• Achieving a Major Breakthrough in Southeast Asia

    In October of 2017, the Super Cub series surpassed the worldwide production milestone of 100 million units. And in 2018, Honda will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Super Cub’s debut. Here, we’d like to introduce the history and charms of the Super Cub, which has grown to become a perennial favorite around the world since its birth in 1958.

Super Cub Story Vol. 5 — Export Models Part 2: Southeast Asia

The Super Cub Takes New Forms as a Key Part of People’s Lives

As the Super Cub has come to be seen as a prominent fixture on roads throughout the world, the one region that truly propelled its production and sales figures was Southeast Asia. From the latter half of the 1970s, motorcycles have contributed to the economic development of this region by taking a key role in providing a dependable means of motorization for the common people. The Super Cub has played an especially important role in this, with an overwhelmingly large fan base attracted to its superior fuel economy, excellent reliability, and rugged durability. Super Cubs have adapted well to these different environments, and become an integral part of the local culture, customs and lifestyles in the many countries of Southeast Asia.


Malaysia — Where the Super Cub Has a Long and Familiar History as the People’s Transportation

Besides making up a significant part of the region of Southeast Asia, the countries of Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia all reflect their individual cultures by having had their own distinctive ways of accepting and make use of the Super Cub.

The Super Cub has long been a familiar sight for the people of Malaysia, where it continues to serve as a much-loved form of day-to-day mobility to this day. However, it never quite reached the heights of ‘Cub Paradise’ popularity that it enjoys in Vietnam and Indonesia. Part of the reason for this is the steady economic development Malaysia has managed to achieve thanks to its resources of oil and natural gas. As Malaysia’s economy developed, people switched from motorbikes and scooters to cars for personal transportation, just as Japan did decades before.

One unique feature of the Super Cubs of Malaysia are the carriers they use to hold items, which are located behind the leg shields and in front of the seat. This same convenient idea for positioning the carrier is also used in Vietnam. Important items can be held near the legs, while carrying them this way helps prevent them from accidentally falling out or possibly being stolen, not to mention offering better protection from the sudden bursts of rain that are common to the country.

In 1969, Honda signed a technical collaboration agreement with the Boon Siew Sdn. Bhd. company, which has been responsible for importing Super Cubs into Malaysia since the time of the first C100, to begin local assembly of complete motorcycles. A key feature of this new local production motorcycle was the placement of its carrier basket behind the bike’s leg shields, rather than in front of them, to better protect carried items from getting wet in a country where rain squalls are frequent. The Super Cub’s chassis and lights, including turn indicators and taillight, all conformed with the Cub’s international specifications, however a tandem seat, with hand grips, was installed and mounted on a rear hinge. The photo shows a 1970 C70, which at the time had a speedometer that displayed the bike’s speed in miles rather than kilometers.

From the 1980s, new Super Cub designs began to appear in Malaysia that more closely matched local preferences. The Cub’s styling, including its round headlight and gently curving lines, gradually started turning away from the familiar look that had remained essentially unchanged since the first C100 was introduced to the ASEAN region in the 1960s. From the late 1980s, the Malaysian market EX-5 featured a 97.2cc engine and telescopic fork front suspension. It also came with the same leg shield-protected carrier that at the time was unique to Malaysia. While sharing much of its basic design with the Thai production Dream 100 (C100), its identifying markings displayed the name of the Boon Siew company with which Honda was partnered in a joint venture. The EX-5’s C100E engine also differed from the HA05E engine powering the Dream 100, as could be seen in its uniquely shaped left-side transmission cover and 4-speed transmission with overdrive top gear.

Thailand, Land of Smiles, Lays the Groundwork for Contemporary Cub Culture

Asian Honda was established in Thailand in 1964, making the country Honda’s regional hub in Southeast Asia. At the time, bikes powered by compact 2-stroke engines were enjoying peak sales in Thailand. Users delighted in being able to thread their way through the massive traffic jams that clogged the capital city of Bangkok, while the youth enjoyed bike races every night on the streets.

Honda entered this market with two Super Cub models, the 4-stroke C70 and C90, built exclusively for Southeast Asia. Families soon took note of their easy usability, superior fuel economy and rugged durability, and became steadfast users of the bikes. The 4-stroke Dream released in 1986 could easily be called the first Thai Super Cub, while the 2-stroke Nova released the following year featured a sporty, eye-catching design. Both models became instant hits on the roads of Thailand.

The 4-stroke Wave, which was developed in 1995 to revitalize Thailand’s motorcycle market, was specially designed to be easier for women to ride, and adopted a more modern form that best suited the times, ensuring that it also became a best seller.

However, while Thailand’s unique family sports category, made up primarily of 2-stroke models, was growing in popularity, environmental pollution in the country was also becoming a more serious concern. Responding to this critical situation, in 1997 Honda declared that all the motorcycles and scooters it sold in Thailand would be powered by 4-stroke engines. This led to the development of the 125cc 4-stroke Sonic as a successor to the Nova.

The Cub series further established itself in Thailand with the stylish and modern scooter-like design of the Wave, and the nimble, no-frills design of the Dream, which followed in the steps of the original Japanese Super Cub. These and other models soon established themselves not just in Southeast Asia, but throughout the entire world, evolving to meet the unique needs and preferences of each region. Thailand had indeed become one of the birthplaces of the current Cub series.

From the early 2000s, sporty models like the Wave have continued to evolve to meet changing user needs by adopting such features as LCD odometers and ‘shutter keys’ to protect their ignition switches from tampering. The Wave125i, unveiled at the Bangkok Motor Show in 2003, was the first equipped with programmed fuel injection (PGM-FI), ahead of other Cub series models worldwide. The Wave125i offered easy starting and powerfully smooth performance coupled with excellent fuel economy, no matter the location, coping well with variable environments and types of terrain. Its domestically produced NF125MSE engine cleared by a wide margin the 5th-stage emissions regulations enacted by Thailand in July of 2004. Thanks to this model, adaption of Honda’s advanced PGM-FI throughout the Cub series was accelerated worldwide.

In the 1990s, Honda’s ASEAN region lineup was joined by models that used the same underbone-type frame as the Super Cub series yet still remained unique, using 2-stroke engines and featuring sporty looks that met local demand. Though the Smile sold well in Thailand from the second half of the 1990s, it was not counted in Super Cub series production numbers due to its 105cc NT110E 2-stroke engine. The Smile pursued a different path from the Super Cub series as an underbone frame motorcycle equipped with 17-inch wheels. This model was targeted at younger riders, and adopted a sporty angular design with a lightweight, high-powered 2-stroke engine and a monoshock rear suspension. Its 4-speed transmission only slipped into rotary mode when at idle, while its instrument panel included a prominent gear position indicator.

Vietnam — Cub Paradise: A Cub in Every Home Makes a Prized Possession Essential to Daily Life

From the second half of the 1970s, Vietnam began to be referred to as ‘Cub Paradise.’ The country was long known for the vast numbers of Super Cubs ridden on its roads, from the big cities to small towns and villages, and the affection the Vietnamese had for the Super Cub helped create many different ‘Cub eras.’ Near the end of the Vietnam War, many people used Cubs as a way to escape from the chaos. During the economic blockade that followed the war, parts to keep them running often had to be hand-made. It was a time that saw the introduction of many different Cub models, as second-hand bikes that trickled in from Japan became popular, and clever low-priced copies of the Super Cub gave the bikes a phenomenal following.

Keeping the family’s Super Cub in good condition became ingrained in daily life. The high value of the Cub as a coveted piece of property was one reason for this, but experiencing the delights of a better life made possible by having a Super Cub in the family was another reason for the respect shown for these bikes. The serious and hard-working Vietnamese treated their Cubs as a member of the family, many parking them on the floor of their houses at night.

On sweltering nights, people often get out and cool off on their Cubs. Seeing people riding around at night to enjoy the cool evening breeze or dropping by a night market street stall is a common sight in Vietnam. For many of the people of Vietnam, the Super Cub has long been an essential form of mobility in their daily lives.

The Super Dream is the Vietnam-produced version of the Dream 100 and the EX-5. The 1998 model, which reached the prominent position of being called the ‘Asian Cub,’ differed from the Malaysian model in having its carrier/basket mounted up front. Due to the demand in Vietnam for bike-taxis, its design took into account the need for room to carry more than one rider, incorporating frame-mounted folding passenger steps rather than attaching them to the swingarm, and using tougher construction in the manufacture of the swingarm rather than sticking to the traditional pressed steel construction. Another unique feature of the Asian Cub is the ability to manually adjust its rear shock absorbers’ spring preload with a lever rather than requiring a tool. And in the area of styling, the slash-cut end of its muffler imparts a rakish impression of speed.

Many users in the ASEAN market, where the majority of motorcycles are powered by engines of 150cc in displacement or smaller, wanted a stylish Cub-type model. This led to the Wave being introduced in Thailand in the mid-1990s, which later found its way to other ASEAN countries. In Vietnam it was sold under the name ‘Future.’ Its radical exterior design featured dual headlights and aerodynamic styling that was reminiscent of Honda’s scooters of the time, while internally it used the same familiar rugged and economical 108.9cc 4-stroke JA02E engine equipped with an automatic centrifugal clutch for easy operation. This stylish Cub-type bike was independently developed for the ASEAN market.

The Philippines: The Island Country That Created a Unique Cub Culture

In 1973, Honda established a joint-venture company in the Philippines that became the forerunner for today’s Honda Philippines. The standard Super Cub was quickly accepted in this island country as a new form of people’s transportation, however over the years Honda Philippines developed its own style of Super Cub.

In 2002, a motocross-style Cub was released with the name XRM Dual Sports. In silhouette, its appearance was exactly like that of a motocross bike, including its raised handlebars, knobby tires, front disc brake, and high-mount front fender.

Users wanted a model that could cope with the mountainous areas that dominate the country’s islands outside the cities, which are crisscrossed by unpaved roads that turn muddy when it rains. In 2008 the XRM RS125 Road Sports, featuring separate handlebars, was released. Super Cubs in the Philippines have a uniquely sporty feel, and many models since developed for the XRM series have achieved a level of popularity equal to that of the Wave.

Off-road bikes are said to have first been brought to the Philippines by U.S. forces stationed there after the Vietnam war for their leisure. Watching U.S. soldiers build off-road courses and enjoying their bikes near the military bases is probably why people in the Philippines started to modify their Cubs with off-road features, giving rise to the XRM.

Sold exclusively in the Philippines, the XRM110 followed in the image of Honda’s XR series of dual-purpose motorcycles, with a red body, shielded gauges, covers made to look like fuel tank shrouds, a large front fender, knuckle guards and so on. While using the same ‘underbone’-style frame and horizontal engine as conventional Cubs, its configuration was genuinely motorcycle-like, with front fork tubes extending all the way up to the handlebars, block pattern tires (2.50–17 front and rear), and disc brakes. Yet practical factors were also emphasized, with a utility box under its seat and a skid plate mounted under its 109cc CFT110ME engine. Its 4-speed transmission (with rotary operation when stopped at idle) featured the Cub’s standard automatic centrifugal clutch and a see-saw type shift pedal with a riser at the front. Both kick-start and electric start versions were also made available.

Indonesia: The World’s Largest Producer and Seller of Super Cubs in the 21st Century

Starting from the 21st Century, Indonesia has quickly become the largest producer and seller of Super Cubs in the world. The increase in the Cub’s total aggregate production figure from 30 million units over the 43 years to 2001, to up to 100 million in 2017, with some years exceeding 5 million units, is in large part due to the massive numbers produced in Indonesia. One direct reason is that the local populace became able to buy the bikes by taking out loans, the same as for TVs or refrigerators, while another reason is the sheer size of Indonesia’s population of 230 million people.

Owners who purchase a brand-new Cub tend to treat it as a prized possession. After all, it’s an expensive asset. Many Cub owners go so far as to wrap their entire Cub in protective plastic sheet, because a scratch on the bodywork would greatly reduce its value. For the same reason, owners closely adhere to the regular inspection system, immediately repairing even minor defects to make sure their bike stays just like new.

The Indonesian nickname for the Super Cub is ‘bebek.’ Bebek is actually the word for duck. In Indonesia, ducks are considered to be powerful animals, so assigning this name to the Super Cub indicates the strong image of mobility locals associate with the bike.

Influenced by traditional masculine values as expressed by the Indonesian term ‘gagah,’ in the 1990s the Supra was fitted with wider sized tires than in Thailand and elsewhere. Gagah also relates to the popularity of Super Cub racing as a stepping-stone to full-on motorcycle racing. Likewise, the increasing number of women riding Super Cubs in Indonesia has also given rise to slimmer and more compact models. Indonesia, where the Super Cub has enjoyed explosive popularity for well over a decade, has truly become the world’s second ‘Cub Paradise’ after Vietnam.

In Indonesia, now the world’s second largest market for scooters and small motorcycles after India, Honda began a business venture in the 1960s in cooperation with the local Astra Group to produce complete bikes. From 1971, motorcycle parts began to be imported for full local knock-down assembly of complete machines, with production starting out at a rate of 3,000 units per month.

As the economy grew, Honda’s share of the market continued to expand, leading to the 1984 establishment of Honda Atlas Engine Manufacturing as a joint venture for the production of motorcycle engines. Sold specifically in Indonesia, the C700 (Super 700) pioneered a line-based worldwide design with its rectangular shaped headlight and turn indicators. At the same time, emphasis was placed on the reliability of its C70E engine, featuring a standard transmission cover with a finned design in use since the early 1970s. Its 3-speed (non-rotary) transmission featured a new shift pattern with neutral at the bottom. Its speedometer has no fuel gauge, and its turn indicator switch was positioned on the left-side handlebar. The rear shocks were of a short type with their swingarm mounting points extended. The taillight was a generic type often seen on other Hondas of the time rather than being integrated into the rear fender. Caution labels were all written in English.