‘I paid £40 for my C90 – I just had to have it’ Niall Mackenzie
While his future US and Australian Grand Prix rivals were learning their trade on proper dirt bikes on purposebuilt tracks, Niall Mackenzie was honing his skills on a Honda C90 in muddy fields near his rural Scottish home. “I paid about £40 for my secondhand C90 when I was 16, which was quite a lot of cash in 1977, but I had saved up enough money from my milk round and I just had to have it,” he says.
Like 60 million-plus other owners, a young Niall Mackenzie discovered that the C90 (or any of its many variants) offered the cheapest and easiest route onto two wheels. “I mostly rode it round the fields in my old orange helmet, a fake leather jacket, green overalls, and my mum’s gloves! But sometimes I would have to ride it on the road to get to the fields, even though it had no tax or insurance and I hadn’t passed my test.”
He may not quite have learned the art of rear-wheel steering on his trusty chicken-basher, but the very novelty of being able to propel himself forwards without having to pedal was enough to get him hooked on powered twowheelers and he soon progressed to bigger and more powerful machines. This has long been the real value of the C90 and its stablemates – the fact that they’ve been responsible for getting millions of us onto two wheels and kickstarting a lifelong obsession with motorcycling. And for that, the C90 (and all its variants) must be saluted.
A two-wheeled revolution
The original C100 Super Cub was released as far back as 1958 but went under different names when it was exported to other countries to avoid trademark clashes with the Piper Cub aeroplane and Triumph Tiger Cub motorcycles. Over the years, there have been many variations of the bike, from C50 to C110, but they’re all just evolutions (or re-branded versions) of the same basic machine.
Hard as it may be to imagine now, the original Super Cub was a twowheeled revolution when it was released in 1958. Until then, bikes had been notoriously unreliable and difficult to ride. The C100 changed all that with its three-speed gearbox, centrifugal clutch, step-thru frame, and bulletproof four-stroke engine. In fact it was so easy to ride it could be – and was – ridden by grannies.
Such was the importance of this two-wheeler for the masses that the Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan listed the original C100 as one of their 240 ‘Landmarks of Japanese Automotive Technology’. More honours followed: after trying to kill a Cub by drowning it, setting it on fire, blowing it up and running it over, the Discovery Channel finally admitted defeat and declared the Cub the greatest motorcycle ever made. James May went one step further and declared the Cub the greatest machine ever made and the ‘single most influential product of humankind’s creativity.’ Praise indeed, if a little tongue-in-cheek.
The C90 as we know it in the UK was first released in 1966 and its 89.5cc engine churned out an underwhelming, but persistent, 7.5bhp. In 1984 it had a bit of an upgrade with a new engine, chassis and styling and then was unchanged until 2002 when increasingly strict EU emissions laws effectively killed the bike off in Europe. But variations of the C90 are still made, sold and used in Asia to this day.
‘Before the C90, bikes were notoriously unreliable and difficult to ride’
1970s Britain in a single photo
Proof, it it was needed, that the C90 is cool: Steve Mcqueen