Honda 125 Hi-Boy

Sammy Miller

Classic Trial - - KIT MACHINE - Ar­ti­cle: Justyn Norek Snr and Jnr

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.

Michaud Fan­tic

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!

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