Honda Trail 50/55/90 off-road capability?

Discussion in 'Battle Scooters' started by Woodsrat, Dec 2, 2009.

  1. Woodsrat

    Woodsrat Gone ridin'

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    If you go on eBay or do a search you can find numerous ads from the '60's for the Honda Trail 50/55/90 being ridden everywhere as backcountry transportation. Although I've owned a '65 Trail 90 and currently have a Passport set up with the CT-style dual sprocket assembly I've never actually tried to take either off road.

    Can anyone here tell me if they actually performed as well as the Honda ads would have had us to believe, at least relative to the equipment available back then? Admittedly this was back in the stone age of dirt biking when Triumph 500 twins and even Sportsters were considered serious off road mounts so I guess that riding a Cub would have been like dying and going to heaven, at least weight-wise.

    The story I heard is that the concept for these bikes came from a backcountry Honda dealer who modified the basic Cub with lower gearing, a knobby tire and stripping the bike down slightly and sold them by the dozens to outdoorsmen who used them to get into remote areas. American Honda couldn't understand why a dealer in such a rural location was selling so many Cubs and after seeing what the dealer had created sent one of the bikes back to Japan where it was copied and sold as the Trail 50/55 and later the Trail 90.
    #1
  2. Coopdway

    Coopdway Curiouser

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    My take?

    As young teens, we were able to ride our '64 Trail 55 in many places. We live in an area near the Miss. River valley with lots of up and down over short distances. Our area once held numerous hillclimbs, the hills not very lengthly compared to many parts of the country, but still quite steep. I remember us putting a more aggressive knobby on, or at least I think I remember and with the larger, overlay sprocket, low gearing was never the issue. What I recall was that wound out a ways in 1st, a great deal could be accomplished. The biggest challenge was on the goat prairies where the soil was thin, conditions steep and 'rollers' (rocks) were numerous. The rocks could roll downhill almost as fast as we could climb over them.

    We did a lot of riding that involved picking our way through heavy woods and the combination of low gearing, light weight and narrow width were all positives. What we learned once I bought my AT1 Yamaha and my brother picked up his SL100 was that momentum mattered, in climbing if no where else.

    We built, or could attach, a box on top of the large rack already in place. Our dog rode in it, fence posts were bungeed on, salt blocks were carried, varied fencing tools, farm equipment parts and tools, etc. There were no ATV's, 3 or 4 wheels around in those medieval times and the little bugger served as a workhorse when my brother and I weren't playing "motocross".

    I just picked up a '65 55cc, don't have the large overlay sprocket (initial research tells me it was 72 teeth) but will look for one or have one made. Suspension is less than ideal, but I was a bit smaller at 14 than I am at 54 and we didn't care as long as the thing went forward.

    Do an online search and check out the photos that were still shots from the Rock Hudson movie, "Man's Favorite Sport". The little 55 attracted scuba babes, bears and who knows what else.

    Want to add that with the large overlay sprocket on, 30-32mph made the little engine really spin in 3rd gear.
    #2
  3. hugemoth

    hugemoth Long timer

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    The deal with the Trail 90s and similar is that you aren't going to go fast but you can go places where no other bike can go. If the bike can get traction and keep the front wheel down, it'll climb it. And just try lifting a Kawasaki 400cc dual sport over a downed log!

    I bought my first Trail 90 in 1970 and have had one around pretty much ever since. I still have one and my daughter has one. Both have been updated to Lifan 110 engines though.

    Q
    #3
  4. rockinrog

    rockinrog Long timer

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    I had what I think was called an ST 90 when I was a kid and that thing rocked.
    #4
  5. Coopdway

    Coopdway Curiouser

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    I'm afraid of cross posting but since we're talking about the little fella's here, I'll put these up.



    1969, my little brother and our grandfather. We got his Honda Trail when he bought his big and powerful 125 Yamaha Scrambler.

    [​IMG]

    The '65 I just brought home.

    [​IMG]

    Next to my Full Dress Tourer

    [​IMG]
    #5
  6. HandKPhil

    HandKPhil Been here awhile

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    I consider my '79 Trail 90 to be a good trail bike - good on single-track trails, good on wet grass, good for picking a path through the woods, not bad on level to mildly-hilly dirt, and not too bad on gravel. It's fine for climbing grassy hills, or hills that have a well-established, non-rutted dirt path going up them.

    Where it falls short is in the suspension department. Deep ruts in dried mud are not so good. Jumps are pretty much out of the question, as the suspension bottoms way too easily. Washboard surfaces give the suspension trouble. Mine doesn't handle deep mud very well, and I have a very meaty set of Maxxis knobbies installed. Stiffer rear shocks can improve things quite a bit, but some of them that are available are way too stiff. Front springs are too soft also, and I've only seen one source of stiffer replacements, and if I remember correctly the guy said he had them custom-made to be 50% stiffer than stock. He wasn't exactly giving them away either.

    The CT90 is a great bike for mild trail riding and hill climbing. Upgrade the suspension on both ends and you've got a very capable off-road exploration machine - just don't expect to take on the really rough stuff, or catch too much air going over monster jumps.

    [​IMG]
    #6
  7. PinkSteel

    PinkSteel Been here awhile

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    I have the exact same '79 as HandKPhil's, except I've run it with Posties, and now, Michelin street tires. I've put about 2000 miles on it this summer, exclusively on the street.

    From that perspective, it handles OK, is able to hold it's own among traffic going 30-40 mph - which is almost all of what I do, and is comfortable for a day of riding.

    The problem is it's gearing. It's good for a trail, and OK for the street, but just not fast enough for hills and other conditions, where you need power or acceleration. I regularly ride with my wife, who's on a Passport, and she buzzes by me on hills. The Passport is geared for the street.


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  8. HandKPhil

    HandKPhil Been here awhile

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    I agree - These bikes are not exactly the most powerful I've ever ridden. Mine cruises along at 45 mph or so, and if the road is long enough it will hit 50, but that's pushing it. Acceleration is not what you'd call blinding either. I've ridden other CT90's that had a little more punch than mine, so it just may be that mine is ready for a new set of rings.

    My '82 CT110 had quite a bit more power than my '79 CT90, but then again that was a low mileage bike with 15 or so additional cc's.

    HandKPhil
    #8
  9. YamaGeek

    YamaGeek Ancient trailbike padwan

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    Concerning the C100~102's, if it's the models with the rear shocks mounted on the inside of the swing arm shock tang, forget about putting big sprockets on them, it will not work. The largest I figure for a 420 size rear sprocket would be about 45 tooth, and you'ld have to gear down to a 13 tooth in front. Mounting the shocks on the outside isn't an option with those bikes as the later C100_105 trail bike frames had a bolted on aluminum casting that set the shocks outwards about 2 inches to clear the overlay sprocket.

    [​IMG]

    Also, although the pushrod 50's are little undersquare bore and stroke tractors, they still like to be kept spun up to make any power.

    Still, I use my C102 for plonking around our land, I have to occaisionally get off it and push on anything steeper than 16~18 percent, with the stock gearing.

    With the 72 tooth rear sprocket they ought to climb vertically at about walking speed, but there's no way in hell they'd go over 30 mph in 3rd gear, probably 18~20 mph max with a heavy tail wind.

    Also remember that the crankshaft and cam bearings are splash lubed and any operation on steep inclines for any great length of time isn't good treatment. I guess you could overfill it slightly,
    #9
  10. Coopdway

    Coopdway Curiouser

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    I really appreciate this info YG, thanks!
    #10
  11. 2speed

    2speed Puching adventurer

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    I recently got a CT90 and have done a little river crossings and backwoodsy stuff. If I shift it into low range I think that thing will climb a tree. In high range it does 40 mph with my girlfriend on the back with me. I'd say it's plenty capable as long as you're not in a hurry, and who should be in a hurry for backwoods exploration?
    #11
  12. Woodsrat

    Woodsrat Gone ridin'

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    Exactly. Think of these as mountain bikes you don't have to pedal.
    #12
  13. exes

    exes Adventurer

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    I have a 63 Trail 55 that came from an Amish couple, 1415 miles and it is a great bike...Changing the sprockets is a little more involved than the 1970 Trail 90 that I have. I love them both...The hills the 90 will climb is unbelieveable, I haven't tried them on the 55 but I'm sure I will be impressed. I just got back from a street ride and the 90 hit 50 easy...I weigh 125. The bikes are bullet proof.
    #13
  14. Speedo66

    Speedo66 Transient

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    Sounds like a nice bike, the 90 that is, I'm looking for one at present.

    "I weigh 125".

    Who the hell weighs 125? My friends dog weighs more than that.

    I've got riding outfits that weigh more than 125.
    #14
  15. mac66

    mac66 Quasi Adventurer

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    Here are my CT90s, a yellow 69 and a red 75. They were made back when trail riding was for a reason other than "lets see how fast we can ride through the woods."

    BTW, my left leg weighs more than 125 lbs. :D

    [​IMG]
    #15
  16. Coopdway

    Coopdway Curiouser

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    I had forgotten about this thread or I'd have revisited earlier.

    After I picked up the '63 C105 last fall, I found two more, both '62's according to what I know. Between the three of them, I've made one Pretty Good one. No paint, only clean, rust rubbing, adjustment and lubing. I did spend some money to recover the seat, carb kit, tires, plugs/points but that's about it. This one came with the dual sprocket setup but I've got to do some playing with spacers to mount it because things just didn't line up quite right on my first attempt. I was so surrounded by parts that I maybe grabbed too many of one and not enough of the other.

    It looks way better at ~50 than I do and certainly is more slim and trim than I, something I'm very much reminded of while riding. Ours was a lot stronger when I was 14.

    [​IMG]

    And the now-clean one.....

    [​IMG]
    #16
  17. Bud Tugly

    Bud Tugly Gnarly old curmudgeon

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    I had a 1975 CT-90 and as long as it could get traction it would go anywhere. First gear in low range would literally allow you to crawl along at less than walking pace, and the low center of gravity made it easy to flick from side to side. I would strap my waders, fly rod, and fishing gear on the back rack and use it to get into all my favorite fishing spots.

    It was at its best on tight twisty trails, but when you tried to go fast on rough terrain the suspension would quickly reach its limits. The narrow tires were also a problem on deep mud or soft sand. It was terrific for exploring all the old logging roads around this area.

    Mine would hit an indicated 55mph at WOT but the engine was screaming at that speed and the short wheelbase made the handling a bit squirrelly. It would cruise comfortably at 40-45 and was great around town and on back roads but I stayed clear of the main highways.

    They were an ideal motorcycle for a backwoods explorer and fisherman, and filled a unique niche. The 4-wheelers have mostly taken it over, but there are still places the old trail 90 could go that no other motorized vehicle except a trials bike could ever get to. The modern bike that most closely approaches it would probably be the Yamaha TW200.
    #17
  18. robertjludwigsr

    robertjludwigsr Adventurer

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    A friend of mine got me back to riding by asking me ride with him on extra ct90 that wass 5 years ago. Had not been on a bike since I crashed into a dog at 65mph back about 1964. I was hooked bought 2 non runners and built my 74 . I find it will take you damn near any place on or off road . Top end on mine about 55 cruises well at 40. 4 speed dual range tranny will let you take it just about anywhere just not fast. Engine is very dependable and durable, This is and ideal bike for exploring back country . Good fishing and hunting bike. Check out the honda ct90 group on yahoo about 3400 members now. No you cant jump these little piglets and they don't have the top end of the big bikes but they are heck of a lot of fun. Word of caution just because they are little doesnt mean you can't get F d on them so wear the gear, saved my old bones a couple of times
    Bob in Cincinnati
    #18
  19. YamaGeek

    YamaGeek Ancient trailbike padwan

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    I had a '76 Trail 90 back in '91~95 that had come with a PoweRoll engine kit over bore with Wiseco piston and cam. It was really a rather punchy bike. But the high compression and the stock ignition timing were at odds with each other. I had to practically buy aviation fuel to run it on. Even on unleaded supreme it tended to knock and ping when driven hard.

    I don't think putting performance bits on the Trail 90 is a great idea. My bike was rather powerband tempermental and lost a bit of the low end torque and had a transition that was almost like an old mid 70's Suzuki TM 125.

    I ended up limiting the throw on advance cam and replacing the stock advance springs with a pair of stronger springs from a local bolts and metal goods seller. It took a bit of tweaking but I finally got it to run nicely.

    The additional compression was almost too much for the stock claw clutch that engages the kickstarter gear with the primary. I had to baby it through 2/3rd's of the compression stroke with the throttle closed and it previously "primed' with a ignition off, and then kick it through. Otherwise it would come up to near top dead center and the kickback from the spark would stop the engine's rotation on even the most vigorous kick. It was like starting a miniature XL 600. It always started once you got the technique down.

    In the end too fussy, but really was a sleeper in town traffic.

    @ Coop Nice collection, :envy: any addition engine pieces with that pair of C100's?
    #19
  20. Coopdway

    Coopdway Curiouser

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    I don't know that much about the other motors, only that one runs and seemed to run well for the short distance I rode. The other one looks older, has the broken starter shaft though it isn't frozen.

    Still trying to decide what to do with what's left over.
    #20