From Whence it Came
Honda Super Cub Review: The World’s Most Popular Bike Is Back
Nearly 50 years after disappearing from the U.S. market, the world’s best-selling motorcycle – or at least a thoroughly modern version of it – is returning to America: Honda’s legendary Super Cub. In the years since its 1959 launch, the Super Cub has sold over 100 million units worldwide – a staggering sum. The Super Cub’s efficiency, functionality and worldwide appeal is well documented. What’s less so is the key role it played in Honda’s fortunes in the late ’50s and early ’60s, becoming an almost immediate best-seller and providing much-needed cash flow while post-war Americans got comfy with Honda’s name and larger-displacement motorcycles – which they eventually did, and in droves. The question, then, is this: Can the Super Cub reignite the two-wheeled passions of both boomers and millennials, and help lift Honda and the overall motorcycle market out of the new-bike-sales doldrums?
The Good: Like the original C100 of 1959, the new-generation Super Cub is functional and friendly. There’s keyless ignition (just keep the fob in your pocket) and electric start to get you going, a ‘clutchless’ four-speed to keep you there (just bang away at the lever) and a handy LCD gear indicator to let you know what gear you’re in. It’s whisper-quiet, fuel mileage is superb (you’ll get over 100 mpg), the step-through chassis design means it’s easy to jump on and off, and there’s a disc brake up front with ABS (along with a drum-type rear) to slow you down. It’s light and maneuverable at rest and while moving, the seat height is manageable for all but the most inseam-challenged, the drive-chain is enclosed for longer maintenance intervals, safety and quiet operation and there’s that Honda reliability you just can’t beat. Finally, it looks good, looks right, with just the right amounts of retro style and badging.
Who It’s For: In the very late ’50s and early ’60s, when the Super Cub was first introduced to American buyers, and especially after Honda’s ‘You Meet The Nicest People on a Honda’ ad campaign began to penetrate the country’s consciousness (counterbalancing motorcycling’s then-prevalent leather-jacketed thug image), the Super Cub was for – and chosen by – everyone. Older folks, families on camping trips, college students, commuters, kids looking for fun, and so on. That target audience hasn’t changed, really, as Honda understands it needs to sell to baby boomers and a younger demographic if the new-gen Super Cub is going to be a success for Honda and from an overall market-expansion standpoint.
Watch Out For: Bothersome bits are few and minor. Most importantly, though it may be obvious, it must be said that the Super Cub is not legal for freeway riding. The riding position is a tad cramped for taller folks, with a solo seat that’s a bit too close to the handlebar. This makes six-footers (and above) want to scooch back on the softly-padded solo saddle, which has a raised portion at the back, and the seat’s foam/pan edge can begin to bite one’s buns after 30 or 40 minutes. A two-place seat would alleviate that by allowing taller riders to move back a bit, but it’s not yet available. Also, suspension is a bit softly sprung for larger humans, though wheel control remains decent even on rougher pavement thanks to just enough damping. There’s no sidestand (centerstand only) and storage is limited to a tiny side compartment, though a storage rack is offered as an accessory. Finally, the shift pedal is a little cumbersome to use; lower toe and heel touch points would be helpful here. Otherwise, overall functionality is quite good.
Alternatives: With retro styling being all the rage these days you’d expect there to be tons of retro-styled scooters available… and there are, from Honda (Metropolitan) to Yamaha (Vino) to Vespa (too many to count) and even from a handful of new Chinese companies. And while there’s nothing quite like the Super Cub – at least not yet – there are turn-key alternatives in Honda’s own catalog, including the sporty Grom and similarly retro Monkey – a take on the legendary Z50 Mini Trail that turned so many kids on to motorcycles in the ’60s and ’70s. There’s also the Honda Passport, an early-’80s version of the Super Cub, occasionally available on the used market.
Review: To introduce its 2019 Super Cub C125, American Honda returned – literally – to where it all began: 4077 Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles, just a few miles west of downtown. The 100 x 20-foot storefront that housed American Honda when it first established itself in the U.S. in 1959 – with eight employees, two from Japan and six Americans – is an acupuncture and herbology shop now. But thanks to some clever vinyl sheeting and an appropriate prop parked out front, the place looked reasonably close to the way it did back in those very early days when American Honda was basically an unknown Asian quantity straining to hawk a small handful of unique-looking and -named motorcycles – one of which was the first-generation Super Cub – at established bike shops, sporting goods outlets and hardware stores.
Standing there, squinting and purposely blurring my eyesight – and hearing the faint sounds of a 1959-spec time machine whirring all around me – was eerie and cool at once, a flashback sort of moment that fit the situation and subject matter perfectly. Here I am, I thought, three years before I was even alive, watching American motorcycle history being made…
Much like the building and the backdrop, Honda’s new-generation Super Cub is a cool and functional combination of retro and modern – all of which became obvious when I walked up to the unit with my name on it in ‘American Honda’s’ parking lot. The Cub looks period retro, no doubt, with the familiar step-through shape, leg fairings, valanced wheel fenders and molded, nacelle headlight. It’s quite small, too, and feels seriously light (Honda claims 240 pounds fully fueled) when you roll it off the center stand.
Of course, modernity slapped me upside the head as I was handed the Cub’s ‘smart key,’ an electronic fob like the one for your late-model car, which you need to keep on your person while riding. Lighting the Cub takes a slight push on the plastic switch directly in front of you, turning it (as you would a real key) and then pressing the electric-start button on the right bar. The familiar bup-bup-bup of a horizontal OHC Honda single greets your ears and immediately settles into a perfectly syncopated fuel-injected cadence. No choke lever or throttle finagling is necessary, which beginners and veterans alike will appreciate.
Shifting is easy and hassle-free thanks to the Cub’s centrifugal clutch-assisted (no clutch lever) transmission, which allows you to shift gears while standing still or moving by simply pressing the heel-and-toe shift lever. The pattern is four-up, with neutral at the very bottom. Ironically, this bit of ultra-functional technology isn’t new (though it’s been refined over the years), as it appeared on the original C100 Super Cub way back in the late ’50s – and made, as company founder Soichiro Honda used to say, “noodle delivery boys very happy,” as they could ride one-handed and never even have to think about grabbing a clutch lever.
Out on LA’s surface streets, as the C125 isn’t legal for freeway riding and isn’t fast enough for that sort of use, anyway, the Super Cub is just powerful enough to keep up with cars and trucks in 35-to-45 mph, stop light-to-stop sign America. Acceleration from the 124.9cc OHC four-stroke single (basically the same engine powering Honda’s Grom) isn’t overly brisk, but it gets the job done smoothly and quietly. In terms of handling and stability the Super Cub acquits itself well, going where you point it without any undo steering or chassis histrionics, while braking performance from the disc-type and ABS-equipped front binder and drum-type rear is well above average and easily modulated – another plus for newbies.
Verdict: Despite my ergonomic- and suspension-related nitpicks, I can’t see the Super Cub being anything less than a genuine hit for Honda and with buyers – young or old, rookie or veteran. It’s one of those rare motorcycles that spans the demographic landscape, appealing to boomers in a way that reminds them of their motorcycling youth (or the motorcycling youth they wanted), and also to a younger generation turned on by the idea of two-wheeled transport and the aesthetic of an era they can only read about and imagine. As a grizzled, old-school motorcyclist, someone with 45-plus years of riding, racing and motojournalism under his belt, I’m part of that more-seasoned target demo. And I can tell you the $3599 Super Cub – which costs the same as Honda’s best-selling Grom – very definitely worked for me, both aesthetically and functionally. Especially while standing in front of that worn storefront at 4077 Pico Blvd.
What Others Are Saying:
• “Riding the Super Cub, it’s hard not to get caught up in the nostalgia of it all and place yourself back in a simpler time. It’s so easy to ride, you find yourself paying more attention to the world around you, enjoying the sights and sounds. If you live in a big city, it could be a good alternative to a car or motorcycle to run your errands or commute to work.” – Troy Siahaan, Motorcycle.com
• ““This little scooter is packed with appealing design, functional engineering, and earnest intent– the same qualities that made the original model so appealing in 1958. The Super Cub appeals on a basic level because of that intrinsic mechanical honesty.” – Basem Wasef, Autoblog
• “The Honda Super Cub is cute, comfortable, and peppy enough to get me around town. The seat height is approachable for shorter riders, and shifting is easy enough once you get the hang of it.” – Julia Lapalme, Revzilla
Honda Super Cub Key Specs
Engine type: 124.9cc air-cooled four-stroke single-cylinder
Fuel Mileage/capacity: 100 mpg (approx.), 1.0 gallon
Weight: 240 pounds with a full tank of fuel
Honda hosted us and provided this product for review.
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