By Paul Berglund
Last month I wrote about riding around on mini bikes at the upcoming Vintage Torque Fest (http://vintagetorquefest.com) in Dubuque Iowa. I said it was very fun. And it was. Last year, I was riding a borrowed Honda CT70 (also known as the Trail 70) and I had a blast. So much so that later, I went out and bought myself a 1970 CT70 with a Lifan 125cc motor stuffed in it. I raced up and down my alley and even entered a mini bike race in southern Minnesota. Once the euphoria of reliving my childhood wore off, I came to a conclusion; tiny wheels suck.
The CT70 has 10 inch wheels with fat little knobby tires. The tires on my bike are the original tires. The original 1970 tires. (I’ll wait while you do the math.) They are younger than me, but shockingly, I think I’m in better shape. I don’t sigh with nostalgia when I look at the worn cracked old chunks of rubber, I kind of get itchy. Tiny wheels annoy me. Tiny wheels with petrified tires instill fear in me. There is a cure of course, all it takes is money.
I was going to replace the tires but I found out they start at $40 each, plus tubes. As long as I had the wheels off, I was going to sand and repaint the wheels. Oh and you can get new front forks for the CT70. The 1970 fork has metal tubes with springs in them. No oil or dampening like a motorcycle fork. Just little springs. I found a large aftermarket that makes updated forks, even upside-down forks with disk brakes. Aluminum swing arms, mag wheels and much more are available too. I was lusting after all the shiny high tech parts when I remembered, oh yeah, I hate tiny wheels.
Did I want to pour money into a bike that would never make me happy? People go nuts restoring these bikes to better than new condition. There are four CT70s on Craig’s List as I write this that the seller is asking over $5500 for. And they still have those horrible tiny wheels.
If you have ever driven in Minnesota in March and April you will know that the roads deteriorate at an alarming rate. Cracks and potholes appear overnight and spread like asphalt plague. It’s the black death for wheels, tires and the suspension of your car. Now picture a six foot two, middle aged, out of shape man riding a hopped up mini bike with tiny wheels down those god forsaken roads. I have and it ain’t pretty.
After the mini bike race, I parked the CT70 in my garage and it never occurred to me to go out and ride the thing around my neighborhood. I planed on hauling it down to Dubuque for Torque Fest, but I wouldn’t want to ride it to the local bike gatherings like the Blind Lizard Rally. That’s only a few miles away on local streets. Tiny wheels, twitchy steering and pot holes seamed to limit it to a once a year ride. Time to look for a replacement. Something with bigger wheels.
I wanted a bike I could ride down River Road on a warm summer evening. No, a bike I WANTED to ride down River Road on a warm summer night. A bike that was fun, if not fast, to ride on a twisty road. It should be a small motorcycle with real wheels and real suspension. A vintage bike that I could ride around Duluth for Bring Out Your Dead Vintage Motorcycle Rally. A small motorcycle that wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb when parked with the mini bikes at Torque Fest. Luckily the big four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers made dozens and dozens of different models of bikes that fit that description in the sixties and seventies.
I fired up Craig’s List and once more unto the breach, dear friends. I found quite a few bikes that were around 100 to 125cc. Most of them were two strokes. I had never owned a two stroke bike so I contacted the seller of a Yamaha AT125 enduro. It was small, street legal and best of all it was orange. We set up a time and I went to check it out. After a brief test ride I decided, I’m not a two stroke kind of guy. Tiny bike or not, I couldn’t subject my fellow citizens of St. Paul to the loud noise and clouds of blue smoke that emanated from the gas drooling hellion.
Back home I modified my search to street legal small bikes, 125cc or less, four stroke motor and if this was to be a long love affair, lets make that bike orange. Thats when I found it, a 1974 Honda CB125S, four stroke single. It was petite, shapely and orange. My guess was I could sell the CT70 for what the woman was asking for the CB125S. After more than a week of trying to match up our schedules and dodging the March weather we picked a day for a test ride. All my boxes were checked, a price was agreed upon and money changed hands.
I now have a bike that is oranger than the CT70. It’s bigger than the CT70, but not by much. It has an 18 inch wheel up front and a 17 inch in the rear. It rides like a cloud, handles like a dream and makes a little more power than the maniacal tiny wheeled terror. Job done. Well all most. I still have to sell the CT70. It’s been on Craig’s List for a week and a half and I have had a steady stream of time wasters, low ballers and mouth breathers. Somewhere out there there has to be a guy or gal like me who wants a fast mini bike, but doesn’t mind those 10 inch wheels. If you know someone like that, have them look me up on Craig’s List. Oh, and you probably shouldn’t let them read the first half of this article. That’s just between us.