The Honda Elsinore Dirt Bike: A Story of Success
Steve Mcqueen Riding an Honda Elsinore
In the 60’s and early 70’s, on any given weekend out in the desert or on the motocross tracks throughout the states one could find an array of dirt bikes being ridden. Riders on Sunday morning getting ready for the day’s race could be seen gassing up their BSA’s, Triumphs, Pentons, Maicos and a few other bikes. For Enduro riders they were prepping their bikes, making sure they had their roll chart in place and their score card tucked away. Many dirt bikes of the 60’s where not really intended to be raced across the desert on their “bomb run” at the start of a race. This is the era when riders wore real leathers and used aviator goggles to keep the dust out of their eyes. Soon the racing world would be hit by a motorcycle that many had to have. I am not talking about being like J N Roberts and screaming across the wild blue yonder on a Husky but the invasion from Japan, the Honda Elsinore.
Here is a little history with Soichiro Honda who established the Honda Technical Research Institute in 1946. Its first small motorcycle, called the "Dream D” came out in 1949. Honda’s big success here in the states stemmed from the first motorcycle shop that Honda opened in Los Angeles in the 1950s. Within a decade Honda would be the top manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. At first the small dirt bikes where a popular camp bike and were used for running to the pit toilets or just running around camp. Honda has always been race inspired and the development of the dirt bikes led to the company taking the win in the first Baja 1000, held in 1967. This may have inspired riders to take a new look at Honda and see what all the fuss was about. In 1973 Honda would be on a path to great success that continues today.
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The first serious Honda dirt bike was the 'Elsinore', released in 1973. The SL90 (1969) was the first genuine trail bike released by Honda and was followed by a 100cc, 125cc, 175cc engine. The SL's went on to become the XL in 1973 which were 4 stokes. The Elsinore was the first serious dirt bike that anyone had ever seen. 1973 the CR250m Elsinore two-stroke that boasted 29-horsepower hit the trails and everybody raved about this bike. They followed up with the following year with the CR125. Now everyone was saying “now you’re talkin” that’s a dirt bike. In 1973 Gary Jones rode one to victory in the AMA 250 National motocross series. In 1974 Honda released the CR250M Elsinore and for its day, the specs were awesome with 4.1 at the rear suspension, and brakes that actually worked. Over four inches of travel on the rear was awesome for the day. In 1982 the name Elsinore was dropped but not forgotten and Honda continues to manufacture quality dirt bikes, whether you race motocross, enduros or desert races. By the time the name Elsinore was dropped Honda had become a popular manufacturer of dirt bikes. After 1973 with the CR250 showing up you would see the Elsinore dirt bikes all over the place with their distinct silver tank.
My first Honda was a bastard bike set up for Rick Munyon in 1976 when he was riding qualifiers for the ISDT (ISDE) US Team. It had a 125 frame but a 175 engine, so I guess you could say I had a MR125/175 and it was a fun motorcycle to race. I would go on to ride three more Honda's and was the first female enduro rider (AMA District 37 & CRC) to be successful on a four-stroke. Time flies when you're havin' fun!
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