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Classic Velocity Blog

When Small Was Big

Classic Velocity


They say that everything is relative. That you can't actually judge or compare anything without a reference point. For so many of us our first experiences with a vehicle are the reference point for everything that follows. For me, the progression began with two wheels and eventually went on to four. However, there are usually some transitions that stand out beyond others. Some that remain vivid even many years later. The transition from walking or a push scooter to a bicycle for example. All of a sudden you could go faster and further than ever before. Or perhaps the transition from pedal power to motorized transport. In my case, it was from a Raleigh 10 speed to a Honda 50. Suddenly I could again go further and faster than ever before. However, the Honda 50 was perceived as a kind of scooter and motorcycle hybrid. There were already “proper” 90cc and 125cc motorcycles around, and we even tried to modify the bodywork to make the 50 look less scooterish.


This weekend I saw an example of the first big bike I ever rode. It was even the metallic green color. It stopped me in my tracks and some black and white newsreel footage of my youth started playing in my head. The memories came flooding back. The first proper “big bike” that I had access to was a green Honda CB175 Enduro identical to the one I was standing in front of. After the Honda 50, the 175 was a huge bike. It looked like a bike, and sounded like a bike, and had a tank that you could lay prone on to break the sound barrier. It was a rip roaring monster. You could wear a leather jacket with one of these (if we had a leather jacket, which we did not). And oh those pipes. The 175 Enduro had high-mount pipes that twisted around to get out the left side and then made their way back protected by chrome heat shields. They were a thing of beauty and surely were for the more serious racer. I remember arguing ignorantly that the high-mounts were for racers who leaned over all the time and would grind off low-mount pipes. Sounded good at the time. The Honda 50 had 4 hp, while the CB had about 20 hp. Can you imagine jumping onto something that had 5 times the horsepower !! Horsepower numbers were largely irrelevant to us, and we were totally bamboozled by the model numbers. 175 was more than 3 times 50, and therefore more than 3 times as fast.


It turns out that the top end was not 3 times as fast, but it was an absolute rocket, and could exceed 100 (KPH at least). We raced around the countryside whenever possible, and did a ton of miles two-up as basic transportation. We tried to impress girls, but this was the era when bikes were considered truly dangerous. Few girls ever got on the back of that thing, and it was probably for the best. The combination of testosterone, Guinness, and the need to impress would probably have caused a situation at some point. One night in early June after school was out for the summer, I did my first solo run on the bike about 65 miles to a concert by an up and coming group called Bob Marley and the Wailers. The night air enhanced the sense of speed and I diced with a Triumph Stag for a while on the winding roads. After the concert I rode around town a bit with a girl I met at the show. We had to stop a few blocks from her house so that her parents would not see her on a bike. The night became dawn on the way back, and I owned the roads on my big bike, blowing off Honda 50s and 90s at will. It was a glorious trip. It was most certainly the furthest and fastest that I had ever gone....