Honda CB160: Racing In The Northwest

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Honda 160 Racing In The Northwest

Vintage Class Racing At It's Lowest Common Denominator

In 1990 Tim Fowler was working as a corner worker on the racetrack at Pacific Raceway. Never having raced before, he witnessed a machine on the track that would change his life and inspire him to start racing himself. The machine was a Honda CL160.

Many remember the Honda CL160 Scrambler as one of the bikes you could "meet the nicest people on…" back in the late 60s when sales of Hondas were taking off. The world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles was making literally tens of thousands of 160cc motorcycles every year between 1965 and 1969. Honda had spent countless hours at the track and was doing an excellent job of developing twin cylinder motors that ran well on and off the track.

Above: Tim Fowler blows out of turn three at Pacific Raceway during July 2002 competition.

The introduction of the CB750 Four in 1969 meant the days were numbered for the popularity of the twin screamer 160 Scrambler. With an onslaught of inline fours pumping up the adrenaline of riders across America, Honda realized that in order to maintain a market for twins they would have to take an upward slant in power, moving to 175 and 350 twins for the Scrambler in 1969. The end of an era.

Back to Tim Fowler's miracle moment. In 1990 it was unusual to see 160s being raced, but Fowler had befriended one such racer and followed his footsteps buying a 160, setting it up for racing and competing as a rider himself. Throughout the 90s Fowler competed and fine-tuned a formula that others could follow to hit the track with a CL160.

Fowler (at left with a nifty case of helmet head) and another racing partner, John Bundy, had loosely formed a small cluster in Seattle called Group W Racing. In 2000 Fowler met Michael Bateman who quickly picked up the 160 bug from Fowler and ran with it big time.

Bateman, a rider and wrencher himself, became intrigued with the low economy formula Fowler had devised. He set up a web site for the team and spread the word that 160 racing was where it was at. Group W also hooked up with Flying Circus, a Portland club and evangelized the pluses of the 160. Soon the two clubs would be competing against one another and there would be a total of 14 racers on Honda 160s between the two organizations.

During 2001 Bateman and a few others rustled up seventeen CL160s at an average cost of $70 each, parting them down and rebuilding eight of them back to racing standards. "The beauty of the 160 is we can also draw from CB and CA160s for extra parts since the motors are identical" notes Bateman. As is pointed out in Simon Pierre's corresponding feature , it only takes about $1,000 and some elbow grease to have a race bike like this. A class is born!

Above/right: Michael Bateman slinks his bike into turn four at Pacific Raceway during vintage competition.

"This kind of racing is all about the turns" says Bateman, "We keep the motors stock so things are pretty even on the straight-aways and it's a level playing field." Watching these racers go is a sight to see. Since it's well known the straight-aways will afford few chances to compete, the action in the turns is heated.

Standing in the S segment of turn three and four at Pacific Raceway on any given race weekend is enough to make your head spin. With the 160s it's where the line is drawn between the men and the boys. Fowler himself is vicious as he enters turn three and proceeds to pass three or more riders within the 10-15 seconds it takes to wind through the twisty.

Because this is vintage racing, Group W also works closely with Sounds Of The Past, an organization devoted to keeping vintage racing alive and well in the Northwest.

To get a taste of the action, watch the WMRRA schedule and make your way down to Pacific Raceway during competition. Begin by walking out to turn three and four (about a half-mile each way) before 10 a.m. as Vintage is one of the first classes to race in the day. Don't forget your camera.

After the race, return to the pits and talk it up with the 15-20 racers who all congregate together under a series of tents, usually on the west side parking area.

Above: Simon Pierre Smith on a CL160 squeaks out a lead on Richard Richter during competition.

If you've got the urge to race, but not the dinero it takes to run the Superbike class, check in with the guys at Group W and hit the track. SR!

TM/Summer 02

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