Guy Webster's Honda CB160 Racer

The flying twin

| September/October 2008

Honda CB160 stock specs
Years made:
Claimed power: 16.5hp @ 10,000rpm
Top speed: 68mph
Engine: 161cc OHC parallel twin
Weight (wet): 294lb
MPG: 75mpg
Price then: $530 (1965)
Price now: $1,500 - $3,000 

The tiny racer appears, sliding around the corner, with a baritone growl streaming from the twin exhausts on the Honda CB160 racer. There is a glimpse of black and silver, but in a blink, motorcycle and rider are rounding the next turn. The exhaust note lingers for a minute, and then disappears, chasing after the bike.

This small racer is homage to the first Honda race bikes. In 1959, the same year that Honda started exporting motorcycles to the United States, a factory team campaigning twin-cylinder 125cc racers appeared at the Isle of Man TT, then one of the most prestigious races in the world. None of Honda’s four entries placed, but the team won the Team Prize for reliability, learned as much as possible and took notes. Within two years, Honda was a serious threat in Grand Prix racing.

By this time, Honda had become one of the largest motorcycle companies in the world, selling small two-wheelers across Asia. From this secure base, company executives decided to mount an international race effort as a means to prove the quality of the Honda product and obtain good publicity in the U.S. and Europe, where they desired to expand.

Honda approached its racing effort the same way it approached developing new markets or designing new motorcycles. A company group was formed to learn as much as they could about the opportunities and pitfalls of the new project. Armed with this knowledge, the team looked for a technologically innovative way to approach its goal.

Honda’s factory race effort showcased advanced and intricate small-capacity machinery, including dual-overhead cam 50cc twins and a 5-cylinder 125. The company also developed production racers, most notably the 125cc CR93 twin. Some of this technology trickled down to the street machines. In July 1964, Honda introduced the CB160, a 161cc overhead cam parallel twin, to the American market.

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