A notable forerunner of the 4-stroke revolution, the Honda TR200 Fat Cat, is among the rarest and most downplayed two-wheelers from the ’80s. Many off-roaders only recognize the dirt bike’s inadequacies as a race-oriented machine, unaware of its design process and the unceremonious restrictions it suffered after launch. This guide uncovers the truth behind the Honda 200’s short-lived production run and unwarranted demise.
The Honda TR200 (a.k.a. Fat Cat) is a mini motocross bike considered a detuned version of the ATC200X and an excellent entry-level dirt bike. Produced from 1986 to 1987, the TR200 boasted an electric starter, a 4-stroke engine with Uni-Cam technology, ATV-style tires, and a compact racing design.
Due to the 1986 “production rule” of the AMA, Honda made unfortunate changes to the TR200’s original design before rushing it out to production – resulting in substantial shortcomings with stability and overall handling. Even so, these flaws do not make the dirt bike any less of a prime choice for first-time riders and in-training racers.
Whether in race-ready or basic form, the Honda TR200 is undeniably a radical, one-of-a-kind thumper. Not convinced? Learn more about the Fat Cat’s specifications, quirks, and competencies in this article.
About the Honda Fat Cat 200
To truly appreciate a creation or work of art is to understand the inspiration behind it – this applies to all types of vehicles, and the MX-style minibike is no exception. Few people know this, but the Honda TR200’s nickname Fat Cat was derived from someone very close to Hirotoshi Honda’s heart – his fluffy and cute pet feline. And as special as this cat was to Soichiro’s son, so was the Honda TR200 dirt bike.
Contrary to popular belief, the TR200 was not Honda’s response to Yamaha’s BW200/ES or Big Wheel. The former was produced at the same time but was mainly prevalent in racing scenes. Sadly, the majority of off-roaders are only acquainted with the production models of the Fat Cat, which already underwent significant changes compared to its pre-prod version.
An Early Start
Honda started working on the TR200 as early as 1984 and with a list of specific attributes going into the bike:
- It would have TR (short for Totally Radical) in its name.
- The bike would tip the scale just a little over the 200-lb mark.
- It would have a power output of at least 45 hp.
- The two-wheeler would exhibit the latest racing technology.
But as luck would have it, not all of these sought-after qualities translated into the actual production model. The frame had to be changed from lightweight titanium to heavy pig iron, as the former was incredibly prone to pinging. Similarly, bodywork material was changed from carbon fiber to plastic to prevent shattering during hard landings and injuring riders.
Too Canny for Its Own
These changes may have taken away from the dirt bike’s power delivery and handling but not enough to deem it worthless on the tracks. On the contrary, the Honda TR200 (TR200R to be specific) dominated the motocross racing scene during its two-year run – and AMA-champ Ricky Johnson can attest to this. Its unrivaled 4-stroke power and exclusively commissioned high-traction Ohtsu tires gave the Honda TR200 a huge advantage in competitions.
While the dirt bike’s motocross success was good news for Honda, it also led to the spiral of doom for the Honda TR200. The race-ready nature of the two-wheeler fresh from the crate irked some of Honda’s biggest contenders who eventually cried foul, leading AMA to ban the award-winning dirt bike from the ’88 season. Consequently, Hirotoshi Honda discontinued the Fat Cat project.
Honda TR200 Fat Cat Specs & Features
A longitudinally-mounted 4-stroke, air-cooled OHV/SOHC engine with a 25°-inclined single cylinder and a bore-stroke ratio of 65 × 60 mm (2.56 × 2.36 inches) powers both model years of the Fat Cat. Engine displacement is 199.1 cm3 ((12.1 in3) with a compression ratio of 9.0:1. Each has a (Forced pressure) wet-sump lubrication system and an oiled double urethane air filtration. A 24-mm Keihin carb (identification #PD69A) handles air-fuel mixture and requires jetting adjustments depending on elevation.
The above configuration lends to a top speed of 50 mph (80 km/h). As for maximum horsepower, figures range from 13–48 hp (9.7–35.8 kW) at the crank, depending on the source of information. Considering the bike’s low compression head, the switch to a milder cam, and the addition of an EPA-approved exhaust, it would be safe to say the actual power output is in the mid-30s.
Fuel & Lubrication
Fuel tank capacity is 1.9–2.1 US gallons/7–8 liters with a 0.52-US gallon/2-liter reserve. The fuel should be unleaded gasoline with a minimum PON 87+/RON 91+ rating. Lubrication-wise, the manufacturer recommends 1.8 liters (1.9 US quarts – disassembly) or 1.5 liters (1.6 US quarts – after draining) of SAE 10W-40 Honda GN4 engine oil or its equivalent. When using other brands, lubes with an API service grade of SJ+ meeting JASO T 903 MA standards are best.
A wet, multi-plate, semi-automatic Rekluse-style clutch and a 5-speed constant mesh manual tranny deliver power to the ground. The clutch assembly has a slight variance in weight lining thickness between model years of the Honda TR200. Wheelspin is handled by a DID 520 VC-3/RK 520 MO (100 links + joint), and shift sequence is N-1-2-3-4-5 (left-foot-operated return system). Shifting is beginner-friendly. However, the absence of a manual clutch causes a lack of power modulation.
|Primary Reduction Ratio||3.087 (71/23)|
|Gear Ratio – I||3.667 (44/12)|
|Gear Ratio – II||2.267 (34/15)|
|Gear Ratio – III||1.632 (31/19)|
|Gear Ratio – IV||1.273 (28/22)|
|Gear Ratio – V||1.042 (25/24)|
|Final Reduction Ratio||3.000 (39/13)|
A CDI ignition with an electric and auxiliary recoil start system breathes life into the Honda TR200. It has a transistorized non-adjustable regulator with a rated output of 120 W @ 5,000 RPM serving as its charging system. Ignition timing is 10° ± 2° BTDC @ 1,400 – 100 RPM (at idle) and 28° ± 2° BTDC @ 3,500 – 100 RPM (full advance).
Furthermore, the thumper has a 10A main fuse, an NGK DRBES-L or Nippon Denso X24ESR-U spark plug with a 0.6–0.7 mm (0.024–0.028 inch) gap, and 12–19 Nm (1.2–1.9 kgf-m, 9–14 ft-lb) torque spec. Depending on model year, it may come equipped with a 12V, 9Ah (’86) or 12V, 7Ah (’87) battery.
The specific battery is unspecified in the service manual. But Fat Cat owners currently use either a YTX9-BS format with assembled dimensions of 6.00 x 3.44 x 4. 19 inches (150 x 87 x 105 mm) or a YTX7A‑BS battery with the following measurements – 6.00 x 3.44 x 3.75 inches (150 x 87 x 94 mm). The latter can fit in an ’86 Fat Cat model but with the help of 10-mm spacers.
Tires & Brakes
One of the strong suits of the TR200 is its tire-and-wheel assembly. For the stock tires, Honda commissioned tire maker Ohtsu to create FatCat-exclusive wide-contact-patch tires that measured 24.5 x 8.00-11 at the front and 23.5 x 8.00-11 at the back. Both tires had a recommended cold-tire pressure of 30 kPa (0.3 kgf/cm2, 4.3 psi). If same-size tires prove difficult to come by, you can opt for Carlisle AT489C ATV Tires (view on Amazon), which may require changing your rim size.
These high-floatation pneumatic knobbies were then mated to front and rear internal expanding shoes that provided the dirt bike stopping power. Pre-prod models that competed on the MX tracks had ultra-low weight drums instead of the heavier but more fragile disc rotors. This combo made the Fat Cat unbeatable on the racetracks, in mud, and on the dunes.
Enclosed in a low-slung, single downtube (semi-double-cradle) chassis (28° caster angle, 95 mm/3.74 inches trail) are 31-mm Telescopic forks and a rear swingarm that offered respective wheel travel of 150 mm (5.9 inches) and 120 mm (4.7 inches). They have a preload-adjustable rear piggyback Showa mono-shock that mounts directly to the chassis and swingarm.
While many enthusiasts feel that Yamaha’s jackshaft sprocket and dual-shock arrangement is superior to that of Honda, the reverse was true when the TR200 first hit the racetracks. However, following the changes done on the bike after AMA’s 1986 “production rule,” the TR200’s frame design began to offset the benefits of its longer 1,365-mm/53.7-inch wheelbase and 230-mm/9.1-inch ground clearance, rendering it a slower-handling machine when pitted against its rivals.
The Fat Cat’s overall dimensions are 79.5 x 32.3 x 42.3 inches (2,020 x 820 x 1,075 mm – L x W x H). Seat height is 755 mm/29.7 inches, and footpeg height is 310 mm/12.2 inches. Dry weight is 120 Kg/264 lbs. The maximum load capacity is 82 Kg/180 lbs, including cargo, rider weight, and accessories.
Only a single color option exists for the Honda TR200 – Shasta White. Side panels, handlebars, fenders, chassis, and wheels are in the predominant color. Meanwhile, the fuel tank, saddle, and fork boots are all in blue. The orange, yellow, and white “FATCAT” decal is the only thing that spiced up the minibike’s simplistic design.
On the downside, ergonomics is not the best in the market. Handlebars are late-generation J. N. Roberts models – gripping them makes one’s arms hang uncomfortably high. Seat height is less than ideal at 31 inches and feels stiff despite its contour and cushion.
Honda TR200 Pricing
The original list price of the Fat Cat is between $1,498 and $1,998. Conversely, retail values fall between $415 and $4,000, depending on the model year and overall condition of the dirt bike. Bikes in good working condition can be found on eBay and other trader sites and start at $1,999. Be wary of resale units below $1,300, as they often sell for parts.
For cheaper units, expect minor cosmetic damage like dents on the exhaust pipe, sprocket cover cracks, and some bodypaint peeling off or retouched with spray paint. More expensive ones are predominantly in pristine working and cosmetic condition. They may come with a few extras like front and rear load racks, brand-new tires and lighting, and add-on instrumentation like a Trail Tech 752-119 Black Vapor Digital Speedometer (view on Amazon).
Pros and Cons
Given its current rarity, being undermined proved to be advantageous for the Honda TR200. The lack of popular vote has given it the element of surprise, wowing customers who get their hands on this nostalgic wheeler. Additionally, Honda one-upped Yamaha in the suspension department with a mono-shock rear suspension, which was well-hidden in its base aesthetic. It is also easy to personalize, and a good bottle of spray paint or powder-coating will get the dirt bike looking brand-new.
The lack of a manual clutch was the biggest downfall of the TR200, especially when compared to its closest contender – the Yamaha BW200/ES. Moreover, it created an unbreakable habit for its riders who got accustomed to using a hand-activated rear brake, which is not commonplace in bigger-displacement two-wheelers. Replacement parts are also insanely scarce, making build projects more expensive than they out to be.
Known to push the boundaries of automotive design, Honda Motor Company Ltd. is a world-renowned Japanese conglomerate that traces its roots to mass-produced piston rings and military aircraft automation. The firm was founded by Soichiro Honda and seconded by his son, Hirotoshi, the brains behind the Honda TR200 Fat Cat project. Under Hirotoshi’s and his successors’ leadership, Honda has evolved from manufacturing surplus engines in 1946 into a well-respected industry leader and innovator of high-performance motorcycles, electric automobiles, and energy solutions.
Conclusion – Honda TR200 Fat Cat Review
The Honda TR200 may be considered an underdog by most riding aficionados. But in reality, it is so much more than the speculations surrounding it. It is a great beginner bike to learn the fundamentals of handling and cornering, as well as a platform to test your bravado and grow your love for the outdoors. Above all, its forgiving yet fun nature more than compensates for its imperfections.