Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Bike of the Week - Honda C90

The Honda Super Cub, AKA C100, 50, Cub, C50, C70, C90, C100EX, Passport etc but for the purposes of this  story the C90, may not initially be much to look at but look again!  Although it may seem humble, it is in fact a fantastic piece of design and has an engine which is a truly great piece of engineering.  Unlikely though it may seem, and although it's only a simple pushrod single, the C90 was the UK's top selling bike right up until the nineties. Designed to do a job, it is the best little workhorse out there and the most popular vehicle of all time.

So here is the story of the most successful motorcycle ever - respect!

C90 GO!

The C90, comes from a great line which dates back to the original Super Cub of 1958 - yes it is that old and over sixty million have been manufactured, what a great success story!

A 'Little Honda' which has obviously been working hard!

Here's a little bit about its conception and history.

The idea for this magic little bike was first conceived in 1956 when Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa, while on a tour round Germany, noticed how popular mopeds were and decided that a small, high performance motorcycle was the way forward.

With this idea in mind, the Honda motor company decided to design a strong reliable two wheeler which would be suitable for everyone and which would appeal to rural and urban markets alike. This new motorcycle had to be simple to run and repair, so that it would be practical for people in places where mechanics and parts were not readily available. It also needed to be hard as nails so that it would not need many repairs if it was properly maintained, the very opposite to the modern idea of built-in-obsolescence (an idea which would have horrified Honda in those days). 

The scooter was nearly the right machine to base the new bike on, but small scooter wheels were not good on badly maintained rutted roads, so would not have the universal appeal Honda was aiming for. Scooter engines were also too complicated and difficult to repair, so did not fit the concept as they would not survive well in places where spare parts and specialist engineers might not be readily available.

Design and build

So the new bike was designed with features which would make it the bike for everyone in all seasons and all conditions.  It had a plastic fairing running from below the handlebars which protected the rider's legs from wet weather and from any debris which was thrown up from the road and this fairing served the extra function of hiding the engine.

Unlike the scooter, the engine and gearbox unit was not fixed to the rear axle which meant that the engine was not near the seat so the seat could be lower and the wheels larger.  The rear swingarm motion was detached from the drivetrain, creating lower unsprung weight and making engine cooling more efficient.  The Super Cub (C90) also had larger wheels which made the motorcycle more stable on bumpy uneven roads.  The larger wheels gave it even more popular appeal as it looked familiar to the public who were used to bicycles.  As a 'Step-through' motorcycle, with a comparatively low seat it was also easy to mount and sit on and great to hop off and on and it had an easily accessible petrol tank under the hinged seat - altogether a practical and efficient motorcycle.

Once the design was conceived, then the genius and entrepreneurial guts of Honda swung into action and, despite the incredulity of the world, they built a new ten billion yen factory in Suzuka, based on the model of the German Volkswagen Beetle production line, and set to work with double shifts manufacturing a huge quantity of  Super Cubs - a phenomenal 50,000 a month in fact!


The public grew to love it!

The Honda C90 was blighted by the recession in Japan at first when it made its debut in 1958, but after initial teething troubles it gradually began to gain ground. It was the only semi-automatic four stroke amongst a crowd of two strokes at the time, but once preliminary technical issues were sorted out it has never looked back.

The commuting public grew to love it.  It was great to handle as the engine was forward and low like a motorbike rather than located on the swing arm like a scooter and the engine proved to be indestructible.  It seemed that whatever the rider did to their roughtie toughtie little C90: didn't maintain it, thrashed it, ran the oil low,  like the Mississippi - it just kept rollin along...

The ride

The C90 was not the fastest motorcycle in the world - getting over 50 on one was good going - but although the semi-automatic three-speed gear box's high ratios were not brilliant for speed they were really good for fuel consumption. This is something which has contributed to the C90s enduring popularity, and is still a plus factor now as petrol prices rise steadily.

This sturdy little workhorse did and still does what it says on the tin it gets you where you want to go cheaply and efficiently and it doesn't break down. It is simple to ride even for a beginner and has a heel-and-toe clutchless gear change which is very easy to grasp and to operate and if you do drop it, it is so tough that you can mostly just pick it up, get back on and carry on riding. 

The Engine

The  original C90 had a pushrod OHV air-cooled four-stroke single cylinder engine which could produce 4.5hp at 9,500 rpm to give a maximum speed of 43mph.  Because it had a low compression ratio the engine could easily digest inexpensive and high octane fuel.  Another advantage was that it had a kick start which meant there was no need for a heavy and expensive electric start and thus the weight was kept low. In the immortal words of the Beach Boys...

"It climbs hills like a Matchless
Because my Honda's built really light
When I go into the turns better hang on tight"

Even the most recent models - the 2011 Super Cub 50 and Super Cub 110 which incorporate up to date technology like fuel injection are not offered with an electric start option.

The three speed sequential shifting gearbox was manually shifted but didn't have a clutch, using a centrifugal clutch along with a plate clutch slaved to the footchange lever to engage and disengage the gearbox from the engine.

This semi-automatic transmission made the motorcycle easy to push start if necessary and simple to ride for beginners - all factors which made it even more popular. At first the Super Cub used a 6 volt ignition magneto mounted on the flywheel, with a battery to help maintain electrical power, while later ones had a capacitor discharge ignition system.

The lubrication system was a rudimentary splash-fed system for the crankcase and gearbox, with a non-consumable screen strainer to collect debris in the engine oil.




Because it is a simple bike it is simple to maintain and a few tools are all that's needed to keep it on the road - as long as it is regularly topped up with oil it should run like clockwork.


Accolades from its fans...

It climbs the hills like a Matchless, Cause my Honda' built really light. When I go in to the turns Better hang on tight.


'It's more fun than a barrel of monkeys'

It climbs the hills like a Matchless, Cause my Honda' built really light. When I go in to the turns Better hang on tight.

That's what the Beach Boys said about the Honda C90 in their song Little Honda.   

Top Gear's James May rode one through Vietnam and afterwards said it was:

‘the greatest machine of all time; nay, the single most influential product of humankind’s creativity.’

The greatest motorcycle ever made....

It was also voted 'The Greatest Motorcycle Ever Made' by the Discovery Channel in 2006, when Charley Boorman tried to beat one into submission by throwing it from a tall building laden with 200kg of pizzas and filled with cooking oil.  Even after this treatment the little Honda kept on running - amazing!

Everywhere you look even now this ubiquitous indestructible little bike is still running happily along. They are beloved by cabbies doing 'the knowledge', commuters getting to work through the traffic, Pizza delivery boys, rural communities throughout the world and even people going on adventure and charity rides in far flung places - one has even done the Mongol Rally!

So next time you see one, say hello and salute the genius that is the Honda C90 - and there are plenty around to buy if you are tempted! 

If you have ever owned or ridden one let us know what you think of them.


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