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Evergreen basic two stroke derived from the DKW RT125 and a bike on which a generation entered motorcycling. The D7 was as large as the Bantam became with 61.5 x 58mm dimensions making it 175cc. A compression ratio of 7.4:1 on the piston port engine gave 7.4bhp and weight was 232lb. The Bantam was never designed as a sportster, more a starter or commuter machine, a task which, with a fuel consumption of around 120mpg, it fulfilled admirably for a quarter of a century.


Words by Steve Cooper Photography by Dennis Lodge

Honda CB92

Words by Steve Cooper Photography by Dennis Lodge

It wasn't beyond comprehension, cammy, multi cylinder jobs had been dominating the race tracks for years so a similar spec' roadster could well have hit the high streets, but for numerous reasons such a thing was never considered as viable - that was until Honda came along.

If you'd made mention of overhead cams, twin cylinders and a 125cc capacity limit in the snug of a British pub in the late 50s the chances are that an armchair expert would have put down his pint of mild and sagely given discourse on the sophisticated racing machines being made in Italy. Should you have had the temerity to come back with phrases such as electric starter and 12v electrics, the self styled guru would most likely have suggested you'd had one too many and It was probably best that you went home. It's possible our muse had either never heard of the Honda Motor Company or sought to treat them with disdain but he was making a huge mistake; sadly he didn't do this in Isolation and many others were all too keen to ignore the future of motorcycling even as it stared them in the face.

Britain and the USA didn't really give the eighth litre capacity class any real heed or credence outside the rather limited field of commuter machinery. With grudging acceptance the aforementioned Latin racers were acknowledged but that was the limit of interest (we won't mention a certain Walter Kaaden and his MZs). Soichiro Honda had other ideas about 125s and his ability to think laterally had already delivered some outstanding machines to which the west was only just waking up.

When the 125 Benly arrived on the world's stage, few paid it scant regard but it was an oversight of epic proportion. Here was the ability and competence of Japanese engineers laid out for all to see, or at least those that wished to. The Benly was inspired by the superbly engineered West German NSU and the basic architecture of the motor had first seen light of day in 1959 in the Honda C92. This machine delivered a quite healthy 11.5bhp at what was then regarded as almost unbelievable 9500rpm.

A year later an increase in both compression ratio and carb size saw the power lifted by another 1000 rpm delivering a claimed 15bhp. You can dress that up how you like but that was a very respectable power output from a 125, In point of fact what Honda did was nothing particularly outrageous when you analyse the design; a slightly over square, 360 degree, parallel twin, engine running an overhead cam and a pair of largish carburettors.

What was special about the bike was the mindset that conceived it. Where our own home industry believed such a machine was neither financially viable nor required, Honda chose a different route and rose to the challenge. By using multiple cylinders and carburettors on a 125 it was possible to increase the revs and as anyone who knew even a snippet about tuning would have agreed - more revs equals more power and greater brake mean effective pressure. Another key facet to the Benly and its kith and kin was an overt investment in R&D. If a piston wasn't up to the job of taking a sustained 9000rpm day in, day out, then it was obviously not fit for purpose and it would not be gracing one of Mr Honda's machines where reputation was everything and loss of face would not be countenanced.

Cheap, small four strokes were limited. The few Italians around were expensive compared to Triumph's T20 Cub. The Cub began life as the 150cc Terrier but was upped to 199cc as it grew into Triumph's swinging arm tiddler. Bore and stroke was 63 x 64mm and compression ratio 7:1. Power output varied between 10bhp and 15bhp depending on specification and there were several competition and sporting variants. Fuel consumption was akin to the Bantam. Cub production ended in 1969.

Substantial resources were poured into metallurgy and the like to ensure bikes such as the CB92 ran like the proverbial watch. Just like the machines that were to follow it the Benly was ^^^^^ precision engineered; it had to be in order for it to perform in the way its makers intended. Investment in design, casting technologies, machine shops and tooling all led to two key goals; performance and reliability. The bike delivered something that had previously only been available via factory race shops yet by designing the bike correctly from first principles and following through with the commensurate investment on the shop floor, the impossible was delivered to the masses and it didn't cost a king's ransom.

The Benly's appearance is, even now, quirky, weird, odd or different depending on your own tastes. The most obviously strange part of the bike is the fuel tank with its wrap around rubber knee pads cum tank protector. The tank and side panels are painted in metallic silver, which gives the bike an understated feel of quality and neatly counterpoints the blue or red of the pressed steel frame and forks.

When the blue models are graced with red seats the diminutive twin really stands out from the crowd. If the appearance initially seems a little odd have a look at period TWNs or NSUs; Honda obviously picked up a few styling clues. The pressed steel

Above: Prior to the advent frame and forks may have looked a of the Honda, twin cam little odd (perhaps even penny engines were only found on pinching) but actually it was a very race bikes. clever way of getting maximum

Once the frame's geometry has been established and proven at the prototype stage press tools can be commissioned and then thousands of identical chassis and forks can be stamped out ready. The basic box-like structure of the design is inherently stiff, resulting in predictable handling and it's easy for a relatively unskilled workforce to assemble and weld.

Compare Honda's methodology to conventional tubed frames with complex bends; critically cut ends, the need for complex jigging and a labour intensive construction process and it all makes a whole lot of sense. It wasn't just in the motor where Honda laid down the gauntlet either, the brakes were class leading for both the capacity and period. The front end was served by a fairly formidable tls device, which even now looks like it means business; the rear end had a modest single leading shoe but period road tests detailed that both brakes were both superb and almost impervious to rain.

Compared to 125cc commuters it was like night and day. Talking of which, the CB92's electrics must have seemed like artefacts from a new age to riders brought up on the vagaries of Miller, Lucas, Wipac et al. Graced with a reliable and consistent 12 volts and an electric start that worked each and every time, is it any wonder the competition couldn't or wouldn't accept what was before their very eyes?

All of these apparent fripperies and luxuries might have seemed like just so many unnecessary embellishments but the Japanese had spotted something that our ageing manufacturing base had studiously overlooked; getting young riders into the concept of brand loyalty from day one.

Back in Blighty it was big bikes that were being sold to the USA and bringing in the hard earned cash but effectively this was short sighted. There were only so many large machines anyone could sell to experienced riders before the pool of potential owners began to dry up. What the market needed was new blood and fresh interest from younger riders and this is precisely where Honda (and their Japanese competitors) saw the market heading.

With machines such as the CB92 Benly on offer, young, inexperienced riders in the USA could learn their craft on a performance oriented machine that still retained civilised manners yet had the ability to thrill while retaining reliability and safety. Once a rider became familiar with the Honda mindset it was quite feasible he'd continue to buy into the mindset. The 16-year-old who bought a Benly was very probably going to buy a 750/4 within a decade or so. Sadly the British industry didn't have the foresight to take up cudgels and by the time it did, with the BSA Fury/Triumph Bandit; it was too late.

Brakes: Eight inch tls drum front, sis rear

Tyres: 2.50 x 18in ribbed front. 2.75 x 18 block rear

Weight (with oil and fuel): 259lb (118kg)

So what's a CB92 Benly like to ride? The first thing you notice is just how minute it actually is, the second is that the seat looks a little cramped yet appearances can be deceptive and riders well over six foot are readily accommodated. Key into the ignition lock on the left-hand side of the headlamp, on with the choke and press the starter; it sounds good, even on tick over. Choke off and the little twin rustles away with a demanding urgency to its voice, "come on, you've woken me so let's go and do something." Into gear, let out the light clutch and it keeps getting better, the Benly experience is a revelation.

The machine fits like a glove despite being so small and within a few hundred yards you're thinking of phrases such as 'jewel like precision' which may be hackneyed beyond belief but was never more apposite. The sound of the exhaust as the motor starts to breath deeper is awesome and it'd be very easy to pretend this was a GP machine. The handling, which was inspiring even from walking pace, never fails to impress as the speeds rise. The pressed steel frame imparts that seminal on-rails feeling and the Benly has it in spades with a huge reserve. Something this old and small shouldn't feel so good or right so quickly. More than half a century on from its launch the Honda CB92 Benly is still one of the most revolutionary machines ever to enter series production.

They go for big money now and even a pile of bits is big bucks so if you cannot afford a Benly try to blag a ride before they all end up in museums., which is precisely where they don't belong.

Engine: Air cooled, dohc, 360 degree four stroke twin with two valves per cylinder Bore and stroke: 44 X 41 mm equating to 124cc.

Compression ratio - 10:1. Kick and electric start 20mm Keihin 6v coil 6V A C dynamo Four speed in unit with gear primary and single row final drive chain Pressed steel spine frame and swinging arm Leading link front forks with coil springs and two way hydraulic damping. Twin adjustable hydraulically damped shock absorbers to rear

Brakes: Eight inch tls drum front, sis rear

Tyres: 2.50 x 18in ribbed front. 2.75 x 18 block rear

Weight (with oil and fuel): 259lb (118kg)

Carburation: Ignition: Generator: Transmission:

Chassis: Suspension:

Girder Forks Sportster


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