The largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the World, it’s fair to say that Honda are nowadays best known for their 4-stroke machines though Sochiro Honda’s earliest creations featured 2-stroke motors. Bikes such as the bicycle-derived A-Type of 1947, the revolutionary Dream D-Type of 1948 (Honda’s first ‘true’ motorcycle) plus the first Cub F-Type of 1952 featured 2-stroke power units. Though the company were to enjoy enormous success on both road and track with 4-stroke machines, and Sochiro Honda himself declaring in the late 1960’s that Honda would never produce them again, two strokes remained in the Honda catalogue into the 2000’s.
By the late 1960’s Honda had pulled out of racing but maintained a young and enthusiastic R&D team eager to prove their skills. Motorcycle racing both on and off road was becoming dominated by 2-stroke machines and following Suzuki’s victory in the 1970 MX World Championship, Honda developed a single cylinder 250cc motocross machine which by 1972 entered production as the CR250M (in north America the ‘Elsinore’). Immediately competitive, the CR250M remained in production until 2007 and saw 125 and 500cc derivatives which were equally successful. The Honda MT250 trail/enduro bike introduced in 1974 was directly influenced by the Elsinore (though shared few parts), and the MT125 trail bike version followed, offering more than passing nod to the CR125 which had quickly became a firm favourite in US motocross events.
On the road, Honda favoured 4-stroke power in most classes, small capacity bikes and scooters such as the FC50 Beat, the NC50 Express and the MB50 sports moped were great sellers, as was the off road styled MT50 moped. All of these are now becoming quite collectible and yet remain easily found due to their popularity when new. Popular in Europe and the Japanese home market of the late 1970’s and 1980’s, the 250cc road bike class was dominated by Yamaha and Suzuki but Honda’s 4 stroke CB250N Super Dream was no match for the RD250 or GT250 as far as performance was concerned. In 1986, Honda introduced the technically advanced NSR250R, powered by a 90-degree V-twin 2-stroke. Clearly influenced by the race only Honda RS250 production bike and its GP cousin, the NSR250, the NSR250R became even more sophisticated in its 90’s incarnations. Rare in Europe and the USA, good NSR250R’s are now very desirable among 2 stroke enthusiasts. The more commonly seen 125cc variant, the NSR125R is less sophisticated featuring a 125cc single cylinder motor but far more easily found, though really good examples are rare, many having succumbed to the rigours of Britain’s ‘learner legal’ 125cc market. The jewel like NSR50R was a home market only racer, popular among young GP hopefuls, but rarely seen overseas.
In 1983 Honda’s Freddie Spencer won the 500cc World Championship with the superb RS500, a reed valve inducted 90 degree V3 two stroke and inspired the NS400R road bike, a machine which is now highly collectible. 1992 saw the introduction of the legendary NSR500 V4, a bike which was to win 10 Grand Prix World Championships and remained dominant until the advent of the 4-stroke machines introduced to MotoGP in 2002. Honda’s ‘production’ racing machines, the RS250 and RS125 were highly competitive in their respective classes, scoring countless victories in everything from club racing to international road racing events, including the Isle of Man TT.