Thursday, 14 January 2010
Several years (decades when I come to think of it) ago I wrote a piece for a well known design magazine. The mag ran a back page on design classics and asked for something on the Vincent Black Shadow. I winced a bit, it's just so obvious and the provenance of so many is in doubt. It's rumoured thet there are more existing now than were ever built in Stevenage. Talking to a friend about this, he suggested that the Honda C50 is more venerable. We laughed, but he was right. The magazine wasn't pleased and edited it a lot, so this has never been published.
The Honda C50. A small step through commuter vehicle, aimed at the world market and both sexes, is I'm afraid a tedious little moped. But since its launch in the mid 1950 it's outsold everything. Forget the image of cruising and knee sliders. Harley's and Ducati's are all very well, but not every day.
But now the C50 is discontinued. No longer desired by the performance freaks of the 90's, it has been superseded by the C70 and C90. The moped has suffered from legislation. With its speed restricted to a safe 30 mph, it became a grinding bore.
The construction was unusual for its time. Ignoring the fashion for a tubular frame and pressed body work, Honda chose to develop a pressed steel frame and injection moulded plastic body work. In terms of style there isn't much to admire. The early models, upto the late sixties are more desirable. In the way that early VW's might be.
The small two valve four stroke engine was developed specially for this bike and it is still essentially unchanged in its successors. Hanging the engine below the beam frame and between the riders feet aided stability. Having set the fuel tank and electrics under the seat, space is left to step through. Ideal for those in a skirt or sarong. It was truly asexual and international.
Motorcycle manufacture is an exceptional business. It suffers extremes of niche marketing. From taxi drivers doing the knowledge to noisy adolescents and dispatchers, cruisers, fifty's revivalists, street racers, leather fetishists of the gay scene, Angels and all the rest. But we all started at the C50, or there abouts.