This isn’t The Greatest Motorcycle Ever Made:
The bike at the top puts one rider on wheels. The one below it put over 60 million people on brand new wheels. And there’s no way of knowing how many more millions of folks bought them used!
In the early 1960s, if you rode a motorcycle it was probably a V-twin, and was made by either Harley-Davidson or Indian. A few British makes were on the road such as BSA, Norton, and Triumph. And scooters such as the beloved Italian Vespa had their followings as well.
Then this little scooter-looking thing called the Cub 50 arrived, built by an upstart Japanese company named Honda. They would later go on to build cars, or so the story goes.
Their ad campaign was not only original, it was timeless: “YOU MEET THE NICEST PEOPLE ON A HONDA” separated these quiet little bikes and their riders from their thunderous counterparts. And yes, says they, even Santa Claus rode a Honda.
Maybe a little disclaimer is due here. One should always wear a helmet, don’t ride your passenger backwards on a bike, and make sure Rover knows how to grab on. Wow, times have changed since 1963 when laws were few(er).
Introduced in 1956, the bike was way ahead of its competition by having 17-inch wheels for stability (most others in this class have 10-inch wheels), and the engine was mounted to a frame and used a drive chain to turn the rear wheel.
In 1960, American Honda Motor Company sold a total of 2,000 motorcycles in the USA. In 1963, they sold 100,000 bikes here, more than all other brands combined. Can we say the Cub 50 “caught on?”
The Cub 50 was originally called the Honda Super Cub. But here in the USA, Piper Airplanes had already taken that name for the PA-18 since 1949. So they were called the Cub 50 here, but we’ll call them the Super Cub since that’s their real name.
The bike cleaned up the image of its riders in more ways than just appearances. The enclosed chain guard kept lubricants from being slung onto riders’ lower trousers and legs; the plastic fairing kept some front wheel splash away; and the plastic cover also kept the engine’s noises somewhat at bay.
By the way, the Super Cubs are also the first motorcycles to use plastic fairings and front fenders, designed to save both weight and costs.
Yet the Super Cub was not a simple scooter. In fact, it somewhat defies any one class or style of motorcycle. Some call it an underbone bike, where the engine sits under a stamped steel frame. Others call it a step-through. But everybody who’s ridden one calls it fun, especially if it has the semi-automatic transmission option for those who just can’t quite grasp the workings of a clutch.
The Beach Boys’ 1964 hit, “Little Honda,” paid homage to the Super Cub. Here’s the song, performed by the Hondels, on “Shindig!“ Yes, the production values are a bit, um, basic, and no, there’s no color.
The Super Cub didn’t just put people on wheels, it put continents on wheels. Then the bike eventually evolved into the C200, the mighty CB750, the Goldwing, their Interceptor Series, the CBR Series, and too many other types to be named here.
The Super Cub also evolved into many similar models, also too numerous for this page. The engine was enlarged to a 70cc and later also a 90, and the engine was fitted to other frames (the Honda Sport 90 is a looker), especially for off-road machines. Honda had/has a great foundation for versatility.
But Honda hasn’t forgotten where they started. Here’s an updated version of the Super Cub, ready for riding in genuine Repsol racing trim.
Now Honda seems to be reinventing themselves. They are stepping back, and making bikes affordable again. That’s the philosophy of their new line of 500cc bikes.
So neither Honda nor the rest of the world would not be what it is today without the Super Cub. It was fairly simple, easily available, and economical to buy and ride. It did replace the horse and most other 4-footers around the world.
At more than 60 million strong, holding the most-ever produced motor vehicle in the world record, how can we argue with success?
And that’s why I ride a Honda.
Image Credits: The first bike image is from Static.DudeIWantThat.com. The loaded Super Cub picture came from PinImg.com. The “Nicest People On A Honda” ad was found at PinImg.com. The Super Cub outline drawing came from 4-Stroke.net. The Super Cub profile image is from Static.Flickr.com; the C200 was found at MotoEra.com; the 305 Dream Image came from HSWStatic.com. The Repsol bike image is from MotorBikeToursVietnam.com.