Some of you wanted more bike stories, so here’s one about the most popular bike in human history. A week before the Tokyo Motor Show the Honda Super Cub surpassed 100 million in sales, stretching its uncatchable lead as the most popular motorized vehicle on the planet, so Honda took the opportunity to celebrate.
Think about that number for a minute. To equal it in automotive sales, you’d have to count every Volkswagen Beetle, Toyota Corolla, and Ford F-series pickup ever made. It’s been in continuous production since 1958. It’s been built on five continents in 20 different countries. You could give one to every man, woman and child living in France, Belgium, Greece, and Portugal, and you’d still have a few hundred thousand left over.
Honda brought out a slew of landmark SuperCubs from its collection, starting with the original C100 from 1958. This was a seminal motorcycle, but at the time most customers simply liked it for its easy-to-use step-through body and the fact that it had a four-stroke engine in an era when most small-displacement bikes used two-strokes. The classic light blue and dark blue with dark red seat is the iconic classic Cub color in Japan.
The 1962 CA100, commonly known as the Honda 50, was the model that revolutionized motorcycling in America. It was instrumental in tearing down the notion that only leather-clad biker types rode two-wheelers. The ad campaign, “You met the nicest people on a Honda,” was perhaps the first one to sell not just a product but a lifestyle associated with it. It became, in the parlance of the era, a sensation, as culturally influential as the VW Bus and Bug were for cars. Even the Beach Boys wrote a song about it.
Based on the success of the 50 in America, Honda expanded its presence to Europe, specifically Belgium. The 1963 C310 was the first Honda product to be produced on old continent, though it never became as popular as it was in the US and Asia. Despite its rocky introduction, though, Belgium would become the home to Honda Europe for decades to come.
The Honda Super Cub C50 was introduced in 1966 and was the first to have an overhead valve engine. This became the template for all modern versions of the Super Cub, and stayed in production for about 20 years. As such, it is one of the most well-known designs of Cub.This particular example from Honda’s collection had only 33 km on the odometer.
The 1981 CT110 was built for outdoorsmen and off-road terrain. It lacked the plastic fairings and came with knobbier tires and a increased final drive ratio. In the US it was called the Trail, but in Japan it was and known as the Hunter Cub. It was produced all the way up to 2000. The bike displayed had just 78 km on the odometer.
The Honda Super Cub 50 Super Custom was introduced in 1983, a lightweight version that boasted the best fuel economy of the Cub line. During one test, it sustained an amazing 180 km/l, or 423 miles per gallon.
As it happens, next year will be the 60th birthday of the Super Cub. Honda began the celebration early with an introduction to some slightly updated models that will go on sale for its anniversary model year. The changes aren’t huge. The headlight is now LED, the handlebars have been redesigned, and production returns to Honda’s plant in Kumamoto, from China.
Variants include the Super Cub 50 and Super Cub 110, with 49cc and 109cc displacement engines, making 3.7 and 8.0 PS respectively. There’s also the Cross Cub 110, which takes over from where the Hunter left off.
For those that must have the extra bit of displacement, there’s the Super Cub 125, finished in a modern take on the colors of the 1958. It even has the “wing” taillight configuration of the original. Beside it was the new Honda Monkey 125, which succeeds the dearly departed Monkey Z50. The new bike retains the look of the original Monkey, but is actually much bigger and is based on same platform as the Grom.
Last but not least, Honda showed a beautiful special edition model commemorating both the 60th anniversary and 100 million sold. The gold color was inspired by the paint on a 1971 model, which itself at the time marked a mere 10 million units built a Honda’s Suzuka factory.
The milestone was an important one, and so Honda was celebrating beyond just the halls of the Tokyo Motor Show. The night before the show, a display at its Tokyo headquarters also paid tribute to the occasion. And the Super Cub shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. In Japan, it is still everywhere, darting around both as privately owned conveyances and as the default mode of transportation for a variety of businesses and government organizations, including restaurants, newspapers, the Japan postal service, Ministry of Agriculture, and even the police.
There’s a reason why the 60th anniversary logo is shaped like a heart. How many people have had life-changing news, letters from their beloved, or just a warm meal on a rainy night delivered by Super Cub? 100 million lives have been affected by it. It’s become more than just a bike; it’s an ambassador for Japan’s motoring industry and part of the cultural fabric of the country itself.
Some images courtesy of Honda.