Category Archives: motorbikes

“L” For…

…”Liberty”, maybe.  1973 was the year when I started learning to ride a motorcycle.  Of course, it was the ubiquitous Honda Cub (mine was a 70cc), otherwise affectionately known as “kap cai”.

In those days, learner-riders had to prominently display a pair of white plates with a big red letter “L” – one in front and the other at the back of their mounts.  People used to call these “Lembu Lesen”. 

The new-found liberty and mobility was sheer exhilaration for an 18-yr old, and running errands to town became happy excuses to get the motorbike for a spin.

I am not sure if it is still required by law to display such “L” plates for newbies, as I have not seen even a single motorcycle bearing such plates…in quite a long while (both in Malaysia and Singapore).

Prevention By Frustration?

When wearing of helmets for motorcyclists became mandatory in 1973, business boomed for retailers of helmets.  The headgear protected the riders, but also gave them a new headache – THEFT!

Folks who were naïve enough to leave their helmets attached to the side locks on their mounts would find them gone in no time.  The alternative would be to lug along these cumbersome spherical “shells”wherever they ventured on foot, after dismounting.

I was not ready to be encumbered. So, I fashioned a galvanized iron cover to fit my trusty Honda C70 Kapcai (the cover had a hinge too), and then relocated the helmet lock from its default position to the side of the basket (that came along with the bike) to secure the cover. 

I figured my “invention” would deter a potential thief as it would frustrate his efforts at getting the bounty.

On Wings Of Gold

The Gold Wing GL1000 marked Honda’s foray into the “touring bikes” category and Honda sprouted wings of gold as it hit the motherlode in the US market.  It was quite a sight to behold – with a flat-four boxer engine with a water-cooled radiator.

Over the last 44 years, the Gold Wing underwent many upgrades and refinements, often with increased gross weights, physical dimensions and engine sizes.  The 2018 edition is a consummate melding of beastly beauty on two wheels.

The GL1800 has a 1800cc flat-six engine and even a reverse gear, plus a 7” TFT display, a hi-fi music system, and a host of apps, so that the rider and pillion companion can experience many happy hours on long rides.

Wow !  So, will the next version will have a bathtub and kitchen sink built in ? 

Angels’ Chaly

Back in 1977, my sister was sent to a school in rural Kedah, a few miles from Alor Star, after finishing her teachers’ training college course.

The “road” to her school was really an unpaved sandy earth path, with paddy fields on both sides.  The only way to go through was on foot, or with a bicycle or a motorbike.  My dad bought her a cutesy little Honda, which went by the name of “Chaly”.  It was really a bike designed for girls.

It must have been quite a sight for the villagers and farmers to see two Chinese girls (she and her colleague) making their way to the local school on these bikes. 

In fact I was told that her colleague was stopped one day and asked for her hand in marriage by an admirer from the village.

All’s Not Lost On My Copy-Cub

Prior to early 1970s, all Cubs in Malaysia were sired by Honda-san.  (Our family owned a series of Cubs in succession). Then Yamaha and Suzuki decided to bring forth their own Cubs – copies of the Hondas.

In 1978, my father bought me a new Suzuki FR70. With great joy, I rode off this 2-stroke 70cc bike for the final year of my MU studies.

My late uncle remarked that we should not have bought Suzuki, since in our Hokkien dialect it sounded like “lost it all” (输输去). Nonetheless, it served me well and I did graduate.

The 2-stroke engine’s domain was in the mid-to-high rpms – at low rpm, torque was poor, unlike the rugged Honda kapcai’s. The “zhng-zhng” sound was very different from the “put-put” sound of the 4-strokers. Overall, it was a fun machine.

The Dream Machine

I was a small kid with big dreams.  Some time in 1962, when dad brought home a colourful catalog from Boon Siew Honda, my attention was drawn NOT to the cubby stuff, but a big stately majestic  Benly Dream series.  These machines came in two models, with twin-cylinder engines of 250cc and 350cc respectively.

I liked the squarish headlight, the beefy squarish-section front forks & solid-looking rear suspension arms, the sparkling chrome fuel tank, etc., and not the least of all, the whitewall tyres.

(By contrast, modern m-bikes all seem to resemble creepy bugs from outer space that appear in nightmares)

So, I told my dad, “Buy this one”.  But Dollars & Sensibility sank in.  We could only afford the 50cc Kap Chai, thus that big fella just remained the stuff of my dreams,….for a long time.

Anyone owned this machine before ?

The Mother Of All Cubs…

Was also a cub – the Honda Port Cub 240, with a 49cc engine.  Introduced in 1962, it was the forerunner of all the  ‘kap chais’.   The earliest versions did not even have signalling winkers for turning.

Most interestingly, the kickstarter was on the left side (see photo) and the gearbox had only two speeds.   I remember we had a second-hand specimen in the early 60s, until my dad traded it in for a C50 Cub.

The success of these Honda runabouts spawned a host of many copycat versions by Suzuki and Yamaha.

For Honda, later updates had bigger engines, from 65cc going up to 70cc, 90cc and eventually 100cc.    In my first 3 years in MU, I had a C70cc model, which I used for the daily commute between campus and Section 17 of PJ.

When Triumph Was All-Masculine

British two-wheelers had a thumping time roaring the highways and byways, before the Japanese overwhelmed the market in the 60s.  Among these was Triumph.  I remember a particular macho model quite well; it had a kind of “wrap-around” sarong-like rear mudguard – as shown in the picture.

A relative of mine had one of these. It was funny – he had to leap onto the kickstarter and use his whole body weight in order to get the engine started. Always needed a few tries before the beast could finally be aroused from its slumber. But once it fired up, the low-frequency “thump-thump-thump” sound was sure heavy metal music to the ears (mine, at least)

Then vroom-vroom-vroom, off he went, with his wife on his back seat clinging onto him for dear life.

Haiz, nowadays the name Triumph is mostly associated with the feminine form.