Honda CL77: The Gentleman's Scrambler

Triumph may have defined the classic “desert sled,” but for a lot of American riders, the Honda CL77 was the better dirt bike.

| January/February 2011

Honda CL77
Years produced: 1965-1967
Claimed power: 27.4hp @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 85mph (est.)
Engine type: 305cc air-cooled SOHC parallel twin
Weight (dry): 319lb (145kg)
Price then: $707 (1967)
Price now: $2,500-$4,000
MPG: 40-60mpg (est.)

Don Johnson looked at the Honda CL77 in the back of the truck. He had driven a lot of miles to pick up the two-wheeler he had “won” on an online auction, and here it was, old and tired, and not at all as advertised.

Even though the auction photos didn’t show the actual color of the chassis, which was in reality the wrong shade of red, it still wasn’t the bike Don expected. The photos also didn’t reveal the useless wiring harness and the bodged repairs all over the bike, which was supposed to have been a more or less stock 1967 Honda CL77. “The threads on Honda mirrors are two sizes, 8mm and 10mm. Someone took a grinder to the threads on the mirrors of this bike so they could jam them in the holes, wrecking both the mirrors and the holes they screw into. That’s just one example of what this bike was like,” Don says.

Looking closer, Don was within an inch of tearing up his cashiers check and going home. But nostalgia is a powerful thing, and the mistreated little critter in the truck looked too much like the bike he had owned many years ago when he was stationed with the Army on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. He took the Honda CL77, knowing he was in for a whole lot more work than he had anticipated.

Getting to the CL77

It was during World War II that American riders really became familiar with British motorcycles. This was also when American riders started getting introduced to British offroad competition events such as trials and scrambles, the ancestor of today’s motocross. As offroad riding surged in popularity in the U.S., trials and scrambles joined enduro and desert racing as popular weekend motorcycling activities for riders here.

But competitive motorcycles for these forms of competition weren’t available from the dealer showroom floor. Early on, American enthusiasts competed mostly on heavily modified but still heavyweight V-twins. British singles — which also needed a lot of work to be competitive —  became available later, but prior to the first Honda imports in 1959, any small, lightweight motorcycle available to the average American was typically low tech and gutless.

Geo. Duncan
1/10/2011 12:46:32 PM

I always attributed whatever success I had to the superiority of Honda's design...not to my skill. As you can see in the picture, I had fabricated a version of "TT-pipes" for the exhaust system. I also had a very large rear sprocket, which gave an aggressive gearing ratio. This translated to a lot of revs, and a fearsome sound compared to other bikes on the track. I always thought this was quite a psychological advantage (Ha!). You may know that a company known as "Webco" had quite a few aftermarket Honda speed parts in those days. One of those options was a 350cc big-bore kit for the Honda 305 engine, as I recall, it increased the bore from 60mm up to 64mm (the stroke stayed the same at 54mm). As a hedge against the 500s and 650s that I had to run against, I tried one of these 350 kits for a helped some, but it was not very reliable. I actually had more success by converting the firing pattern of the twin cylinder Honda engine into what was known as a "twingle" (a twin cylinder engine that fired both cylinders at once, like a large single cylinder engine). This could be done by substituting a 360-degree crank out of a CA77 Honda, for the 180-degree crank in the CL77, and making the necessary changes in the cam lobes, to get both cylinders to fire at the same time. With the engine in this twingle configuration, top speed and total horsepower suffered...but low-end torque was amazing. This helped quite a bit on tight tracks, with the Triumphs and BSAs spinning

Geo. Duncan
1/10/2011 12:35:37 PM

My CL77 Days Thanks for the email and your interest in this slice of Honda history. The picture in question was taken in 1967, at a scrambles track in Mexico, I recall, I got a 3rd place finish in that race. No, there were no 2-strokes in the race that day...or really in that type of racing in that era. The Yamaha DT-1 (a 2-stroke 250cc) was just about to be released, and was not yet the force in our sport that it would later become. At some tracks, riders were trying to ride converted Yamaha YDS-2 street bikes (a 250cc 2-stroke twin) in scrambles races...but not with any real success. I had a friend who actually tried to ride a Yamaha TD1-B Road Racer (basically a hopped-up version of a YDS-2) in scrambles races. It was extremely fast when it was running right, but he had a lot of trouble getting it to stay in peak tune. The bike I was on was a 1966 CL77 Scrambler...a 305cc twin (as you probably know, it also came in a 250cc version, called the CL72). Since the displacement classes in scrambles racing were: 100cc; 175cc; 250cc and "Open" (anything over 250cc) I was forced to run my 305 against 500cc and 650cc Triumphs and BSAs. I was never really that good at scrambles racing, but I could usually place around 3rd to 5th in a starting grid of 10-15 bikes...which I always thought was pretty good, considering the displacement disadvantage that I was up against. (I did get a first place in one race that summer, I believe it was at a scrambles track in Odessa

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