My favorite automotive reporter used to say: “Motorcycles are vehicles driven by passion, not by reason” and I think I agree with him. After all, if reason was an important part when one is buying a bike, Harley Davidson would have gone out of business a long time ago.
I first rode a motorcycle when I was 12 years old, it was even before I drove a car with no adult supervision. That doesn’t mean after all those years I became a superb rider, actually I am pretty average. I am no daredevil, I don’t even know how to do a “Willie” and sometimes I think this lack of courage might have saved my life more than once.
The bike I rode that glorious Sunday afternoon was a 1979 Honda CG 125cc, in yellow, just like the one in the picture. My father bought it almost brand new, with no more than a couple hundreds of kilometers on the clock.
For sure I was terrified of screwing up and damaging my father’s beloved Honda. Only after I stopped and jumped off it could I take a deep breath and feel proud of myself.
The Honda CG has a long history in Brazil, it has been produced there since 1976 and it is the most successful vehicle in the history of the country. Even after more than 40 years, sales are still strong with no sign of slowing down.
Honda sells around 26,000 CG per month in Brazil, which is a pretty good number for a South American market.
The assembly line in the state of Amazon is Honda’s biggest in the world. The company also produce other models there but the CG occupies most of it.
During all these years, the little Honda hasn’t changed much, but some modern features like electric starter, disc brakes, electronic fuel injection and a bigger engine (160 cc) have certainly made the CG more enjoyable to ride.
What is so special about the 1979 model? For the first three years of production, the CG had its engine imported from Japan, but for 1979 it came with a Brazilian engine, finally making the little Honda a 100% “domestic”.
A few years later, in 1984, my father made a desperate attempt to convince me to grab the books and give my life a path toward the job market; he promised to give me a used Honda CG if I pass the admission test for the Technical High School.
Fair enough, I did my part and passed the exams but my dad failed me; he said at 14, I was too young to have a “real” motorcycle of my own. Instead he bought me a moped.
He found a 1980 Alpina, in metallic brown. The moped was in a very good condition and he didn’t think twice about buying a cheaper (and much slower) bike than a Honda CG.
There is not much to say about the Alpina in Brazil. For two model years, 1974 and 1975, the mopeds were assembled in a small building in Rio Grande do Sul, with parts imported from Italy and the name of the Bike was “Italy 1”. After that the brand changed ownership and the bike was renamed “Alpina T50” and the 2 stroke engine was then imported from Argentina.
The Alpina is indeed an obscure brand in Brazil and the lack of information is overwhelming, the enthusiasts aren’t even sure about the last year of production before the company went out of business.
Thank God for the brief period of time I owned mine, I never needed to replace a single part. I really don’t think it would be an easy task to find parts for that bike, especially in a time with no Internet to help.
The Alpina was in fact really slow, I remember having a hard time trying to keep up with my buddies riding 10-speed bicycles.
After one year, the Alpina was replaced by a “real bike”, a 1982 Honda “Turuna”, the sport-ish version of the CG.
The Turunas were equipped with the same 125cc engine from the CG, but they have 5 speed transmission (4 speed on CG), front disc brake and a more aggressive design. As far as I remember the Turunas came only in three colors, the more common red, dark grey (like mine) and the super rare blue.
My Turuna was not in a great condition: bald tires, the paint was peeling off and the engine was making a weird noise after it warmed up but who cares, it was a Honda and it was still quite reliable. She never left me stranded.
One Sunday afternoon, my best friend and I swapped rides for a while. I gave him the key of my Turuna and he gave me the key of his 1965 Willys Gordini. I jumped in, started the car and left, with a big smile on my face, after all I was cruising around the neighborhood in a classic car. After a couple blocks I ran out of gas and walked my way back to his house.
When I got there, I saw my friend, sitting on the curb, holding his head with two hands and with a very, very sad face. Right beside him was my crashed bike.
Right after launching the bike in first gear, he lost control and hit a small tree. Thank God he was very slow and other than a few scratches he was all right. I couldn’t say the same thing about my Turuna; the headlight was broken, the handlebar was torn as well as the turn signal and the instrument cluster was in pieces. I was devastated. My buddies and I were nothing more than a bunch of broke teenagers with no jobs and we had to rely on allowances to put gas on our vehicles. So it was no surprise my friend took forever to get the parts needed to fix the bike and we put everything back together ourselves. The final result was way below my standards (which I think are already pretty low), so I decided it was time to let the Turuna go.
I sold the bike and bought a 1966 VW Beetle and the idea of owning another motorcycle didn’t cross my mind for a while. But my dad was an enthusiast and he owned a bunch of Hondas. For him it was like no other motorcycle brand ever existed.
The first decent bike he had was a 1974 Honda 500 “Four”. I remember the bike was high mileage one but it was in really good shape.
The starter was busted but it didn’t matter, the bike was surprisingly easy to kick start. The bike also had the “mandatory” 4×1 straight pipe exhaust, even today I still think the old 8 valves Honda “Four” engines have a more melodic sound than the modern 16 valves.
I never had a chance to ride this bike on my own, it was considered too heavy for a skinny 15 year old guy like me but I have some really good memories of riding on the back with my father and his buddies in short trips to the beaches. The “gang” had a good variety of motorcycles, a couple Suzuki 380 GT, one Yamaha RD 200, some CB 400, one XL 250R, well those are the ones I can remember.
The military government was in charge at that time and, to boost the domestic industry, they made it unlawful to import any kind of vehicles.
Facing zero competition from overseas, our domestic brands had little incentive to give us more exiting models. For example, the most bad ass bike from Brazilian Honda at the time was the CB 400.
In 1984, my dad sold the 500 Four and bought a slightly used 1980, made in Brazil, CB 400, just like the one on the picture. The bike proved to be very reliable and never gave him any kind of headache.
The CB 400 had a long and successful life in Brazil. They were produced between 1980 and 1994 and during this period Honda sold around 75,000 units, a pretty good number considering the bike was very expensive by South American standards.
In 1984, Honda introduced a more sophisticated version, the DX, with a slightly bigger engine, 450cc, double disc brakes in front and a single disc in the rear.
In 1989 came the last version of this legendary bike, the CBR 450 SR.
By that time, Honda made a questionable decision with the CBR 450. The only thing it shared with the CB 450 was the old and reliable twin cylinder engine, generating 50 hp, everything else was new and up-to-date with other Honda products around the world.
For the first time we had the access to some modern stuff like an all-aluminum frame and pro-link suspension.
The new bike faced two big problems right off the bat. First was the poor performance provided by the ancient engine and second was a high price.
The price for a brand new CBR 450 was dangerously close to the price of a much better option, the CBX 750.
The CBX came to Brazil in 1986 and, just like its smaller cousins before, it had a lot of Japanese parts in the beginning. The bike became the biggest Honda ever made in Brazil and it didn’t take long to reach the status of “legend”. It came at a time when it was already too hard to find a mint condition Honda “Four” imported before the prohibition and the few good ones around had reached an insane price tag. The enthusiasts rushed to the dealerships and Honda wasn’t able to keep up the production to cover the demand. Some dealers were charging as much as 4 times the tag price if someone was willing to leapfrog the waiting list.
The CBX 750 remained the Queen of the Brazilian bikes until 1994 when the ban on imported vehicles was lifted. In the same year, Honda decided to stop the production of the bike; the company realized it was cheaper and simpler to officially import high performance bikes directly from Japan.
A year before, in 1993, the custumers were already predicting the bike market would be flooded with new options from overseas and the prices of the used CBX 750 started to fall. My dad decided it was the right time to say goodbye to his beloved CB 400.
He found a slightly used 1988 CBX 750 in a very rare color scheme.
This color scheme became know on the streets as the “Rothmans CBX”, as a reference to the multi winning Rothmans Honda GP Team.
On this pic you see the legend Mick Doohan riding the 1990 Honda NSR 500.
I remember vividly on the very first day he brought the bike home, he tossed me the key to his car and some cash, “Go to the dealer and bring me a 4×1 exhaust”.
Nope, no “Four” is complete without a 4×1 exhaust. I have fond memories of that bike since I was older and I had more opportunities to ride it.
In 1999, I moved to the States and for 7 years I lost contact with motorcycles. When I came back to Brazil, among many surprises I had, one of them was this:
Dad had replaced the “Queen” 750 with a 250 Virago. I never thought I would see my father riding anything other than a Honda, let alone a Yamaha, but I guess people do change. He said he was getting old and the 750 became too heavy/dangerous and he needed something smaller. Well, the Virago fit the bill perfectly but he could have got all of this out of a Honda Shadow. Go figure.
The little Virago was, in fact, a lot of fun to ride around town and didn’t take long before it got a pair of straight pipes, old habits are hard to kill. The Virago proved not as reliable as its predecessors as the bike had a very annoying electrical problem that would suddenly stall the engine; it had to cool down for 10 minutes or so to start again normally. It took a while to find the problem and to fix it but after that dad became very fond of the Virago and he ended up putting more miles on it than in any of the bikes he had before.
One day, back in 2007, he was riding on a highway and a big truck cut him off; it was a close call, he almost fell at 80 km/h. After that he decided to retire from riding. He was 57 at the time, recently retired and he thought it was time to enjoy life, not to spend the rest of his days on a wheel chair. He sold the Virago and gave me his leather jacket and gloves. I had mixed feelings about it. I was obviously relieved to know my father would be safer riding inside a car and at the same time I was pretty sad to see up close the time when an enthusiast decides to stop doing something that was pretty much part of his life for such a long time. Certainly I was also sad I wouldn’t have the chance to ride dad’s bikes anymore. It was time to start saving to buy my own bike again.
In 2013 I was working for one of the biggest classic car restoration companies in Brazil, Studio Phoenix.
Among many different activities we performed there, the boss used to buy and sell premium used bikes, like Triumph, Ducati, Buell and obviously Harley Davidson. Having the opportunity to ride all those brands, I immediately fell in love with the 883 Sportster, they are small, fun to ride and kinda affordable.
That was my target, in Orange because 99.99% of the Harleys in Brazil are black. It took a long while to save the money and when the time came I just decided not to buy it. Thanks to a severe case of mismanagement, Studio Phoenix was going down to the drain and I decided to jump off the boat before it sunk. I went back to Powertech, a much smaller company and with a lower wage too. (I wrote an article about Powertech here at CC). I was about to start a more frugal life style and a Harley Davidson shouldn’t be part of this picture.
At Powertech, my manager’s dad had a 2008 Honda Twister 250cc. He bought it brand new and didn’t like it. For some weird reason, he decided to keep the little Honda. Imagine that, a 6 year old bike with only 180 km on the clock.
That Twister would fit me perfectly, it was affordable and pretty much brand new. I made a reasonable offer and the guy decided to sell it to me.
The CBX 250 Twister came to the Brazilian market in 2001 as the very first serious attempt to offer a decent mid-size bike (in a country where 400cc is considered a big bike, 250cc falls in the mid-size category).
The CBX 250 came as a complete new project and it was up-to-date with what Honda was offering around the world. It was equipped with a mono cylinder, 4-valve engine, able to produce 24hp at 9,500 RPM. Other nice stuff like monoshock rear suspension, oil cooler, alloy wheels and disc brakes were standard.
I was very happy with my little babe, even if it was way below what I was initially looking for. I was so happy I even named it: Felicia.
Felicia became my daily partner, she took me to work and school and on weekends me and my wife used to ride her on short trips to neighboring towns.
As I would expect from a Honda, Felicia was very reliable as the only time she left stranded was when the throttle cable snapped. Good thing I wasn’t far from home.
The Twister was the replacement for the CBX 200 Strada, produced in Brazil from 1993 until 2001. The Strada was in fact a good bike but anybody could see it was nothing more than a CG on steroids.
As a 2008 model, Felicia was the part of the last production year for the Twister.
For 2009 the bike received a new design. The engine got a little bigger, 300cc, and the name Twister was dropped .
Felicia was the proof we can still have fun with a smaller bike as she was affordable, good-looking and reliable. Obviously a Sportster would have put a even bigger smile on my face but she was the right bike at the right time.
In 2015 our immigration papers to Canada were approved and I had to kiss Felicia goodbye. It was a very nice relationship and I only have good memories of her. Now we live in Winnipeg, a city where the cold weather can last 8 months a year, which means a motorcycle here would spend more time sitting inside the garage (which I don’t have right now) than on the streets. Still, I often catch myself daydreaming about bikes and for sure the orange Sportster is still part of it.
So is another contender, a Bonneville.
Who knows what the future may bring.