We knew Honda’s various Mini Trail and Trail minibikes—and countless off-brand imitators, including more than a few Briggs & Stratton-powered buckboards—introduced hundreds of thousands of all-American kids to motorcycling in the late ’60s and early ’70s. What we didn’t know was how many of them were still riding motorcycles today and reading our magazine! The Icon feature in our recent December issue (“Minibike Madness,” Dec. 2013, MC) really struck a chord with those readers. We received so many remarkable reminiscences that we decided to collect them all in the feature well. Here are the best:
I remember it like it was, well, 42 years ago. It was June or July 1971. I was seven years old. My father—the real Harry Potter—and I went to Hart-Taylor Honda in Spencerport, New York, and purchased my very first Honda. We folded the handlebars of the brand-new Z50A Mini Trail (blue/white) and rolled it into the back of the family’s ’68 Impala station wagon. The ride home took forever.
Neighborhood kids had two types of minibikes. Most common were the lawnmower-engined, loop-framed sort. Some of these were impressively fast—if you were able to start them and keep them running. The other type was the little Hondas, which started the first time, every time, and were a blast to ride.
Although the Z50A only had front suspension, it was better than no suspension. It didn’t have the top speed of some others, but I could literally run circles around them. I beat the heck out that Honda for more than five years before graduating to an XR75. That was the start of my motorcycling life, and I have been riding Hondas ever since.
Kevin J. Potter
It was the summer of ’72. It was probably the best summer of my life. I had landed my first paying job, as a paperboy. I went on my first date, got my first kiss, and my first-ever solo motorcycle ride.
I had just finished my paper route when the phone rang. It was my best friend, Kevin. “Did you hear? Kenny’s brother got a minibike!” I fed my mom some story—her opinion of motorcyclists resembled her opinion of Charles Manson—then pedaled my banana-seat bike over to check it out.
When we got to Kenny’s house, there was already a crowd in the driveway. It was a red-and-white Honda Z50 Mini Trail, the holy grail of cool for every 12-year-old boy. I can’t remember how many times I rode up and down that street that day. Afterward, our stories became more exaggerated with each retelling. “Did you see Mike? He was pulling a wheelie!” “I must have been going at least 100!”
I’ve ridden tens of thousands of miles since that day but none more exciting than that Saturday morning.
One day my dad took me to visit a friend who had a son about my age. I still remember pulling into their driveway and seeing the metallic gold minibike in the garage. I got out of the car and walked toward it as if drawn in by a tractor beam. An honest-to-god Honda Mini Trail 50. Don’s son Rusty came out of the house and asked if I liked it. Like it? I was trying to figure out how to steal it.
One night I overheard my parents talking: “He needs to learn how to fix things and be financially responsible,” dad said. “Okay,” mom countered, “but when he hurts himself, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.” I could hardly contain myself the next day when dad said we were going to the Honda shop.
I don’t remember what we paid for it in 1972. What I do remember is that it was metallic blue, and we took it home in the trunk of our Oldsmobile land yacht. I also remember “that smell,” which I still notice every time I enter a motorcycle dealership. Every time I smell “that smell,” I remember my Mini Trail 50.
That’s me on bike, with my younger twin sisters in the background, circa 1970.
My first minibike was a Honda QA-50. I worked all summer in 1973 at my grandpa Leo’s salvage yard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in order to save up the $175. My parents said no, but I bought it anyway, hiding it in a friend’s shed. I rode the piss out of that thing and so did all my friends. After a year of abuse I sold it to another kid on the block for almost the price I paid!
One day in 1972, my dad opened the trunk of his ’68 Buick LeSabre and there it was—a blue 1970 Honda 70. Not just any minibike, but a Honda—immediate rock star status! We lived in Armada, Michigan, population four minibikes. Our house was the last one on a dead-end street, with a 60-acre field beyond. I could wind that Honda up to 35 mph and come to a skidding stop sideways at the end of the lane. The rest of the field had a network of trails I knew like the back of my hand. Across the street was a huge oak tree. When we weren’t riding we were sitting under the oak tree, staring at our bikes. My blue ’70 was the best thing that could happen to an 11-year-old kid.
Kevin H. Kent
Why did I love minibikes so much as a kid? Honda Z50s, Rupp Roadsters, Tecumseh engines, centrifugal clutches, Hodakas, Benellis—anything with two wheels occupied 99 percent of my brain space. Nothing I own today gives me as much pleasure and excitement. How could a 4-hp engine and 15 mph provide more good times than my current, 100-hp bike? If Honda’s Grom can resurrect even a small percentage of those old feelings, at $2,999 it might be the grandest bargain ever.
Forty years of riding and racing have left their mark on my body and soul, and it all started with a minibike on my seventh birthday. My dad hid it under a lemon tree at our home in Torrance, California. It was the start of many family trips to race, to ride, and to go camping and fishing. Some of my favorite family memories center on riding.
Fast-forward 35 years, and I have a young daughter. When I spotted a basket-case Honda CT70 at the Barber Vintage Festival, my mind saw the opportunity to create some special times with her.
I may have gone a little overboard with the restoration (see photo above), including a USD fork with disc brake, extended swingarm, faux-Öhlins shocks, and a 188cc motor. She’s fun, stable, and fast, with a 70-mph top speed. (I know it’s overkill for seven-year-old Katie, so we got her a Suzuki JR50, too.) But our little CT has the beans to carry both of us on the annual minibike-only True Grits Fun Run in Georgia each year. Minibikes build lifetime memories!
For us vintage acolytes, the Honda T70 and its congeners were called “mini-cycles” to distinguish them from the Tecumseh 3.5-hp minibikes from Little Indian, Rupp, Heathkit, and Taco. I came of age on a two-stroke, 65cc Benelli Hurricane that I ordered from a Penney’s catalog in 1970. It cost $250, had a one-up/three-down gearshift on the left, and burned hot and fast.
I built jumps for that little firecracker, perfected my wheelies, and took it out on the streets all the time. Back then the cops just pulled you over and told you to go home—no tickets or citations (or helmets, either). That was when I was 13, and I’ve been riding ever since. Today, I drive my beloved Triumph Street Triple R in the Malibu canyons, but it all started after reading a Benelli minicycle test by Sammy Miller in Minibike Guide.
My eyes lit up when I saw the spread of Honda minibikes. I have so many fond memories! When my dad bought himself a new 1969 Yamaha L5T 100cc enduro, he also bought me and my little brother a Bonanza 3-hp minibike. In 1970, my sister won a bright-red Honda Trail 70 in a church raffle. I was still too small to ride the 70, so my dad got a used 50cc Honda Mini Trail, too. I distinctly remember my sister teaching me how to shift the gears at a campground near Aguanga. It was neat to fit the Trail 70, Mini 50, and my dad’s 100 in the back of our 1970 Chevy Carryall (called a Suburban now). I credit those little Hondas for all my riding skills, which I now use commuting to LA on a Yamaha FZ6.
My dad explained the basics: Ease out the clutch slowly and just a “little bit” of throttle. Of course I twisted back as far as my skinny little wrist would go and popped the clutch. The red Honda SL70 sent me straight up a steep embankment and into the backside of a guardrail. I was still smiling ear to ear. Just last week, 25 years later, my 14-year-old son climbed on my 1986 Honda TLR200 for the first time. I carefully explained the basics. The front brake is here at your right hand…
My first motorcycle was a 1969 Honda Z50A Mini Trail. Riding it gave me access to a larger urban landscape than my old English racer bicycle afforded. In particular, I regularly made the 6-mile trip to see my high school sweetheart, Suzanne.
Suzanne’s dad took an immediate liking to the little Honda. John was a hard read, a bona fide World War II veteran with an artificial leg and a stern demeanor. When he asked me to take the Mini Trail for a ride, who was I to refuse? We all thought he was just going to take it for a spin around the block. When he returned hours later, much to my relief, the Mini Trail was intact and he wore the biggest grin I ever saw on him.
Within a few weeks, he bought his own Honda C70 Cub. He also eventually became my father-in-law. Suzanne and I still tour “two-up” all over the Pacific Northwest, and I never miss an opportunity to pass on the motorcycling bug.
My family was watching the evening news on Channel 2 when the newscaster announced the winners of their “Outdoor Living” contest, and I was one of them! My prize? A Honda CT70 Trail motorcycle! When Saturday rolled around, my mother drove her ’67 Mercury to Hatfield Honda. Mom signed some paperwork, and the sales guy wheeled the burnt-orange CT70 bike out to the parking lot, folded down the handlebars, and loaded it into the trunk.
There was a dirt alley behind our house, and I must have ridden up and down that alley thousands of times over the next few years. I could even ride a wheelie for some distance on that thing. When I reached age 16, I rode the little CT everywhere. I especially loved taking my girlfriend for rides on the bike. She would wear a bikini top with shorts and I would wear cutoff jeans and no shirt—not exactly ATGATT!
I was 10 years old in 1968. I vividly remember watching the space program and Evel Knievel. My best friend Brent had a Honda Mini Trail 50 that he let me ride. In the spring of ’71, I paid half for a used, candy-apple-green CT70. While my dad was inside the dealership doing the deal, I turned it on, revved it up, and stomped on the shifter. So that’s what the clutch is for! On the way home, my dad casually mentioned how impressed the salesman was with my wheelie.
I was 12 years old in 1983 when my parents reluctantly bought me a 1975 Honda Z50A. I blazed rock-hard trails in our grassy, 4-acre yard, pretending I was Ricky Johnson or maybe Freddie Spencer, trying to drag a knee. I rode that bike up until I was probably 19 years old, way too big for it. Bleach burnouts, jumping out the barn door, endless wheelies—what a great little bike! After years of sitting in our barn, inoperable, I threw the little yellow Z50 into the dumpster during a clean out. Stupid, stupid, I know!
This picture sums it up! My dad, Don Brown, purchased my 1970 Honda CT70 while living in New Jersey, fueling my lifelong two-wheel passion. Today I’ve got BSAs, Triumphs, a KTM, and Ducati, but my most cherished, after the Triumph X75 Hurricane, is the 1970 Honda CT70!