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Benly or Benri? From C90 to CA95 to CB92…Hondas are very convenient and fun!

Various sales photos from Honda sales brochures and advertising. Early CA95 model, pre-64.
Various sales photos from Honda sales brochures and advertising. Early CA95 model, pre-64.
AHMC, HMC-Japan

Note: The Honda “Benly” model name originated with the single-cylinder 1954 J model “Benly,” but this story refers to the more contemporary twin-cylinder models, generally for sale in the U.S., starting in 1959.

The Honda “Benly” model was offered in either 124cc or 154cc, starting initially with a 1958 version called the C90. The word Benly is a loose translation of the word Benri that means “handy or convenient” in the Japanese language, Compact and lightweight, the Benly series appeared in various forms through their full production years of 1959-65.

The 124cc C90 was followed by the 1959 C92 and companion 154cc C95. While all Benlys came with 16” wheels (3.00x16” whitewall tires), squared off styling including large, flared fenders, the earliest ones featured chrome-plated fuel tanks, lacking the customary rubber kneepads. Painted fuel tanks with removable side covers and rubber kneepads followed in 1960. Domestic versions could be had with either a dual seat or a solo seat and rear rack, which could be equipped with a quick-release pillion pad for the occasional passenger. Rotary gearboxes were part of the domestic model line-up, allowing for convenient down, down, down, down shifting, and continuing to neutral, then back to 1st gear again. Engines, through 1959, often have small distributor caps to supply the sparks to both sides, rather than the double-ended coils seen on most models, thereafter.

Product codes involved with this series of machines include:

200-C90, 201-C95, 202-C92, 203-CA92, 204-CS92, 205-CB92, 206-CA95, 207-CB95, 208-CD92, 209-CS95, 210-C2-92, 211-C2D-92, 212- C3-92, 213-C10-95, 214-C2D 95, 215-C3A 92, 218-C3S92 and 219-C3-95.

Standard C92-95 and CS92 high-pipe Sports models, with the Cub-style sheet-metal handlebar systems had a large plastic emblem on the middle of the handlebar, inscribed with either BENLY or HONDA over HONDA MOTOR CO, LTD just below. Early versions, through about 1963, featured long flat-sided mufflers, similar to those shapes on the C100 Cubs. Later versions had rounded muffler designs, more like those seen on later CA/CB160s.

Honda brought the 125 C92 model over to the US in 1959, modified it as a CA92 (“A” being for the American market) by installing tubular handlebars and deleting the turn signals. It became apparent that only a 150cc model would suffice in the wide-open US cities and countryside, so the CA95 version was the only offering after 1959.

All US-market machines had dual seats, sealed-beam headlights and no turn signals, which was the case for all US specification Hondas, prior to 1968.

From 1959 to 1961, the small rectangular taillights were a feature on all Benlys, and were even used on the larger 250-305cc Dreams. To meet US safety regulations, larger tail light assemblies were required. The 1962 CB72 tail light was used as a replacement, but the tail light lens grew an inch or so longer for the 1963 and later production.

Tire pumps were part of the accessories offered on the Benly line, up until 1964. Tool kits came with tire irons and tiny tube patch kits, including scissors to trim the patches to fit and rubber adhesive.

Detail changes came in small items like the tank badges. First versions in 1959-60 were inscribed Honda BENLY. Second generations in 1962 were changed to Benly 125 (also used on the CR93 Street Bikes). Whitewall tires came in with the second generation of Benlys in the US, as well.

Benly serial numbers through the years:

1959= C(A)92 or 95-9XXXXX

1960= C92 or 95-0XXXXX

1961= C92 or 95-1XXXXX

1962= C92 or 95-2XXXXX

1963= C92 or 95-3XXXXX

Early 1963 marked the changeover from the flat-sided mufflers to round shapes and also brought in the new redesigned fuel tank, kneepads and tank side panels.

1964 CA95s CA95-4XXXXX

1965 CA95s CA95-5XXXXX

CA160s followed in 1966 and were just named CA160 Touring 160s, instead of earlier named Benly 125 or 150 Touring 125/150. The CA160s carry an abreviated “A160” serial number, as did the CB and CL 160s, which were stamped “B160” and “L160,” for some odd reason. Some later CL160s did receive the "C" in their serial numbers, though.

While the C92-C95 (and the American CA92 and CA95 counterparts) constituted the blue-collar, working man’s machine, Honda had a very special Super Sports version available for the up-and-coming small-bore road-racing crowd. Dubbed the “CB92” and released in 1959, the transformation from lowly C92 to CB92 was a complete makeover and it was given many special parts to make it a full-blooded racer.

While both engines shared a 44 x41mm bore and stroke, there were differences starting with the crankshaft and cases. The low-powered C92 had a two main-bearing crankshaft, while the CB92 had a fully-supported center main bearing crankshaft design and matching cases. The connecting rods were stronger on the CB92s and the compression ratio was raised a notch, as well. Even higher compression YB racing pistons and racing rings were made, thinner than those of the street versions, allowing for better ring sealing at 10,500+rpm operation. The spark advancers had less lead to prevent detonation on the Sports model. Carburetion seemed to be different depending on the year of manufacturer. First CB92s came with a power-jet 18mm carburetor, whereas later production models drew breath through a CA95 sized 20mm mixer.

The CB92 camshaft had more duration and lift than the C92 cam, plus the valves were of better material. Early cams had no provision for tachometer drives, so the outer cylinder head covers were plain finned versions. Once Honda designed more high performance engine parts, a tachometer drive and matching drive housing were used on the later production engines. The tachometer ranged to 14k rpm and mounted in place of the speedometer for racing applications.

Stock CB92s were rated at 15 horsepower vs. about 12 horsepower on the C92s. Honda cooked up a whole lineup of their YB (accessory) parts. Racing parts included pistons, rings, camshafts, cam chain tensioners, a 14k racing tachometer, megaphone exhaust pipes (2 lengths), racing ignition coil, shouldered alloy rims, air scoop vents for the front brake, number plate brackets, starter blank off kit and alternator index parts for a total loss ignition, racing seat, safety-wire drilled bolts and nuts and a racing carburetor. The full racing kit added about 5 to 10 mph to the top speed of an already-rapid, stock CB92, not to mention a tremendous wailing roar from the open-ended megaphone exhausts.

The stock CB92 chassis was pretty trick to begin with, using magnesium hubs and backing plates on CB72-sized brake shoes. The 1959-60 versions had alloy fuel tanks, front fenders and side covers, to lighten the bike substantially. The big brakes were spoked to 18” rims to aid in high-speed stability. Café-styled “Ace” handlebars were used on the early models, which were replaced with stock CB72 flat handlebars, after that.

CB92s were fitted with mudflaps on both fenders, like the C110 Sports Cubs. Some early versions were kind of blue-green colored rubber, whereas the later ones were white on the front and black on the back. Small windscreens were attached to the headlight shell via small cast alloy brackets. The entire windscreen package was deleted from American Honda’s parts books in the 1966 parts book update, apparently not conforming to current DOT regulations of that time. The front fork and headlight shells were different than those of the regular Benly series machines; so careful checking must be done when attempting to buy parts for these rare machines.

Back in the late 1980s, I purchased a truckload of CB92 bits, enough to build up two chassis and a spare motor. The red chassis, which turned out to be featured in a 1970’s coffee table motorcycle book, turned out to be a fake. It was a bike based on a 1962 CA95, which had been modified by trimming off the back of the rear fender, installing a complete CB92 front end and altering the motor parts to suit. More than a few machines have been faked or altered, in an attempt to get maximum dollars for the sellers. This is one bike you really have to check serial numbers on before you buy.

FYI the serial numbers for the frames are stamped in an area just behind the left side cover, going towards the opening of the rear fender. This was another of Honda’s odd actions, similar to the hard to find location on Dreams, which are down by the footpeg bracket mount. The numbers are not deeply stamped, so a thick layer of powder coating or even a few coats of primer and finish paint can often obscure the numbers completely. DO NOT BUY a bike until you find and verify that the serial numbers match the title. Some genuine CB92s had CA95 motors dropped into the chassis and/or the top end was changed out from 125 to 150cc, to boost performance. Honda sold CB92R versions, ready to go, in 1961-62, but many bikes were standard street machines with the YB race kit parts installed. Variations, for dirt racers, were fitted with sets of Scrambler-style exhaust pipes and handlebars, to help riders get control in the rough stuff.

CB92 engines had subtle changes made to help narrow the engine and make foot controls all fit properly. Both the kick-starter and shift shafts are a little shorter than the CA95 variety. Both clutch cover and generator side covers were narrowed to match the appropriate shaft lengths. The earliest of the CB92 transmissions shifted 1 up and 3 down, but that was quickly changed to the reverse shift pattern of the CA92. Because of the remote shifter linkage, you could flip the gearshift arm over and get either pattern from the same shift drum.

Like most all Honda models, there were improvements and refinements through the years. There were at least 4 different fuel tanks (two alloy and two steel), two knee pads, alloy and steel front fenders and side covers, original magnesium hubs were superseded to aluminum alloy parts, several types of tail lights and seats, two types of cable sets and cable adjusters for the handlebars. Early mufflers were seamless in design. Then, those were replaced with seamed mufflers, made in two halves and welded together, more like those of a CB72. The list goes on and on, so if you are involved with CB92s, at all, get all the versions of the parts lists and study them carefully.

The serial numbering for these bikes was similar to that of the bigger 250-305cc twins, in that the first digits after the model name indicted the year of manufacture. However, in 1964, the last year of production, the CB92s started with a 7XXXXX serial number, instead of a 4XXXXX number, for reasons unknown.

The first edition CB92 owner’s manuals were held together with brass brads and had the famous “flying racing posture” suggestions for attempting top speed runs. Think “Rollie Free” on his Vincent at Bonneville and you get the picture. This section was removed in the 1960-61 bound versions of the owner’s manuals, probably at the suggestion of American Honda.

Just over 1,000 CB92s were sold in the US, from 1960 to 1962, whereas the total production was about 24,250 machines worldwide. Highly prized for their unique style and high performance, CB92s command prices upwards of $15,000 for perfectly restored original machines.

Novices to vintage Honda often confuse the Benly 150 Touring with the CB92 Super Sports models, when seeking parts and/or information. Pricing for the Touring machines is just a fraction of that of the Sports models, however. Expect a really, really good CA95 to, perhaps, get into the $2k bracket, unless it is a perfect restoration and or low-miles original machine. Although a fair number of CB92 parts are derived from the Benly touring, the model specific parts are getting to be extremely rare and very expensive. The product code for a CB92 is -205, but a parts list will show codes ranging from 200-215. The crankshaft and engine cases went through at least 3 redesigns, so swapping parts back and forth between years is not always possible. After 1962, the parts configurations for the engines were pretty well established and much more reliable than the pre-62 versions. Considering that these engines hold less than a quart of oil and spin at 10,000 rpm, it a real testimony to the engineers and tool designers of that era.

While the CB92 was eventually replaced with the CB93 (125cc version of the CB160, also known as the CB96), the Benly Touring chassis soldiered on with a new engine, as the CA160 Touring 160. There was a brief CA175 update, which still incorporated the “slant” style engine, also used in the CL175K0, but featuring telescopic front forks. After that, Honda started making all the small twins in nearly-vertical cylinder designs, mimicking the CB/CL 250-350 series of street machines. A CD175K3 Touring 175 was sold for two years, and then eventually dropped altogether, for the US market.

The demand for small “Touring” style machines was negligible, especially in the US, by 1969, so the 125-175cc Touring machines ceased to be a part of the Honda lineup here and in most parts of the world. “Touring bikes” were about to get seriously upgraded as Honda released the 1969 CB750, which formed a basis for everything from drag bikes to road racers to fitted-out touring machines, prior to the release of the 1975 GL1000 Gold Wings. After that, “touring machines” would never be the same again!

Bill "MrHonda" Silver