Perhaps no machine in history has introduced more young people to the joys of motorcycling than Honda’s little XR75. Starting in 1973 as a race bike, and later transitioned to a play machine, the XR and its decedents provided America’s youth (and often their parents) with four decades of uninterrupted fun.
The all-new XR75 would make its debut in the fall of 1972, a full month before its scene-stealing big brother the Elsinore would make it to these shores. The XR was small, but incredibly trick for the time, with beautiful fit and finish and a purposeful look. Gone was the moped-style laid down motor of the CT and SL. In its place was an all-new mill that screamed performance. Tight, compact and no-nonsense, the 72cc mill shared the displacement of the SL motor, but little else. Sporting a 47 x 41.4mm bore and stroke and 8:8.1 compression ratio, the new mill featured larger valves, a higher rev ceiling and a bigger carb (19.5mm Keihin) than the old power plant. Complementing the new top end was a high-flow exhaust, less restrictive airbox and lightweight magneto ignition. Putting the power to the ground was a rugged manual clutch and close-ratio four-speed transmission with straight-cut gears for durability.
Aiding the XR’s race-readiness was an all-new frame and rugged off-road ready suspension. The new frame was stronger and lighter than the outgoing SL unit and featured a single downtube and beefy stamped steel backbone. The design used the engine as a stressed member and tied the front and rear sections together with a monocoque style center section. Under the motor was a full skid plate and a rather odd set of peg mounts that placed one peg farther forward of the other for some inscrutable reason.
Handling was considered excellent at the time, with good turning and decent stability for a bike with such a short wheelbase. The little XR was easy to wheelie over obstacles with the proper amount of body English and slid well under power. Even with full-size adults on board, the bike felt solid and did not do anything weird or spooky. The only real weak point on the chassis turned out to be those curious pegs, which were mounted directly to the bottom of the engine cases. If ridden hard and not watched constantly, the mounts would become stripped out and fail. Other than that, Honda’s little mini bike was bulletproof.
In the suspension department, the XR used a set of non-adjustable telescopic front forks and dual rear shocks. The units themselves were similar to the components found on the SL70, but both ends offered slightly longer travel and stiffer damping. Performance was considered excellent at the time and Popular Cycling even proclaimed the forks to be the best damped units in the industry. While both ends were slightly stiff for light trail riding, they proved excellent on the track and capable of handling the punishment delivered by fast juniors or having Dad in the saddle.
In 1972, Honda fired two groundbreaking salvos across the bow of the off-road industry. The first shot, was the Honda XR75, soon to be followed by Honda’s first two-stroke, the amazing CR250M Elsinore. The XR75 was a whole new type of off-road Honda. Built for performance, it was light, compact and ready to race right out of the crate. There were no lights to strip off and no DOT froof that needed to be disconnected. It was a serious, purposeful and the catalyst for a mini off-road revolution. Within a year of the XR’s launch, there were frames, exhausts, big-bore kits and all manner of aftermarket go-fast goodies available to turn your XR from mild to wild. Eventually, the two-stroke mini’s caught and passed the venerable XR75, but its legacy continued with the XR80R, and later CRF80F. For four decades, it soldiered on as one of the most indestructible, enduring and beloved bikes in Honda’s lineup. Race bike, pit bike, or backyard plaything, the XR always remained true to its one defining mission - having fun.
Engine: 72cc OHC single cylinder
Spark plug: C7HSA
Plug gap: .028
Transmission: 4-speed with manual clutch
Chain: #420 x 100
Front sprocket: 14 T
Rear sprocket: 44 T
CHASSIS / SUSPENSION / BRAKES
Available color: Rubber Gray Metallic
The "HONDA" fuel tank decal and top stripes were red
The "XR75" number plate decals were red
Fenders were metallic gray
Serial number began: XR75-1000001