A Brief History of Honda Motorcycles

Honda don't only make motorcycles. Their cars, too, have a reputation for reliability. Honda engines are also the power-plant for many agricultural and industrial machines and generators.

Not only that, in 2003 the first Honda jet aircraft took its test flight.

And beginning in 1986, Honda's interest in humanoid robot design led to the creation of ASIMO.

Honda Motorcycles

The first Honda motorcycles were generators on wheels!

Soichiro Honda was born in Hamamatsu Japan on 17 November 1906. His father was a blacksmith who could turn his hand to anything, including bicycle repairs. In 1922 Honda started an apprenticeship as a mechanic at a garage in Tokyo.

Six years later he returned to Hamamatsu and started his own car repair business.

By 1937, having studied piston ring design, he began producing piston rings for small engines.

At the end of World War 2, he sold his manufacturing business to Toyota and started spending the proceeds. However, he became disgruntled with the difficulty of getting around in post-war Japan, and when he came across a job lot of small generator engines he realised that this could be a low-cost means of transport. (The motorcycle itself had already been invented; in 1867 the American, Sylvester Howard Roper, made a two-cylinder, steam-powered, two-wheel vehicle. The first liquid-fuel motorcycle was made by Gottlieb Daimler in 1885.)

Honda proceeded to fit the generator engines into bicycles. Before long the entire job lot of 500 engines had been used, so he started manufacturing his own 50cc engine, which became the Honda A-type.

In September 1948, aged 42, he founded the Honda Motor Company. He decided that the A-type deserved its own frame rather than that of a bicycle, and in August 1949 the first prototype was ready. Initially known as the D-type, it was still a two-stroke, but had a two-speed transmission and a triangular steel frame with telescopic forks. This bike became known as the Honda Dream.

Further models followed; 1960 saw the first double overhead cam four-cylinder 250cc. In 1982 the VF series was launched (VF being the abbreviation for V-Four). Despite experiencing problems from the new automated production line, sales were good. The V65 engine had a cylinder capacity of 1100cc.

By the late 1980's Honda saw a gap in the market between the CBR1000F and the six-cylinder GL1500 Gold Wing (first introduced as a 4-cylinder 999cc model in 1974). The result was the introduction in December 1989 of the ST1100 Pan European.

Unlike the other Honda V4 motorcycles the motor was arranged longitudinally, the crankshaft running parallel to the motorcycle's axis.

Soichiro Honda died in August 1991 aged 84.

History of the ST1100, or Pan European

Dubbed "The Gentleman's Tourer", the "Pan" (as it came to be known) was a marketing trick, creating a demand for a bike between the CBR1000 and the six-cylinder GL1500 GoldWing. A superb long distance tourer, it's quite capable of transporting two people and their luggage at high speed all day, every day, with a discreet elegance.

The history of the ST1100 began in December 1989, but the first ST1100 rolled off the production line in 1990. The model name refers to the class of motorcycle (Sports Tourer) and the cylinder capacity. Originally intended for the European market, Honda gave it the name "Pan European".

Police forces and other emergency services like paramedics and the AA started using it, and it replaced BMW as the bike of choice.

1992 saw the introduction of ABS/TCS (Anti-lock Braking System/Traction Control System), although non-ABS/TCS models remained available.

Problems with the bank angle sensor occurred from 1992 to 1993 - this caused the engine to cut out unexpectedly.

In 1996 a linked braking system was introduced, as was a 40A alternator; the previous 28A version was prone to failure.

Production ended in 2002 when the ST1100 was superseded by the ST1300, although the ST1100P (the Police spec model) was available for a few more years.

Production figures - i.e. how many ST1100 motorcycles were made - are unknown; Honda have not released this information.

Some of the earlier models of the ST1300 were thought to be unstable at very high speeds when fully laden, and a few accidents saw the withdrawal of the ST1300 and the reintroduction of BMW machines by some Police forces. (BBC News)

The jury is still out on whether this was indeed a design fault of the early ST1300's, or down to other factors. Police forces in the USA are still using the ST1300, and I have personally seen several Police ST1100's in the UK.

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