Honda’s CB92 Benly 125 Twin - CLASSICS REMEMBERED

The standard information about this distinctively cute high-performance 125 in 1959 is that it showed that sporty small motorcycles were possible (its two 44.0 x 41.0mm cylinders made 15 hp at 10,500 rpm), and that motorcycling would soon reach a fast-expanding market thanks to its electric starting—pioneered in the previous C92 model.

But personally, the Benly was an available teaser for what filled us with yearning in that time—Honda's onrushing revolution in racing, which made unbeatable horsepower from super rpm. The high song of Honda's 250 racing fours at 14,000 rpm was our future. The 6000-rpm blatt of British twins and the "bunk-bunk-bunk" of classic singles were the dying sounds of the past. In 1967 we would at last hear "in person" the woop-woop warm-up of the RC-166 six-cylinder 250 at the Canadian Grand Prix. When the mechanic dropped the throttle, the engine stopped instantly because its crankshaft had been given mass as close to zero as Honda engineering could contrive. As a boy, Mr. Honda himself had run after the first car he had ever seen, breathing in its exotic smells. In identical fashion, we reveled in the music of the six his company had created.

The Benly’s humped tank, pressed-steel frame and swingarm, and leading-link fork were hallmarks. Honda had first contested the Isle of Man 125 TT in 1959, winning the team prize. They had entered Benly-like two-valve and four-valve twins that had the nay-sayers crowing “They’re just crude copies of NSUs.” But in 1962 Honda swept the 125, 250, and 350 GP championships.

German motorcycle production had exploded after WW II, but when small cars became available in the early 1950s, bike sales faltered. Ugly pressed-steel chassis did cut costs, but Germans turned out not to want cheaper bikes; they wanted cars.

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So, yes, Honda did begin with NSU-like pressed-steel frames, and the SOHC cylinder heads of Benly and CB72 Hawk were clearly inspired by those of another German maker, Horex. But Honda R&D now poured forth unending innovation that shut the mouths of critics.

A friend at university was building a Benly in his room. Seeing the long, slender racing kit megaphones and headers standing in a corner, a music student dragged us away to his room, pushed a tuba mouthpiece into a header and tried a few notes. His eyebrows rose in appreciation. He then put on a Music-Minus-One recording of Bach’s trumpet concerto in D and began to play. It was quite fantastic. With such a completely valveless trumpet he could not hit all notes perfectly, but the music built an unlikely but real bridge between 18th century Baroque music and 20th century motorcycle engineering.

1961 Honda CB92 static side view
1961 Honda CB92.By Maysy (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

We couldn’t leave the Benly alone because its single 18mm carburetor was too small even to admit my 24mm thumb. With my rudimentary machining skills I milled off the back of the cylinder to allow use of two carburetors. Did we make the bike faster? Or were we too intoxicated by our enthusiasm to know? Knowledge takes time, and tolerance for one’s own foolishness.

An enduring legacy of the Benly is its “Driver’s Manual.” In its preface, Mr. Soichiro Honda tells us that, “Primarily, essentials of the motorcycle lie in the speed and thrill.”

Who can argue? I cannot.

I learned that, “The engine adopted in-line type two cylinder four cycle has brought far more super fine drive feeling.”

That phrase, “far more super fine drive feeling” has remained with me ever since.

P. 34 advises; “Do not uselessly blow the engine. If the engine revolution is increased when unloaded, it will give bad effect.”

When in subsequent life I have seen crankcase with hole, broken gear, or seized piston, I think “bad effect.”

P. 11 suggests, “In case the battery has discharged…make a push-and-run start. It’s a fun, too, any way.”

Girlfriends looked at us strangely as we read these passages aloud, as if holy writ. It was indeed holy writ. I treasure this veteran manual in a manila envelope, safe from bad effect.

The preface ends, “It is not only of an individual Honda’s wish but the incessant dream of faithful workers who partake in the manufacture that you will enjoy the most pleasant every day drive and attain the best result in any race by Honda Super Sport.”