HONDA CL160/175

Steve Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide on these 60s/70s cool clas­sics.

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS -


When Honda ‘dis­cov­ered’ the street scram­bler look they em­braced it with open arms. It’s quite prob­a­ble that the chief ex­ec­u­tives back in Ja­pan strug­gled to com­pre­hend just how pop­u­lar the con­cept was and how quickly the Honda or­gan­i­sa­tion saw sub­stan­tial re­turns upon its mea­gre in­vest­ment. The recipe was fairly sim­ple – take a stan­dard road go­ing bike, fit a ‘Si­amesed’ ex­haust sys­tem made es­pe­cially for the job, pos­si­bly throw in a tank from a sim­i­lar model painted dif­fer­ently, some rub­ber fork gaiters, oc­ca­sion­ally add in a pair of rub­ber knee pads, mod­ify the front guard with ex­tra tub­ing, throw in some braced han­dle­bars and it was job done. Ev­ery­thing from pressed steel frame 50s through to hugely in­ap­pro­pri­ate 450cc par­al­lel twins re­ceived the same treat­ment. From 1967 through to 1974 Honda rode high on the sales of the CL range and it’s ar­guably only the in­tro­duc­tion of its own XL range that saw the CLS fi­nally axed. What needs to be grasped is that the CL genre wasn’t ac­tu­ally de­signed for the dirt; they just looked like they might be able to. In re­al­ity most were too ei­ther heavy (CL350/360/450) or too small and vul­ner­a­ble (CL50/70/90). Not of course that any of this pre­vented own­ers from blat­ting down fire-tracks on what were road bikes in drag. If there were any of the CL range that gen­uinely had more than an iota of off-road abil­ity it’d be the smaller twins. Any of the 125, 160, 175 or 200 mod­els had enough power to make rea­son­able progress al­lied to a rel­a­tively light mass that made the in­evitable off re­triev­able.

In cam­era this month we have what’s ar­guably near to the zenith of the Honda CL range in the guise of a CL160. Small enough to be man­age­able on a dry dirt track, but with enough power to make the ex­pe­ri­ence fun, here the con­cept of street scram­blers be­ing used off-road makes sense… but only just. What is to­tally and ut­terly not up for de­bate is the qual­ity of the bike. Honda had made its name with sub-350cc twins and had won crit­i­cal ac­claim with the smaller mo­tors. Prior to the likes of the CB92 et al small fourstroke twins had been just so much pie-in-the-sky for Mr Av­er­age and, to a large de­gree, out­side the scope of most rac­ing teams as well. By the time the CL160 was on sale in 1966 Honda had small twin-cylin­der en­gines to­tally sorted and by the end of the decade was look­ing at ways of mak­ing them cheaper sim­ply be­cause in most cases they were sig­nif­i­cantly over spec­i­fied and over en­gi­neered. Our spec­i­men is likely to raise the odd eye­brow given that its badges pro­claim 175 but be­fore ev­ery­one starts to write in know this – Honda were not averse to run­ning mix-and-match ma­chines when it suited them. En­gine and chas­sis are con­tem­po­rary and orig­i­nal; what we have here is the end of the CL160 and the be­gin­ning of its suc­ces­sor, the CL175. The two ma­chines were tech­ni­cally very sim­i­lar and pre­sum­ably Honda needed to get shot of the fi­nal 160 parts be­fore bring­ing in the ‘full’ 175. Ir­re­spec­tive of any of this, the bike it­self is lit­tle short of stun­ning to look at and by mor­ph­ing from CB to CL the small twin has some­how lost its slightly staid road ma­chine look for some­thing a lit­tle bit racier. In black as a CB160 the bike can come over as rather se­ri­ous, aus­tere even, and es­sen­tially som­bre. It looks a lit­tle sharper in red but when decked out in CL threads with that all im­por­tant high level ex­haust, a sil­ver tank that matches the sil­ver air box cum side panel (fit­ted to both mod­els) and a set of braced bars aes­thet­i­cally the lit­tle bike just comes alive. Phys­i­cally small, the CL160 would have been a starter bike for many an as­pi­rant teenage Amer­i­can: sen­si­ble enough not to put ma and pa off but with enough po­ten­tial to in­spire young­sters to want one. And if the kids thought they looked smart in sil­ver then they’d prob­a­bly have killed for the Candy Red or Blue ver­sions. Doubt­less most of the CL160S were rid­den into the ground both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively which makes a de­cent ex­am­ple now, five decades on, all the more special. And they’ve still not hit silly money yet. A few Amer­i­can mar­ket, Ja­panese built, street scram­blers have taken off as clas­sics but not the Honda CLS, which in our book at least is a good enough rea­son to grab one be­fore they too end up un­der the head­ing ‘in­vest­ment po­ten­tial’. With a will­ing and peppy mo­tor, a de­light­ful ex­haust note and drop-dead gor­geous looks it’s hard to see a rea­son not to buy one. Our thanks to Will Cory of Cory Mo­to­sport for al­low­ing us ac­cess to the CL160.

Clas­sic old clock-set from the Six­ties.

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