Shannon Deane's 1990 Honda NS50F

A rare little Honda from the early '90s finds a new home.

Shannon Deane Honda NS50F
Shannon Deane's 1990 Honda NS50F helped launch her motorcycle racing career.Photo: Shannon Deane

NAME: Shannon Deane
AGE: 34
OCCUPATION: Sound Designer/Riding Coach

I can't explain why the bug bit me so hard, but it happened at a very young age. I have vivid memories of riding in the family car and spotting what appeared to be a superhero zooming down the road on a small spaceship. Shrouded in full body armor and helmet, identity hidden behind tinted shield, the image captivated me: I wanted to be that. That superhero on his spaceship was, of course, just some random Joe on his sport bike, but when I saw him I saw my own destiny. I begged my parents to let me get a dirt bike with my saved allowance – "I'll get a peewee! It's only 50cc!" – but to no avail.

Fast-forward 25 some-odd years, and I finally own one of those little bikes I so fervently begged for as a kid. (Actually I now own about a dozen motorcycles, but who's counting?) The childhood-dream-bike-come true is a 1990 Honda NS50F, which would become my first race bike. I happened upon it by chance, tucked away in a corner of my friend's garage, and bought it from him for $900. She wasn't pretty. Her brakes were terrible. Her suspension was worse. But she was unlike any motorcycle I'd ever seen before, and I had to make her mine.

The NS50 is quite rare: Honda only produced it for one year, and only imported about 200 of them into the United States. It was manufactured and sold as a street-legal 2-stroke mini café racer. Boasting a mighty 49cc oil-injected engine, it was water-cooled, with a 6-speed manual transmission, drum brakes front and rear, 17” steel laced wheels, GP-style clip-ons, topped-off with some sweet 80s graphics.

My little NS50F, however, was worlds removed from factory status. Long gone were the Miami Vice-style graphics; the stock look had been scrapped in favor of a black rattle can job, with a splash of (Sharpie) silver flames on the (dented) gas tank. The foot pegs were homemade, crudely fabricated from hollow steel rods with screws driven through them. The catch can was rigged out of a DayQuil bottle. It had no gauges, headlight or turn signals. In fact, every trace of street legal-ness had been removed from the little machine. It had spent its entire life as a race bike, I was told. A man named Harry Akuda built the engine. It was a custom job with a Kawasaki KX60 piston and special tune. If I had any questions about the build – too bad – because Mr. Akuda was no longer with us.

The bike carried me through a successful inaugural race season - barely. I somehow won a race at Streets of Willow on a front end that had come loose. My clutch lever broke off in my hand that same day. On many occasions I’d go to brake, only to have the lever pull all the way to the bar and deliver no stopping power whatsoever. I ran off the track. Many times. I crashed. Many times. My bike and I developed trust issues. We persevered. Towards the end of the season it began running poorly - I was unknowingly racing with a broken piston. During the last race of the last round, my exhaust pipe fell off.

A lot of the above can be chocked up to poor maintenance on my part. But the truth is that my NS50 was quirky to begin with. The bike struck a chord with me because it was different, and because it reminded me of the mini-bikes I longed for as a kid, but never got to have. I’m grateful for the little machine. It has taught me a lot, both because of and in spite of its quirks.