Think iconic bikes and you will likely be imagining a Triumph Bonneville, Norton Commando or a Ducati 916, but there’s one model that knocks them all into a cocked hat – the Honda C90 ‘Super Cub’.
The Cub name first appeared in 1958. Powered by a simple 50cc four-stroke engine mated to a semi-automatic gearbox, and housed in an equally simple pressed steel underbone chassis. It would become the best selling series of motorcycles to date with over 100 million produced and sold worldwide. The little Honda sired the famous advertising line ‘You meet the nicest people on a Honda’ and provided mass transport to citizens around the world. As a utilitarian commuter, the Cub is unparalleled but, much like the Volkswagen Beetle in the car world, the Honda – in particular the C90 variant that sold in big numbers in the UK – is making a revival as a cool classic that proving popular with the custom crowd.
Introduced in 1966 and sold in the UK until 2002, the C90 featured an enlarged motor putting out 7.5bhp – enough to hit 50mph while returning over 100mpg. The Super Cub was hardly glamorous, but it was an inexpensive way to get to work and provided a first entry onto two wheels for many virgin riders. To ride, they’re not much to write home about but are oozing in charm. Those 89.5ccs won’t get you anywhere very fast and the crude chassis is about as far away from the cutting edge as is possible. Even with more modern rubber, those skinny tyres won’t offer much in the way of grip. The drum brakes were nothing special in 1966 and the leading link forks will rise under braking, creating an interesting weight transfer effect that’s the opposite to what you’d expect on a more modern design.
The Cub’s engine design has been widely copied over the years and is the basis for modern pitbikes. These Chinese-built engines have evolved, with four-valve heads, oil cooling and motors punched out to 160cc. These motors regularly put out twice the C90’s original power output and have been known to be slotted into modified Cubs. Scary!
Good bikes go for good money on the second hand market but the appeal of making a mundane bike special has meant that even ratty old nails are in demand. The whole C90 scene has come alive in recent years and while some modifiers do put in big motors, much of the focus is on stripping the already minimalist styling, usually taking off the plastic leg shields and fitting chunky wheels. Some like to take it several stages further though, with choppers, scramblers and café racers all taking pride of place at many a bike show. Having been many riders’ introduction into motorcycling all those years ago, the C90 is also proving to be many would-be bike builders entry into the whole shed built scene. There are even budget racing series especially for Cubs.
What’s more, the Cub’s legacy will continue with the soon to be released super Cub C125. The thoroughly modern interpretation was shown as a concept at Motorcycle Live last year and drew a massive crowd throughout the 10 days. Much like Fiat reinvented the 500 and BMW revived the Mini, the C125 isn’t as much a remake of the old model as it is an all-new machine inspired by a timeless classic.
The new Cub goes on sale later this year and although the basic silhouette and engine layout are as you’d find 50 years ago, the engineering is thoroughly modern with LED lights, keyless ignition, telescopic forks and disc brakes.
The legend will live on!
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