For many people who love motorcycles, that relationship started when they were in grade school with a crude mini bike powered by a lawnmower motor. The lucky ones had a Honda Mini Trial, Trail 70, or XR75, which was like the Vincent Black Shadow of kid bikes. Joe’s Mini Bike Reunion, now in its eighth year, celebrates all those little bikes we loved as kids, plus the modern Grom, Ruckus, and others, which are still immensely popular with adults and young people.
Mini bikes got their start, like hot rods and much of modern motorized enthusiast culture, in the years after WWII. The Doodle Bug of the late 1940s is the missing link between the Powell Streamliner and Crocker Scootabout scooters Floyd Clymer distributed before the war, and the multitude of minis that flooded suburbia in the 60s and 70s. Popular Mechanics and other magazines published plans, and hundreds of little companies sold complete bikes, on the formula: bent tube frame, lawnmower/washing machine motor, wheel barrow wheels, automatic clutch, rub brake.
The oldest bike there was likely the 1955 Power Cycle, which was featured on the cover of a contemporaneous Science and Mechanics magazine. Designed to fit in the trunk of your car, this mini featured lights and a horn, but is barely big enough for a full sized adult. However there were other micro minis of similar size, and some are still being made. These appeal to small children, and others who just like the novelty of them.
Larger, and more common, were minis from Taco, Bonanza, Rupp, and others with larger wheels, and occasionally even suspension. We are by no means experts in these little bikes, but most are powered by the flathead 3.5-5hp motors from Briggs and Stratton, and Tecumseh, shared by mowers, edgers, snow blowers, wood chippers, and the like, which we do have manuals for. Strange to see nowadays, some of these bikes feature two-stroke powerplants that appear to be nothing more than a chainsaw without the saw bar.
The hot ticket these days if you want to go faster is the Predator 212cc motor from Harbor Freight, a Honda GX200 clone. These motors can be bought brand new for not much more than $100, and performance parts abound on the aftermarket. Though designed to repower lots of different equipment, their reverse slanted cylinder can cause some issues on vintage minis. The power and affordability of them makes them understandably popular though, when weighing rebuilding an old motor vs. repowering.
Whether you repower or just use the old style motor, one of the reasons mini bike are so popular is the simplicity. As a novice, even a simple motorcycle may appear complicated, but a minibike may have less than 100 parts, and only a few dozen of them are the engine. How many future gear heads got their start taking apart an old Briggs flathead? I know I did.
Also very well represented were the Honda minis, often referred to as mini cycles to set them apart from the mini bikes. The Honda CT70 “Trail 70” was far and away the most popular, but there were also the simpler Z50 “Mini Trail”, as well as their modern Monkey and Grom cousins. Like everything else, these ran the gamut from nicely preserved time capsules, to well used play bikes, to glittering modified customs. There were even a few Japanese market oddities, like a Chally and a Motocompo. Indecently, our M310-13 covers all 50cc-110cc laid down Honda singles 1969-1999, and Haynes (our parent company) recently published M6426 covering the new Grom.
A local motorcycle shop brought along a portable dynometer, and lacking any track where participants could race, mini bikes competed to see who made the most power. A large contingent of the crowd build their mini bikes for weekend drag races, with tweaked engines burning race gas or alcohol. A flathead Briggs and Stratton “Blockzilla” go kart racing motor was observed putting out more than 25 horsepower in a minibike. Tuned Predator motors were easily topping 30 horses, or more than four times their factory rating!
A special guest at the show was Joji Barris, car customizer George Barris’s daughter. You may not realize this, but back in the late 60s and early 70s, at the height of his fame as a creator of “star cars”, George did a lot of consulting with toy, bike, and go kart companies. If you were making something to appeal to speed crazed young boys, you asked George for advice on style, color, and design. Not a lot of these products had the Barris name on them, but one that did was the Barris Super Stocker mini bike by Republic. Joe and “Evil” Ed had undertaken a restoration of an old Super Stocker for the Barris family a year ago, and presented it to Joji at the show in all its red, white, and blue glory.
Also present, and almost unnoticed, was an original “Mickey Bike”, designed and sold by legendary racer Mickey Thompson. Of much more recent vintage, Wolf’s customs are race inspired motorcycles which cross a bicycle with a speedway dirt track bike. There was also one 1920s styled cyclekart, which came all the way from Arizona. Cyclekarts are a fast growing hobby creating and racing pre-war styled single-seater go karts, with tall motorcycle wheels and narrow tires.
At the other end of the spectrum, made for the street, were a Go Devil, and an Italian Wilier. The Go Devil was an early product of Fuji Heavy Industries, parent of Subaru, and inspired by Powell scooters left by American service men. It folded into a cube for easy transport on a plane or boat. The Wilier may be small, but it features full street equipment, and power from a 50cc two-stroke, with three speeds. The Motori Morini Franco motor is also found in many other Italian mopeds and motorcycles of the time, including the Harley-Davidson Aermacchi M50.
We are glad we went to the show, because otherwise we would never have seen the vast variety of different mini bikes. The nature of these, not street legal, or limited practicality, limits them to people’s yards, and local neighborhoods, so you rarely see more than two in one place. Joe’s Mini Bike Reunion had easily over 100 bikes represented. There is also a vastly diverse fan base, with inner city mini bike drag racers hanging out with backyard riders, tinkerers, and nostalgic old timers. We will definitely be back, and our only suggestion to improve the show would be to hold it somewhere we could all ride at or even race, like the Industry Hills Expo Center.