classic honda shadow motorcycle

Honda Motorcycle History


What can you say about the biggest manufacturer of motorcycles world wide?

Probably nothing that hasn’t been said before.

Honda  was started in 1946 by Soichiro Honda after the second world war with the aim of producing cheap transportation for the masses. Today Honda has become the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.

Honda remains a top producer of very reliable motorcycles. A full range of models gives Honda the experience and know-how to match quality in every specialized field of motorcycles. The success of the CBs, Africa Twins, CBRs and VFRs, along with many others that will not soon be forgotten.

Honda Motorcycle History

Honda started by using old army engines but later developed their own 50cc engine. The first real Honda bike called the Model D (Dream) was produced in 1949, followed by model J Benly.

Honda started to make an international name for itself with the introduction of the CB models. Started by a CB72 (250cc) and the CB77 (305cc). The first series used the old press steel frames. Better road handling came with the introduction of the steel tubular frames in the CB92. The CB77 (super hawk) was an excellent, reliable motorcycle that outperformed many similar English models.

In 1958 Honda introduced the C100 Super Club motorcycle as a sports, leisure, easy going, convenient and reliable bike. The memorable marketing campaign at the time boasted, “you meet nice people on a Honda.” The campaign rocketed the C100 — a humble scooter styled motorcycle — to one of the best selling bikes of all time.

In 1965 Honda started building bigger engine bikes with the first model CB450. The black bomber / black hawk was an attack to the dominating English bikes in this area. Although the CB450 didn’t match the British motorcycles, the competition had begun.

One step up from the 450 was the introduction of the CB750 in 1969, beyond its class at the time. It was a smooth operating, mass-produced 4 cylinder bike with excellent handling. It dominated the market at the time and sold very well world wide. Honda didn’t upgrade the CB750 over the years, so despite is success it started to lose popularity towards the end of the 1970s.

Honda did change the model line of the CB750 to include smaller models like the CB500 (1971) and the CB400 (1975). Both bikes were very successful, primarily due to the weight reduction of the big brother CB750, which gave them a huge maneuverability advantage.

As the modern day cruiser the Honda Gold Wing was introduced in 1980 and has stayed in production ever since. You either like or hate the Wing but fact of the matter is that world wide no other model has such a high fan base. The full fairing Gold Wing was developed on the GL1000 Gold Wing of 1975.

Two years later in 1982 the new model Gold Wing was released, going by the name Aspencade. Improved luxury features including backrest, music system, adjustment computer, and much more. The GL1500 Gold Wing was launched in 1988 and was the most complex bike of its time, only to be surpassed by the GL1800 Gold Wing.

Honda developed a cool looking street bike called the CBX1000 in 1978. It was a pure big bike with a street look and chrome pipes. The looks, power, and even effortless drive didn’t make this model a success, so Honda adjusted it to a modest sports tour bike called the CBX-B.

Honda produced a series of specialized bikes for racing and engineering goals. A few examples being the CB1100R making a most powerful four cylinder unit yet. And the turbo charged CX500 – CX650 turbo. Or the NR500 a super expensive, beautifully designed superbike.

Starting in the 1980s Honda developed a series of V-four engines which setup the model line of Honda VFs ranging between 400cc and 1000cc. However, due to mechanical problems the VF line never really got going.

Much to the contrary the following VFR line, VFR 750R (RC30) in 1988 was an enormous hit right from the start. A sporty tour motorcycle, well balanced, reliable and well powered. The design of the VFR changed in 1990 with the VFR750L and again with the introduction of the VFR800FI. In 2002 the super popular VFR underwent a new radical design change making it even more sporty, but still keeping its tour character.

Launched in 1987 the middle ranged CBR600F is a long established success story in the middle range motorcycle sports class. The handling of the 600cc engine power and regular updates have been an ongoing success for Honda. The CBR600RR 2003 model has had a redesign which puts it closer to the racetrack roots than ever before.

The Fireblade (also a CBR model) was a new chapter for Honda and motorcycle fans worldwide. The introduction of the CBR900RR (893cc) in 1992 was a huge improvement from what was then out on the market. This came largely because of the engine capacity in a smaller light frame. The bike was redesigned a few times, but only regained its original success with the 2000 model fireblade CBR929RR (929cc). Two years later the power was increased once again to 954cc.

Not built for super handling – more as a straight lined rocket – the CBR1100XX Super Blackbird (1137cc) became the fastest production bike in 1996. The Blackbird was only popular as a long range high speed tour.