“Based around the air-cooled 125cc single … the 2019 Super Cub is almost as much a time machine as it is a motorcycle.”
– Rider magazine review, Feb. 8, 2019
I’ve been craving a Honda Super Cub C125 without knowing why until the Rider comment that made me realize, yes, that’s it – it is a sort of time machine.
The Super Cub is not the type of motorbike I normally lust after. I prefer adventure-type motorcycles1 like Endurance and Terra Nova, which is why they’re part of the fleet of five2 here at Starbase 8.
I was briefly drawn to a 2021 BMW R1250 GS Adventure at Bloodworth Motorcycles in Nashville last December, a real beauty that got me going until I saw the heart-stopping price of $26,590.
But something’s been quietly nagging at me at odd moments, the notion that long-distance motorcycle travel need not be aboard a $20,000 BMW Leviathan. Maybe it’d be better if you Marie Kondoed it down to a smaller, slower bike.
Three things sent me down that path:
- The Long Way Down documentary in which riders had motorcycles that were a thousand times more expensive than the net worth of all the African villages they were visiting3.
- My dream of riding across Vietnam on the largest bike I could rent, which would probably be no more than 250cc’s.
- Ed March and his you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it website C90 Adventures4, which chronicles his insane rides across Canada in winter, Alaska to Argentina, and Malaysia to the UK, all on a Honda C90 Cub.
The Super Cub took residence in my imaginary garage when I first laid eyes on a blue-and-white model at the Washington, D.C., motorcycle show in 2019. It was there because Honda was reintroducing it to American riders for the 60th anniversary of importation to the U.S.
A time machine. I’d seen pictures of it in motorcycle history books, of course. It was first made in Japan in 1958, then imported to the U.S. in 1959 as a 100cc model. Honda built its sales campaign around it, the ubiquitous You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda. That was in contrast to the hoodlums depicted in the 1953 movie The Wild One5 with Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin.
There was even a song about it, Little Honda, written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love of the Beach Boys. Another group, the Hondells6, covered it and it rose to No. 9 on Billboard 100 in 1964. Give it a listen here on Shindig; you’ll enjoy the song and be grateful for improvements in music videos since then.
Other advances since early Sixties include the bike’s engine, which Honda upgraded periodically. Style-wise, the Super Cub7 looks pretty much the same, with its wide handlebars, round mirrors and signature white leg shields.
Honda stopped exporting it to the U.S. in 1974.
And now the Super Cub is back, in red and white (even better!) for the 2020 and 2021 models, making me dream of riding it with Linda down rolling country roads, stopping for ice cream in small, picturesque towns, bedding down at a B&B in the Adirondacks, and zipping up Highway 1 toward Hanoi in the rain.
A time machine, a dream machine, a simple machine. Something that asks you to slow down and really, really look at where you are.
So we went to the local Honda motorcycle dealership … and that’s when things started going south.
The sales rep was a good guy but did not seem to know much about the Super Cub on the floor. We tried to open the saddle to look at the gas cap, but it wouldn’t budge – the battery was too low to activate it. They put it on a charger.
That was okay, but then I asked about price, which brought in the sales manager, a Mr. KillJoy8, I think.
He ushered us over to his desk, located (inexplicably) in the Ducati section.
“We don’t have much of a margin on these,” he said, and started futzing with his computer, looking up numbers, finally coming up with a price that was almost $900 over MSRP, which I thought was nearly as outrageous as the $26,000 BMW in Nashville.
He started reading off shipping charges, tax and title, dealer prep and other such nonsense and Linda asked if we could get a printout.
“Our printer isn’t working,” Mr. KillJoy said.
The whole enterprise crumbled into a take-it-or-leave it affair and he appeared not to care either way. It reminded me of the Harley-Davidson dealerships I visited in the 1990s9.
They didn’t even ask for our contact information, a really bad sign. It was time to go.
“Thank you for your time,” I said.
On the way out, we took another look at the Super Cub, so sad with its battery panel off and charger nearby. I was tempted to buy it anyway, just to rescue it from Mr. KillJoy. We didn’t, of course.
So we left that beautiful little bike behind but dreams die hard.
What’ll probably happen is I’ll go back and inquire about a reasonable price and Mr. KillJoy won’t budge and I’ll get pissed off and either rationalize away the Super Cub or look for it elsewhere.
Or look for something else. The Royal Enfield Himalayan, 400cc, is genuinely interesting. And Go Little Himalayan could be a catchy tune.
1 – Though I really don’t ride mine off-road. They are big, comfortable and powerful, though.
2 – Yes, five: Linda’s 2007 Yamaha Vino 125; her 2020 Vespa GTS 300 Super HPE; Endurance, my 2000 BMW R1150 GS; Terra Nova, my 2012 Yamaha Super Tenere; and Santiago, my 1965 Honda CA 77, awaiting restoration in the woodworking shed out back.
3 – I really like the Long Way series, but they (and other such on-the-road documentaries) got me to thinking about guys riding high-priced bikes in economically disadvantaged areas, passing through as if people in villages were simply background in a movie. Robert Pirsig talks about the difference between motorcycles and cars while traveling – “…through a car window everything you see is just more TV” – but doesn’t a $700 Shoei helmet and $1,000 Roadcrafter suit have an opposite effect on the people who see you? In both situations, you’re set apart.
4 – I can’t recommend Mr. March strongly enough. He’s funny, wise, witty, adventurous, and a mechanical wizard, just the sort of guy you’d like to ride with. Do go see his site, please.
5 – Which apparently scared the bejeezus out of moviegoers back then. The film really hasn’t aged well.
6 – In a move that was breathtaking for its crass commercialization, they actually created a music group, named them the Hondells, and had them sing about Hondas and motorcycles and such. Their first album Go Little Honda was motorcycle-related and though Little Honda is fun and bouncy and gets stuck in your head, the other songs soon get on your nerves after a while. Their second album, released about 20 minutes later, was imaginatively titled The Hondells. I’ve yet to hear it.
7 – We’re talking about a motorbike with small engine, about the size of a loaf of good bread, a single-cylinder affair that makes 9-10 horsepower on a good day. That’s on a par with Linda’s Vino scooter. Terra Nova, by comparison, has about 108 hp.
8 – Actually not his real name.
9 – Oh, those guys were awful. Harleys were selling like crazy back then – there were actual waiting lists – and dealers were copping attitudes like you were lucky they let you in the door. There were stories of dealerships jacking up profit margins by making you buy overpriced accessories before they’d sell you a bike. It was that attitude that drove me elsewhere, to BMW as it turned out. I bought Endurance brand-new in 2000 at Sierra BMW in Sparks, Nevada. Now that’s a great dealership.