HONDA CL250

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…

Real Classic - - Contents -

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.

Photos by Debs and Neil Hay

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

Comments

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.