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David McMullan's blog

Modern Chinese Replacement for an All-Time Classic

Posted by Shem on August 28, 2016 at 7:00 AM

In the late 1950’s Soichiro Honda designed what would later become one of the most iconic two-wheeled machines ever to hit international markets. Its style came from functionality, its mechanicals developed for reliability and its target audience was neither the bike enthusiast nor a specific group of society. Its genius marketing campaign heralded the beginning of “lifestyle marketing” and the model itself is likened to the VW Beetle of motorcycles.

Over 55 years the basic design, in regards to both styling and mechanical components, has changed very little. Modern improvements like fuel injection, disk brakes, CDIs and electric starters have made their way in to the mix and the styling has seen a few tweaks but overall the base design that Honda released all that time ago is practically the same.

The Honda Cub came with a variety engine sizes over the years, from the standard 100cc, to the C50 (50cc) in the mid-sixties, to the larger 110cc power units in latter and current versions. With over 50 million, yes, you read that right, 50 million, units sold worldwide the Cub not only holds a production record that proves its greatness but because of its low cost and easy maintenance and reliability has no doubt brought much needed mobility to people who otherwise wouldn’t have has any

In our modern age large portions of the world depend on motorcycles for everyday usage; not the enthusiasts who go to club meets with their polished chrome or the rev-heads who drag race down empty highways in the early hours of the morning. The people who most depend on these vehicles are college students, rural farmers, and elderly individuals running errands. The Cub is perfect for when the car is just too slow, too expensive or just plain unnecessary. Due to the popularity of Honda’s little master piece the roads are more and more populated by modern Cubs with their increased reliability and fuel economy. So where are the older Cubs and what are they doing?

Aside from the fact that most of the original Super Cubs from before the 90’s have been replaced with a newer model or have fallen into disrepair there is the enormous price of these now desirable classics and a whole retro movement with clubs and online groups who dedicate their time and money to restoring and riding a piece of history.

The demand for original Cubs is so high that even corroded, non-starters are going for relatively high sums and anyone lucky enough to have had a quality specimen tucked away in their garage for the last few decades is onto a small fortune.

How do the Chinese come into this, you may well ask. For starters, an uncountable number of ‘Cubs’ – now a generic term for all underbone semi-automatics – have been spawned from all shapes and sizes of bike producers in China. There are good copies and bad copies, sure, but the goods ones have deviated very little from the original blueprints meaning that a 110cc engine produced yesterday from a factory in mainland China will, with very little fuss, bolt straight into the frame of a Cub produced in Japan over 4 decades ago.

Enthusiast of the Retro scene have picked up on this and it’s now not uncommon to see a fully restored C100, often as old as the rider himself, with a Chinese engine providing the power.

As the trend for retro bikes grows and the price of original Cubs skyrockets manufactures have seen a slot to fill with new products featuring classic styling. Enter Zongshen. Branded as Ryuka in Thailand and other parts of South East Asia they are one the companies providing an alternative to the expensive original classic to consumers who might not have the budget to rebuild or buy a genuine classic Honda but want that iconic styling on their everyday ride.

The Ryuku Classic isn’t old by any means old. A modern 110cc engine and up-to-date components mean reliability isn’t compromised in pursuit of a retro feel. The switch gear, suspension, plastic composite body and modern electronics mean it won’t require the same time and attention that an original Cub would. This makes it especially more appealing to younger, busier people with less than capable mechanical skills. A 30’000km warranty provides ample guarantee of its quality and providing it’s used right, there’s no reason to suspect that it wouldn’t make double that without a hitch.

Between the market for new Chinese engines for true classics and the demand for a more modern machine in retro guise the potential this new culture of “Old’s cool” to expand is huge. It’s not just Honda’s legendary cub that is the subject of ‘borrowed’ design as is evident with the new influx of modern Café Racer into international markets which shows that the clean and simplistic styles of the past are popular once again.

Modern day Cubs maintain the low cost, practical and functional ideals that were so core to the creation of the original all those years ago but they do sacrifice some of the cleaner styling which was present on models of the past. The simple solution for those who want all the benefits of a 21st century ride but with the cool looks of a generation passed and none of the purchase costs or repair bills associated with a classic machine – a modern classic.

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