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Flog ‘Em If You Got ‘Em: Jeff Thompson’s 1968 Honda CB160

Photo by Grant Robinson

Since this magazine’s inception, its motto has been Ride ’Em, Don’t Hide ’Em. It’s right there, over the Motorcycle Classics title on the cover of every issue. 

Jeff Thompson of British Columbia, Canada, subscribes to that theory, as the machines in his collection get routine use. But, in the case of his 1968 Honda CB160 seen here, that motto could be changed to Flog ’Em, Don’t Hide ’Em.

While he’ll ride the CB160 on the winding roads around his Kelowna property, it’s a bike he enjoys using annually at the Rocky Mountain MotoGiro. Designed for motorcycles 1969 and older and 250cc and less, this MotoGiro consists of a 186-mile endurance ride and a timed 6.8-mile hill climb. According to Thompson, “The MotoGiro is a real test for machines, and for my CB160 that means continuous all-day operation at between 8,000rpm and redline at 10,000rpm.

“It never complains, and I really think the 160cc engine platform is one of Honda’s best.”

CB160 history

Essentially growing out of Honda’s 1959 CB92 Benly with its parallel-twin cylinder 125cc powerplant, the CB160 was released in July of 1964 as a 1965 model. While the Benly featured a pressed steel frame with pressed steel swingarm and leading-link forks, the CB160 was updated with a steel-tube frame and swingarm and conventional telescopic forks. With styling and chassis design very similar to the 305cc CB77 Super Hawk, the CB160 was every schoolboys’ dream — well, at least it was where Jeff spent his formative years.

Although ridden at redline for many of the miles added, the CB160 engine remains oil-tight and reliable. Photo by Grant Robinson 

“I grew up in a small farming town in western Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” he explains. “At that time, a 14-year old could legally acquire a motorcycle license — the only caveat was the engine size could not exceed 100cc. “For a 14-year-old to have his own transportation truly opened the barn door to freedom and independence. For farm kids this meant no more being stuck home on a Friday night. It was also the period of time that marked the start of the great motorcycle boom,” Jeff says.

 He continues, “As a result, our sleepy little town was motorcycle crazy. On any given spring or fall day the curb across the street from our junior and senior high school would boast an impressive and varied lineup of bikes of all sizes and makes. Honda Cubs and S90s, Honda Dreams, and Super Hawks. Yamaha Twin Jets and various Suzuki and Kawasaki 2-stroke twins. Even the odd big British twin.”

Moving on up

By the time local kids turned 16, they often moved up to either a bigger bike or bought a car. That meant a robust trade in used small-bore motorcycles, and, as Jeff says, if you behaved yourself the local police were fairly lenient about upholding the 100cc size restriction for 14-year-old riders. Most kids, then, bought and rode whatever they could afford.

“One hundred and fifty dollars could buy you a pretty good bike,” Jeff continues. “Everyone, including me, was obsessed with moving up the cubic-centimeter ladder. If you had a Honda 50 Cub you wanted an S90 or a Yamaha Twin Jet. If you had a Honda Benly 125 you wanted a 250 or 300. If you rode a Honda Trail 90 you were just embarrassed, but it was not uncommon for someone to own and ride several different bikes in a single season.”

Photo by Grant Robinson

One of Jeff’s schoolmates had an older brother who rode a red Honda CB160. They both were very interested in the machine that he says had the look and sound of a big bike, with the performance to back it up. “That bike’s muffler ends had succumbed to rust and were now, to us, de facto open megaphones,” he explains. “Not only did it have the ‘sound,’ but with the right conditions and enough road a CB160 could propel your spindly adolescent frame down the highway at a genuine 75mph. As a bonus it had enough power and physical size to carry a teenage girl as a passenger. Who could ask for more?”

Photo by Grant Robinson 

While Jeff notes he never owned that particular CB160, it was bought and ridden by a succession of friends before it was finally crashed beyond repair. During all that abuse, though, the Honda 160 performed without complaint — proof positive, Jeff says, of Honda’s engineering prowess. “Treat a Triumph Tiger Cub like that and it would soon be salvage,” he says.

Built strong

During the CB160’s five-year production run that ended in 1969, Honda also marketed in 1966 the street-scrambler CL160, followed by the CL160D from 1967 to 1968. Each model was powered by the exact same engine, with the only significant differences being the ancillary components fitted to the CL, including taller handlebars, folding footpegs, a high-rise exhaust, skid plate, rubber fork gaiters and a larger 40-tooth rear sprocket (the CB had a 38-tooth chain ring).

During a test of both the CB160 and CL160 published in the May 1967 issue of Cycle magazine, the editors said the machines were repeatedly launched down New York National Raceway’s quarter mile.

Photo by Grant Robinson 

Of that particular abuse, they wrote, “The powerplants that suffered all this thrashing are little jewels that put out a claimed 16.5hp at 10,000rpm. These figures look realistic enough in light of the performance recorded [top speeds in the 70s, they noted]. General design and construction of these units are typically Honda. The valves are actuated by a chain-driven overhead cam and the twin-piston crankshaft turns in four main bearings, three roller and one ball. Utilizing a 360-degree crank, the pistons move up and down simultaneously, but fire alternately.”

The CB160 was fitted with an electric starter while the first year CL160 was kick-only (CL160Ds have the electric starter). Bore and stroke was 50mm by 41mm to give a displacement of 161cc with an 8.5:1 compression ratio. A wet-multi-plate clutch, with its housing geared to the crankshaft, took the final drive by chain to the rear wheel.

“Repeated acceleration runs warmed this clutch up nicely and it began to drag a bit, but there was no evidence of slipping,” Cycle magazine testers wrote. “The transmission’s four ratios are all well-spaced to use the engine’s power characteristics and shifting is light, quick and smooth except when that clutch gets overheated.”

In summing up their experience with the 160s, Cycle editors found the machines to be very capable performers. “They are definitely not the gutless wonder so common of ‘utility’ transportation. The Honda 160s are almost faultlessly smooth in operation; quiet, vibration free, with even braking and fine handling. Yet, in the hands of a good rider, they will perform with zest, corner briskly and cruise comfortably at 65mph.”

Finding a CB160

With schoolboy memories of that red Honda CB160 in mind, Jeff didn’t find his own example until 1982. Bought for just $125, the 1968 CB160 he located in the small town of Millet, Alberta, was, he says, in better than average condition. But at the time, he had other irons in the fire and the CB160 was tucked into the back of the storage shed for more than a decade before a friend announced he was about to begin restoring a red Honda Benly.

CB160s were available in four different colors; scarlet red, black, white and blue. On all but the white bikes, the gas tank, frame, chainguard, forks and shocks were the main color, with silver fenders and side covers. The white machines were all white, including fenders and side covers.

Photo by Grant Robinson

“We thought, as they were both the same color red, that we could economize on paint work by restoring both at the same time,” Jeff says.

The CB160 was taken down to the crank and, as Jeff expected, in spite of dubious servicing over its prior life the bottom end proved fine. The cylinders were bored first oversize and fitted with new Honda factory pistons and rings. Valve guides were within specification, so the cylinder head received new valves and their seats ground to suit. A new cam chain was also installed by Jeff, who did all mechanical chores except for boring the cylinders.

Photo by Grant Robinson

On the chassis, everything was treated to fresh chrome, paint and new rubber. Anything broken or damaged was either fixed or replaced, and Jeff says he was lucky enough to acquire a complete genuine Honda exhaust system — the baffles, however, are not in the mufflers and are sitting in a box in his garage. All of this work was performed before the days of the internet and eBay parts sales, so Jeff spent hours on the phone contacting Honda dealers to find the NOS pieces that he needed. However, “A couple of things on the bike are currently incorrect,” he says. “I couldn’t locate the correct low-rise handlebar and the one currently fitted is the right height, but they are too wide at the first bend. The speedometer is from a later CB175. It’s the same unit but the 175 version is marked as having a 5-speed transmission. Nobody notices it unless I point it out.”

On the road

Once back together, the CB160 started without drama. As noted, the bike sees regular use, and Jeff says, “To really ‘ride’ a 160 you don’t spare the rpm. Of the approximately 1,100 miles that I have ridden the bike since its restoration the vast majority, probably 900 miles, have been on the MotoGiro. When I run it there, I install a Scitsu battery operated tach to make sure I stay ‘on the cam,’ between 8,000 and 10,000rpm. For the hill climb portion, the majority of the time the transmission is left in third gear. It’s all about maintaining momentum. If you never slow down, you never have to speed up.

Photo by Grant Robinson

 “It’s competitive against the larger Italian bikes and it has never failed to complete the event. It starts on the button, never uses oil and just gets the job done,” and Jeff concludes, “That’s why a Honda CB160 will always have a space in my garage.” MC


The Giro lives on 

The Rocky Mountain MotoGiro pays homage to the Motogiro d’Italia, an event that began in Italy in 1914 and reached its peak of popularity in the mid-1950s before it was halted in 1957 due to safety concerns. There are now several Motogiro-style events around the world that highlight the use of small-bore vintage machines, but current Rocky Mountain MotoGiro organizer Jim Kelsall says this western Canadian example offers some of the best motorcycling roads available — just about anywhere. “These are interesting roads with many twists and turns, interesting elevation changes and simply drop-dead gorgeous scenery,” Jim explains.

Photo by Grant Robinson 

Working closely with the Village of Nakusp in western British Columbia, the Rocky Mountain MotoGiro is hosted by the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group’s Rocky Mountain Section. The event can loosely trace its roots back to 2007 when Nick Jordan, an enthusiastic small-bore motorcycle enthusiast, set up the first event that he simply called MotoGiro B.C. Over the years, others have assumed a leadership role — including John Flynn and Dave Marshall — to help the event evolve and thrive.

However, COVID-19 put the brakes on the 2020 iteration. Hopes are it will return for 2021 in its three-day format. The Rocky Mountain MotoGiro starts with a meet and greet on Friday followed by a 186-mile (300-kilometer) reliability run on Saturday. It’s a loop consisting of two legs, and in order to participate in the 11-kilometer (6.8-mile) timed hill climb up the closed Nakusp Hot Springs road on Sunday, at least one leg of the Saturday event has to have been completed and the same bike used for both the endurance run and the hill climb. Current regulations allow for 1969 and older, 250cc and smaller motorcycles. “The Village of Nakusp have been wonderful hosts,” Jim says, and adds, “we just love going out there and riding smaller, vintage machines.”

For more info, visit Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group The Rocky Mountain Section

Published on Feb 3, 2021
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