History Of Honda Motorcycles (Ultimate Guide)

Honda is a household name that has earned its reputation for high quality, reliability, and competitiveness throughout the decades by manufacturing motorcycles, automobiles, and other consumer products. The popularity of Honda motorcycles is all down to the brand’s history.

Honda began in 1937 and started selling motorcycles in 1949. Since then, the brand has grown to become one of the leading companies in the world, manufacturing everything from lawn mowers to jet engines. In 2018, its reported revenue was 15.3 trillion yen, around $112 billion.

Such impressive numbers can only be achieved by gaining the trust of consumers who know that the Honda name is guaranteed to have the quality and performance their product has had for decades. Join us as we go back in time to look at the best of Honda through the years.

History Of Honda Motorcycles

How It All Started

In 1906, Soichiro Honda was born to a blacksmith in Hamamatsu, Japan. Soichiro was very interested in automobiles from an early age and joined an automobile shop in Tokyo as an apprentice. In 1928, he returned to Hamamatsu to open his own automotive repair shop and built a race car that he used to race. 

In 1937, Honda started his own company, which manufactured piston rings and became a supplier to Toyota, which was making cars. In 1946, he sold the piston ring business and instead began fitting cheap 2-stroke engines onto bicycles and selling them. The engines were Tohatsu 50cc, ran at 5,000 rpm, and were air-cooled. They weighed 22 lbs.

The engines were surplus from the war. Previously, they were used to power generators for portable radios. The motorized bicycles proved so popular, that after the engines gave out, Honda started making their own engines, which were copies of the Tohatsu. His staff of 12 people worked out of a 175 sq ft shack, selling the engines so that people could fix them to their bicycles.

The Founding Of Honda Motor Co. (And Other Milestones)

In 1949, the Honda Technical Research Institute was sold, and the money was used to start Honda Motor Co., Ltd. In 1949, Honda began selling its first motorcycle fully made by his company, which was known both as the D-Type and the Dream. Honda designed both the frame and engine. Whereas previously Honda worked on motorized bicycles, now Honda was making true motorcycles.

In 1959, Honda became the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. Further benchmarks would be crossed 60 years later when in 2019 they crossed the milestone of manufacturing 400 million motorcycles and 14 million internal combustion engines.

What Makes Honda Motorcycles So Good?

Honda motorcycles are good because they are one of the most reliable brands in the industry. Everyone from new bike riders to more experienced motorcyclists will be able to find a Honda motorcycle that suits them, due to Honda’s focus on having a diverse range of products. 


In a consumer survey report, Honda was found to have a failure rate of only 12% after 4 years of ownership, making them one of the top brands in motorcycle reliability. Even though they have such a diverse range of products, motorcycles are one of their main businesses. The only other Japanese manufacturer that comes close to this failure rate was Yamaha.

Reliability is judged by the number of repairs that the motorcycle needs after it is out of its warranty period. The most common failures on motorcycles are the electrical system, followed by the braking system, and then the fuel system. Of course, for many users, reliability may not be a key factor and their riding experience is the decider.

Riding Experience

Honda manufactures a number of different motorcycles to suit every need and budget. Some of their high-end touring motorcycles are in a class of their own, but for the average rider, the sports bike experience is the most popular. Obviously, each person will have a different opinion on riding experience, but generally, it depends on the motorcycle model and the environment in which it is used.

Most reviewers have a positive view of riding a Honda when compared to other brands of motorcycles in the same range. Their fuel efficiency is exceptional, and they have a wide network of service centers to solve any problems you’re having. 

What Is Honda’s Best-Selling Motorcycle?

Honda’s best-selling motorcycle is the Super Cub. It was first released in 1958, and production continues to this day. Over 150 million Super Cubs have been sold. No other vehicle in automotive history has surpassed this record, which speaks to the affordability and quality of the Super Cub. 

Even in 1958, the motorcycle was reliable and easily serviced. In the 1960s, the model was exported to every country in the world as the C102 motorcycle. The Honda Super Cub has a 4-stroke, 1-cylinder, air-cooled engine. It weighs 240 lbs with a seat height of 30.7 cm. Many users have even added an extra seat for a pillion rider or to carry goods.

Some Interesting Facts About The Super Cub

The Super Cub is currently manufactured in over 15 countries worldwide and is renowned for its reliability and simplicity to repair. It is estimated that over 100 million Super Cubs have been sold, which means it’s the best-selling motorcycle of all time.

The Super Cub took first place on the Discovery Channel’s The Greatest Ever series. Over the years, the design has seen many changes, with the engine capacity varying from 49cc to 125cc and a number of changes in the clutch and gearbox. It has a centrifugal clutch with 3 gears so that there is no separate clutch lever. This makes it as easy to ride as a bicycle with a throttle.

The Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan has named the Super Cub as one of the 240 Landmarks of Japanese Automotive Technology. The motorcycle has a small price tag, which also makes it affordable to those with low incomes. This has certainly contributed to its outstanding success.

Honda’s Most Popular Bikes

1. The Honda CB750

The next-best seller from Honda is the CB750, released in 1969. It was exported to the American and European markets, where it proved to be a success. It was also known as the Universal Japanese Motorcycle and has been added to the American Motorcycling Association Hall of Fame. Additionally, it received many more accolades from the UK National Motor Museum.

The CB750 boasted a single overhead camshaft and, for the first time for consumers, disc brakes previously used for racing. Other new features included electric ignition, kill switch, and flashing indicator lights. The 4-cylinder engine had very little vibration and could power the bike to its top speed of 120 mph.

It is extremely praiseworthy that in 1973, Morio Sumiya rode a factory CB750 and finished sixth in the Daytona 200. The CB750 production continued until 2003 in different models with its basic features staying the same and new technology being added as it was developed. In 1976, the CB750A, which came with automatic transmission, was exported to the US.

A variation of the CB750, the CB750SC (known as the Nighthawk 750), was produced from 1982 until 2003 with the same 4-cylinder engine that output 75hp with front disc brakes and rear drum brakes. In the CB750 series, this was the lightest and most powerful bike of all.

2. Honda CBX

The CBX series is next on our list of the most popular motorcycles from Honda. It was released in 1978 and came with a 6-cylinder, 1,047cc engine that could crank out 105 bhp at 9,000 rpm. It weighed 550 lbs, but could still output 70.5 Nm of torque and was able to reach a top speed of 135 mph. Not bad for the 1970s!

In many ways, the bike followed the norm with telescopic front forks, twin rear shock absorbers, and a standard steel frame. It was first promoted as a sports motorcycle, then later as a sport touring motorcycle after its power was cut down to 98 bhp and some design changes were made.

For the first time, however, a Grand Prix engine had been mounted on a consumer sports bike. The impact of this decision was evident in its speed, and users loved its acceleration and performance. Using 6 carburetors, 24 valves, and 2 overhead camshafts, it was a masterpiece of engineering. 

One major change from the CB750 to the CBX was the shift from rear drum brakes to disc brakes and twin front disc brakes with a slightly longer wheelbase. Motorcycle magazines praised it, saying that it was one of the top 12 superbikes in the world

3. Honda CBR900RR

The next Honda best seller is the CBR900RR. Launched in 1992, it continued until 2003. It used a 4-cylinder 893cc engine that output 111 hp at 10,500 rpm. In later versions, the engine capacity was increased to 919cc, then 929cc, and 959cc. The power output for the increased cylinder size jumped to 123 hp, and then to 154 hp, which was considered excessive for a sports motorcycle.

In some countries, the CBR900RR was known as the Fireblade. It was a reply to the competition from Suzuki, Yamaha, and Kawasaki, which had launched their own 900cc motorcycles. The frame was aluminum but eventually changed to magnesium to save weight so that it weighed in at 453 lbs with a full fuel tank. This made it 76 lbs lighter than a 750cc bike from Yamaha.

The CBR900RR went through some minor modifications in 1996 in an effort to optimize its performance. Changes to its shock absorbers, front fork, and frame made it even lighter than before while the increase in cylinder capacity from 893cc to 959cc made it more powerful. Most of the bike stayed the same which proved its immense popularity from its launch and for the next 8 years.

4. Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird

The Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird was a part of the CBR series that was launched in 1996 and manufactured right until 2007 due to demand. With a 4-stroke, 16-valve double overhead crankshaft 1,137cc engine, it was the world’s fastest production motorcycle. The engine could crank out a healthy 132 bhp at 9,500 rpm with liquid cooling to power the motorcycle to a top speed of 178 mph.

Named after the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, which was the fastest plane in the world, the Honda brochure featured a photograph of the Honda CBR1100XX next to its namesake. This motorcycle was originally developed to challenge the Kawasaki ZX-11 as the world’s fastest production motorcycle, which Honda accomplished with a top speed of 178.5 mph at a weight of 492 lbs.

Honda was able to hold the record for 2 short years before the Suzuki Hayabusa broke it with a top speed of 194 mph in 1999. Later models of the Honda CBR1100XX had a larger fuel tank with fuel injection. Despite the bike being designed for speed, it proved to be extremely reliable. Used Blackbird bikes still command a high price, even though many years have passed since it was manufactured.

5. Honda CBR600F Hurricane

The first generation of the Honda CBR600F, known as the Hurricane in the US, was launched in 1987. Many versions of this popular motorcycle were sold from 1987 until 2013. This sport bike has a 4-cylinder 600cc engine that can deliver 85 hp at 11,000 rpm. The next version of the CBR600F was the CBR600F2, followed by the CBR600F3, and so on.

The first version used a steel frame. This was later replaced with an aluminum frame to reduce its weight. Further minor changes to the compression ratio were able to boost its output power to 109 hp. Additional modifications to the crankshaft and piston rings enabled it to move faster, giving it an outstanding performance compared to other motorcycles of its generation.

Each generation of the Hurricane underwent small changes in various areas to improve its performance and looks. When the CBR600F3 was tested, it accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 3 seconds and covered a quarter mile in 11 seconds at 125 mph. The F4 sported new, sleeker bodywork and had reduced drag. A special version of the CR600F was made in Italy solely for the European market.

6. Honda CMX500 Rebel

The Honda CMX500 Rebel, also known as the Honda Rebel 500, was introduced in 2017. With a 471cc 4-stroke liquid-cooled engine, it could churn out 47 bhp at 421 lbs. Its fuel efficiency is 59 mpg with a top speed of 95 mph. Initially, 2 versions were made, but the only real difference is in how they look. 

As a sports motorcycle, it has become very popular, though it’s difficult for taller people to ride it, because its seat height is just 27 inches. That said, the ride is excellent because the bike comes with nitrogen-charged shock absorbers for smoother damping with a slipper clutch and includes LED lighting. The 59-inch wheelbase, coupled with fat tires, makes it comfortable and easy to use. 

The braking has come under scrutiny since the bike comes with a 240 mm rear disc brake and a 296 mm front disc brake. At low speeds, this is good enough, but it’s inadequate at higher speeds. This is still an excellent cruiser for a new rider, however.

7. Honda Gold Wing Series

The Honda Gold Wing series of motorcycles are meant for touring. This line first debuted in 1974 with a massive water-cooled 1,833cc engine that could output 125 hp at 5,500 rpm. This is one of the most iconic and expensive motorcycles from Honda. Weighing in at 838 lbs, it features ABS, LED headlights, and a dual-controlled braking system.

With dual hydraulic 320 mm front disc brakes and a rear 316 mm rear disc brake, it has enough braking power for its large 77-inch wheelbase. Interestingly, Honda sells this tourer with a 36-month unlimited mileage limited warranty, because their target riders are long-distance motorcyclists. Catering to them means providing more comfort, luggage space, wind protection, and a smooth ride.

Some changes that have been incorporated since 1974 include a pillion rider backrest, a 6-speaker audio system, and a fairing with heating. In 1979, the Gold Wing started out with an engine capacity of 999cc. That went to 1,983cc in 2001. This was also the first Japanese 4-stroke engine with water-cooling that Honda hoped would become its flagship motorcycle.

The Early Days Of Honda In Motorsport

In 1960, Honda entered motorsport in the 125cc and 250cc categories, and the Spanish Grand Prix brought them their first victory. This was followed by a win at the World Championship, making them a double World Champion.

Their next win came in 1966 when they won the World Championship, not just in the 500cc class but in all the other classes as well. This gave them a total of 138 wins in World Grand Prix racing and global recognition as a successful brand with superior technology that provided exceptional value to the consumer. Honda began a 10-year break from racing in 1967.

In 1977, Honda returned to the World Grand Prix in the 500cc class with a 4-stroke engine while other motorcycles had 2-stroke engines. This engine was unique for its 4 cylinders and oval pistons that delivered maximum power at high rpm. Their next win was in 1982 in Argentina, when Freddie Spencer won the opening race. This gave Honda their first World Grand Prix win in 10 years.

Other Achievements By Honda

Honda has a number of major automotive and non-automotive achievements to their credit. From their long list of achievements, a few of their important ones are listed below. 

  • 1964: Honda races the first Formula 1 machine from Japan
  • 1981: Honda develops the first car navigation system in the world
  • 1982: Honda becomes the first Japanese manufacturer to produce cars in North America
  • 1988: Honda sets a new Formula 1 record with 15 out of 16 wins

Honda Reveals Their Self-Balancing Motorcycle

In 2017, Honda unveiled a self-balancing motorcycle that won’t fall down. According to the company, this has the potential to reduce accidents in slow traffic when the bike is moving at under 3 miles per hour. Named the Moto Riding Assist, it uses technology from their robotics research department. 

A digital system monitors the speed and bike angle and disengages the handlebar from the fork at a slow speed and takes control. If it senses the bike angle is critical, it can also steer the wheel from side to side

Honda’s Other Ventures

Honda has always had motorcycles and automobiles as their main enterprises, but the company has diversified into a number of other unrelated businesses. They started manufacturing robots using artificial intelligence in 1986. They also manufacture lawn mowers, jet skis, garden supplies, marine equipment, and electric generators among many more consumer goods.

Honda’s Research And Development arm has a robotics section that made a robot named ASIMO. ASIMO looks like an astronaut with a backpack, stands 130 centimeters high, and weighs 119 lbs. It walks on 2 feet and can climb stairs up and down on its own. 

In 2010, Honda developed a Brain-Machine Interface that can connect to ASIMO and make it move by reading brainwaves. The user wears a helmet covered with electrodes that can detect electrical signals at different parts of the brain. Each thought about movement creates a unique combination of electrical signals from different electrodes that ASIMO has learned to interpret and react to accordingly.

Natural Gas And Electric Vehicles

The Honda Civic GX was the only car manufactured to run on compressed natural gas in the United States. The GX was based on the popular Honda Civic. which was first manufactured in 1972. By using natural gas for fuel, the Civic had the cleanest internal combustion engine, as its byproducts were carbon dioxide and water vapor.

The cylinder containing the natural gas fuel was kept in the trunk of the car, which gave the car a range of about 230 miles on a full tank. The car was ranked first as the Greenest Vehicle of the Year in 2000 by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and was awarded the Green Car of the Year for 8 years.

Honda Around The World

In 1979, Honda opened their first motorcycle plant in the US to increase its presence, which has grown exponentially over the years. Currently, they employ around 200,000 people at their plant and associated service and sales centers. Since 1963, Honda has been the leading motorcycle brand in the US, providing jobs and making high-quality products for the general consumer.

Honda has been in collaboration with the British Rover Group since 1979. In 1985, it purchased a site in Swindon, where they set up Honda UK Manufacturing Limited to make the Honda Concerto under license from Rover. In 1992 and 2001, 2 more plants were opened to manufacture cars for sale in the UK and to export all over Europe.

The Honda Aircraft Company

Honda’s aircraft division, known as the Honda Aircraft Company, manufactures light business jets suitable for companies that need their own air transport. The 8-seater HA-420 HondaJet was first conceptualized in 1997 and designed in 1999. It first flew in 2003 and was approved by the FAA in 2015. 

The jet has an aluminum wing with a composite fuselage and is powered by 2 GE Honda HF 120 turbofans mounted on pylons above the wing. The GE Honda HF 120 is the first turbofan that was manufactured by Honda Aero Engines. The jet has a top speed of 484 mph with a range of 1,600 miles and has received many accolades. By 2021, more than 200 aircraft had been sold and delivered.

HondaJet Innovations

The HondaJet is currently one of the best-selling light business jets. It utilizes all of Honda’s research into aerodynamics, drag, and fuel efficiency. The company has brought in a number of innovations to jet aircraft in diverse areas, which has enabled them to enhance their designs. The major improvement that they made was mounting the engines above the wings.

This appears to be simplistic but has a number of advantages. The way they mounted the engines reduced drag on the wings by combining the airflow over the wing with the airflow on the engine and also resulted in a quieter cabin with less vibration. The fuselage is made from a light carbon composite material, and the wing is made from a single piece of aluminum that reduces any blocks to airflow.

In 2017, the Honda Aircraft Company received the Flying Innovation Award from Flying Magazine. In 2018, the Honda Aircraft Company was awarded the Foundation Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) for its research in design and business aviation.

Final Thoughts

Honda has existed since the 1940s and created the motorcycle which has sold more units than any vehicle in history. Throughout the decades, Honda has excelled in the world of automobiles, aviation, robotics, and many other fields. They continue to be one of the world’s most successful companies.

Scroll to Top