushings.

None of the sheet metal on Don’s bike required major surgery, and everything red, including the plastic front fender and headlight cover, was painted by Total Auto Body in Grafton, Wisconsin. The Honda’s silver engine side covers and chain guard enclosure were powder-coated, and the cracked rear luggage rack was welded up.

While the S65 wasn’t officially outfitted from the factory with a rack, Don says he’d never known his machine without the accessory. After repairs, the rack and the distinctive high-level exhaust and heat shield, gas tank panels and handlebars were sent for chrome at the Chrome Shop in Rock Island, Illinois. New bearings went in the polished hubs and the wheels were reassembled with new aftermarket rims, spokes and nipples.

The engine looks like it’s floating, suspended in the frame by two long through bolts — one at the top of the crankcase and one at the back. Brady didn’t have to split the cases, but the bottom end was cleaned and treated to new seals. The cylinder was bored first oversize (0.25mm) and a new piston, rings, pin and circlips were installed. Fresh contact breaker points went in the timing chest, and the valve seats were cut and new valves installed in the cylinder head. Brady sourced a new fuel petcock and gas cap, and he replaced all the control cables and rubber components such as kneepads, handgrips and footpeg covers. “I was worried about being able to find parts,” Don says, “but Brady was able to track everything down.”

Brady likes to make a few unobtrusive but very functional modifications when working on old iron. “On any restoration of an older Japanese motorcycle we’ll run a ground from the taillight and another from the ignition switch, and we install a solid-state rectifier,” Brady says.

An aftermarket seat cover was the finishing touch, installed by the Upholstery Shoppe in Fredonia, Wisconsin — they do all of Brady’s recovering work. Don’s S65 was finished by mid-2013.

When it was finally time to collect his Honda, Don got up at 5 a.m. and rode his bicycle to Retrospeed. Brady went over the Honda with Don, and with one kick the S65 fired to life. Don rode it the 15 miles back home, parked it in his heated garage next to his Bel-Air and then carried on to work. “I put a few miles on it last fall,” Don says, “and I’m just waiting for some really good weather now to get it out and ride it again. I’ll be putting some Sunday-ride miles on it soon. It’s a really smooth rider, and it’s quieter than I remember because the old baffle in the muffler didn’t last long the first time around. It’s got a new one in it now.”

Slow and steady

Honda built the S65 for just four short years, from 1965 to 1969. By the end of that decade, the small-bore market had, if you’ll pardon the pun, shriveled, and 350cc bikes, once considered midsize machines, took over the lower-end of the spectrum.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever see another decade like the 1960s, when 50cc to 90cc motorcycles flooded the market, but Don has his small-bore memories. “Back in the 1960s, the bike never let me down mechanically. A passenger would sure slow you down, but you’d always get where you were going,” Don says. Don didn’t restore the S65 for show, but he hoped to ride it to the 2014 Rockerbox Moto Fest June 6-8 at Road America, near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, just 25 miles from his home. “I restored it for the memory, and to keep that memory alive. With a complete restoration, it’s like a brand-new old motorcycle, and it should be good for another 45 years.” MC

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