The Motorcyclist staff owns nearly a dozen sub-350cc machines all told, including a collection of Honda MB5 50cc two-strokes. Road Test Editor Ari Henning and Associate Editor Zack Courts recently took a trip in a Ural sidecar, traveling north to Cocoran, CA, to retrieve a dilapidated MB5 from a Craigslist seller. The pair resuscitated the bike in a hotel room and then nursed it 300 miles back to Los Angeles via two-lane back roads. Ari bought the bike for parts, but it fought so hard to get back to LA on its own. What to do with it, then?
Online Editor Kevin Hipp made an outlandish suggestion: Why not race it in an endurance event? M1 Grand Prix (www.m1-grandprix.com), the local minibike racing series, was scheduled to host a 24-hour event at the Willow Springs Raceway kart track, and the MB5 could run in the stock 50cc class. What a ridiculous idea. We were all about it!
Transforming the little bike into a racing machine was no easy task. The tank was rusted through in places, the forks were bent, and then there was that horrendous screeching noise coming from the transmission when you clicked it into fifth gear. After a week of late nights in the MC garage the $140 Craigslist bike was running on a rebuilt engine, with forks that were straightened in a hydraulic press and a gas tank mottled with welds. We even added a set of clubman-style bars and tacked on some rearsets to give the bike the right stance.
The event played host to 12 teams, ranging from the steely-eyed “Next GeneRacers”—adolescents with MotoGP aspirations—to the estrogendriven “All Girls” team, to bufoons like us. Our ragtag team of six consisted of staffers Henning, Courts, and Hipp, plus up-and-coming AMA Supersport racer Jav Broderick, East Side Moto Babes’ Stacie London, and K&N’s Jeremy Templeman, a fellow MB5 owner.
The race started at noon on Saturday with a Le Mans-style start. A fexy frame, pencil-thin forks, and $30 tires do not an agile racer make, and the MB5 had a nasty habit of chattering like a jackhammer through corners. The bike bucked its rider four times during the race, but always started immediately once righted.
When the sun set the M1GP folks fired up the light towers to cast their blue glow on a track already palely illuminated by the full moon. As the track surface cooled the MB5's tires began to work better, and the Honda could be seen passing competitors instead of always being passed. The MB5 was the oldest and least trackworthy bike there, but it never missed a beat. While more modern machines were sidelined with mechanical issues, all the MB5 asked for was a steady supply of premix and the occasional squirt of chain lube.
At sunrise the bike was still running strong. At noon on Sunday the MB5 crossed the finish line for the last time, having turned 1134 laps of the 0.6-mile, 12-turn circuit. We were racing for fun, to give the junkyard MB5 a second lease on life, and to raise money for Riders for Health (www.ridersforhealth.com). In the end our Facebook friends helped us raise $1100, strikingly close to the number of laps we rode.
While most teams were racing to see if they could make it 24 hours, we were racing to see if the MB5 had the heart to go the distance. From the moment the Honda coughed to life outside that hotel in Cocoran to the moment we lifted it into the back of the van after the race, the MB5 was a source of adventure, fun, and inspiration.
We don’t just advocate this small bike stuf, we live it! Do you? Tell us about your small bike experience at mcmail.com.
The MB5’s adventures are documented in episode 16 and 19 of On Two Wheels. View the fun on Motor Trend’s You Tube channel at www.youtube.com/user/MotorTrend.
Miles per gallon achieved by Matzu Matsuzawa’s Honda XL125- based streamliner in the 1985 Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge—an all-time record for motorcycles operating in real-world riding conditions