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The Honda Trail 90 Primer

Date March 16, 2010

Ah, the good old days. Remember when “you meet the nicest people on a Honda? ”  The nineteen sixties were a  formidable time in many of our lives.  It wasn’t a time of all hippies and Viet Nam war protests. It was not all sex, drugs and rock and roll. In fact, the majority of people in the sixties weren’t protesting anything, weren’t against anything, did not drop out, tune out or turn on. Many were living pretty well back then.

The sixties for many meant surfing movies, skateboards with metal roller shake wheels, clam digger pants, madras shirts with “fruit loops”, penny loafers, Converse All Stars and mini bikes. If you were lucky maybe your family had a small motorcycle. The one the Hondells were named after and sang about in the song “Little Honda”.

“It’s not a big motorcycle
Just a groovy little motorbike
It’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys
That two wheel bike
We’ll ride on out of the town
To any place I know you like”

That motorcycle was the Cub 50, the most produced motorcycle of all time and was recently voted the “Best Motorcycle of all time”. It is still being produced today.

The  Honda 50 AKA, Cub and Super Cub was the first motorcycle imported into the US by Honda in 1958. By the early sixties it became very popular and started to evolve into what would later become the Trail 90. According to legend, a certain rural Honda dealer in the west (probably California) was selling a huge number of Cub 50s. Honda was curious why a small motor bike intended for scooting around town was selling so well in a rural environment. When they checked they found the dealer was taking off the leg shields, installing a large rear sprocket for better climbing and adding knobby tires. This instantly became a ranch, camping and trail bike.

Honda recognized the attraction and came out with a trail version called the CT50. “CT” being the trail designation by Honda. Main features were a high exhaust pipe and a luggage rack. This bike evolved into the CT55 (54cc) and then the CT200 AKA Trail 90.  The CT200  featured a 87 cc engine for more power (about 6.5 hp) and a dual rear sprocket that could be changed from road to trail use.  The model designation from 1966-1968 was known as a KO. By 1968, the CT200 designation was changed to CT90, had a slightly larger displacement (89cc) and continued to be known as the Trail 90.

The larger engine on the CT200/90 also made them motorcycles as opposed to mopeds or unlicensed motorbikes.  Most bikes over 50cc need motorcycle licenses and insurance to ride on the street.

Note the air filter on the down tube, the small rack and the dual rear sprokets on the CT200 above. A large chrome rear rack was bolted over the small CT200 rack as shown below on the CT90 but otherwise the bikes were the same.

Later in 1969, Honda brought out  a redesigned CT90 which featured a different air filter, luggage rack, fender, front forks  (telescoping vs. trailing link) and rear shock design. This model also introduced a dual range transmission which featured a lever that switched the standard 4 gears into a real low range for climbing steep trails. They advertised it as having an 8 speed transmission.  It too is a K1. though it is unofficially known as the K1b version since the first ’69 model was the old style and the second K1(b) the new style. It is used to differentiate it by owners from the earlier 69 model. Note the reflector on the front fender. That reflector was only on the new style K1 and a good indicator of that model.

My two CT90s. A yellow K1(b) and an all red K6 with old style handlebars. Note the larger headlight which started with the K2 in 1970.

Below…note the silver/gray plastic side mounted air filter below the seat. The K1b is the only model with this type of air filter box.  Note the lack of the fender reflector on this bike. Correct air filter box, wrong fender. There are many, many parts bikes out there.

These early bikes did not come with turn signals. Signals became standard on the 1973 model as shown below.  The addition of turn signals also added an emergency off switch on the handle bars. Also note the change in the air cleaner box. This type ran a snorkel up under the rear rack starting in 1970 which continues to this day in the CT110s made for Australia and New Zealand. The ’73 is known as the K4.  The K  designation ran until 1975.  Note the reflector on the fork arms.


The K4 also introduced a neat accessory in an auxiliary fuel can which hooked to the left rear fender under the rack and carried .6 gallon.  It was not connected into the fuel system. It was to be removed and poured into the regular tank which is hidden under the seat.

Trail 90s came standard with rear foot pegs for passengers but not a rear seat.  A popular option was a “buddy seat” which bolted to the rear rack. Over the years various features changed slightly.  Headlight buckets were black on some models, as were handlebars and wheel rims.

The CT Trail 90 was discontinued in 1979 and replaced in 1980 with the CT Trail 110. The 110 featured 15 more cubic centimeters of power for total of 105cc compared to 89 cc for the CT90. This translated into about half a horsepower increase from 7.0 hp from the CT90 to the 110.  The CT110 was imported into the US until 1986.  One noticeable change in the CT110 was the flat rear rack and the elimination of passenger pegs. Apparently riding two up on these bikes  was no longer safe.

It should be noted that for some reason the 1983 CT110 did not come with the dual transmission.  All other US imported CT110s did. Apparently Honda thought the increase in horse power meant the dual range transmission was no longer needed. People like the low gears and that feature was returned. As noted the CT90/110 was discontinued in the us in 1987. Some people surmise the the introduction of the ATV by Honda in the mid to late 1980s doomed the trail bikes. ATVs became very popular during this time and sales greatly overshadowed the somewhat dated CT trail bike design.

The CT110 however still lives. The Australian Postal Service has been using CT110s for decades. That CT110 version does not have the dual/sub transmission, though a “farm bike” non-street legal version with the low gear is available.

The postal CT110s are known as “postie bikes” and are sold to the public when they reach a certain number of miles. “Posties” are the most popular motorcycle in the land down under  and a whole subculture has grown up around them.  To the delight of Aussies, Honda just announced in 2010 that they will start importing CT110s for direct sale to the general public.

CT110s are popular in Oz (New Zealand) as well. Both the farm bike and basic CT110 are street legal and available to the general public.

Since new CTs have not been available for a couple decades in the US, Americans tend to restore the old ones and ride them for nostalgic reasons. In contrast, Aussies and New Zealanders tend to build their bikes for adventure riding in the outback. They often throw long range gas tanks and a ton of equipment on them and ride across their country.

While no new bikes are available in the US, used bikes ranging from basket cases to fully restored and everywhere in between are readily found on Ebay and Craigslist.  These tend to range from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. There are still lots of parts available and your local Honda dealer can still provide many of them. Ebay is also a good source and Beatrice Cycle AKA DRATV.com among other online sources can provide just about anything or everything else.

It is likely that a large percentage of CT90/110s currently running in the US are  made up of parts from many bikes. Finding one complete and correct for it’s year of production may prove to be difficult but not impossible. There are still thousands of these bikes in garages, sheds, and barns around the country.

A new trend is to rebuild  the old CT90 with a new Chinese Lifan engine. The Lifan is a close copy of the horizontal Honda engine.  It is made in displacements from 100cc up to about 150ccs. It is  pretty close fit on a CT frame and adds considerable performance gains for a moderate amount of money. Unlike the old Honda engines which were 6 volt with points and condenser,  Lifans are 12 volts with CDI (capacitor discharge ignition) and is much more reliable.  The disadvantage of the Lifan swap is that it does not have a dual range transmission.  In addition, it has a conventional clutch like other motorcycles where the CT90/110 has an automatic clutch (no clutch lever).  Some say the additional power of a bigger Lifan engine makes up for the dual transmission and auto clutch. Lifans range from about $300-600.

In an era when a new moped/scooter/minibike commonly fetch $3000+, a good trail bike with a new, more powerful engine can be built for around $1000. Not a bad option.      Below…A CT90 with a 143cc Lifan

So, how good is the Honda CT 90/110?  It has remained virtually unchanged for over 40 years.  I suspect my great grand children will still be riding mine in another 40 years.  It is a true classic.

Sources of information and forums.

http://ct90-ct110.com/

http://hondatrailcts.yuku.com/

http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/ct90/

Sources for bikes

www.ebay.com

www.craigslist.com

Parts

http://www.dratv.com/

http://www.theatvshop.com/.sc/ms/cat/Honda%20Trail%2090%5E2F110%20Parts

http://www.oldhonda.com/plct90.htm

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  • Christian Danger Helser

    I wonder how I can purchase one of these. I currently live in Monroe MI and it seems like these are like an urban legend status around here.

  • countyimports.com has them for $1,599 shipping included, with tommy gate to your door. they ship across the U.S.

  • Neville132

    Twice rode my Honda50 the 360Km each way between Dunedin and Christchurch (NZ), once in winter ... took 2 hours to do the 80Km between Ch'ch and Ashburton   into a southerly wind....a totally reliable machine..in snow  across mudflats at low tide....    like the 100cc..
     Neville

  • Nice and great information you have shared here.

  • 1975 CT90 K6 Owner

    AFAIK, The 1980 US version of the 110 was the only model that did not have the dual range transmission.

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