Honda S65 Road Test
Hot on the heels of its Cub 50-based C110, Honda
introduced two small and sporty tiddlers to the U.S.
market in the mid-1960s. One was the hugely successful
S90 model, which generated a tremendous buzz thanks
to its sporty good looks and peppy 90cc performance.
As far as Honda was concerned, the S90 was the head
of the class, grabbing all the attention. But a few
rows back, with its hand raised ever so slightly,
was the Sport 65, waiting patiently to be called on.
Like most small Hondas of the time, the S65 (also
sometimes known as the CS65) owes much of its upbringing
to the granddaddy of tiddlers, the C100 and its sporty
C110 derivative. Despite the obvious difference of
the pass-through versus the conventional tank-over-frame
design, the basic layout and many significant mechanical
components are shared between the bikes. This becomes
even more obvious when you place the two bikes side-by-side.
Let’s see now, hmmm, those front forks sure
look familiar. So does that rear swing arm. Oh, wait,
that taillight is the same, too.
And yet, the S65 retains a completely unique look
and feel, and an appearance that should endear itself
to a small-bike enthusiast looking for that perfect
middle ground. It is something more grown-up than
your typical pass-through scooter, yet not overtly
sporty to the point of being single-minded in its
purpose. The S65 really is the smart kid in the class,
with the correct answer for nearly every situation.
Everything about the S65 screams out mid-1960s Honda
design. Well, maybe not screams — perhaps suggests
is a better term. Nothing immediately pops out, because
aesthetically the bike just blends seamlessly into
a fashion statement of sheet metal and chrome. Walking
up to the S65, its general stance impresses. Sitting
high atop its useful center stand, the S65’s
immediate attitude is one of function first, form
second. It is a clean, uncluttered design with everything
in its place.
As with other mid-1960s designs, the S65 uses a multi-layer,
stamped metal frame incorporating the headstock, spine
and rear fender into one lightweight yet surprisingly
strong monocoque. There are but a few errant spot
welds or seams, and most of these are covered up by
other components. The rear fender shape is full, accentuated
by the thin rear tire and the overly padded two-place
From the side, it is this one-piece frame —
complete in original black paint on our 1966 photo
bike — that shows the most color, along with
the black teardrop-shaped tank straddling the frame’s
backbone. Capped on both sides by highly polished
chrome accent panels — with standard Honda emblems
and ridged rubber knee pads — the tank is mostly
absent of the boxy shape found in the earlier C110
Up front, the view is dominated by the sheet metal-encased
leading-link front suspension and full front fender,
both dressed in the original black body color. The
only bits of bright work include a chrome dress-up
cap at the bottom of the leading-link enclosure and
the small fluted chrome horn cover, with a red painted
“65” attached to the body-colored front
fascia. A touch of chrome surrounds the headlight
housing, as well.
Standard small-bike rolling stock consists of narrow,
17in chrome-rimmed wheels with 36 spokes per rim,
wrapped with thin, 2.25in tube tires. A petite yet
effective front drum is clamped to the leading arms
of the front links, which barely protrude from their
encasement. The rest of the front suspensions’
inner workings are hidden away from view.
The handlebar controls provide everything needed
to operate the bike with little fuss. A standard twist
grip throttle is on the right, as is the thin front
brake lever, requiring minimal pull for slow speed
stopping power. The clutch lever is on the left, as
is the tiny button for the horn, which lets out a
bellow heard no more than 20ft away — 10ft if
the engine is running. The conventional cable-operated
speedometer has markings up to 60mph (in 10mph increments)
and is set under the bars in a simple aluminum housing.
The heart of the bike, the 62.9cc air-cooled four-stroke
engine is mounted off the front of the monocoque frame,
attached by just two slender mounting bolts. Starting
from the top down, an espresso cup-sized carburetor
pulls air through the center of the frame, down a
small rubber inlet boot and into a gently curved,
cast aluminum intake pipe. Exhaust gasses are spent
out a tightly curving chrome head pipe and through
an upswept “scrambler-style” chrome exhaust
pipe, fancied up even further by a fluted chrome heat
shield. The overall look is one of clean, uncluttered
lines that further emphasize the tasteful flow of
Positioned nearly horizontal, the overhead cam engine
has a thinly-finned cylinder head capped with an inspection
port much appreciated by the average garage mechanic.
The clutch mechanism is cable operated and uses a
simple pull-type arrangement located on the right
side engine case. The flywheel magneto is located
on the left side of the engine, together with the
foot-operated one down, three up shifting mechanism.
Throw a leg over the heavily padded and stitched
two-tone seat, and you’ll find yourself assuming
a surprisingly comfortable riding stance. Even with
my 6ft 1in frame, I don’t feel the least bit
confined. The bars have a generous pullback and rise
that helps to keep aching backs at bay during longer
rides. The low seat height and well-placed rubber
foot pegs are a nice touch, too.
Foot-operated controls consist of a left-side gear
change with both toe and heel pads, and a right-side
lever for the rear brake. Passengers will be pleased
to find small rubber foot pegs attached to the swingarm
and a thin grab strap attached to the seat, just behind
the pilot’s backside. As with any bike of this
size, two-up riding is best left for partners that
enjoy a good snuggle. With the ignition switch and
key located up front off the bottom of the steering
head, the side-mounted covers — also painted
body color — provide access to the battery and
Like my mother’s 20-year-old Honda lawn mower,
the S65 needs but a touch of choke and one good kick
to bring it to life. And unlike the more temperamental
two-strokes I usually ride, this little thumper doesn’t
anger the neighbors with puffs of smoke or high-revving
two-stroke tunes. Instead, it just cranks over and
settles into a nice little thump-thump idle barely
heard through the well-muffled exhaust.
This particular S65 shows just over 3,500 miles on
the odometer, which explains why it feels so original
in its nature. The throttle is crisp, the control
cables still surprisingly taught, and clutch and shift
actuation are top notch. Speaking of which, it’s
time to grab first gear and head out.
Immediately, I’m confronted with what seems
like locomotive levels of torque (relatively speaking,
of course). Compared to a two-stroke bike of the same
size, the Honda needs very little throttle to pull
away from a stop: You just don’t need to worry
so much about getting the revs up to make sure you’ll
pull away clean. It practically does it for you.
First gear is fairly long, which is nice because
it lets you get across an intersection without needing
to shift. Once into second, the wave of smooth power
propels you forward, yet thanks to the engine’s
torque, it can darn near pull you away from a dead
stop with just a bit of clutch slippage. It’s
a great downtown and parking lot gear, as you needn’t
drop down a gear for every 90-degree bend and scream
it out in first.
Once out on the road, third gear proves handy, as
it can take you from a low rolling speed clean up
to nearly 40mph. At speed, the bike feels solid if
not a bit too cushy. The leading-link front suspension
doesn’t feel properly damped, and it tends to
wallow a bit over small irregularities and bumps.
No wonder leading-link front suspensions gave way
to telescopic units. I do admit though, that it soaks
up the bigger bumps like a Cadillac — at least
in the front. The back end feels stiffer, so you tend
to notice the bike isn’t quite in harmony as
you bend it through a medium-speed corner. Ground
clearance is great, as is the general feel from the
steering, but things just don’t feel harmonious
when pressing on, especially when there’s rough
pavement mid-corner. You’ll find the front wants
to wallow and glide over the bump, while the rear
won’t soak it up quite as softly, slightly upsetting
It should be remembered that this bike was intended
for occasional off-pavement travel, which is when
you’ll appreciate the cushy feel of the front
end and the well-padded seat: The bike tracks down
gravel back roads with minimal fuss. It wouldn’t
make a great dual-sport by any means, but it certainly
gets the job done should you have a long unpaved driveway
to navigate, or some fun smooth trails nearby.
The gravel-covered orchard trail I’m riding
takes me to a small two-lane road just north of town,
with posted speed limits of 45mph. Luckily, the S65
is more than capable of keeping up with traffic. Wind
out third gear using all 6.2hp, pop it into fourth
gear, roll back on the throttle, and sure enough the
needle is climbing past 45mph and edging past 50.
With enough road, and a bit of a tuck, the advertised
56mph top speed is easily attained.
Luckily, the little drum brakes — and fast
spinning four-stroke — provide ample deceleration
from elevated speeds. No, you won’t be nipping
under Nicky Hayden on the brakes entering the Corkscrew,
but at least you won’t have to throw out a Fred
Flintstone anchor at every stop sign.
The rest of my ride takes me back into town along
small surface streets, soaking up potholes, barely
noticing manhole covers, and generally admiring the
fact that this little machine is a great all-rounder.
It has proven totally dependable, great fun and surprisingly
practical for riding on today’s faster-paced
streets. At the end of the day, it comes as no surprise
that Honda got it right with the S65.