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Bikes You Should Know: 1969 Honda CB750

Bikes You Should Know appears weekly as part of Two Wheel Tuesdays. Since Redusernab primarily caters to automotive enthusiasts, this column focuses on historically or culturally significant motorcycles that are likely to interest a non-riding audience.

Well, we might as well acknowledge the elephant in the room. I’ve resisted profiling some clearly significant motorcycles right out of the gate, so this series doesn’t gradually slide from true significance to featuring whatever also-ran we haven’t covered yet. But it’s starting to feel awkward to keep excluding the Honda’s SOHC 750. It was, by any meaningful yardstick, the most significant motorcycle ever. If this truly is “Bikes You Should Know,” this one is #1 with a bullet.

Honda’s CB750 was not the first four-cylinder, transverse motorcycle. It wasn’t the first motorcycle to wear a disc brake. It wasn’t even the first production, street legal four. However, when it was introduced, it was the first modern affordable, mass-produced four-cylinder motorcycle. And it was equipped with the world’s first standard-equipment hydraulic disc brake.

In other words, ordinary joes could suddenly go down to a local dealer and buy the most advanced, grand-prix technology in the world for themselves to ride.


Put yourself in the mindset of a rider, circa 1969: The fastest, most elite bikes out there at the time were Triumph’s and BSA’s “new” 750 triples. They were basically 1½ Triumph T100As, a pushrod 500 twin first produced in 1960 but itself a development of decades-old technology and tooling. This was only a couple of years after Honda’s all-conquering four and six cylinder grand prix racers. Overhead cam fours were exotic, complex factory showpieces, not grocery-getters. The idea that any rider in the world could buy one to ride was almost unbelievable. The CB750 was a bold, even audacious leap forward.

But what many people don’t realize is that the CB750 was a bit of a desperation move, a hail-mary play. The bloom of Honda’s explosive early-’60s growth was off the rose by 1966. Honda had introduced a DOHC CB450 twin the previous year, but it was not the huge seller they’d hope it to be. Sales of their lightweight bikes were declining each year, and many riders who had discovered motorcycling on a Honda Cub or Hawk were stepping up to big bikes from other countries or jumping over to the racy two-stroke hot-rods offered by their Japanese rivals. People were still saying that Japan couldn’t build a world-leading bike.

Despite his company’s stunning grand prix successes, Soichiro Honda didn’t feel as though the world was taking him seriously enough as a motorcycle manufacturer. He set out to build a bike that would gobstop even his harshest nay-sayers.



Prior to the Honda CB750’s introduction at the Tokyo Motor Show in October, 1968, four-cylinder street bikes were silly toys suited only for rich playboys’ conspicuous consumption. MV Agusta had been selling a DOHC 600cc four based on their aging Grand Prix design for about 18 months, and Friedl Münch would put an oversized NSU car engine into a custom bike frame if you asked nicely. But both were hand-built, temperamental bits of European exotica that had combined total sales only in double digits and price tags two to three times the price of the next most expensive motorcycle sold. The MV Agusta made 50 horsepower, the Münch 55. The Triumph/BSA triples made 58 HP and Norton was barely squeezing 60 from their hottest Commando. The CB750 cranked out 67 horsepower.

It is hard to look back through time and understand just how revolutionary the CB750 was, and not just for the number of exhaust pipes it had, or where the cam was located. The disc front brake was equally remarkable, another piece of racing exotica. The only other production motorcycle without a mechanical drum front brake was the aforementioned MV Agusta 600, but it used cable-actuated mechanical discs that were comparatively crude next to the Honda’s a hydraulic unit. It was as good as the best aftermarket racing units then available. Many of its other features that we might take for granted raised eyebrows, too. The use of an electric starter, overhead camshaft and five-speed transmission were not exactly uncommon, but were still considered advanced spec. What was new was combining all three in a large-capacity, flagship machine. And then there was a $1495 price. Suddenly spending more for a kick-start, pushrod, four-speed Norton or BMW didn’t seem very smart.

A lot has been written about what a bombshell the CB750 was at its introduction. But the story of the CB750 is equally about what happened after people got their hands on them. That’s when the real revolution happened. The most powerful, most technologically advanced motorcycle in the world was also the most comfortable. The most trouble-free. The most easily maintained. And the best bargain. Whatever your criteria, the CB750 was a no-brainer choice.

The CB750 literally sent other manufacturers back to their drawing boards. Kawasaki had been less than a year away from introducing . They scrapped those plans and took two more years to develop their design into something that could objectively outshine the CB750 (but that’s a story for another time). Triumph tried to leverage their already overly-complicated and outdated triple into a four-cylinder bike.

What’s also amazing about the CB750 is that for the great leap it was, it became outdated fairly quickly. Honda stood by and watched without making major changes as every Japanese company copied the CB750’s basic configuration, and in many ways bested it. By the mid-’70s, the original four-cylinder Japanese bike was feeling dated and lackluster. Honda tried to freshen the ol’ girl by introducing the sportier CB750F version but the original SOHC design was retired after nine model years. By that time, Honda had sold over half a million CB750s.


The CB750 turned the motorcycle world on its ear not because it made four cylinders work on the street, but because it made four cylinders work better on the street than anything else. Prior to 1969, touring bikes came from America or Germany, performance bikes came from England, reliable commuter bikes came from Japan. Then, suddenly, you could have all of them in one machine. The CB750 was clearly the best choice for any road, any ride, anywhere, anytime.

  • PotbellyJoe ©

    Now try to find an early one with the sand-cast (Not really sand, but owners call it that) engine cases.

    • We the first 7,400 production CB750s had "sandcast" (gravity mold cast) crankcases. The later ones were die-cast, and had a lot of little detail changes (different number of clutch cover screws, etc.) Most of the early sandcast bikes were delivered to dealers in September and October of 1969.

  • I´ll sign under too, the most important bike you should know. This bike started the awareness that you have to think out of the box and go after goals beyond expectation. I think because of this bike every two years there´s a major overhaul in technology for streetbikes.

  • Honda 750s were great bikes, no doubt. I have a good friend who bought a 750 Super Sport back in the very early 70's and still owns it to this day. I've owned a '71 Honda 450 DOHC and a '75 Honda 550-4 myself, but never a 750.

    I'd love to see you do a piece on the Honda PC800, which I also owned (a '94). It was a bike made for the professional (i.e. the Yuppies) with full bodywork and a large trunk built in so you wouldn't have to haul your leather jacket and helmet into the workplace. It would have hit it's target precisely if the target hadn't moved and started buying Harleys trying to be wannabe bad boy bikers. Very interesting bike nonetheless.

    • Jeff

      Second the PC. I love the Pacific Coast and it's one of the top bikes on my gotta get one list. ALL of my bike-buddies laugh when I say this (if they know what it is).

      • All my Harley buddies laughed at my PC800 in a crowd too, but when we were alone, every one wanted to try riding it and came back loving it (but asking me not to tell anyone that). They also love it when I pulled up to the lake gathering with a 12 pack in each side of the trunk complete with ice.

      • Irishzombieman☆

        $1100. Cheapest I've ever seen, on Fresno CL right now:

    • Hmmm… The Honda PC800 is notable for its quirkiness and of arcane interest to riders, but it fizzled in the marketplace and faded away without much of a legacy. I don't see the Pacific Coast as significant enough to be a "bike you need to know" for a non-riding audience.

      • Fair enough. I think you're mistaken, however, when you look at the big picture, I could give you the reasons but this article is about the Honda 750 so I'll resist the urge. I'll only ask if a bike has to be a huge success in the marketplace to be considered significant? Or does one that fizzles yet influences future bikes qualify too?

        • I totally believe that bikes that fizzled, or even failed spectacularly, can be very significant. But I can't see how the Pacific Coast was all that influential. If you look at today's bikes, the PC's clamshell storage compartment didn't catch on, and only other trait I can imaging the PC800 having any claim of unique influence in is full-coverage bodywork in general. That probably owes more to the Honda Hurricanes and ST series, Kawasaki Concours, and various replica-racer sportbikes; today's highly angular bodywork is the antithesis of the PC's overly rounded "candy-coated-shell" appearance.

          Don't get me wrong, I am actually a fan of the PC800. I've ridden a number of them and always enjoyed them. They worked well, and other than being ugly had no faults. They just aren't that important in the whole history of motorcycles.

          To draw a parallel, I taught middle school art for eight years. There were lesser-known artists that I'm personally very fond of and would have loved to spend time on, but truthfully were not influential enough to cover at length at that stage of those kids's education. In the context of this analogy, the PC800 is .

  • peugeotdude505

    I had one.. a 77 K-model. Traded a Yamaha trials bike for it. Damn that was fun I never should have sold it.

  • bluehillsmike

    I still run my '80 Suzi GS 850 which was bought new. It's easy enough to tell that the GS bikes were designed in response to the CB 750. I just about fell off my bicycle when I saw the first CB new ( I was 11). Quite a revelation/revolution. Bike design seems to be heading back to that UJM direction that the CB created.

  • Clawbrant

    The real significance of the CB750 was that even with its exotic specifications it was actually smoother, more reliable, and generally easier to ride than the competition. A BSA Rocket III in proper tune could go about as fast as the Honda (it even handled better) but keeping it that way was no easy task. The better drum brakes of the day could stop you quite quickly but they needed a careful, skilled hand to do it. They bit hard and then faded fast. On the Honda you just pulled the lever. If you wanted to brake faster you pulled it harder, no secret handshake required. The CB750 was the first large, high performance motorcycle on which you could just hit the starter button and ride, worry free. That it accomplished that while simultaneously being the best motorcycle in its class is why it is a legend.

  • Lokki

    I owned a CB 750 in 1978. I viewed it as the big Chevy of motorcycles. It was comfortable, powerful, reliable, didn't handle wonderfully, but wasn't terrible, but mostly and especially,cit was hassle free. Other than changing the exhausts I didn't make any changes to the bike. There wasn't really any need to do so. By 1978 the era of the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) was in full swing, and the SOHC Honda was commonplace. British bikes, which were fussy and quirky were dead. They always seemed to have something wrong with them, people simply got tired of the headaches when they could buy a that started at the touch of a button, every time.
    I replaced with a Kawasaki KZ 750, which was an exciting bike. It had a redline of 10,000 rpm, but I wound to 12,000 regularly, trying to accelerate fast enough to escape gravity. Unfortunately, frame flexed at the head making mountain road rides excitingly unpredictable.c

  • Johnny Ro

    Would Mr. Tanshanomi please provide comment about the degree of soul embedded in the CB750? Also you seem to have neglected how it did not leak oil, which I think I remember from back in the day.

    I agree with all written but I remember feeling my new 1975 Norton Commando 850 Electric Start had soul, or maybe it felt like it had cohesion. Aside from rapidly disintegrating. And it was the last Norton (or any bike) that dealer had, ever, while leaking oil right there on his floor with no miles on it. I figured incorrectly that I could remedy that.

    A buddy had a newish CB750 then and was shocked at the off-idle torque of the Norton. His CB went out of tune very quickly and was not so fun then. A big fat CB350 sort of. Takes the lense of time to make these old things truly desirable.

    • The lens of time has nothing to do with it; they were "truly desirable" enough back then to put the Brits out of business pretty much overnight.

      As for "soul," The CB750 was proof that people would happily choose objective performance, reliability and durability over subjective "feel" or "soul." I owned a 1971 BSA B50SS Gold Star, so I know something about magic connection of which you speak. However, the fact that it never stayed in running shape for more than 300 miles between repairs meant the "soul" became less and less meaningful to me as time went on. It got to the point where any more of that kind of "soul" would have been the death of me.

  • spotty

    i've had 4 of them in the past, loved them then, love them now, i've just started cleaning up another one and i'm expecting another one to turn up in the very near future (that'll make 6 then)
    for me it was never about outright power ( i swapped a GSX1100 – capable of in excess of 150mph – for my first one) and it certainly wasn't about handling or brakes (both marginal on the GSX11 – almost non-existent on the CB) but i had more fun on that bike than any other i'd ever owned or ridden to that point (i've got a Vmax now and that beats anything else hands down any day of the week)
    i turned that bike from a stocker to a chopper, cafe racer, and a scrambler and it was a ball of fun in all modes.
    i'm really looking forward to getting my new one on the road and going a bit slower for a change but with just as big a smile as the Vmax gives.
    Oh. and as for being oil-tight….bollocks, it left at least as much oil behind as the 77Bonneville my mate owned at the time (he still does but it's been having a quiet time since making its way round australia a couple of times)

  • zetep

    Back in my car selling days, I traded one for a Innocenti deTomaso with a burned out engine compartment.
    Fun bike, fast enough, and a great lazy driving machine, sold it for more then the poor little Innocenti would have brought me.

  • Mike Zaite

    I wish I could get pipes like that for my 1100 goldwing. Anybody know a source?

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