Is it a flat-tracker? A soft-roader? There’s one thing for sure: it’s certainly not a BSA 250, as Neil Hay explains…
Is it a flat-tracker? A soft-roader? It’s certainly a nifty single. Think CB250RS with an extra gear ratio and extended suspension, as the owner explains…
Enlivened by Frank’s comment that he thought Rowena’s BSA B25SS was a good-looking little bike, I just had to put paw to keypad. It may well be a decent bike to ride, but to me it looks like a load of disparate parts thrown together in desperation. I mean, that dangling throttle cable – really? – and the blobby tank which looks like the front right corner underneath has been bent up to miss the aluminium… thing… is that the famous electrical box? Wow. RealUgly. At least that fuel tank has been replaced now by something a bit better-looking.
So what is my response? The Honda CL250SC, which belongs to my own other half! We think it is a neat little bike of the same sort of street scrambler-ish genre, tidy and integrated in the way the Beeza just isn’t to my eye. Your opinion may differ. I’ll just get that dagger of Rowena’s out of my back and then I’ll begin.
The tale really starts just before we were married, back in the mists of time, or 1983 as it is known to some. Honda’s range at that time was full of V4s of dubious reliability and bright red trail bikes of every size. Technology of the time was to the fore; lots of cams, valves, monoshocks, inboard brakes, clever camchain tensioners (no, forget that one), and all sorts of clever whizziness. Tucked into the range, unseen by most, was a 1960/70s style bike that looked totally at odds to the rest; all chrome and spaghetti exhausts and pastel shades – so of course nobody bought one. Honda clicked this after a while, discounted them out (mostly to DRs) and they got run into the ground and discarded. Except two. And a half.
Mrs H, Debs to her friends, saw a cream CL250 in a dealership in Newcastle, and muchly admired it. I was distinctly unimpressed, preferring the bright red monoshock XL trailies that abounded. Indeed I bought one, and it was quite good. Later I swapped it for an FT500 that… wasn’t, really. Not long afterwards we married, and Debs still wanted the odd little bike. There was only a blue one available, the money-back deal was still on, so it became her wedding present from me. I was still unimpressed. I got the FT500, having forgotten how the starter motor exploded on my first one a couple of years previously, and quickly px’d it for a Beemer of all things, an R80ST, which was actually really nice and a lot of fun – no, really. I wish I still had that one.
A few years later, Debs was still hugely attached to the little blue bike but didn’t want to ride it in all weathers and ruin it, so we started to look for another as a winter hack for her. The Cosmic Supply Company ensured a white one appeared not long afterwards, so we spoke to the owner in Henley-upon-Posh-Thames to see what the score was. The asking price was as much as we had paid for the blue one, so the conversation started with a reality check on what he would take for it.
Surprisingly he immediately agreed a much lower price when I explained that we already had one CL – he wanted a good home for it, having loaned it to his son for a day who scratched and dented the tank – which somewhat annoyed him. He had moved on to a Morini Kanguro and wanted
the little Honda to have a comfortable life with a caring owner.
One long ride later from Tyneside to see it, the deal was done, and its first owner sent it a Chrissy card every year until he recently passed away, 30 years later. A really nice chap. So there we were, a two CL family. The blue one took up residence upstairs on the landing (big old terraced house!) and the white one got used, in among our other bikes.
Are they any good then? Well, it depends what you expect. They are a close relative to the superb CB250RS, using the later six-speed engine with 12V electrics and a quartz-halogen headlight – eat your heart out Beeza owners – and a worryingly familiar electric start, which can mostly cope with the 250cc engine, unlike the one on the aforementioned FT500. The box is arranged oddly, with a ‘super low’ gear, so two down and four up with the super-low guarded by a lock which is released by a little lever on the clutch side. The state of tune is lower than the RS, basically in XL250S spec, 21bhp not the 26 of the RS. A rather nicely decorative, chrome 2-into-1 high level pipe extends from the twin-port head to a silencer that FW would like but we didn’t – far too quiet.
The suspension is long travel and soft, but quite well damped, the forks in particular having a nice action. Braking is, erm, modest, with an sls drum up front looking like it was lifted from a CD175. The similar drum at the back is rather more effective and the bike stops OK, but not tyre-squealingly well. Still, it would be a revelation after Rowena’s mini-Gold Star conical hub, no doubt, twin leader or not… <cough>
Fast forward, well, brisklyish through thirty years, add in a move to the Isle of Man, and winning the odd gong for best 250 at the Laxey Honda Owners’ Club meeting over the years with the blue one, and we still have them both. They do share space with another pair of Honda 250s, a 1970s XL250K3 and a modern CRF250M, plus a different BMW 800, a monolever roadster. Wish I still had the ST though. We get a little bored of experts (‘ex’ meaning used to be, and a spurt is a drip under pressure) reliably informing us that the Hondas are grey imports and other rubbish which is plainly incorrect, but they are both used regularly throughout the long riding season here despite their rarity.
Somewhere along the line, a drunken eBay purchase of another tatty bike for spares happened, mainly because it had a mint original silencer, which had become unavailable from Honda. This also came with a spare engine and the best part of another bike in bits, so we are well set for parts for a while, probably to the end of our riding days.
So wattlitdo mister? 75mph easily, maybe 80 on a good day, but they will happily cruise at 65, OK for a 250 single really – ask a C11 owner. Up to 90mpg is also easily available in general use which is pretty impressive, with once 103mpg achieved on a steady 50mph run with
another bike that was running in. Living where we do you soon get bored of belting around the TT course, but thankfully the Island is full of more interesting back lanes on which these little bikes really come into their own. Soft suspension and gentle power delivery make for a pleasant ride. We have actually now sold all but one of our larger bikes as these 250s get used more.
Oh, I seem to have missed out the bit where these little bikes wormed their way into my heart too. Rides out now often consist of the pair of these little Hondas more than our other bikes. As they are now 34 years old they are VMCC eligible so get out on the odd club run too. I even rode the blue one on a VMCC ‘test’ (ahem) day at Jurby track, where it ran with a Velo 350 and an Enfield 500 quite happily, although using a lot more revs!
The CLs always get greatly admired at TT and MGP (or whatever we’re supposed to call it now) and sometimes cause a laugh when folk see the registration numbers – they are almost, but not quite the same. A quick look causes a double take, especially as one has a prefix that isn’t available in the UK. Manx registrations are more flexible! Black plates are also legal for bikes of this age here, which I always feel gives a nice look to an older bike.
So Honda pre-empted the current hipster craze for street scramblers 34 years too early, for that is what these little bikes are. Yes, I have a beard, but it’s not a long one and I don’t wear checky shirts! We have ridden trails on them – soft ones mostly, but we have done Dalby Slabs when we were younger, which in retrospect was a mistake – but really they are soft-roaders, like a two-wheeled Chelsea tractor, I suppose. They both have road orientated tyres fitted nowadays, which reflects their current use, and they are a lot of fun. You really don’t need huge cubes to have a hoot, and given the seeming 55mph cruising speed of classic bikes oft mentioned, these are usually ridden faster than that anyway, so why would you need a 500/750/fatwing?
So what goes wrong? Not a lot. Oh that bloody starter, for sure. At least it didn’t expire in the tooth-shredding way the FT500 did, but they need constant maintenance to ensure they engage. It is an odd combination for a bike, quite carlike, with an engagement solenoid and a Bendix. They don’t always engage. Then after some time they seldom engage, as the hold-in pawl wears and the Bendix is thrown out of engagement as soon as the piston passes over TDC, but without firing.
The starter on the white one was always worse. The parts aren’t available now so I have handmade some parts which are a qualified success, so subsequently I rebuilt the engine with a kick starter. The crankcases have all the necessary holes already machined with plastic bungs in them, but the mechanism is obviously the first thing fitted when building the engines – you have to strip the entire thing to do it. XL250S parts fit, although I had to relocate the right hand footpeg, so they are slightly offset like a Beemer.
Both bikes also have a small oil leak – yes, on a Honda – on the cylinder head stud that the oil feed comes up. I put it down to character. The white bike is now well into the 30k mileage bracket, and other than an appetite for chains as there is no cush drive, it poses no problems for regular use, indeed Debs uses it for her work commute in the summer. One great improvement has been the fitment of modern, high-technology sealed batteries, which have made the electric starters work much better. It’s not a big battery so the increased power available really has made
a difference. Thank you, Wemoto.
The silencers had become unavailable from Honda, although we do have the one good one from the eBay bike which was used as a pattern. Each bike had gone through two over the years, and the front pipes on the white bike were also looking a bit tatty. A discussion with Alldens Exhausts in Lincolnshire produced a stainless steel replica of very high quality for both bikes and eventually (they’re good, but take their time… and then some) front pipes too. They’re perfect to be honest, indistinguishable from the original other than a certain lack of baffling which was as requested. The originals had a pathetic sound, more like a sparrow farting than a motorbike, so now they have a bark in their voices. Not too loud, but they let out a RealSingle sound. No MoT here, of course! We will use these little bikes to the end of our riding days, as the heavier bikes fall by the wayside for us. They seldom leave us unsatisfied, for the sort of riding we do now, and we would never sell them. Their rarity is a plus point for us too, we do get into many interesting conversations as a result. We do see another one occasionally visit the Island for TT or MGP, and a young feller at the local filling station insists his pal has one, but we are yet to see it for real. It will likely to be a CL350K Twin import, there are more of those around!
So, is the CL really a more modern version of Rowena’s mini Gold Star? In many ways yes, as a soft-roader single of 250cc. I am sure the BSA will have more low down power as a longer stroke engine, but the higher end performance will probably go to the Honda. Handling will be a draw, and we won’t talk about brakes other than to say they both have them. The usual Japanese refinements abound of course, which I accept not everyone who reads this magazine sees as a good thing.
But the CL250s are characterful little bikes and very tidy looking… which is where we came in, I think!
If you come to the Island and see us about, please stop for a chat. We don’t bite, and will even talk to Gold Star 250 owners. It’s all in jest, we love bikes in all shapes and forms really.
Handsome devils, these Hondas. Simple, too, which adds to the appeal
Life on the Isle of Man, where even the registrations are entertaining
There’s nothing particularly terrifying about the engine. A close relative of the CB250RS, just a little less tuned
Also available in blue, as seen here. Which will be faster? The blue one or the white one?
Every couple needs a couple…
Perfect wheels in a perfect location
A view from the left confirms that there’s nothing scary here, either. Although the gearbox does contain some rare ratios, they are invisible
Even better than a BSA B25SS, claims Neil Hay. Hmmm…
Life on The Island – more to it than racing, we’re told
Big speedo, smaller tacho … bear optional