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Lightweight Honda S90 Stood Tall Against Big Twins

Motorcycles, Motorcycles & ATVs  /   /  By Nina Russin

Before Honda made a name for itself selling small cars in America, it did so with motorcycles. The S90 bike was one of Honda’s early success stories, not because of exceptional power but rather its appealing style and easy maintenance. The bike in the current eBay listing is a beautiful example of Honda’s early single-cylinder motorcycles that gave the brand its first real footprint in the United States.

The 1965 S90 is all original with the exception of fenders repainted the original silver and new cables. The odometer shows 4,851 miles. The current owner kept up with maintenance and did minor paint touch-ups.

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American Honda opened its doors in 1959, introducing the Benly Super Sport, a 124cc parallel twin in 1960 and the larger 305cc Super Hawk vertical twin a year later.

The S90 was one of several 90cc single cylinder models Honda produced beginning in 1964, based on the Super Cub that preceded it. The S designation suggests that this was the sportiest bike in the lineup. Big twins from Harley-Davidson, Triumph, Norton, and BSA ruled the road, but the eight-horsepower Honda has its own undeniable charm.

Equipped with a 90cc single cylinder overhead valve air-cooled engine and four-speed manual transmission with hand clutch, the S90 had a top speed of 65 miles per hour. Fuel economy was exceptionally good: the bike easily averaged 90 miles per gallon even with aggressive driving. Its narrow 18-inch wheels and tires limited the S90 to paved roads. Other 90 cc models such as the CL90, CT90 and CT200 were designated trail bikes. Telescoping front forks made the S90 more comfortable to ride, albeit no faster.

Honda pressed the bike’s steel frame to save weight over tubular construction. The S90 had no tachometer, but its speedometer suggested speed ranges for each of the four gears. The rider shifts down for first gear and up for the other three with neutral located between first and second. Honda expected owners to do their own maintenance, creating a compartment for bike tools under the seat. The engine held a quart of oil and had an internal oil filter. The air filter was located in a metal cylinder behind the carburetor.

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Early S90 models came with silver painted fenders. In 1968, Honda changed its color palette and added chrome fenders. Honda produced the S90 until 1969. By the late 1960s, Honda was focusing on larger touring models, introducing the CB350 in 1968 and the CB750, a Grand Prix-inspired four-cylinder model the following year.

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But the Honda S90’s clean aerodynamic profile and elegant chrome tank make it a timeless classic. On the 50th anniversary of the bike’s introduction, designer Igor Chak produced an electric-powered concept based on the design, with a stamped aluminum inner frame and carbon fiber shell.

Half a century after the S90’s introduction, Honda’s talent for creating simple, robust transportation—such as the 1965 S90 listed now on eBay—remains its best trait.

About the Author

Nina Russin is an ASE certified automotive technician and writer who has been covering the automotive industry for 30 years. She was a weekly automotive columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for 10 years, and a contributor to AutoWeek, Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, Cycle World, and AAA Arizona Highroads Magazine. Russin is co-founder and president of Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year, an annual competition.

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