Honda’s motorcycles first burst onto the world motorsport scene in the 1959 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Race. In 1961, Honda won its first Championship in its third year racing. The 1960s saw Honda motorcycles compile a stellar record of race wins across Europe. Honda’s machines at the time were mainly red.
In the 1970s, Honda began riding in motorcycle races in the U.S. Looking back over this period, we found an important piece of evidence—riders on American Honda’s motocross team raced in red, blue and white riding wear. The year was 1973. The tricolor flag of France is well known, and the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag also employ the same colors. Perhaps this was what inspired the color scheme? Still, tricolor machines had yet to make an appearance.
The first motorcycle on record to feature all three colors—red, blue, and white—was the CB750 racer driven in U.S. Daytona 200 Mile Race in 1973. This machine, developed on the base of the legendary CB750FOUR model and driven to sixth place by Japanese rider Morio Sumiya, was the first model to feature the red-blue-white (or more accurately, vermillion-aqua-white) tricolor. Sumiya’s tricolor race wear matched the bike. Is this another hint that Honda’s tricolor originated from its race wear?
The Racing Service Center (RSC) was the former name of the company that supports Honda’s motorsports—currently Honda Racing Corporation. The company was known by its HRC logo. The RSC began as a race support team, and was made an official company in 1973. Around that time, the company switched from a logo with a black backdrop to a tricolor motif. It appears that in 1973, the Honda works team had already adopted a logo with the tricolor backdrop.
Honda’s RCB1000 machine was developed for competition in the Europe Endurance Championship. The model made its debut in 1976 and claimed a series of honors, including winning titles in its first year. This machine employed the tricolor design from the outset. The model’s designer, Masakazu Matsuzawa recalls “I had a vague image of the North American AMA riders’ race wear and Sumiya’s machine featuring a tricolor design.” The strength of Honda’s racing team propelled the tricolor design to worldwide fame.
The Honda tricolor era began in earnest around the start of the 1980s. In the 1979 World GP, Honda surprised the world with the NR500, which featured oval pistons. In 1982, Honda won its first Paris-Dakar Rally with the XR500R. The team’s tricolor machines were making their mark in races around the world. Tricolor commercial motorcycles based on the company’s race bikes also proved popular. The association between Honda’s world-beating race machines and the tricolor design grew ever stronger.