The Bike That Beat Baja

In 1962, a high-pipe scrambler was a legit dirt bike

Honda's CL72Cycle World archives

Today scramblers are mostly a retro-styling exercise for street machines, but in 1962, a high-pipe scrambler was a legit dirt bike. Honda's CL72 was one of the first factory scramblers available. Powered by a 247cc four-stroke parallel twin with a single overhead cam and twin carbs, these early engines are instantly recognizable by their squared-off, fine-pitched cylinder and head fins. The pressed-construction 180-degree crank used roller bearings and one-piece rods. Drum brakes front and rear. No electric starter. Weight: 315 pounds. Price? Six hundred and ninety dollars—the equivalent of about $5,600 today. (MSRP on a new Honda CRF250L Rally is $5,899.)

The CL72 was good for about 20 hp at 8,000 rpm and could manage 85 mph. Honda sold 89,000 of them between 1962 and 1968, but even this was just a hint of what was to come. Replaced by the CB/CL350 series, Honda sold 67,180 of those in 1972 alone, and more than a quarter-million in five years. If that first Baja was conceived as a PR exercise, it appears to have been a success.

Engine: 247cc Twin
Horsepower: 20–24
Weight: 315 lb.
Fuel capacity: 2.25 gal.
Top speed: 80–85 mph