Icon: Honda's Super Cub

Sixty Million Riders Can't Be Wrong

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Honda

What's the most iconic Honda ever made? An original CB750K0? The first Gold Wing? An oval-piston NR750? Mike Hailwood's RC166 six-cylinder Grand Prix racer? Those are all bellwether bikes, but none can challenge the humble Super Cub. Just consider the numbers: Now in its 50th year of continuous production, more than 60 million-yes, million-Super Cubs have rolled off Honda assembly lines. By any conceivable measure-longevity, utility, profitability, or even style, in its own oddball way-the Super Cub comes out on top. It's one of the most successful consumer appliances of all time, wheeled or otherwise.

Not quite a scooter but not entirely a motorcycle, the Super Cub is difficult to classify. The enclosed drivetrain, step-through frame and protective leg shields shout scooter, but the 17-inch wheels and conventional engine placement say motorcycle. The lines of the Super Cub's unique, pressed-steel frame and deep fenders are every bit as timeless as another classic scooter, the Vespa. But those who have traveled to the Third World, where the Super Cub fills every role from taxi to delivery vehicle to police cruiser, will draw a comparison with another vehicular icon: the rugged Jeep.

Soichiro Honda made just one demand when he designed the Super Cub: "Be useful." This simple concept is the Super Cub's greatest strength. Powered by an indestructible, 49cc, four-stroke single, the Super Cub is a breeze to ride. The earliest examples were kickstart-only, but even a child could kick over the low-compression engine, and the 143-pound weight made it a breeze to roll off the centerstand. A centrifugal clutch simplifies shifting the three-speed transmission, and the front fender and leg shields-the first-ever plastic bodywork on a motorcycle-offer protection from muddy roads and bad weather. It's the very definition of simple, useful transportation.

The Super Cub helped launch the Honda brand in America in 1959. The revolutionary machine later starred in Honda's "You meet the nicest people..." advertisements, one of the most memorable (and successful) campaigns of all time. Everyone, it seemed, loved the Super Cub. The Beach Boys penned an ode called "Little Honda," and even Elvis had one for putting around Graceland.

The USA is just one of 160 countries that the Super Cub has been sold in to date, and the Cub series is still being produced today at 16 plants in 15 countries. Super Cubs haven't been sold stateside since 1970, but in this era of economic and environmental uncertainty, we think it's time for a revival. Conveniently, Honda just introduced an updated version of its famous Z50 Monkey bike in Japan, powered by an all-new, fuel-injected, 49cc four-stroke capable of a claimed 282 mpg. The Z50 and Super Cub use the same engine. C'mon, Honda, slot that new motor into the existing Super Cub chassis and give us an icon for the next half-century, too!

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