Vintage Motorcycle Racing with the Honda CB160

The perfect vintage racing bike

| September/October 2008

Roaming around the outside of the track, a muffled buzz growing louder and louder, I could swear a swarm of killer bees must be heading toward me. Then I remember; oh yeah, this is vintage motorcycle racing with the Honda CB160.

I had barely noticed them in the past, hiding far away from the bustling pits of modern road race bikes at the local Washington club races in the Pacific Northwest. The modern-day bikes and racers had taken main stage with their monster trailers, color-coordinated leathers and custom painted helmets, parading and prancing in front of the spectators. But around the corner, hidden under the trees on the dirt section of the pits was a little sideshow: the Honda CB160 racers.

Watching them reminded me of how, when I was a kid, my buddies and I would set wooden stakes in the dirt to make a racetrack. One person would throw their hand up in the air, and the race was on. I remembered what fun it was to race without the pressure or expectation of winning. It felt good, and it’s exactly what these riders get to feel every time they race.

In this case, the riders are a loose group of racers including Group W Racing from Washington and the Flying Circus from Oregon, who exist for no other reason than to just have some good clean vintage motorcycle racing fun.

Honda CB160 vintage motorcycle racing 
The Honda CB160 vintage motorcycle racing phenomenon started out more on a dare than a marketing plan. Back in the late 1980s, British Columbia racer Karl Rader got tired of listening to riders gripe about the high cost of racing. So to prove a point, Karl grabbed a 1960s Honda CB160, took off the lights, safety wired it and raced it in the 250 class, finishing mid-pack. The message was delivered: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to race or have fun.

In 1990, Tim Fowler was working a race when Karl and some other riders buzzed by him on their 160s. “That could be interesting,” Tim thought, so he got a broken CB160 from Karl and set about on his first racing career. “For a long time there were just two or three of us who would pit together,” Tim recalls. “It was like a big secret that we were getting away with something because we would get placed in the back row of a modern class or wherever there was a slot for us. If we were lucky there would be two vintage day races for us in Oregon and Washington and a few club races for our season. Then it just sort of caught on as the vintage guys got tired of blowing up and fixing their bikes. We gave the Oregon racers one bike in 2001 and they came back with nine race-ready CBs the next year. Joe Pethoud from Vicious Cycle in Portland took 22 junked CBs and made nine fast race bikes. Now we were having grids grow to 10, 12, 15 racers and then up to 30 bikes.”

2/19/2018 6:09:30 PM

As one of the early 160 riders I know from first hand experience that Tim was always free with advice. My first season when I actually showed up at the track with my bike, Tim said others said they would fix up a bike but never actually got around the track. Early track sessions were more about keeping the bike running and less about racing. In later seasons it was shoulder to shoulder, 4 across into turn 3 at Pacific Raceways. The one thing about 160 racers, if you break something, everyone is digging in their kit to find you spares. If you want to start racing, the 160 is the way to go. #187

7/7/2016 3:00:02 PM

Where is some good place to start looking to get into this ? I’m in Pittsburgh PA. I don’t know of a group around me but their very well may be one. Stephen

6/26/2016 4:44:35 PM

Great bit of history. I knew Tim back in the 80s and you will never find a more generous, not take himself too seriously, have fun guy. I am glad to hear the scene is still based on the attitudes of Tim and his friends. I will claim a bit of history here. In the late 80s, I was friends with Time and would hit him up for parts for my various Honda dream and superhawk projects. In gratitude, I gave him 4 160s in rough shape that I had picked up in some kind of trade. I think at the time he just took them for parts for anyone that might need them. But a year or two later, he let me know that he had used them for the basis of one or more racers. I feel proud that a bit of generosity on my part, that was in return for Tims always generous attitude with partshelp lay the foundtion for what seems to still be a very open and generous scene.

Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

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