The First Motorcycle to Offer Disc Brakes

The detailed specifications printed in the Dream CB750 FOUR's product brochure

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<< 3. The First Motorcycle to Offer Disc Brakes
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Fortunately, Harada had come across some after-market disc brakes in a motorcycle accessory outlet during his trip to the U.S., and they had proved effective in the CB450. As a result, he immediately visited Lockhart, the developer and manufacturer. After consulting with the supplier's staff regarding the ideal design, Harada left the company with a set of their products. He secretly believed the new model they were going to develop might offer an opportunity to adopt disc brakes.

The day of the 1966 Tokyo Motor Show, scheduled for October, was fast approaching. However, Harada was still unable to make up his mind. Therefore, he brought two different brake specifications to Soichiro Honda and asked for some advice.

"We've designed two separate specifications having different braking systems," he told Mr. Honda. "One uses conventional drum brakes and the other had disc brakes. Of the two, the disc-brake specification had only recently been developed, so it will need more tests. If disc brakes are adopted, we aren't sure we can meet next spring's completion target."

Mr. Honda's reply, though, was simple and direct: "Well, of course we'll have to go with disc brakes."

The CB750 FOUR was a hit at the Tokyo Motor Show, flashing its big disc brakes to throngs of admirers. Rave reviews began pouring in.

However, immediately following the show, many hours were spent analyzing the remaining problems. Before the model's commercial launch issues that needed to be solved included increased wear of pads and noise in the brake pads, problems that were generally associated with disc mechanisms. They had to be solved in order to "achieve higher power while maintaining safety," which was a key requirement in the development of the CB750 FOUR.

Mr. Honda, in his reply to a question from an engineer, explained Honda's objectives in developing the CB750 in the January 1969 issue of the company newsletter (No. 124):

"When I went to Switzerland last June," he said, "a policemen on a white police motorcycle came into the park where we were. He then got off his bike. I was watching it, thinking what a small motorcycle he was riding. I was amazed to find it was a Triumph 750 cc. So, actually the motorcycle was fairly big, but it looked small since the policeman was so big. [Laughs] I knew then that our bikes wouldn't sell in foreign markets if we kept building them according to our Japanese perceptions. That's why I suddenly became enthusiastic about this, and it's why I started telling them to develop a bigger model as soon as possible."

The CB750 FOUR was released in the U.S. in January 1969. That year, Honda held its first U.S. dealer meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, a gathering of motorcycle dealers from across North America. The meeting's objective was to motivate sales, which had been sluggish since 1966. As a strategic move prior to the coming spring season, the meeting was also attended by company representatives from Japan, including Soichiro Honda himself. The event's true highlight was the introduction of the CB750 FOUR and other new models such as the Z50 and SL350.

"A retail price of $1,495 was announced by American Honda's President Kihachiro Kawashima at the Vegas meeting," Harada remembered. "Since large bikes were selling for between $2,800 and $4,000 in the U.S. at that time, all 2,000 dealers burst into thunderous applause when they heard its price. I've even heard that the machine fetched a premium as soon as it was on the market, selling for $1,800 to $2,000."

Honda was soon deluged with orders for the CB750 FOUR, and the initial production forecast of 1,500 units a year became a monthly figure. Even that, however, was not enough, so the number jumped to 3,000 units.
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