SEARCH

The Cub and I: Together again after 24 years

Honda’s brick-tough little bike got Azlan Ramli on a life-long love for machinery...

24 Jul 2020 / 22:10 H.

IN early December 1981, my father purchased a “boxy lamp” Honda C70 moped, the type of motorcycle referred to as kapcai here.

Back then, choosing a “Honda Cub” was a no-brainer to many Malaysians in the market for sub-100cc, four-stroke-engined motorcycles, as Honda mopeds were the significant market leader in Malaysia back then, since the 1960s, with a near-monopoly in that segment right up to the 2000’s. Besides, my paternal grandfather had two 50cc “Super Cub C100” in the 1970s; the brand loyalty was strong.

The kapcai became our family’s cheap, reliable transport for light duties, where my father used it to commute to work, especially on half-day Saturdays and errands in and around the neighbourhood. In the following year, my elder brother got his L bike licence and started using the C70 too.

That was the year he taught me how to operate it. I was nine years old. I will forever remember the experience – both of us on our way home from the nearby mosque, in our sarongs, Baju Melayu tops, flip-flops and NO helmets... at night!

Before leaving the mosque, he explained to me how to kick-start it, the gear-shifting method, when to twist the throttle, when to downshift and a few other things. After kick-starting it – in neutral, of course – I shifted into first gear.

Gingerly twisting the throttle, we moved forward. Then, I shifted into second, then third... and we went faster and faster. At one point, I glanced at the speedometer needle - it was pointing at an alarming 60km/h. That terrified me. As far as I was concerned at that time, we were going at “breakneck speed”!

I slowed down. We reached home – in one piece – a minute later. The experience, which lasted for only about five minutes, was quite exhilarating, to say the least. I did not ride the bike again until I was 15, but that one ride was enough to get me hooked on two-wheels.

I was 16 when I acquired an L bike licence, where I also started tinkering with the C70, which was made easier by like-minded friends and guidance and how-to’s by motorcycle magazines, as well as the bike’s renowned simplicity, user-friendliness and very affordable parts; this one of great help to me.

I enjoyed riding it to school every morning and almost always taking the “scenic route” home. Each ride was exhilarating; I was happiest when I was on it. Till today, I still feel very happy when I’m on a motorcycle.

MID-1980’s... when my brother was using it. Other than that cool re-upholstered seat, he did minor tweaks to the C70, unlike the serious ones I did.
MID-1980’s... when my brother was using it. Other than that cool re-upholstered seat, he did minor tweaks to the C70, unlike the serious ones I did.

Truly a super Cub

There are many legends and icons in the automotive world – two, four and multi-wheeled ones. The Honda Super Cub (or just “Honda Cub”) series is one of them, comprising many models, variants and iterations, from 49cc to 124cc, almost immediately after the former was launched in Japan in 1958 and not long after, to the world’s delighted motorists. The internet has plenty of articles and videos extolling its legendary reliability and tough-to-kill qualities.

I am forever thankful to have started my motoring life on a C70 (the steel-tailed version, by the way). With its 72cc, single-carburettor-fed, two overhead valves, single-cylinder, single overhead camshaft and air-cooled engine, coupled with a three-speed, semi-automatic centrifugal-clutched (meaning there’s no hand-clutch lever) transmission with and a six-volt electrical system, it is still one of the best base engines for aspiring novice mechanics and tinkerers to learn the inner workings of a four-cycle, internal combustion petrol, motor vehicle engine.

I did a lot of modifications to and experiments with the C70. Some failed terribly, while many were successful, all the while the bike solidly taking all my abuse and missteps. I learned more about the law of physics; some sweetly while some, painfully.

That C70 was my friend, my partner-in-crime, my loyal steed. It was, in a way, the mechanical extension of me.

With it, I also indulged in my other love – being out on the open roads, where to me both journey AND destination are equally enjoyable. I dare say that the machine and joyriding greatly influenced my career decision!

Along the way, I made friends with like-minded enthusiasts. I worked briefly at a motorcycle workshop and also was a racing team crew member in one round of an government-sanctioned national moped championship series, the memories of which I will treasure forever.

Once, right after school, I took a job delivering newsletters around Ipoh. That was really fun, as the job necessitated me riding the C70 to perform my duties. The man who acquired my services will assign me areas to go to and that got me to discover many parts of my hometown that I’ve never been to before and would never venture to. In a way, I was paid to ride!

I even enrolled in an automotive engineering programme at a college in 1992, out of my bike-fuelled interest, but quit two semesters later after I realised there are many other interesting and wonderful things in this big world and engineering is just one of them. How to deal with that? Become a journalist!

LOTS OF TLC NEEDED. The 69-year-old ex-owner stopped using it as his sundry shop workhorse years ago, after closing down the business.
LOTS OF TLC NEEDED. The 69-year-old ex-owner stopped using it as his sundry shop workhorse years ago, after closing down the business.

Gone, but not forgotten

In 1994, I moved to Kuala Lumpur after getting a job as a cadet journalist in a local newspaper. The “Honda Grey” C70 stayed with my family, as my father resumed using it. Caught up in the new life and culture shock, I forgot about “AAQ166”.

When I visited my family sometime between 1996 and 1997, it was gone. My father had sold it. I felt sad, but I immediately brushed it off as I was engrossed with my exciting newspaper job, nightlife and girlfriends.

From 1996, I went through a succession of cars and bikes, ending up with a few of the latter by 2014. While I frequently covered motoring events, thanks to my editors who knew of my love for all vehicles, my memories with the little C70 lingered. I promised myself to track it down one day and make an offer to whoever the owner is. Despite the machines I already owned, I still yearned to have my old C70 back.

Memorable sponsored visits in 2017 and last year to Honda’s breathtaking museum at the Twin Ring Motegi race track in Japan further fanned my need to track down the old kapcai.

After a near-frustrating search for the (now ex-)owner’s house in a village in Ara Payung, Batu Gajah, Perak, I found it. This was how it was parked. Thankfully, it was complete and in good condition (and not a twisted wreck!), parked under a shady porch, the owner was at the house – alive and well, and very accommodating too, the registration card was with him and best of all, he agreed to sell it to me... at my offer price!
After a near-frustrating search for the (now ex-)owner’s house in a village in Ara Payung, Batu Gajah, Perak, I found it. This was how it was parked. Thankfully, it was complete and in good condition (and not a twisted wreck!), parked under a shady porch, the owner was at the house – alive and well, and very accommodating too, the registration card was with him and best of all, he agreed to sell it to me... at my offer price!

The power of dreams

Late last year, my good friend in Ipoh, Faizul a.k.a. “Chor”, who has a shop servicing and repairing mostly 250cc-and-above bikes, managed to get the contact details of the C70’s owner. I was excited to see the address, which was at the town I was born! A date was set to find the owner and the C70.

The Movement Control Order from March 18 delayed my plans, but did not dampen my enthusiasm. I constantly prayed for the 69-year-old owner, whom I’ve never even met, to be alive and well. I also prayed that the bike was still around, even if only the frame was all that’s left of it (everything else is available in the market) and that his family won’t interfere, i.e. pressuring him into asking a very high price for it.

All my prayers were answered. Finally, last Saturday morning, at the Perak Road Transport Department branch in Ipoh, AAQ166’s ownership was legally transferred to me.

2020 - FOUND IT! I’m trying hard not to bawl here.
2020 - FOUND IT! I’m trying hard not to bawl here.

With my cousin’s pick-up, it was transported to my parents’ house. Sometime next month, it will be taken apart at that good friend’s shop in Ipoh. The restoration will be a slow (and careful) process, due to my being based in Kuala Lumpur, but I have a good feeling the bike will hit the roads again well before it turns 40 on Dec 1 next year (it was registered on Dec 1, 1981).

I hope to make it better than new, with some upgrades inside and out, for a nicer ride and handling and also to deal with Klang Valley traffic.

Welcome back, old friend. I look forward to many more miles of fun rides with you!

The Cub and I: Together again after 24 years

IT’S MINE! Finally, last Saturday morning, at the UTC Perak Road Transport Department branch in Ipoh, AAQ166’s ownership was legally transferred to me.

email blast