Dean Adams Paul Dean Dave Despain
Tosh Konya Dick Lepley Steve McMinn
Mark Mederski Bill Silver Randall Washington

The saga of the CL90 Scrambler

By Bill Silver

Bill Silver (right) with World Champion Jim Redman in 2007.

Was it a coincidence or fate that I was born in 1948 exactly four months before the creation of Soichiro Honda’s Honda Motor Company?  Ten years later, in 1958, eleven days after my 10th birthday, many thousands of miles away from that humble start, American Honda Motor Corporation was established in a small West Pico Boulevard building, south of downtown Los Angeles.  By 1967, I was riding my very first motorcycle, a domestic model CL90 Scrambler, imported by a serviceman and traded in at a local used car lot. It was the first of many to come, and my relationship with Honda motorcycles changed my life in ways I could never imagine.

I have to admit that in 1967 I really didn’t follow Honda motorcycles very closely. I was in high school auto shop and my mind was set on learning all about auto repair, not motorcycles. But, my best friend, Art, lived nearly next door to Floyd Emde’s house and Floyd’s shop sold Brit bikes and then picked up the Suzuki franchise about 1964. So, my earliest motorcycle rides were with Art, on the back of a Suzuki 80. It was an exciting time to be on two wheels in high school, but I never was thrilled about two-stroke engines; too noisy, odd-sounding, and too smoky for my tastes.  Like Soichiro Honda, I prefer four-stroke engines!

Even my family can’t recall how I was able to acquire my first motorcycle, but one look at that Honda 90 Scrambler in the used car lot window was all it took to motivate me to somehow make that purchase and put me on the road, alongside Art’s little red Trail bike. There was a night and day difference between the two machines, and I liked mine best, of course. I didn’t realize that I had an unusual model until I took it down to the Honda shop in Chula Vista to show it off. First, the salesman complimented me on the “nice conversion”I had done to an S90.

I pointed out that the serial numbers read “CL90” not “S90” on the frame and engine, then they wanted to know where I had found it, as there was none in the US pipeline in 1967. Through the years, I have noticed that Honda would create a model, sell it domestically, and then ship it to the US the following year. And so it was that in 1968 American Honda released the CL90 to dealers in the US. Mine was one of the first CL90s in the country, apparently, and that made it even more special to me.

What really sold me on Honda products was my own personal torture test of this little bike in April, 1967. After a sad breakup with a high school girlfriend, I felt a need to get away for awhile, so I spontaneously threw a few items in a small briefcase, put on a couple of layers of clothes, and headed north on US 395, without a plan or destination in mind.

As a San Diego native, I really didn’t have much experience with wind-chill in freezing weather, so I plodded along, unaware of what lay ahead. I was stopping every 100 miles for gas and I found that it would require one gallon each time I topped it up. I stopped in Bishop just as the sun was setting. Bishop was 360 miles from home and I was tired of the droning sound of the little motor, spinning merrily along at near redline, and the wind blowing across my open face helmet. I found a phone booth near the highway and curled up on the floor with the door closed. The CL90 rested as well, just four feet away. After a short nap, I threw my leg over the saddle and kick-started the Scrambler back to life, continuing my aimless trek up the mountains as dark descended on the Sierras. I began to see the outlines of snow at the edges of the road, but kept plodding along with the little Scrambler losing power progressively as the altitude increased. I had installed a colder spark plug and jetted the carburetor up one size at sea level, but I was now traveling at 4,000 feet and climbing.  Suddenly the bike sputtered and began to cut out. I nursed the ailing machine toward a ranger station and pulled out the tool kit to replace the spark plug. I had brought the correct spares with me, so I installed the hotter plug and prayed for continued success. One kick told the story, and I was back on the highway again in pitch blackness, at 45 mph. Battling the cold and fatigue, my body decided that it was time to stop and get warm, somewhere.

The first lighted building that I encountered was the Mono Lake Sheriff’s Substation (6,100 feet), and I was going in there, no matter what. It was about midnight and I had traveled about 400 miles in the past 12 hours, and I was suffering from hypothermia, which was a new experience for me.  The surprised sheriff deputy on duty looked at me with some alarm and offered to let me warm up in the waiting room. I mentioned that it felt pretty cold outside and he checked the thermometer hung near the doorway.  It was about 20 degrees and I had been driving through it at 45 mph as the steady CL90 continuing a relentless march towards an unspecified destination.  The deputy apparently felt pity for my situation and said to go back into one of the jail cells and have a rest under the dark green Army blankets that were stacked on the ends of the cots. He didn’t have to ask twice and I was under the covers and sleeping deeply in minutes.

I awoke at daybreak, shuffled out of the cell (my only night in jail, and fortunately a voluntary stay) and wandered out to the waiting CL90. I checked the oil and then pulled the battery cover off the side to check the water level  It was frozen! I tried to kick start the engine, but it was frozen too! I turned the ignition key On and saw a faint neutral light glow from the frigid six-volt electrical system. With the fuel on and key on, I pushed the bike down the parking lot and attempted to bump start it. It’s a Honda, after all, so it immediately fired up and began to warm its innards, slowly, but steadily. I prayed that the charging system would begin to thaw out the battery fluid without blowing it apart. After a few minutes of warm-up, I strapped on my helmet, turned on the headlight and drove off toward Reno, Nevada.

In Reno I found a motorcycle dealer who had the headlight bulb I needed (low beam had burned out during the night), and installed it with my little tool kit. It was warmer and sunnier there, but still about 4,500 feet above sea level. I decided to head back down the hill toward San Francisco, so pointed the little Scrambler west back down Highway 80. I took a break at the state line check station, chatting with the guards awhile, and then made my run for the coast. Once you clear the winding mountain passes near Auburn, the highway widens and everyone gets on the throttle, running 65 to 75mph, even in the slow lanes. I was particularly worried about truckers flying up behind me, as the CL90 was all done about 60 mph.  Continuing my journey at 95%+ power settings across the Sacramento delta, I stopped twice for gasoline, then just kept the throttle wide open for hours on end.

Although I was aware of motorcycle maintenance procedures, I was basically just checking the oil and watching the chain tension during the quick fuel stops. I had brought one quart of oil and in 1,000 miles it had only used about half a quart from the bottle. I didn’t check the points, which must have been closing down in all the heat and the millions of revolutions. It just kept running and running and running . . .

Eventually, I completed a journey stretching from San Diego, to Reno, to San Francisco, and finally to Los Angeles, some 1,500 miles in three days. I never got the girl back, but my appreciation for Honda motorcycle engineering became deeply etched in my soul.  Since that experience I have owned over 200 Honda motorcycles, ranging from a 1952 F Cub, a 1954 Benly to a 1983 VF750F Interceptor and some handsome CBXs.  In 1985, I purchased my first Honda 305 Super Hawk and from that experience I began to write Restoration Guides for Dreams, Scramblers, and Super Hawk models, plus a Honda Buyer’s Guide, which was published in 2000 (now out of print).  Now, fifty years after the founding of American Honda Motor Corporation, I am still riding a 1964 Honda CB77 Super Hawk as my “daily driver,” and most people know me as “MrHonda!” I feel privileged and honored to share my little Honda story with you all. I know that there are a million more stories like this from enthusiastic Honda owners, past and present.

About the Author:
Bill (aka “MrHonda”) Silver, was born in San Diego and attended Sweetwater High School where he attended double-sessions of Auto Shop and was invited to be a representative of the school at the Chrysler Troubleshooting contest in 1966 Learning by owning, he bought and sold over 300 vehicles (mostly Honda motorcycles) in a 40 year period.  A self-taught writer, Bill began to document the details of the 1961 through 67 Honda CB77 Super Hawks in 1992, followed by restoration guide information on the 250-305cc Scramblers and finally the CA72-77 Dreams. Bill has been newsletter editor of the VJMC (Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club) and has written numerous Honda-related stories in his own monthly column called the “Techknuckle Page.”  In 1999, he was contracted to write an “Illustrated Buyer’s Guide of Classic Hondas” for MBI. 

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