1965ish & 1966 Honda CB160s
“You meet the nicest people on a Honda” was the slogan that helped Honda take the U.S. motorcycle market by storm in the 1960s. Yet Hondas could nearly have sold themselves, thanks to unheard-of affordability, reliability, and performance that embarrassed bikes twice their size. The energetic CB160 is a prime example.
Light as a feather, the little 160 exemplified Honda founder Soichiro Honda’s approach to engine building: “with smaller pistons the reciprocating weight is thus reduced, the engine can be spun faster to produce more horsepower for its displacement, without coming unstuck.” This approach resonated with racers. An affordable, reliable bike that could be revved to the moon – what more could a go-fast guy want?!
In Portland and Seattle, 160s experienced a racing renaissance in the early 2000s. A group of local racers rustled 17 bikes from backyard sheds and basements, descended upon local vintage-friendly shop Vicious Cycle, and set about building a fleet of high-winding, low-budget race machines. The racing groups dubbed themselves The Flying Circus and Group W, then adopted the “We Build, We Fight” motto of the US Navy construction battalion, the Seebees.
The 160s here demonstrate the before & after transformation that occurs in Building Speed. The stock example is owned by Mike Fontanarosa, a local rider, racer and original member of the Flying Circus. Mike lovingly claims, “It is built from spare parts, spit, and tape.” It exudes a certain found-in-a-barn charm; a fun runabout or a racer waiting to be.
Scarcely looking like the same machine, the #1 racebike 160 has shed all its spare parts in pursuit of speed. Every bolt, spoke, and bearing has been scrutinized, building performance in baby-steps. Owned and raced by SFRC member Jon Munns, the bike and Jon are the current National Champions in the highly competitive 200GP class of the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association.