Honda 125 Hi-Boy
Here is a short account of the Sammy Miller Honda 125 Hi-Boy story from Justyn Norek Jnr. The Honda trials story started around 1974 when, following Honda marketing analysis, they made the decision to enter the market with a machine of their own. At that time the sport of motorcycle trials was dominated by air-cooled, single cylinder two-stroke machines. After the famous and well documented Sammy Miller and Bultaco revolution in 1965 the heavy and antiquated four-stroke machines which had dominated became all but redundant.
By 1974 the trials marketplace was dominated by two-stroke Spanish and Japanese machines as the land of the ‘Rising Sun’ came into play. Honda was very different though as they wanted to develop a four-stroke to challenge the twostroke dominance.
Who do we ask?
With Mick Andrews working with Yamaha, Gordon Farley with Suzuki and Don Smith with Kawasaki who could they ask to help them with the new development project? While Sammy Miller may have been tied into a contract with Bultaco, who could do a better job than the man who had killed the four strokes, that man Miller himself? Thus they proposed a contract to Miller, and he was so attracted by this new exciting challenge that after a few months of deliberations and tension he obtained a letter of release from his Bultaco contract from the main man Mr Bulto himself ! Both parties shook hands and parted on the best of terms.
Motorcycle trials, as a sport, was about to enter one of the most thrilling periods of its long history dating back to around the turn of the 19th century. The first task, when Miller joined Honda, was to improve their current TL 125 trials model ready for the lucrative US market while developing the real trials weapon with the TL 250 model. The TL 125 was already a success, selling itself as great fun and good clubman mount despite its limitations with the engine size. It also needed to lose some weight.
Sammy already had his own established company based off the back of the world-beating Bultaco, selling accessories and various components for trials models. He made the decision to propose a special lightweight frame for the Honda using his already tried and tested Hi-Boy frame. It had been used successfully on other models including the Bultaco. It increased ground clearance and was beautifully fabricated by British craftsmen with bronze welding using the world-famous Reynolds 531 tubing. It would achieve a weight saving of 11kg when compared with the standard Honda TL 125 production frame. In addition, this frame kit offered perfect geometry and weight distribution gained from the fruits of Sammy Miller’s lifelong trials experience.
Here we start the story of the Honda TL 125 Hi-Boy which led to the test. I was invited by my father’s good friend Stefano Bianchi, who is a dedicated collector of important trials motorcycles, to visit his home close to Milan. The purpose of the visit would be to hold a photo-shoot and have a test ride on an ex-Thierry Michaud Fantic 303 from his world championship winning years. We were more than happy to do this as we are always keen to try and test different motorcycles, not only trials but also enduro and motocross. We wanted to capture the pictures expressing the beauty of those machines.
After the photo session, we had a great lunch with some nice local wines, and Stefano had asked us if we wanted to see some more machines from his collection; some would be a little bit special, he explained. We keenly accepted, but I will not write here about what we have seen as we would fill up a whole magazine! Our eyes spotted a Hi-Boy Honda and also a Hi-Boy Bultaco. These two machines were on our ‘Bucket List’, and after some careful negotiations, both these machines found their way into our Renault Espace. At this point, I would like to say a huge ‘Thank You’ to Stefano Bianchi for both his time and hospitality.
It’s time to ride
The Rubiana Trials Park close to Turin, Italy, with its endless number of natural and man-made trials hazards was the place chosen to test the Honda. It's a training ground for the best trials riders of the Piedmont Region. It was Sunday, and quite a few guys were training there on modern machines, and I must say, when I unloaded my Honda from the trailer, it created general interest not only among parents but also teenagers and younger trials riders, much to my satisfaction. I put my Jitsie supplied riding kit on, and we were ready to go.
The four-stroke, single cylinder air-cooled machine fired into life with a very quiet and calm exhaust note. Riding the machine you soon understand that the balance and feel are very Bultaco despite the four-stroke engine. The suspension worked very well with the geometry of the frame, but as you can expect I was disappointed with the performance from both the front and rear brakes; give me disc brakes any day! Either going uphill or down you feel very in control with good machine feedback, and I cannot emphasise just how good the handling is. You can ride with a modern style or a more traditional one, it’s that good, highlighting the expertise in Sammy Miller not just as a rider but also as a development engineer. Even in very tight hazards the razor-sharp feel to the machine was very satisfying. It may feel like a short wheelbase, but the feedback was very neutral in how it handled.
The big drawback is the power of the 125cc engine. It is not a problem though as, if you look on the internet, you can pretty easily convert it from a 125cc up to a 200cc by all accounts.
With some spirited riding, the feedback gave me a confident feel, and the more I rode, the bigger the hazards became. I would imagine it’s exceptionally good at finding wheel grip in wet, muddy conditions. It's an ideal trials machine for younger riders that can grow on you, making it very much like a modern-day Triumph Tiger Cub!