The Little Engine That Could

Boasting a whopping 110CC engine with 2 brakes, mirrors and an electric starter, it has taken the East by storm. It’s the right amount of everything; the perfect balance of durability and utility. It’s sleek and simple; it’s fast enough; it’s plenty powerful; it’s nearly indestructible. It will be the most reliable thing you’ve ever owned. Maintenance requires a patch of sidewalk and some hand tools. Give it a pinch of petrol and it will move you up a mountain. Let me introduce you to your new favourite machine: The Honda Cub


There are many variations of the modern motorcycle: moped, noped, scooter, motorbike, e-bike, etc. Most of these arose after WW2 and were off shoots of the first instance of moped. The “motor pedal” was a hybrid of a gasoline and human pedaled engine. It was cheap and effective and quickly secured a place for itself in the transportation market. Following that came a plethora of other styles: ranging from the Italian Vespa to the American mobility scooter. Then the Japanese birthed a creation that forever changed the way people in cities around the world commute. In the decades to follow it become the most produced motor vehicle in human history, hitting the 100 million mark in 2017.

It may not be pretty but it’s so damn dependable that you’ll have no choice but to love it as your own. Granted, there are many styles of bikes that make up the roads of Hanoi but the overwhelming majority are Honda’s and most of those are Cubs. These things are like a mix between the North American family Dodge Caravan and the workhorse Ford F-150. They pull, haul, tug, smash, bounce, carry, deliver and offer a comfy lounging spot; they are an integral part of the Vietnam’s economy. Their prevalence in many poor cities is as a replacement for a non exist mass transit system. Locals keep piling things on these beasts and they keep purring away absolutely content in their purpose. They now litter the streets like bicycles in Amsterdam.

As mentioned in a previous post, it’s not uncommon to see a family of four or five (often with the a dog as well) scooting around. The children aboard seem relaxed (sometimes snoozing) as the driver weaves around all the obstacles one could imagine. Many people in Hanoi don’t know how to drive an automobile but have been zipping around on a Honda Cub since they were six. Seriously, when we were on our motorbike tour in the North we saw six year olds driving the roads with their younger sibling, naked expect for a soother, hanging on the back; their feet a foot shy of the rear pegs.

From the Westerner’s perspective, it’s easy to look at the Cub as a rinky-dink toy. Motorcycle riders would laugh at the measly 110CC engine as many bikes in the West are five or six times that capacity. Don’t let any of these preconceptions take away from what the Cub and its kind are: a marvel of engineering and the backbone of many transportation systems around the world. Our lawn mower engines cut our grass; their lawn mower engines move their whole country.


Check out this funny video on how tough the Honda Cub truly is:

(Skip to 2:30 if you’re not interested in the intro)

2 thoughts on “The Little Engine That Could

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