‘I paid £40 for my C90 – I just had to have it’ Niall Macken­zie

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Feature - Niall Macken­zie For­mer GP star, three-time BSB champ, and for­mer Honda C90 owner

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

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