A Brief History of Honda Motorcycles
Soichiro Honda was born in Hamamatsu, Japan on the 17th November, 1906. His interest in things mechanical came from his father who was a blacksmith who also repaired bicycles.
Soichiro became an apprentice in an automotive garage in Tokyo.
In 1928, he returned to Hamamatsu and opened his own car repair shop. Soichiro was actively involved in motor car racing, having designed and built his own racing car.
In 1937 he formed a company to manufacture piston rings and became a key supplier to the Toyota Car Company.
The business was sold in 1946 and Soichiro turned his attention to the need for cheap transport just after World War II.
He acquired war-surplus two stroke motors and fitted them to bicycles.
In 1948, the Honda Motor Company was incorporated with Soichiro as the President. He was assisted by Takeo Fujisawa, who later became the company Vice President.
In 1949, the first Honda motorcycle was produced. The Model D “Dream” was powered by a 98cc two stroke engine.
Despite Honda producing the two stroke engined Dream, Soichiro wanted a motorcycle that was clean and quiet, and in 1951, the 146cc four stroke Dream E was introduced.
Honda also continued to produce two stroke engines, in particular, the 50cc Cub engine.
The 90cc four stroke Benly J was introduced in 1953. Some of these machines had a Benly badge on the fuel tank.
The Super Cub was introduced in 1958. It featured a single cylinder 50cc four stroke engine fitted to a step through design pressed steel frame with leading link forks.
Often simply called the “Honda 50”, it later grew to 70cc and 90cc.
In 1959, Honda entered the Isle of Man TT Races for the first time with five machines in the 125cc “Ultra-lightweight” class.
Naomi Tanaguchi achieved the team’s best result, finishing sixth.
Honda won the manufacturer’s trophy in the class.
Honda dominated both the 125cc and 250cc classes at the 1961 TT. They took the first five positions in each race with Mike Hailwood winning both races.
In 1963, Honda began to focus on Formula One car racing.
On two wheels, it was the two stroke motors that started to dominate the smaller capacity classes.
In the 250cc class in 1964, to compete with the two strokes from other manufacturers, Honda, wishing to use four stroke engines, introduced the four cylinder 250cc RC164 and the six cylinder 3RC164 (RC166), however it was not enough to prevent the championship being won by Phil Read on a Yamaha two stroke.
In 1966 and 1967, Mike Hailwood won the 250cc World Championship on the Honda Six RC166 and the 350cc World Championship on a 297cc version of the Honda Six, the RC174.
Honda’s experience with multi cylinder four strokes on the race track was very useful for the development of motorcycles for the road. They unveiled the four cylinder four stroke CB750 at the Tokyo Motor Show in late October 1968. This motorcycle made a huge impact on the motorcycling world. Indeed, it was a devastating blow to Kawasaki who were just about to launch a similar capacity four cylinder machine. Many people believe that it was the Honda CB750 that forced Kawasaki back to the drawing board resulting in the 903cc Z1 in late 1972.
In 1970, Honda entered four riders in the Daytona 200 on Honda CR750s.
One of the Honda riders was Dick Mann who won the race. The other three Hondas did not finish the race.
Honda were competing against the BSA and Triumph triples, as well as the XR750 Harley Davidsons, and despite three of the Hondas not finishing the race, Mann’s win was a huge victory for Honda in America.
The CR750 factory racers were built by Honda’s Racing Services Center and officially known as the “CB750 Racing Type.”
In 1973, Soichiro Honda retired as the company President but still remained on the Board. Takeo Fujisawa also retired from Honda in the same year.
A year later, the first Honda GoldWing, the GL1000, was introduced at the Cologne Motorcycle Show. It was the first Japanese production four stroke motorcycle to be water cooled. It also featured shaft drive.
The 1970s also saw the introduction of classic Hondas such as the CB350, 400, 500 and 550 Fours.
In 1978, in an effort to build a competitive four stroke motorcycle for the 500GP World Championship, Honda produced the oval pistoned NR500. It was effectively a four cylinder V8, with 8 connecting rods and 32 valves. It was hugely expensive, but not as successful as Honda had hoped.
Honda Gold Wing production moved from Japan to a new factory in Ohio in 1981.
In 1983, Freddie Spencer won the 500cc World Championship for Honda on a two stroke NS500.
In the mid 1980s, Honda introduced the V4 VFR750F with gear driven overhead camshafts. It was generally acknowledged as being the “best all-round road bike” for many years.
The smaller inline four cylinder CBR600F was also a fine motorcycle.
In 1987, the VFR750R, also known as the RC30, was introduced to the Japanese market. It was a genuine race bike for the street, selling for twice the price of a standard VFR750F.
The Honda company, along with many other people, mourned the death of Soichiro Honda when he died on the 5th August, 1991.
Since Soichiro’s death, Honda have continued to be at the forefront of technology with motorcycles such as the Honda Fireblade CBR900, which first stunned the motorcycle world in 1992.