The Indomitable Little Honda – From Super Cub to ATC to Grom and Back Again

Honda C70 PassportThere are few modern products of any type that are currently in production in a form anything like what they were 60+ years ago. A time traveler from the 1950s would barely recognize our modern cars, appliances, televisions, aircraft, or ships, yet the 2019 Honda Super Cub would immediately be recognized by anyone who had one back then. The new Super Cub (C100) evolves the same essential ingredients Soichiro Honda combined into the first prototype in 1957, and it has only gotten better with time. As a testament to the Honda lay-down single, in all its variations, our manual for the 1965-99 Honda 50-110cc OHC singles is one of our top 25 books every year, even now.

Honda was already a big company in Japan in the 1950s when Soichiro Honda and his partner Takeo Fujisawa first began thinking about building a simple, affordable bike that anyone could ride. A pressed steel, step-through frame, with enclosed chain and weather protection from a plastic leg shield, allowed men or women to ride it in any weather without getting their clothes dirty. Large diameter wheels meant a smooth ride even over rough pavement, or places where there was no pavement. The clutch was automatic, meaning learning to ride it was a breeze, and it could even be ridden one handed.

Honda S90 Sport Cub

However, the most enduring part of that original 50cc Super Cub was the laydown single cylinder motor. This engine would be used on dozens of different bikes and ATVs, expanded up to nearly three times the displacement, and copied by countless other companies throughout Asia. Initially in 1958 Honda gave the bike 4.5 horsepower (at 9,500 rpm), but enough torque to carry almost any load uphill in low gear, and the durability to run for years with virtually no maintenance. By 1966 the motor was upgraded to a SOHC design, with an alloy cylinder and slightly more power, which stayed pretty much the same for the next 50 years.

Honda Monkey BikesThe motor of the Super Cub was first used in other bikes just a few years after the introduction, in 1960. Using the same wheels, brakes, and suspension, the Sports Cub (C110) put them all together into a traditionally shaped motorcycle, with a top mounted tank between the seat and handlebars. Later this basic bike would gain more power, a fourth gear, and a manual clutch, to be even more like a real motorcycle. The motor also found its way into a minibike (CZ100) with five-inch wheels and no suspension, that was even more newbie friendly than the Cub. This bike would evolve to become the Z50 Monkey bike, and also birth the street legal minibike known as the Trail 70.

In spring of 1961, Honda introduced the Trail 50 Hunter Cub, an off-road version of the Super Cub with much lower gearing and dirt oriented tires. Inspiration for this bike came not from Japan, but from an outdoor sportsman in Boise, Idaho who began building them and selling them to hunters, trappers, bird watchers and others looking for a way to get places to wild for a Jeep. By 1966, this bike was officially the Trail 90 (CT90) with dual-range 4-speed transmission, upswept exhaust, and large utility rack on the back, which would continue nearly unchanged for almost 15 years. The Australian post office deployed thousands of these bikes and the CT110 from the 1980s until the 21st century to deliver mail all over the more rural parts of their territory.

Honda ATC90With the dawn of the 1970s, Honda used the Super Cub style motor to get more serious about dirt and other loose terrain, with the ATC90 and the SL70. Wrapping the basic motor package from the minibikes in a real tubular steel frame, with a telescopic fork, then adding a manual clutch and 4th gear made the Honda SL70 into a dream bike for young motocross racers. The bulletproof nature of Honda’s little laydown motor meant the fun didn’t stop until you ran out of gas, or rode into a pond.

The ATC90 (also known as the US90) was a three-wheeled off-road trike designed as a way to sell Honda’s in winter in the snow belt, but it gave birth to the entire ATV industry. Using balloon tires and no suspension, this tiny trike got power and a 4-speed dual range transmission from the Trail 90, with just the addition of a pull cord start mechanism. Unfortunately, the trikes ran afoul of consumer safety advocates due to how easily they could be rolled by unskilled riders, but the motor found its way into the Fourtrax 70 in 1986. All of these three- and four-wheeled bikes are covered in Clymer’s 1970-87 Honda 70-125cc ATC/Fourtrax/TRX manual.

Haynes Honda Grom ManualAmerica’s lust for bigger more powerful bikes meant the Super Cub/Passport, Trail 90, and Mini Trail went out of fashion as riders wanted to go faster on and off-road. Luckily the millennial generation has embraced smaller, slower means of transportation, like electric scooters and bicycles. Into this largely urban market Honda released the Grom (MSX125) in 2014 and managed to sell as many as they could make. Clymer doesn’t have a manual for the newest little Hondas, but our home office in the UK, Haynes, has just released their manual, and it covers the US version of the 2013-18 Honda Grom MSX125 as well.

Very much a modern version of the Trail 70 minibike, the Grom adds fuel injection to an updated 125cc, 8.6 hp version of the laydown motor, plus disc brakes front and rear. With four speeds and a manual motorcycle type clutch, the Grom can hit 60 mph with an average sized rider on it and a long flat road. For 2019 the Grom is joined by a retro styled bike called the Monkey with the same specs, and the option of ABS and old monkeys

The 2019 Honda Super Cub uses the same motor and four-speed transmission as the Grom, plus an automatic clutch, to allow a whole new generation to meet the nicest people on a Honda. Additional updates include cast mag-style wheels, LED lighting, disc brakes, electronic ignition, and fuel injection. In a throwback to the original 1950s model, this year they are all blue with a red seat and white leg shield.

2019 Honda Super Cub

Any vintage Honda makes an easy to work on first bike project for new riders, but the long production life, and large production numbers make these little Honda’s better than most. The automatic clutch on the Super Cub/Passport/Trail 90 means learning to ride one is even easier than learning to fix one. None of them has horsepower in the double digits, or the ability to reach freeway speeds, which means when and if you do make a mistake the damage will be much less than if you were doing 60 mph on a 500cc machine. The small and simple power unit (or even the whole bike) can be carried up to a second story apartment and rebuilt on a coffee table if need be, and replacement parts (and entire bikes for that matter) are cheap and readily available.

One Response

  1. Choreography says:

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