| June 15, 2022
Cycle News Guest speaker
Full circle via Honda
By Ray Conway
American Honda was born (or, if you like, established) in June 1959. I was born in March 1960. Think about it for a moment – in my lifetime, Honda motorcycles have always been around. For the first nine years of my life, no human had walked on the moon. I went through all the cycles with Honda.
In 1967 my local Honda dealership was less than 10 minutes from Schwinn Sting-Ray from my house, I’m sure I took hundreds of dollars worth of brochures from the store shelves to stick on my bedroom walls . In 1970 I (okay, my dad) became a customer with purchases of an SL70 and in 1972 again with an SL100, then many other Hondas after that. From 1976 to 1986 I worked at local So Cal motorcycle shops, mostly Honda dealerships, and even worked 90 days at a Honda car dealership.
In December 1986, I went to work at American Honda in the Motorcycle Division (AHM). Twenty-eight years and four months later, I retired from the AHM. Thus, the loop is closed. Young fan, customer, dealership employee, Honda employee and now back to the “old” fan.
The Friday before the opening round of the 2022 AMA Outdoor MX Nationals at Fox Raceway in Pala, Calif., you may have heard that American Honda gathered the motorcycle press for the release of its 2023 CRF450 and to recognize the beginning of Honda’s adventure in motocross racing, celebrating Honda’s 50th year of involvement in American motocross. I was invited to attend this event as an official ‘old guy’ to help the company celebrate. Honda, of course, brought out the new CRF450R and CRF450RWE, and the surprise was the release of the CRF450R in the 50th Anniversary red-gold-blue livery inspired by the 1985-87 CRs. Honda also showed off many of their factory, aka Works, motocross bikes from the past, including Gary Jones’ CR250 Elsinore (which was Honda’s first national championship winning bike), the red RC125 championship bike firefighter Marty Smith and Jett Lawrence. 2021 CRF250R Championship. In support of these bikes, Honda also had the presence of several of its former racers and the entire 2022 factory team.
Honda’s goal at this press event was, beginning in 1973, 50 years of motocross motorcycles and 50 years of motocross racing in the United States. It is, of course, quite an accomplishment.
But 1973 was a pivotal year for Honda motorcycles in general. With the 1973 CR250M Elsinore, the XR75 was introduced, and with the 2023 XR650L still in Honda’s lineup, it’s 50 years of an XR motorcycle offered for sale in the US market. Additionally, in 1973 Honda released the XL350, a single-cylinder four-stroke enduro/off-road motorcycle (better known now as dual-sport motorcycles). It was a big motorcycle in the American market. Yamaha had to counter that bike with the TT500 two years later.
Thus, the loop is closed. Young fan, customer, dealership employee, Honda employee and now back to the “old” fan.
American Honda used the XL350 motor as the basis for a factory Open-class MX bike ridden by Buck Murphy and Rex Staten. Honda wouldn’t offer open-class motocross to the public until the 1981 CR450R.
Another anniversary for Honda in 2022 involves Johnny Campbell. The 11-time Baja champion has been associated with American Honda for 30 years. When you think about it, the XR model name and the XL350 motorcycle type were combined into the first “big” XRs in 1979 with the introduction of the XR500 single-cylinder four-stroke dirt bike, which really started many off-roaders. terrain and Baja racing success for Honda with the likes of Al Baker, Bruce Ogilvie, Chuck Miller and Campbell. And now the potent XR line has morphed into the CRF line, with Campbell having a foot in both eras, and now Mark Samuels’ Slam Life Racing (SLR) run continues with the CRF line.
It’s my memory of being 13 in 1973 – what an amazing time to be in motorcycles. I wonder what a 13 year old today will remember in 2073. Believe me, kids: it passes in the blink of an eye, so soak it all up.
In conclusion, this 50-year-old thing is not the exclusive territory of Honda. In 1974, Yamaha introduced the YZ label for its high-end motocross bikes, and Kawasaki adopted the KX label for its motocross bikes.
In 1975, Suzuki first used RM on their new 125 motocross bike (in 1976, all Suzuki MX bikes were called RM. Before the RM, Suzuki nicknamed MX bikes TM).
So hopefully we’ll see more gatherings of polished MX bikes and famous racers in the near future. NC