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