1974 Honda CR125M
"Good enough to win in the 250 class" – Dirt Bike Magazine
The above quote from the Dirt Bike magazine test said it all. The 1974 Honda Elsinore CR 125M is the bike that changed the 125 class.
Competition is good in that other manufacturers had to raise their game as well; which benefited us, the riders.
Unlike many other manufacturers who replaced the lights from their enduro/trail models and called it a motocross bike, Honda started with a clean slate and built a true purpose-built 125 2-stroke motocross bike. (Note: all production Honda motorcycles prior to this were four strokes.) The CR125M was arguably the first out-of-the-crate125 that could win races.
Not only did the 125 Elsinore include a killer 6-speed 20hp motor, Chromoly frame, alloy tank, plastic fenders, and side covers, aluminum-bodied shocks, cool aluminum shift lever, and magnesium engine covers, it looked amazing. As a kid, I would visit the Honda House (the dealer where I got my first bike, a Mini-Trail 50) and stare at the Elsinore until my mom dragged me home.
Named after the famous Elsinore Grand Prix race in Southern California, the CR125 Elsinore was even more successful than the 250 models released the previous year.
Aside from its groundbreaking performance and reliability, what made this possibly the most successful 125 motocross bike ever, were its price and availability. Priced at $895, it was substantially less than its European competitors, and Honda's dealer network (which started in the US in 1959) was second to none, so finding parts wasn't an issue as it was for much of the competition. The quality of craftsmanship is readily apparent, as the same Dirt Bike test stated, "Nothing leaks on this bike. Nothing. This is as it should be. We hope the rest of the whole line of leaky bikes listens to this. There is no longer any excuse for sloppy workmanship or materials."
The first few years of Elsinore 125s may have also been the most modified 125 models ever. Who could forget the iconic photograph of the young Donnie Emler with an FMF pipe he built with his own hands slung over his shoulder destined for Marty Smith's 1974 CR125M? The popularity of Elsinore largely contributed to a new American business category – motocross-specific performance companies. The aforementioned Flying Machine Factory, DG, Miller Mano, TM, and CH, to name a few. From 1974 – 1976 there were more Elsinore 125s on the starting line of any given 125 class than any other brand.
Although the first purpose-built 125s came from European manufacturers, the AMA launched the AMA National 125 Championship series a year before the FIM's creation of the 125 World Championship. There were only four races in the AMA series. Honda hired Marty Smith away from Monark and rode the CR125M to two race wins and the National Championship. Not surprisingly, the four top riders in the championship were on CR125s. In 1975 Marty Smith won his second straight 125 National Championship and the inaugural 125 USGP at Mid-Ohio.
1974 Honda CR125M
This Elsinore was acquired in January 2004 from the Rick Burns Collection. I'm not sure how I was introduced to Rick, but he's a great guy who knows Japanese vintage motocross and enduro bikes inside and out. Rick is an avid collector and a friendly face at the AMA VMD year in and year out.
I purchased this bike as a package along with the TM125K in my collection. The Elsinore needed to be restored but was a solid original to work from and included a NOS pipe and silencer, front number plate, and front fender. It took me about two years to find the NOS parts necessary to begin the restoration, and let me tell you, the parts list was both extensive and very expensive. The finished product is absolutely beautiful and a perfect example of how this bike would have looked sitting on the showroom floor of your local Honda dealer in 1974.