This is not the story about one of the greatest bikes of all time, rather this is the tale about THE greatest bike of all time; of course it can be none other than the Honda C90, the king of the “Crunchies”! The Yamaha R1, the Ducati 916, the Manx Norton or Triumph Bonneville all have their place in biking history, but the Honda C90 stepthru has been bought by in of excess of 20,000,000 people around the world. Now that is true greatness.
The subject of this little ditty is the unlucky example (a 20,000,000:1 shot for God shakes!) that had the great misfortune to be sold to my sister. The beginning of this story is pretty normal, my sister needed a cheap, reliable commuter and a C90 seemed to fit the bill perfectly. So rather than throw herself into the shark infested pool that is the used bike market, she bought herself a brand spanking new model, in cool blue from Fewsters of Alnwick in Northumberland. This dealer is long gone now, but it had the odd distinction of being the only bike dealer I know of that also sold tractors! If you exclude BMW and HD dealers that is!!!
Now if you think that the “step-thru” was in for an easy life then think again. The route that my sister took to work involved a 17 mile run along the bumpy coastal roads of Northumberland ~ stunning views, challenging corners, but very demanding for a bike that was meant for chugging around town. The situation was exaggerated by Mary’s total absence of mechanical understanding or sympathy. The poor Honda was relentlessly thrashed to within in an inch (25.4mm ~ for youngsters), of its life, not because she is a speed demon: No, it was just because she thought that as the throttle went all the way around that this was where it had to be! Good job she couldn’t afford a big bike…
Honda C90 and the castle
Early in the Honda’s life Mary was charging through the charming little village of Warkworth which, apart from Eric Burnden of the 1960s band “The Animals” living there for a while, is most notable for it’s semi-ruined medieval castle. Throughout the centuries this castle had endured various attacks, sieges etc., but in none of these had prepared this proud monument for what was about to happen next. The castle sits proudly overlooking the village main street, then one quiet afternoon my sister aboard her flat out (as usual), step thru appeared heading straight for the castle’s outer wall! The throttle had jammed open and with the engine and my sister screaming in unison, the C90 bravely launched its attack. In a scene straight from a Laurel and Hardy movie bike and sister speared the castle, and landed in lump of twisted leg-shields and top-box! As if to prove just how tough these things are the damage was limited to some slightly bent forks! Mary stopped screaming after a couple of days! The castle was ok.
Dennis, the star (CBX1000 riding), mechanic at Fewsters soon wielded his magic spanners and had the Honda all straight again. Ready to be handed back into the hands of its shaken owner. Right then, if it could talk, the Honda probably would of said “HELP ME!”
The thrashing continued as the bike bounced across Northumberland each morning and evening without so much as a murmur of protest. Just as you would expect from the machine that seems to of transported half of the world. The Honda just took it all in it’s stride whilst continuing to make that sewing machine like thrum they all do. One evening I tried to follow her home in my car and wound up being amazed at the way she rode. The step thru would only do 57 mph, but this speed was maintained absolutely everywhere!
Then, when the trembling Honda thought things just could not get any worse – it did. I borrowed it for a few weeks! What on earth had this bike done to deserve this, in a world where some believe there is a God?
This was the summer of 1982, I had just turned seventeen and the Honda was the first bike I ever rode legally on the road. The suffering for the Honda cranked up a notch in my clumsy, inexperienced hands. Not knowing any different, my only reference points up to now being my own C50 “quarry bike”, a 5 speed racer pushbike and an elderly Ford Cortina, I thought the ‘big bore’ 90 was quite quick. Over the next few weeks I had a brilliant time blasting around all over the lanes that surround Alnwick, Warworth, Alnmouth, Amble and Boulmer to name but a small selection. All the time a look of glee was spread across my face and I generally took any excuse to use the bike to go somewhere. On one memorable occasion I was despatched on the orders of my sister into the nearest village to buy some eggs. So I hopped aboard and zapped into Warkworth, bought a nice tray of free-range eggs, stuck them carefully in the ‘Top Tek’ top-box (a compulsory fit to a C90 obviously), and then turned for home. After a couple of uneventful miles I decided to go the long way back and headed off into the wilds. I bounced out towards RAF Boulmer to take a look at the old EE Lightening fighter jet that was on display there near the entrance.
Stepthru omelette anyone?
About a fun filled hour later I got back to the house and suddenly thought “Shit, the eggs!” They had been scrambled at 57 mph! Gingerly I opened the top-box lid to be greeted by a right old mess, all the eggs had long since escaped the confines of the tray and were now a beautifully beaten omelette mix! There was however a slight problem; my sister waterproofs and whole manner of other junk and detritus had shared the top-box with the eggs and everything was now completely covered in the mix. Some was even dripping out of the bottom through the mounting holes. Oh dear!
The Honda returned to my sister full time not long after that and continued to be tortured at 57mph for several more years. It was dutiful, reliable and cost pennys to run. Eventually after the better part of a decades service the by now near derelict Honda was stolen from her backyard. So not even an easy retirement was in store for this brave little bike. It’s last days were probably spent being thrashed across fields bereft of its leg-shields and its dignity.
KNL 702X, if any of you is still out there, you have my respect – you were one hell of a way to scramble eggs!