So since posting “American badass” yesterday, I have fallen DEEEEP down the rabbit hole of all things 70s dirt-bike. After another long, stimulating conversation with my friend Stan this evening on the subject, I’ve been Wiki-searching all the great old names: DeCoster, Jim Pomeroy, Malcom Smith, John Penton, Heikki Mikkola, et al. This serious sidetrackery led me to a couple of real finds.
Preach it, Steve! Next up: truer words were never, EVER spoken.
Heh. Anybody out there who grew up like me, Stan, and his brother Chipps did know exactly what it feels like. In our conversation earlier tonight, Stan brought up Chipps’s old Honda Mini Trail Z50—the bike Chipps taught me to ride on back when I was, oh, 11 or 12, which looked a little something like this:
As I recollect, the one Chipps had sported a slightly different paint/decal scheme on the tank, although it was certainly red as all getout. See the black plastic knobs down at the bottom of the bars, just above where the risers meet the top triple-clamp? Turning those counter-clockwise (lefty loosey!) would loosen each handlebar to fold down alongside the fork leg independently, making it easy-peasy to toss the little Z50 into the trunk of Dad’s car when a nice weekend camping trip up to the mountains was in order.
Can’t see very well in the pic, but the bars are supposed to have a bit of space between them. On Chipps’s Z50, however, they were bent so badly from innumerable falls, collisions, and other what-have-you that they actually touched in the middle, about halfway along the rise to the turnout where the grips, front brake lever, throttle, and kill switch (that red button thingie by the left grip) all live. It was funny to look at, kinda like a bunny with its ears all a-flop rather than sticking up straight.
Three-speed (or was it four?) auto-clutch tranny; chrome steel fenders front and rear; honkin’ big chrome heat shield over the upswept exhaust, which of course would be summarily removed and thrown into a remote corner of the garage for the duration, the oversize muffler drilled/hacksawed/gutted to replace the offensively meek, barely-audible “putt-putt-putt” sound with a more manly, throatier growl; cable-actuated drum brakes front and rear; cute little semi-knobby balloon-tires and mag wheels; in short, all the traditional styling, hardware, and running gear standard on the kid-size Hondas from that era.
That tiny little booger provided my first-ever experience with the indestructible nature of pretty much all Honda engines; like my beloved Ford 289s, they simply can’t be kilt, no matter how severely you abuse ‘em. Which of course we did. It’s long been my theory that you could’ve blown a few .50 caliber holes in that 49cc motor with a Ma Deuce and it still woulda cranked on the first kick and purred like a cat eating guts anyhow.
The seat had a latch on the side, allowing access to a small storage compartment underneath, among other things. On Chipps’s bike, the spring holding the latch closed was broken. This meant that whenever you jumped the thing, momentum would leave the seat flapping in the air—not such a big problem when you’re standing on the pegs and airborne, but a real nut-buster when you landed and went to sit back down again with the seat in the “open” position and stuffed into your crotch.
A more dire hazard than that top frame rail on our old Schwinn boys’ banana-bikes was, believe you me. Whoever wasn’t actually riding at the time and was off fooling around in the woods or catching tadpoles in the nearby crick always knew when the other guy had crested a hill and caught some air by the sudden profane shouts of pain at having been caught again by that $*&^$##@@#!!! loose seat.
Ahh, those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.