Sunday, November 30, 2014

Little Honda

I got a new bike.


No, not a bicycle, a motorcycle.

Brand new?

New to me, but it’s a 1980 vintage. That’s 34 years old.

What kind?

A Honda.

Wow, a Gold Wing?

No, smaller.

Oh, one of those CBX six-cylinders?

You call that smaller? No.

A Magma V-4?


CB750 four? 550 four? 500 four?

No, no, no, smaller I say.

Some kind of hawk? Night Hawk?

No and no.

CB 450? CB 350? A CB77 Super Hawk 305 like Robert Pirsig rode in ZAAMM?

No, no, and … sadly no … I’d love to have one of those.

[That's Robert and his son Chris in the little, blurry, black and white that starts this note. Sadly, Chris was stabbed and killed in 1979.]

A Dream 305 or 250? A Benly 150, Super Sport 125?

No or no, and no and no. Still smaller.

Well what’s smaller than that? A 50cc?

Yes, you’ve got it, sort of, but a little bored out. Forty-seven mm rather than the 39 mm of the C50. Same stroke, however, 41.4 mm, so it’s a little “over-square.”

It’s a 70cc Honda Passport which is really the more mature version of the original Super Cub. Same three speed transmission and an automatic clutch. Nothing for the left hand to do but to carry noodles. (Japanese joke.)

Actually the Super Cub family includes motorcycles with a four-stroke, single-cylinder engine ranging in displacement from 49 to 109 cc. The first Cub rolled off the assembly line in 1958, and they’re still being made today. Over 60 million by 2008, making this the most popular single model of transportation in all the world. They sell well in the first, second, and third world and are manufactured in about 23 countries. Mine was built in Japan.

Today, fifty years since its birth, the Cub’s market continues to expand while its design remains fundamentally unchanged. Each year, close to 5 million units are produced worldwide. The Cub is truly a global standard, reaching production volumes unrivaled in the history of motorized transportation. While styling and other details vary slightly by location and application, the Super Cub has always retained its identity as a useful vehicle that is easy for anyone to ride. This is the bike that you "Meet the nicest people on."

The little Cub single-cylinder engine produces between 4.5 and 6 hp (in the larger models.) Two valves and a single overhead cam driven by chain. Many models have electric start and a kicker to start when the little 6-volt battery is dead. The top models have four speeds, but most have just three shifted by the left foot.

They get great gas mileage. Cycle World magazine's Peter Egan and Steve Kimball entered a stock Honda C70 Passport, exactly like mine, in the 1981 Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge, competing against specially designed high-mileage two wheelers built by teams of engineering students and an entry from American Honda. The course was a 65 mile loop near San Luis Obispo that had to be completed in 1 hour and 40 minutes, give or take 10 minutes, meaning an average speed of 35 mph . Kimball, riding the Passport, won the event through skillful and error-free riding, with 198 miles per US gallon.

The wonderful combination of steel and plastic is a common sight in many Asian countries and are popular in the South America and Africa too. In Vietnam the name “Super Cub” has become to mean “taxi” because they are so common in that use over there.

You have to have a pretty steep downhill to get these bikes up to 50 mph, and they slow to 20 on a long hill climb, but they are as reliable as a rock and really started the entire Japanese motorcycle presence here in the U.S.

Actually some models of this simple design were good hill climbers. They had a sprocket on the back almost the same size as the 17-inch rear wheel. They could climb up a telephone pole, although very, very slowly!

Although American manufacturers such as Harley and even Indian have flourished, the four main Japanese brands pretty much cleared the field in the US of European competition. Today they continue to be low cost and high reliability transportation for those with a set of metric tools.

My little “Cub” is just an oddity in my collection, but I rode it just last Saturday, and it is as fun today as it was when I rode the first one back in 61. Vintage Honda technology. Carburetor rather than fuel injection and simple point breaker rather than electronic ignition. It is where I first earned my mechanic's chops, and this little baby is a labor of love. If you can’t time an ignition with a feeler gauge or tune a carburetor and change the jets, then you really aren’t a mechanic, just a computer operator.

[In 1982, for most markets, Honda fitted a new capacitor discharge ignition (CDI) system to replace the earlier contact points ignition, thereby helping to meet emission standards in markets such as the US. At the same time the electrical system was changed from 6 volt to 12 volt. My ’80 lacks those improvements.]

This little baby has responded very well to my wrenching. I’ve got the motor purring with a new set of points. There are still a couple of electrical problems: neither the neutral light nor the high beam indicator light work, although the turn signal indicator is fine. Headlight, taillight, and turn signals all work. I thought it might be bad bulbs, but that wasn’t it. Also the battery won’t hold a charge. Could be these two problems are related, but — since it has a kick starter — sort of belt and suspenders — a dead battery doesn’t stop the fun. I took it for the first ride yesterday all the way to Loveland and it performed magnificently, albeit somewhat underpowered.

I want to perform a compression check to see if the engine is really tight. I don't have an adapter to fit the small plug hole. The bike ran well after an initial rough time. At first it cut out a bit at speed, but, after a while, it started to run fine. I'm not sure when it was run last, and I just had to blow some carbon out. Now it runs great, fluids are all good, and it starts and idles like butter. After that long ride, I hope to check out some things like the new spark plug for fouling and how well the chain held tension, but I may not have time for that soon. The electric start worked with the fully charged battery, but — by today — the battery is dead again.

I had fun with the little dialog at the start of this note, and it is really sort of a shopping list for me. I’ve already got my eye on a Honda Dream 305 with good paint and both tank badges … which matters in restorations. Right now I’m tied up with other tasks, but I’d love to get my hands on that red Honda and tear down its engine and see what I can fix. This one is a ’65, so it’ll be the oldest machine I have yet … if I can get it.

Meanwhile, my little 70cc Passport is nearly as good as the day it rolled out of the factory in 1980. I wish I could say the same for myself. Sort of makes you want to sing. Go ahead. Sing along.

"Little Honda"


I'm gonna wake you up early
Cause I'm gonna take a ride with you
We're going down to the Honda shop
I'll tell you what we're gonna do
Put on a ragged sweatshirt
I'll take you anywhere you want me to

First gear (Honda Honda) it's alright (faster faster)
Second gear (little Honda Honda) I lean right (faster faster)
Third gear (Honda Honda) hang on tight (faster faster)
Faster it's alright

It's not a big motorcycle
Just a groovy little motorbike
It's more fun that a barrel of monkeys
That two wheel bike
We'll ride on out of the town
To any place I know you like

First gear (Honda Honda) it's alright (faster faster)
Second gear (little Honda Honda) I lean right (faster faster)
Third gear (Honda Honda) hang on tight (faster faster)
Faster it's alright

It climbs the hills like a Matchless
Cause my Honda's built really light
When I go into the turns
Lean [Tilt] with me and hang on tight
I better turn on the lights
So we can ride my Honda tonight

First gear (Honda Honda) it's alright (faster faster)
Second gear (little Honda Honda) I lean right (faster faster)
Third gear (Honda Honda) hang on tight (faster faster)
Faster it's alright

First gear (Honda Honda) it's alright (faster faster)
Second gear (little Honda Honda) I lean right (faster faster)
Third gear (Honda Honda) hang on tight (faster faster)
Faster it's alright

ZAAMM Post Script

[This is a picture of Robert Pirsig's Honda Super Hawk and his riding companion, John Southerland's BMW R60. From left to right are his son Chris, John, and John's wife Sylvia. I think this picture is probably taken at the top of the Cook City - Red Lodge Highway ride from Laurel, Montana, toward Yellowstone Park.]

1 comment:

  1. Great read! Enjoyable and I especially like the fact that you went outside the box here! Small bikes are amazing! Not to mention that I love Robert Pirsig's book (my students did too, well, at least those of them that took the time to read it!)! ;-) Looking forward to reading your next post!