Robin Goodman was 23, with a mortgage and a one-year-old daughter, and money was tight.
So tight that he sold his Reliant Regal van – yes, just like Del Boy’s – and replaced it with a cheaper, and more frugal, Honda Super Cub C70.
That was in 1972 and, nearly half a century on, the finances may have improved but the revolutionary little Honda remains an integral part of Robin’s life.
These days, the mustard yellow bike shares a garage with far more muscular machines, a Triumph Bonneville and a Ducati Monster, but it outweighs them both in Robin’s affections.
It was almost certainly the best £175, including the yellow helmet pictured here, the retired firefighter has ever spent.
“I would never want to part with it,” he says, sitting in his garden east of Norwich on a warm autumn morning. “I am sentimental about certain things and I do hold on to them.
“The biggest future”
“Out of all the bikes I would probably keep that one. It sounds stupid, but I guess that’s the one with the biggest future.
“There will come a time when I can’t ride the other bikes, they will be too heavy for me, but that will still be rideable.”
Now 70, Robin enjoys rides out in the Norfolk countryside with his biker son, Matt, who was largely responsible for persuading his dad to get the Honda back on the road about 18 months ago after it spent 25 years in hibernation.
Not only did Matt buy a Super Cub of his own, a 1983 C90, but he kept buying bits and pieces for Robin’s bike as Christmas and birthday presents.
“What forced me was my son, who kicked it off by buying me a couple of new mirrors for it,” says Robin, originally from Bedford.
“He helped me quite a bit to strip it down and then, as an incentive, he bought a C90 and said ‘it will be great when we’ve done the bike and we can have a little bimble around’.
“The following year he bought me an exhaust for it, the final bit I needed.”
Robin bought his first bike at 15, a BSA Bantam he learned to ride on private land before hitting the road at 16, passing his bike test at the second attempt.
“The first time I failed on the questions after a faultless ride out,” he remembers. “I had not bothered to gen up on the motorways and virtually every question was on the motorways.
“My logic was that I was a learner driver, so I’m not allowed on the motorway, so I don’t need to know about that!
“The second time it was icy and I fell off my bike going to get some fuel. I had to go home, put the footrests right and take the test with a bent mudguard, but I passed.”
Enter the Reliant
After owning several more BSAs, at the age of 19 Robin graduated to the three-wheeled Reliant, which he could ride on his motorbike licence.
“My brother had a car and he seemed to be more successful with the girls, so I decided it was time to get a car,” he says.
“They had just changed the law so you could drive a three-wheeler with a reverse gear on a motorbike licence, so it was quite useful. Before then you had to have reverse gear removed.”
Car ownership clearly did the trick for Robin’s love life, because within four years he was married with a daughter, but the consequent financial pressures forced the sale of the Reliant, and the arrival of the Honda.
“I needed to reduce petrol and running costs, and the Reliant was still fairly new so after paying out for the motorcycle there was still quite a bit of cash available,” he says, buying the C70 from a local shop that had gone from selling bicycles to mopeds, and then Super Cubs up to the C90.
“I’m one of those strange people who is loyal in certain areas, and that shop had sold bikes near where I lived as a boy. That probably swayed me towards the Honda, and I really liked it.”
“It’s brilliant engineering”
The C70 had come out in 1969 to fill the gap between the C50 and C90, which had been launched three years earlier, and Robin still marvels at the engineering of a bike still in production today, having sold more than 100million worldwide.
“It’s brilliant engineering,” he says. “The engine design is pretty clever and the clutch was revolutionary at the time. It’s a proper little motorbike.”
The 6hp, 71.8cc Honda was pressed into service as the family’s only form of transport, carrying Robin on the six-mile commute to work at an engineering factory.
“It was my only transport for about six years, and was very reliable and economical,” he adds. “I used it for going to work and back and any social things I had to attend.
“It sounds awful now, but I remember taking my daughter on the back a few times when she was about eight. I used to have a little helmet for her.”
When the time was right, Robin bought another car – an old Austin Cambridge that needed work – but the Honda continued in regular use for work until 1982, the last year it carried a tax disc.
Son Matt came along in 1981, and the family – complete with Honda – left Bedfordshire a couple of years later for Norfolk, an area Robin knew and loved from summer holidays as a boy.
Life in the slow lane
“The pace of life was quite good, and we thought it would be better for the children,” he says. “Also, the price of property was reasonable compared to Bedford.”
Robin’s parents made the same move east, and the Honda was taken off the road and stored in their garage for many years.
“I didn’t need it anymore because I had a car, and it stayed there until my mum passed on about 16 years ago, joining my dad who had passed on 11 years earlier,” he says. “Unfortunately it got rather wet in their garage after the roof was damaged in a severe winter storm and not made fully watertight for a couple of years.”
At that point, with a house and garage to clear out, many people would have simply sold the bike on. But not Robin.
“I was just attached to it, and for some bizarre reason I just wanted to hold on to it,” he says. “I had always had intentions of getting it on the road again when the time was right.
“I was working on the principle that it might be useful again if times get hard. I’m one of those people that holds on to things. I used to play tenor sax in a band and I’ve still got my saxophone even though I haven’t played it for years. You never know…!”
When the Honda came home, and Matt started buying his dad parts for it, the pair of them started to strip the bike down, expecting to find various horrors caused by his parents’ damp garage.
Measles-type rust spots
But despite the measles-type spots of surface rust, the body was fundamentally sound.
“I thought there would be areas that needed cutting out, but even the areas that looked really dodgy, when we checked them out, were not as bad as we thought,” says Robin, who had grand plans for a full restoration.
“I had got it in my head that it was going to be renovated up to showroom condition, with a complete respray, but I was persuaded by my friend, Lester, it would be nicer just to preserve it, to show its age, its history. It saved me a lot of work!”
Father and son spent two years on and off getting the C70 back in roadworthy condition, replacing small items like a new plug cap and filters, plus new tyres, and the new mirrors and exhaust.
“We did very little mechanically to it,” says Robin, who served as a firefighter in both Bedfordshire and Norfolk. “All the brakes were fine, the bearings were fine. We just made sure it was mechanically sound, added new grease and new oil and off she went.”
Barring a hiccup with the points, the Honda was soon puttering around the Norfolk lanes.
“It was great to be back on it,” says Robin. “It felt a bit strange to start with because the gears are a bit weird – they are upside down compared to most modern bikes.
“A little bimble around”
“I love getting it out and having a little bimble around. It’s so easy, you don’t have to get all togged up quite the same – you feel you can just put a jacket and a helmet on and you are away.
“On the other bikes you feel you’ve got to put all the armoured kit on.”
Needless to say, the Honda is used primarily for short, local journeys, with either the Triumph, a 2015 T100, or the Ducati that Robin has owned for 12 years brought out for longer rides.
“It’s horses for courses,” he says. “I won’t be going to Land’s End on the Honda, although funnily enough that did cross my mind.
“I said to my son ‘when it’s on the road I’m going to do a charity run from John O’Groats to Land’s End’.
“He looked at me, smiled, then looked at the bike and simply said ‘hmmm, I don’t think that’s a terribly good idea’.
“One of the Honda’s good points is that it’s very, very difficult to break the speed limit on.
“On a really, really good day you might ease it up to 50mph, downhill with the wind in the right direction. It vibrates like hell; when you are doing that speed you really know it.”
Robin plans on riding the Honda long into his retirement, with Matt ready to look after it long into the future.
“Tootle along for ages”
“If you’re lucky enough to make it into old age, it’s one of those bikes you could tootle along on for ages,” he says. “I will keep it while I can ride it, and afterwards I’ll either sell it and have a good holiday, or eventually my son will have it.
“He would love it I’m sure, and he will keep it going and look after it. If not, he can sell it and let someone else enjoy a great little classic bike.”
For now, he’s content to roll back the years on a bike that was once a necessity but is now simply a pleasurable way to spend a sunny afternoon in the country, alongside his son on a sister C90.
“Round the little lanes round here it’s great,” he says. “We go exploring, come to a little track, wonder what’s up there, and go and have a look.
“It’s surprising the interest there is in it. We even had a couple of lads come by on fairly decent superbikes, and as they went past they both put their thumbs up.”
After all, a biker is a biker, whether you’re riding a superbike or a Super Cub.
Leave a comment