Reflecting on the past with the Honda CL72: A Time When the World Made More Sense
Reflecting on the past with the Honda CL72: A Time When the World Made More Sense
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Perhaps it's just a natural part of aging, but as I observe the peculiarities of the world we currently inhabit, I find myself yearning for the days when everything seemed so much simpler. Back then, motorcycles were uncomplicated, and riders embraced a "ride what you bring" mentality. In today's era of specialization, where there seems to be a bike tailored for every possible purpose, it's refreshing to reminisce about how we rode six decades ago. This era of specialization has been fueled, in part, by rampant consumerism and the easy availability of credit, leading individuals and nations into a labyrinth of almost incomprehensible debt.


In the early 1960s America, things were undeniably different. It was a decade marked by change, with the Civil Rights movement finding its voice, the post-World War II Baby Boomers spreading a message of peace, love, and rock 'n roll, and iconic figures like the Beatles, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix shaping the cultural landscape. American psychologist Timothy Leary was advocating the use of mind-altering substances like LSD to an increasingly anti-establishment youth audience. It was also the inaugural year for a motorcycle force that would forever alter the American biking scene: American Honda.


In hindsight, it was perhaps the perfect time for Japan to introduce motorcycles to the market. The post-World War II anti-Japanese sentiments had subsided, and American society was open to trying out new offerings. The burning question on potential buyers' minds was the reliability and durability of these Hondas, which some unkindly dubbed "Jap Scrap." American Honda hatched a daring and seemingly far-fetched plan: send two Honda CL72 Scramblers on a grueling 1,000-mile journey from Tijuana to La Paz along the Baja Peninsula, testing their mettle in the harshest conditions.

Bud and Dave Ekins would go on to become legends in the world of motorcycling, but at the time, they were still early in their careers. Although Bud was a Triumph dealer and factory racer, making it a bit tricky for him to endorse a newcomer brand, Dave had no such reservations. So, they recruited another desert racer, Bill Robinson Jr. (the son of the owner of Hollywood Honda), who eagerly accepted the opportunity.


Now, let's delve into the motorcycles themselves. The Honda CL72 Scrambler, by today's standards, was essentially a road bike with twin exhausts jutting out on the left side of the bike, featuring "snufflers" – butterfly valves near the pipe ends that could be opened for full power or closed to muffle the throaty roar of the twin-cylinder, twin-carburetor, 180-degree crank, 247cc engine. This engine churned out a robust 24 hp at 9,000 rpm. It's worth noting that a modern Honda CRF250 L produces 23 hp and is only 8 kilograms lighter than its 1962 predecessor. The bike rolled on 19-inch wheels both front and rear, weighing in at a mere 155 kg when fully fueled with its 10.75-liter tank. Another nod to off-road capability was the high and wide cross-braced handlebars, making it a quintessential '60s-style scrambler.


It became evident quite quickly that their initial goal of completing the journey in 30 hours was overly optimistic, particularly when a thick bank of fog rolled over the desert on the second night, rendering celestial navigation impossible. Consequently, they adjusted their objective to finish within 40 hours. At a certain point, their alarm bells rang as they discovered they were unknowingly tracing the same tracks they had left behind. They had unintentionally circled back to their starting point. Remarkably, Dave's bike was still running as smoothly as... well, a Honda. After 39 hours and 52 minutes of relentless riding, he arrived in La Paz. Bill, on the other hand, arrived a few hours later, nursing his one-cylinder CL72. This epic journey marked one of the earliest and most incredible chapters in the annals of adventure motorcycling.

Did Honda's marketing gambit pay off? Absolutely! The CL72 evolved into the CL77, boasting a larger 305cc engine. Between 1962 and 1968, Honda successfully sold nearly 90,000 of these remarkable and rugged motorcycles. They not only competed against but often outperformed 650cc Triumphs and other rivals in hare scrambles, enduros, and flat-track races across America.

12930764f9a87d2ee58.pngShould you ever find yourself in downtown Los Angeles, make a point to visit the Petersen Automotive Museum. They currently host an exhibition titled "Braving Baja – 1000 Miles to Glory," where you can delve into the captivating narrative and view one of Dave Ekins' racing CL72 Hondas on prominent display. In South Africa, we were fortunate to embrace the later Honda SL 350, a machine that carried Barry Broady to a triumphant victory in the Roof of Africa race. It's essential to always remember that, regardless of the particular facet of motorcycling we engage in, we inevitably owe a debt of gratitude to the trailblazers who shaped our lifestyle by achieving remarkable feats astride extraordinary motorcycles.

#CL72 #Classic #Honda #Scrambler #HondaCL

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