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Step-Thru Boy
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How do we define ourselves? By our jobs, the way we dress, or the music we like? By the bikes we ride or lust after? Episode one of two from Trevor Oz Brooks...

Back in 1965 I passed for a normal, well-adjusted high-spirited teenager. Truly. So naturally I dreamt of slapping my 'L' plates on a Honda 50 step-thru! No, wake up, it's only a dream… but it wasn't. Long before I became Big Twin man (more in episode two) I was Step-Thru boy.

1965 Honda Advert - You might meet the nices people, but we don't know which one is Ozboys' Grandad.

The '65 Honda Cub was my Grandad's bike. It lived under a cover in the front garden of his house at Chingford. We visited Grandad every Sunday and I'd lift the cover for a look at the bike as soon as we walked through the gate. Why he handed me the key one cold December day I wasn't really sure, but I certainly remember that first ride. I wobbled away up the dual carriageway and soon got the hang of the thing. Let's face it, there's not much to get the hang of on a Honda Cub. You just had to remember which way to push the switch for left and right on the new fangled blinkers. Otherwise it was just a kick start, semi-auto 3 speed box (no clutch lever) and a 49cc pushrod engine that revved like a mad thing. What's 'running in' Grandad?

This is the original version of the 50cc step-thru Honda. Slinky. 1958 Honda Cub

A few miles later I dropped the bike on an icy corner at Chingford Mount. Oh woe! Oh anxiety! Oh…! Naturally I'd been moving as slowly as any high spirited teenager would in the slippery conditions. Luckily there was hardly a mark on the bike, just a small scuff on one of the wonderfully flexible plastic legshields and a slightly bent gear lever which I managed to bend back into (more or less) the right shape. Could easily have happened pushing the bike back through the front gate, eh Grandad? I rode the Honda on several more Sundays and in the New Year, after Grandad had died, I inherited the bike.

A year or so earlier I'd briefly owned Turner's version of a Cub. It was so noisy it just had to be fast. I had it for about three months, just long enough to get it running, remove the nacelle with tin snips and demonstrate its enormous power by demolishing my best pal's garden wall. Shortly after that the clutch made a bid for freedom through the chaincase. I don't remember how I disposed of it.

Having had a taste of Real Power I didn't fancy the little Honda, but Dad didn't want it sold off and I was 'persuaded'. What did they know about being a teenager! The only thing to do, since I was stuck with it, was ride it; far away from home, where no-one would recognize me. So I did, all over the southern half of England. Slowly. The Cub never failed to slowly reach a destination or to slowly return, despite my best efforts.

One best effort was a weekend camping trip with my pal Bob and his cousin Fred. Bob was on his Vespa and Fred had what I think was a Bella scooter, but could have been a BSA Sunbeam / Triumph Tigress. We roared, relatively speaking, into the countryside, laden with camping gear and supplies.

Snappily dressed 60's Ozboy. The Cub is the ideal bike for someone with only one leg.

Keeping the others in sight was a challenge, not least because of the super-bouncy rear suspension which made (relatively) fast cornering rather spectacular and exciting! The super-compliant leading link front end was slightly better and the spindly brakes were quite reasonable I seem to recall (it's all relative remember). I revved the wee Cub mercilessly until it inexplicably slowed to a halt and stopped.

The cure was simple, just wait for it to cool down and set off again. Bob and Fred were somewhat amused, I think. No-one had told me it needed oil, ok! If it needed oil it would have an oil tank surely? You'd never find that piddling little filler cap on the crankcase unless you read the handbook, and who does that?

Amazingly, having cooled down it seemed to run perfectly well again, and repeated the trick several times that weekend. I just stopped worrying about it. I don't remember where we pitched camp but I do remember Fred commandeering every item of our collective spare clothing during an icy cold night. We lived on beans and shortcake biscuits for two days. I will blame all future respiratory problems on those two nights together in a tent.

Random C50 stuff on eBay.co.uk

Once I had the hang of riding it to the very edge of its performance postcard, longer trips were called for. The tiny tank of petrol (4litres) gave a range of about 90 miles. Important when fuel was a staggering 6/8d a gallon, the same price as a 45rpm record. One Friday evening Bob and I took off to visit a friend (and his sister) holidaying with their family in a caravan at Walton-On-The-Naze.

Bob raced off on the Vespa and I followed, wringing the neck of the Honda to keep up. Distant memory tells me the Cub managed about 40mph, maybe 45mph on a complimentary gradient providing there wasn't a headwind. Quite how we managed to reach the outskirts of WotN at anything like the same time is beyond me, but we did. It was getting dark and we were getting lost, so we stopped and asked directions. I distinctly remember being told to veer left at a particular junction as going right led only to the dead-end seafront.

Bob reached the junction well ahead of me. He veered… right! Dear reader, there's not much you can do to improve the speed of a 50cc Cub in full flight. Crouching half off the seat down behind the legshields for streamlining did little to squeeze extra velocity from the willing but hopelessly underpowered little engine. I flashed the tiny headlight, I squawked the tinny horn. The Vespa disappeared ahead.

Advert on the right show's Bob heading for the sea front. Probably...

I arrived at the dead-end of the sea-front to find the Vespa on its side on the wide pavement. There was no sign of Bob. I stared at the high kerb and low sea wall. I heard the waves crashing against the shore. I whacked the Honda on its stand, looked over the sea wall into the darkness and shouted Bob's name. Nothing. Handily, a coastguard unit was located right there at the end of the road, with a whopping great searchlight. The coastie leaned out of his window and asked what the *^#^* heck was going on. 'I think my pal went for a swim' I said.

He swept a huge beam of light across the front. I was relieved to see sand several feet below, not just crashing waves, and there was Bob shaking his head. He'd hit the kerb, somersaulted over the wall and twisted his ankle on landing, lucky lad. We spent an uncomfortable night on the beach and after a stint at the local hospital next morning, limped round to see our pal (and his sister). Bob got all the attention for the rest of the weekend, especially from 'you know who'. I got bored. It was a slow ride home.

This was 1966. The world cup was imminent. Flower power was ascendant and we were in training for the summer of love. I saw the Kinks, at Harlow, the Who at the Marquee, Jefferson Airplane and the Doors on the same bill at Camden Roundhouse and Cream for 7/6d at Cooks Ferry Inn. Spencer Davis pushed John Mayal to the back of the record pile, and I stood looking through the shop window at the Vespa GT160, dark blue with chrome side panels, which would soon be mine. If FLT 15C is languishing somewhere turning to rust, it will be doing it slowly. Very, very slowly.



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