How rugged can a road test get?
There are about 950 miles of road between the Mexican cities of Tijuana, at the U.S. border, and La Paz, near the tip of Baja California. About 238 of those miles are nice, smooth, two-lane blacktop. But the remaining 712 miles are about as different from a paved road as one can get and still make it through with a wheeled vehicle. Those "roads" are two-rut nightmares with steep grades—up to 20 percent—sandy flats where taking it easy means getting stuck, large round rocks, small pointy rocks, bedrock and every combination thereof.
|By definition a street scrambler has to be sturdy: A broken-down bike three canyons from the nearest road is far from funny; many riders of dual-purpose cycles don't have the experience to know just when to take it easy, and novice riders have an alarming tendency to drop their bikes hard. |
Unfortunately, many manufacturers have yet to realize just how tough these machines should be, so when I unloaded the little Honda CL-160 at the border at Tijuana I had definite misgivings as to whether the bike would stand the gaff. After all, a lot of advertising has has been made about motorcycles and trucks even surviving the trip one way, and here I was proposing to test an unfamiliar bike.
My spare parts consisted of a set of extra control levers; clutch, throttle, and front-wheel brake cables; two sparkplugs; and a few chain repair links. Tools were those that came with the machine plus an adjustable wrench, cam-locking pliers and tire pump.
CL-160 is a lightweight, but it actually weighs about 280 pounds ready to go, about the same as some bikes of more than twice the piston displacement. With luggage and rider, the little 161-cc engine would have to hoist more than 500 pounds over the hills.
|But I'd been told by lads who race Hondas that this is quite normal and might as well be ignored since the forks are just about indestructible. Nevertheless, the noise worried me for the first thousand miles or so. |
The instruction book said that the adjustable rear suspension units were to be turned to the second or third position for use with heavy loads or on rough roads, so at the end of the main highway below Ensenada I dutifully wound 'em 'round.
Eighty-five miles of progressively worse road brought me to Rosario — the first of two towns with identical names — with never a sign of the suspension units bottoming; my back was just a bit sore from the stiff ride. Figuring the suspension units should be as husky as the forks, I set 'em back in the soft position before starting out the next morning. Sure enough, they bottomed occasionally, but showed no symptoms of damage or fatigue in all the hard going.
On the way south I overnighted in Muleje and awakened in the night to the sound of a tropical downpour. It didn't rain long, and in the morning I arose to clear skies and a sea of mud.
Although I waited until almost 10: 00 o'clock before pulling out for Comondu, the road still alternated with patches of sand, rock and mud. I'm not embarrassed to say that I fell off the bike in every piece of muddy road for 10 miles before I gave up and started riding "trails style" on the slick stretches. This is the technique of standing up on the rear pegs and balancing as you go, and it turned out to be a pretty good ploy —I didn't take much splashing mud.
Blessed the exhaust shieldHappily the exhaust system is also well- shielded—a feature I had cause to bless when I spent five minutes or so lying in the middle of a sandy road with the bike pinning my left leg after hitting a buried rock at speed. Although only the shield and a pair of heavy jeans protected me from the exhaust pipe, I didn't even wind up with a slight reddening of the skin. And the engine had been running wide open when I "got" off!
The bike restarted at first kick—when I restarted after getting out from under and making sure I was still "working."
This, incidentally, is one of the most important attributes of a motorcycle. Some bikes don't like to start when they're hot, others when they're cold. Now and then you encounter one that dislikes commencing hot or cold. A pox on such.
The CL-160 always started with either the first or second kick — usually the first. Even when it had been on its side for 10 minutes or so, or out all night in wet or freezing weather, the story was the same. Fired right off.
Unusual gas 'pumps'As long as I kept the rpm above 3000, the bike ran perfectly on "Mexican regular," siphoned out of drums and measured with everything from buckets to plastic detergent bottles. It is a supreme recommendation for the filter system that neither carb required cleaning.
Mechanically, the trip was what I would consider trouble-free as far as Baja runs go. I caught a rock in the chain and broke the master link at just the right place to dump both machine and yours truly into a mass of donnikers — smooth rocks of varying sizes that line the road and actually form an eerie roadbed that gives you the impression of being on another planet. In the same mishap, the luggage carrier that was bolted to the seat mounts and the rear fender twisted the rear fender, actually tearing the metal. This necessitated an on-the-spot amputation of the rack and fender. Another mechanical mishap occurred when I carelessly allowed a sweater to fall into the rear wheel, again breaking a master link. Otherwise, I wore out a throttle cable with hours of full-on, full- off throttle twisting and went through two sparkplugs.
After finishing the Baja round trip the weather looked so good that I decided to ride the bike back to San Francisco. The good weather didn't last, but I still pushed on, through driving rain, sandstorms and full-fledged blizzards in the Cajon and Tehachapi Passes. I faced the wind every inch of the way and rode with wide-open throttle, but the engine never faltered.
I might be bragging, but I'd say that a test like this is easily the equivalent of five years of normal use by the average non-competitive rider. The CL-160 came through with flying colors — but I was drooping a bit!
|Source: Popular Mechanics |
Date: November 1967
Pages: 118, 119, 120, 226 and 228