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Monday, January 14, 2013

Where it All Began

While I'm not sure just how that word really applies to these sort of things, it is one well used for such and so it shall be by me as well…Or perhaps I should just say, "and in the beginning!"
One of the machines that helped to start the off-road craze was a tiny little Honda motorcycle called the Trail… I won't really go into its full history here but it all started back in 1961 with the introduction of the Trail 50. This lawn mower-sized little 4-stroke engine was mated to a 3-speed automatic clutch transmission. The engine and trans were hung in a unique step-through frame design much like that typically found on girl's bicycles. With the small 17" diameter wheels and minimal suspension travel this little motorcycle proved to be incredibly easy to ride and remarkably adept at tackling dirt roads and trails - albeit slowly, and perhaps, just perhaps that was a big part of the charm;-)

The Honda Trail was a hit and soon spawned improved models in the Trail 90 and eventually the Trail 110 that was available in the U.S. until the end of 1986. The Honda Trail received some upgrades through the years in addition to the larger engine displacement. It received better suspension, a 4-speed transmission, and even a spare fuel tank. One of the most notable trademarks for the Honda Trail 90s and 110s is their unique 2-speed transfer case, so-to-speak. The little trail bikes had a small sub-transmission rather than a single primary sprocket that gave the rider the ability to switch from the normal set of gears to a low set of gears. Combine the ability to quickly engage low range with a flip of a lever with the low seat height, low overall weight (less than 200 pounds!) and the convenient step-trough frame and you have a little motorcycle with an uncanny ability to tackle dirt roads and backcountry trails. 

In addition to being capable of traversing difficult trails at comfortable speeds, the small size and step-through frame design made it a friendly machine to new users. Suddenly ranchers and farmers were using them to check their fields and livestock, and hunters and fishermen were using them to access the best back country spots. It wasn't long before people found the simple joy in just exploring the dirt roads and trails on this little machine. And in this it helped to bring about the huge off-road motorcycle craze in the 60s and 70s that turned into the ATC craze of the 80s and the ATV craze we are in now.

So with all that said I will digress to my own Honda Trail story. Being fortunate enough to grow up out in the sparsely populated deserts of California during this time, I got to be one of those early off-road enthusiasts. Because we were surrounded by a lot of vast spaces linked by nothing but a lot of old dirt roads, many left from the long-gone mining days, it was only natural to need something to explore all these trails!

Here's where I'd like to say that my first motorcycle was a Honda Trail, but it wasn't. It was a Suzuki Trail 80 in 1964, which became a Honda Super 90 and that became a Honda Scrambler, and that - well you get the picture. Besides, by 1965 we had gotten our first Meyers Manx as that phenomenon was also beginning to change the way people explored the back country. The first Trail 90 to enter my life was when my family purchased a 67 for my Mom and Dad to do a little exploring on. Well, like so many things in life, you really can't have just one Trail 90, so in 68 we brought another one home.

Sure, they were my Mom and Dads machines, and during this time I was doing more and more racing, but there was just something about the Trail 90s. As I mentioned before, they were easy and they were friendly. So, while other motorcycles were meant to go fast, and ridden with that as the end, those two simple ingredients that made the Trail 90 unique resulted in me putting several thousand miles on those little motorcycles. It was those Trail 90s that helped to develop in me a love in simply exploring the backcountry rather than racing through it. Because of that, the Honda Trail 90 will always be one of the two vehicles that had the most influence on my life. 

And so that brings me (full circle?) to something I haven't owned in something like 25 years, and something I haven't swung a leg over in at least 10, a motorcycle…And to be more specific, a Honda Trail 110.

Next up I'll explain where this Trail is leading…..  


  1. Awesome Doug! We lived in a metro area and didn't really hear about the Hondas until we moved to the country in the late 70's.....

  2. Pretty incredible little machine. Still inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to own. Nowadays its harder to come about good, cheap fun ;-)

  3. I grew up on the Honda Trail 90 along with a Yamaha 125 Enduro, both machines were reasonably priced, durable, and easy to work on, and seem to run forever. I remember with these machines were seen everywhere, much like the ATV’s today. But then came the motocross dirt bikes and the noise these machines made on the trails, not to mention the destruction, and soon the public perception of trail bikes were not favorable.
    I remember how quite the Trail 90 was as I would see wildlife on the trail, because the engine would make a “put, put” sound. However, today’s market would laugh at these machines because they don’t look “manly” enough.

  4. Maybe we need to put chrome flames on them and sell them with free body piercing and tattoos ;-)

    And I agree, the quiet, stealth exhaust note does give it a 'wildlife' advantage.

  5. Amazing how world has changed. That put put sounds and those days are being missed.

  6. Very interesting post, look forward to reading more.

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