Sunday, 25 September 2016

Travel Tales: Touring on a Honda C90


I bought a practically new Honda C90 almost by accident. A friend‘s wife acquired the 1989 machine tor doing the shopping on. She quickly became so afeared of the cagers that she would not put a dainty leg over the machine. Hubbie was moaning about all the money thus wasted and the silly loot the dealer was willing to pay for the bike. Before I knew what I was doing I had offered fifty quid extra and the devious Honda was mine.

I had never ridden one of these step-thru devices. After an embarrassing number of stalls before I finally got the hang of the gearbox, there being no clutch lever just an automatic clutch, I finally managed to lurch up the road. Gearchanges were a series of crunching noises and dramatic leaps. It was not just that I was not used to the way the box worked but also that everything was very tight, the speedo sporting a mere 88 miles.

It took about a week to perfect a smooth gearchange. The Honda came with a massive windshield, leg protectors and a large top box. They made it a very convenient bike to ride but one that was also shaken about a lot by passing lorries. After 200 miles I had decided that the running in period was over, did an oil change and let loose on the throttle. Top speed was a mind churning 62mph. On the positive side, it would take me the six miles to work in the worst weather imaginable and could pop through the narrowest of gaps. Fuel was so good that I never did work it out, but better than 100mpg despite the absurd aerodynamics.

I don’t like beaches, hate hotels and don‘t like to waste my hard earnt money, so it didn't take much thought to work out that the summer holiday should be a camping tour on the C90. I had no qualms about reliability, Honda have been churning out these motors since the sixties and they are all but indestructible. I like to travel light and with the exception of the tent managed to pack everything into the top box.

The rear suspension reacted by using up nearly all its travel; combined with a rather sparse seat this made more than 50 miles a struggle. A couple of folded cardigans on the saddle helped. Around town vibration was not really noticeable but when the bike was rolled along at full throttle for hours on end, a rather annoying buzz attacked first my feet and then my hands. Rather surprising considering that the engine was a small OHC unit.

Living in Bristol, I wanted to get as far into Wales as possible on the first day, but avoid the motorways except at the Severn bridge, where I pretended the Honda was a moped and used the cycle path. I made it to Swansea on the first day, about a 100 miles on the motorway but twice that on the back road route I took. Apart from my backside, fatigue was minimal. A couple of hairy moments were encountered on the B4265 just past Llantwit Major. A combination of over-confidence on my part and red hot shocks on the Honda, meant we ran very wide through some corners.

The couple of cagers who we woke up when in such a state were not much compensated by the fact that l was almost screaming in fear. Playing chicken with oncoming traffic is not my idea of an amusing time. Wrenching viciously on the bars whilst flicking the horrible Honda upright usually sorted the nastiness.

After a pleasant look around Swansea I ran the Honda down to the Mumbles coast and set up tent on a nearly deserted site. Dressed in bright yellow waterproofs there was little likelihood that I would be mistaken for an Hells Angel.

The next day it rained and rained, so I stayed in the tent playing mind games. The following morning l was up with the sun. The little Honda, having been drenched something rotten, refused to start. Half a can of WD40 got it stuttering but only a change of spark plug finally got the fires roaring. Tenby was my next stop, following the coast on minor roads as much as possible and stopping off in any town that took my fancy.

Under such circumstances the Honda hardly ever had to do more than buzz along at 50mph. Only when it was unavoidable did we join up with the major A—roads. Here, traffic was frenzied in behaviour with even the odd farm tractor trying to overtake us. By the time I reached Carmarthen I was happy to have a rest in an old-world pub, munching my way through a couple of rolls and swilling back a pint of beer. I got a few weird looks from the glitzy brigade but was not actually turfed out on my earlobe... one of the advantages of the recession is that they now let me in just about anywhere.

The Honda refused to start again. I didn‘t have a spare plug so pulled the HT lead apart as it was the only thing that was easily accessible. I put this back on and the little jewel burst into life first prod. By then, quite a crowd had gathered to watch this strange apparition in their Merc and BMW dominated midst. I gave them a two finger salute as we sauntered out of the car park.

Somehow, we got caught on the treacherous A40, where, to be honest, the Honda’s lack of speed made it an accident looking for somewhere to happen. Luckily, there was a following wind and the little engine was buzzed up to all of 70mph (I'm assuming that the speedo on this particular C90 is even more inaccurate than is usual... Ed.). The wallowing meant that the cagers kept a safe distance. After about half an hour of this abuse the turn off for Pendine came up. I pulled over as soon as I could and leapt off the Honda. I staggered around for a while, shaking my hands and feet, trying to get some feeling back into them. The Honda had responded to the acute over-revving with a scourge of vibration to my extremities.

I enjoyed the ride down to the beach and was amused even more by the spectacle of some youths on trail bikes ruining good citizens‘ holidays. They zigzagged along the sand, billowing clouds of grit covering those people who had not gone screaming off the beach, hands clamped to their ears to cut out some of the banshee wail of the unsilenced strokers. l was given enough evil looks to last a lifetime.

The rest of the afternoon was spent bouncing along neglected roads, being throw all over the place and having to keep moving on the saddle to dim the pains in my backside. I did not stay long in Tenby, too crowded with cars and shoppers for fun. Out of the town then for a pleasant bop down to the campsite. My little tent was rather swamped by the grandiose marquees of some other campers. I was a bit miffed to find everyone so serious, was hoping for more of a Carry On Camping atmosphere. Wandering around I found another small tent hidden away and an old Guzzi parked up next to it. The grizzled adventurer and I spent an hour or so swapping reminisces.

Still sunny the next day, I was in the mood for a bit of a hard slog.
It was Aberystwyth or bust, well over a 100 miles on the obscure route I intended to take. Mostly B roads all the way, the C90’s suspension had a tortuous time and my body had a good work over from the bumps. The little hamlets would've been interesting had not the people started shouting Welsh at me! They couldn't have been nastier if I was a member of the royal family. Some of the scenery did take my breath away and I was happy to romp along at 30mph taking in clear blasts of fresh air.

A big celebratory meal in Aber, then luxury for the night in a B & B. I took a hike up the mountain with a fellow guest, a real old Englander who moaned about the way the world had gone all the way up, but despite being in his seventieth year he didn't lose a breath. Half jokingly I offered him the pillion of the Honda and much to my shock he accepted right off. We spent the rest of the night annoying the Welsh by out drinking them in various pubs.

The next day was hard going. A strong wind howled in off Cardigan bay, buffeting the front end wildly whilst the rear was wallowing under the excessive weight. Not helped any by the huge suitcase my passenger had insisted we tie down on to the top box.

We made it around the coast to Aberdovey, which under the heavy rain and grey skies didn’t look very inviting. 60 miles had taken us about five hours, so bad were conditions and so subdued was the Honda’s engine. Our imitation of drenched rats was pretty exact and we had to try seven Welsh Iandladies until one took mercy upon us. We made it to the nearby pub where my new found companion regaled anyone who would listen with tales of the indignities he'd suffered during the war. I drank so much beer that he had to help me back to the B & B.

The next day he was nowhere to be found, evidently having decided that motorcycling was not to his taste. The sun was threatening to break out as I left the lacklustre Aberdovey, which will be forever associated with British weather at its worst. Fearing that the coast might turn nasty again I took the B4405 up to Dolgellau and then suffered the A470 all the way to Ffestiniog, making surprisingly good time as the howling gale had turned and was allowing us to float along rapidly on just a hint of throttle. Without the weight of the passenger and luggage the little Honda felt transformed.

I should really have then started to look for a campsite, but the momentum of the road had grabbed me again and there was still half a day left. We rattled and rolled along the B4407, took a right for a while until we came to the B5105 at Cerrig-y-druidion which would take us up to Ruthin. Before we reached there I fell off. l was tired but not willing to pull over. with the predictable result that I went into a corner too fast and ran wide through the bend, sending Honda and I skittling off the road to be cruelly stopped by a rather prickly hedge.

With the light beginning to fade it was obviously time to set my tent up. There was no way the Honda could be ridden on unlit roads with its paltry headlamp. It took six attempts to erect the tent in a large but wet field and I fell asleep almost before my head touched down. The next morning I awoke to the sound of cows munching on nearby grass. Before I could wrench my stiffened frame out of the canvas, a cow had snagged on the ropes and collapsed the tent upon my body.

The country yokels who were roaring their heads off did not offer a hand whilst I tried to extract myself. Just to start the day off on the right theme, when I did escape I stepped into a huge cow pat. Ugh!

Amid much laughter I put everything back into the Honda and tried to start the little bugger - no hope. Ended up pushing the thing about a mile to Ruthin. The damn machine started first kick after that little bit of exercise. That day I was content with a gentle potter down to Wrexham where I had a mate who put me up for a few days rest and restoration, which was mostly getting stone drunk every night and sleeping it off for most of the next day.

Another friend lived in Manchester, rather a slog in one day. The roads were treacherous, filled with huge holes and masses of indifferent traffic. I had several near misses, wishing for a machine both sturdier and faster. The closer we came to the city the more snarled up became the traffic. Envious glances were cast at the Honda and l, as we sneaked along in the gutter past the stalled cars.

By the time I got to my friend's house the sun was disappearing below the horizon and huge gasps of red hot air were coming up off the engine. The exhaust downpipe had turned a funny colour and I could have fried an egg on the cylinder. I was gobsmacked when I found there was hardly any oil in the sump. It usually did not need much attention and I hadn't checked it since Aber. The friend had a can of motorcycle oil to hand, owning a CB750, which soon had the Honda back in its usual fine fettle.

Had I been younger I would never have left Manchester, an amazing number of attractive women being found there. Not that I cut much of a dash on the Honda, which had amassed to itself an amazing amount of crud that no amount of wire brushing could shift. All too soon it was time to head south again, so I put the Honda on the A523 all the way to the town of Ashbourne where a mate of a mate had been persuaded to put me up for the night.

Someone had a sick sense of humour as I eventually rolled up to this rich bastard's minor mansion whilst he was in the middle of a posh dinner party. He was not too amused to be reminded of his obligation to give me a bed for the night. He probably passed me off as some kind of eccentric millionaire but I didn‘t make an appearance as l was knackered after struggling with the Honda for too long on too fast roads.

I slunk out of the house early the next morning, my calling card being a muddled rug where I’d left my boots. The next great haul was down to Brum where I didn‘t know anyone but had always felt at home as many of the areas are similar to Bristol. l was making pretty good time, the sun was shinning and the Honda whirring away when the rear tyre blew out. I was within pushing distance of Lichfield, so I pushed the Honda there.

It was about two o‘clock in the afternoon and the sun was very hot. By the time the inner-tube was fixed it was eight o'clock in the evening. Not to worry, I was invited to stay at the mechanic's house and had a wild old time in a couple of the town's pubs - once I'd got used to their strange accents.

The next day there didn't seem much point going to Birmingham, so I sped as fast as possible past that city, having strayed on to the M42. I stayed on the hard shoulder all the way until I made the A34 turn-off for Stratford-upon-Avon. Nice place but the hotels were too expensive and I ended up sleeping in a car park, hoping it wouldn’t rain.

It didn't, but the scampering sounds of the rats kept me awake despite downing more than my fair share of the beer. I knew the route well all the way down to Bristol and had a lovely time scampering along near deserted B-roads with magnificent turns and roller-coaster changes in altitude. The Honda was often thrown clear off the top of minor hills. Great fun but rather exhausting when it has to last for most of the day. Bristol was a welcome sight.

After that little adventure I'd really had enough of the Honda as a tourer, as it needed an hell of a lot of effort to travel long distances in a reasonable time frame. I've kept the bike, though, it's a laughably cheap and competent way of getting back and forth to work every day. Hardy ever misses a beat or needs any attention.

With 28000 miles done all I‘ve had to buy is a set of tyres, even the fully enclosed chain has refused to wear out so far! I’d love to do some long distance touring on a bigger machine but don't see how I could afford to run one at the moment. Long live the Honda C90!

Adrian Barring

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