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Greatest motorcycle in history?

2012-03-02 11:55

THE CUTE ANNIHILATOR: The popularity of the Honda Cub led to the folding of a number of rival motorcycle manufacturers in the 60s.


Some of the best conversations to be had can be found at the local pub – among friends, strangers, it really doesn’t matter – because invariably the topic turns to motoring subjects and those are the important ones, aren’t they!

Four of us were recently sitting at the bar when Harry, a long-time car enthusiast, piped up that you rarely see a Datsun SSS or a Mazda RX2 on the roads any more: “They were found up and down the country in large numbers – and there wasn’t much to catch them either – I should know, because as a commercial traveller with his trusty Mk II Cortina wagon and seeing them fly past me on the road would often make me seriously jealous.”

We all agreed. Can it possibly be that all the Triple Esses and RXs have all gone to the Big Scrapyard in the Sky? Neither model came cheap back in the mid-1970s and early 80s. They were certainly well-made... one of those car enigmas of life we might never get to understand, I suppose.

[And whatever happened to all the Valiants that were around at the same time, asks the Ed.]


I decided to add my penny’s worth to the conversation and asked my erudite colleagues what was the greatest motorcycle made, "based on sales and popularity”.

They were known to be occasionally ridden around the world; schoolchildren could ride them to school, while whole families – that’s five people, or so – have been known to use them for family transport day in and day out.

“Well, that’s ruled out the BSA Gold Star and Velocette Venoms of this world,” said Jaco, which brought a snigger to an even bigger audience who were by now drawn into the conversation and decided to proffer further suggestions from a nearby table.

“Tell you what, here’s a clue, said I: Their slogan for the particular model campaign suggested, ‘You meet the nicest people on a - - -.” With that added information it was Bob who soon came up with the correct answer: "Honda’s 50cc Cub,” he exclaimed.

I added: “With global sales that eventually reached 10-million by 1973, it has to be the greatest two-wheeler built.”

But once again, where are they all now?


Known in Japan as the Super Cub, sales of the step-thru bike first took off in 1958 when the Honda Motorcycle Corporation was in its infancy. It was to become one of the most famous methods of transportation – even possibly rivalling Henry Ford’s Model ‘T’.

Proving an absolute winner for HMC is putting it mildly because when the Cub was initially announced – firstly for the home market in Japan and then exported around the world – there were about 50 manufacturers on the island churning out similar transport for the Japanese nation.

Lesser companies fell away due to the Cub’s success. Only 30 companies traded in 1960, eight in 1965 and finally four in 1969 – as it is to this day with Honda arguably still leading the pack and, in no particular order, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki trailing behind in outright sales, model range and popularity.

Honda’s Cub was made virtually indestructible; it had to be, people need a bike they could rely on. It had tough plastic bodywork, three gears forward, a centrifugal clutch – twist the throttle and you’re off –while achieving superb fuel economy figures. Top gear (third) would allow travel at around 85 km/h, bottom gear (first) meant you could climb Table Mountain with it, if need be.

For all I know, perhaps that’s where they all are now...

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