We Americans don’t often think of motorcycles as being purely utilitarian, since we use them mostly for traveling to interesting places, sporting along back roads and maybe a bit of backwoods exploring. But Honda figured there could be a market for this eminently efficient little go-anywhere 125, rigged to do all sorts of jobs around the farm or on the ranch. Back when horses were considered the standard get-around vehicle, roads and tracks were often narrow and twisty, prone to getting muddy after a rain, and that darned critter had to be fed even when it wasn’t being ridden.
Honda first used the CT designation in 1964, for the CT200, a high-piped explorer bike with a single seat. And a 90cc engine; obviously some marketing type felt the 200 number would sell more bikes than the diminutive 90. By 1966 Honda understood that buyers appreciated a more honest designation and changed the alpha-numerology to CT90. The T stood for Trail, as in a machine that was capable of following rustic paths through the woods, perhaps leading to wondrous adventures.
Then in 1971 Honda introduced a little 122cc OHC single-cylinder engine with a one-piece cylinder head in the SL125 Motorsport model, later used in the TL125 Trials version and a few months later in the XL125 dual-purpose bike. For 1976 this engine was modified slightly, with a two-piece head and the cubic capacity increased to 124cc.
After the XL125 was introduced, the Australian importers decided there could be a more useful purpose to this machine. First, they made the saddle more comfortable, since riders might have to spend a long time on the bike. And the saddle was for just one person, backed up by a big luggage rack good for carrying lots of stuff, from sacks of grain to sick lambs. Sheep stations in Australia often ran to thousands of acres, and here in Texas we had the King Ranch. A smaller front wheel was preferable for handling, and the CT got a 19 incher rather than 21 on the XL. The first three gears in the transmission were lowered for more plunking power. The original CT125 frame had a geometry that was similar to the Trials bikes, useful in the rough but not on the road; that was changed in 1976 to improve rideablity.
American Honda decided to import this model for 1977. That piqued the interest of someone in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which ordered a bunch—how many appears to be unknown. Apparently the government soon lost interest, and American motorcyclists were equally disinterested. Honda had to get rid of its stock, so dealers who wanted Gold Wings and CB750s and XL350s had to buy some of these. Besides Honda’s official “Motorcycle Identification Guide 1959- 2000,” the only mention of the CT125 that I could find was in a 12-page color ad in the February 1977 issue of “Cycle” magazine describing many of Honda’s 34 models that were available that year, including the three-wheeled ATC 90. Rather than being touted as a useful working vehicle for farm or ranch, the CT was described as being a pleasant little adventure bike good for traipsing off the roads.
Its engine had a bore of 56mm, stroke 49mm, with a chain-driven overhead camshaft. A single Keihin carburetor fed the engine from the 1.6-gallon tank, while a trochoid pump circulated 1.6 quarts of oil through the engine and transmission. Compression ratio on the XL was a hefty 9.4:1, while on the CT it was lowered to a modest 8:1, considering the engine would probably spend a lot of time idling. The Australian model actually had a clutch that could be locked in disengagement while in gear, perhaps useful for opening and closing gates without having to fumble for neutral. Apparently U.S. laws were not happy with that notion and the device did not appear on the version sold here.
Power went back via helical gearing to a wet multi-plate clutch, then through five gears, and onto the 14-tooth front sprocket that was connected to the big 52-toother at the rear wheel. And the chain was fully enclosed, which meant it rarely needed adjustment. A tubular steel frame cradled the engine, with an inverted (upsidedown) oil-damped telescopic fork up front having 4.5 inches of travel. A pair of oil-damped shock absorbers at the back had 2.5 inches of movement. Small single-leading-shoe drum brakes were on both wheels, good for stopping in the rough, and capable on paved roads since the bike had a top speed of less than 60 mph. A modest 51 inches connected the two axles.
The single seat was 32 inches above the ground and quite comfortable, the only distraction being the 80-mph speedometer, with turn signal, high beam and neutral indicator lights. Wide handlebars had brush protectors to keep vegetation from beating on the rider’s hands. The crankcase itself had a long steel loop protecting it on both sides, as well as a bash plate underneath. An interesting addition were the big mud flaps on the back of both fenders, a sure indication that this Honda was expected to go to very muddy places. At the back of the left side of the swingarm, close to the shock, was a small handle bolted securely in place. Now, this could be used for dragging a deer out of the woods, or more likely it was a handhold for when the rear wheel was properly stuck in the mud and needed to be lifted out. With gas in the tank, the bike’s weight was only 250 pounds.
Worldwide, the CT125 was on the market from 1975 to 1985, but in the U.S. it was one year only. Farmers and ranchers appeared much more interested in the ATC 90 than in this two-wheeler. And sporty types opted for the XL125.