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Steve McQueen followup

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.


9 thoughts on “Steve McQueen followup

  1. We had one of those honda 50s when i was a kid, fun as hell, used to go everywhere on it,

    1. The Honda 50 with the step through design put Honda on the map. Both in the motorcycle business and then with that rep, the car business.

      1. The venerable Toilet Seat 90 as it was known at our house.
        My Dad raced a 250 Yamaha Enduro back in the early 70’s around the Portland Oregon circuit, all the way up to Castle Rock Washington where they still occasionally run their Flat Track series.
        I grew up around that whole life style and can still smell the Castrol.
        I actually built the very first BMX bike clear back in 1971 when I was 11 years old and had snagged a used set of handlebars from my old man. I managed to get them clamped on my bike after days of fiddling, took the Banana seat off and put a single seat on, took the fenders and chain guard off and put knobby tires front and rear. We built a ramp and I jumped a measured 32 feet on pavement in front of the house on it.
        All the old Flat Trackers are long gone now but I did manage to catch San Jose Mile a couple times when I lived down there.

        1. “…can still smell the Castrol.”

          When I first started racing we used Castrol-R which was made from the castor bean and had the very distinctive smell. It was formulated for two stroke engines IIRC, but we used it in our 4 stroke motors. Heck, I think I used it up until synthetics came out.

          You definitely knew when our class (Formula Vee) or the 2 stroke sport racers were on the track just from the smell.

          1. Castrol? Sheeit–Blendzall, man! No smell in the whole world quite like it, it’s GREAT stuff. Bit of a pain in the ass to mix, but well worth the trouble.

            1. “No smell in the whole world quite like it…”
              That is because it’s the castor bean just like castrol R.
              Well, it has been 40 years since I used the Castrol bean oil. I don’t know if Castrol even makes it anymore, rather doubt it.

              The Castor bean unrefined oil had a unique property, it loved heat and didn’t break down like the conventional oils did when they got too hot. Air cooled engines in aircraft used the stuff as did many 2 strokes. With the synthetics we have now there is no need for the venerable castor bean.

  2. I had a mini bike, age 13. I recall the names of Rupp and Cyclops but the pics I find don’t match my recollection. Mine had a working front suspension, just twin tubes with springs inside, which you would discover would slide right out the first good jump you made 🙂 I believe that was the first day… The wheel kept right on going and I face planted the forks in the ground. Damage only to my pride, but even that was repairable. Forks bent a bit, so I got my first lesson in fixing something with two wheels and a motor. Next up is that pesky governor that limits the speed. Disabled that and then decided to see what could be done with a 3hp B&S engine. With the gov disabled and the port and polishing in the head we always figured it was 5+. None of the other mini bikers ever beat me anyway.
    A year later a friend received a Honda Sport 65 for Christmas. That lasted about two months when a car pulled out in front of him. He was hurt but repairable, the bike was a total loss. His dad said no to another one and I bought it for $25 bucks. Tore it down and rigged up a hydraulic jack to help me persuade the frame back in alignment. A little heat from a torch and she just went right back. The front forks were not salvageable, but being exactly the same as the Honda 50 front fork I easily found a used one. Put it all back together and for less than $50 I had my first motorcycle. I rode the hell out of that one and within a month or so started on the engine. Just a big bore kit – as I recall it went from 65cc to 75, but I don’t really remember. Next up was the BSA dirt bike. Picture is of a Sport 65, 1967. Looks exactly like I remember her, even the same color. Well, except for the front fork. The one I got as a replacement was black and I never did repaint it.

  3. I had a mini-bike and at 13 I got a Bultaco 175 Enduro.  My dad put a huge rear sprocket which cut the top speed in half to about 45mph. It would pull a wheelie in every gear. When I turned 15 it needed a new rear tire and I put the stock sprocket back on. It was a two piece sprocket with an 11 link chain extension and a hex key tool to set the sprocket from street to trail and back. It was a powerhouse off road bike with the trail sprocket. With the street sprocket it would peg the 80 mph speedometer with a little throttle to spare. I rarely took it past 60 as the whine of the two stroke tended to draw attention.

    1. I remember those Bultaco’s but never knew anyone that had one. I recall seeing them on the dirt we rode. Pretty nice as I recall.
      On that “11 link chain extension”, I’m trying to imagine what that is. With the sprocket being split I could see spacing it out for a larger ratio, but then it would no longer be round. How did that work?

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