HONDA C90 (1967 - 2002) Review

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Annual servicing cost: £50
Power: 8 bhp
Seat height: Low (29.9 in / 760 mm)
Weight: Low (181 lbs / 82 kg)

Prices

New N/A
Used £4,000 - £4,500

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
4 out of 5 (4/5)

How can you not love the Honda 90? As the largest and therefore most practical version of the three-bike Super Cub line-up, this is the bike that kept Britain moving for decades.

Every place of work the length and breadth of the country had a C90 outside at some point during the 70s, 80s and 90s, usually with a flapping white top-box and misted aftermarket screen.

Fast enough to keep with urban traffic, super-frugal and so reliable it could endure any manner of neglect and misuse, the Honda was the go-to commuting tool. Especially as you could just hop on with a provisional licence.

The day-to-day popularity of Super Cubs continues around the world, and with later evolutions still flowing out of factories Cub production passed 100 million (yes, 100,000,000) in 2017.

Here in the UK the C90 was discontinued years ago, however, and is now a desirable classic. It’s a great counterpoint to a modern high-tech bike: you get an engaging and amusing riding experience, enough performance not to feel (too) vulnerable, plenty of time to soak up the views, good spares availability and simple home servicing.

Costs peanuts to run, too. You’ll also make lots of new friends, as someone will regale you with a C90 story every time you stop.

The Honda also causes gooey nostalgia, though this allows sellers to attach over-the-odds pricing. The days of £50 workhorses are long gone: battered restoration projects go for £500 and minty restored C90s can fetch £5000. Earlier bikes are prettier and feel more robust; later bikes have 12-volt electrics, better switches and an oh-so-slightly improved ride quality.

Great for the daily commute and fun on the open road.

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
3 out of 5 (3/5)

The C90’s steel chassis is simple, with a tube downtube attaching the steering head to a pressed rear section. Bumps are sort-of dealt with by twin rear shocks and leading-link front forks that rise up under braking (a curious sensation, though you soon acclimatise).

While suspension action is very basic, the Honda’s ride quality is better than most classic scooters – lots of which don’t have anything as sophisticated as front and rear suspension.

Nice having 17in wheels too, as it makes the handling more bike-like and means there’s greater stability than on a small-wheel scoot or moped. Pillions are more than welcome, though can have an entertaining effect on the C90’s willingness to turn into corners.

Cable-operated drum brakes front and rear need a good tug for swift stopping. The curious load paths of the front suspension mean it’s possible to lock the front wheel in treacherous conditions.

Honda C90

Engine

Next up: Reliability
5 out of 5 (5/5)

Honda’s horizontal air-cooled single is surely one of the greatest engines of all time. The overhead-cam version was introduced in the 1960s, and though it’s been upgraded and tweaked over the years is still in mass production. Astounding.

Original C90s are 89cc; capacity dropped to 86cc with an update in the early 1980s. All versions nudge 100mpg in normal use and give way more if you’re just sauntering down lanes in the sunshine. And sauntering is best.

The 90 has more grunt than the C50 and C70 but isn’t actually much faster than the 70, with 55mph being about the comfortable limit – it’s geared tall for economy, and the 8bhp motor struggles to use all its revs most of the time. It’ll go faster plunging down a steep hill, though feels terribly coarse as the motor thrashes away.

The clutch doesn’t have a lever. Its centrifugal design means you knock the Honda into gear at standstill, and the clutch engages automatically as you open the throttle and revs increase. You can come to a halt in top gear and it’ll just tick over. Stalling is impossible.

With just three speeds the gearbox has long, widely spaced ratios. Though the engine’s willingness to simply chug along regardless means it’ll pull third from jogging pace, it’s easy to stamp down a gear too soon and get an excess of engine braking (and screaming revs).

Honda C90 with pillion

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
4 out of 5 (4/5)

All examples of the C90 are staggeringly reliable. When I was a teenager, I had a mid-70s example as a field bike complete with homemade straight-through exhaust and old tights stretched across the open carb inlet to provide an air filter.

After being caned mercilessly for years, one day someone realised we’d never checked the oil. We did and the engine was bone dry – but we were also miles out in the country and didn’t have any oil, so carried on riding. It was weeks before we remembered…

Spoked wheels and drum brakes are part of the C90s charm

For a cheaply-priced commuter the C90’s build quality was always good. You’ll probably be looking at a pampered time-warp bike or one that’s been rebuilt, though there are examples out there that have only recently been retired from a life of year-round all-weather commuting (some of which have been splashed with shiny paint and labelled as ‘restored’).

Rust is the C90’s enemy. The structural steel rear mudguards rotted even from new, causing the back of the bike to collapse, so expect either rust, repairs or completely new sections – and check for filler and other bodges. Later C90s have a bolt-on plastic mudguard section that hides corrosion, so have a good poke about.

Frame down tubes rust above the engine, which is hard to spot (worst case scenario is the bike will snap in half), spokes get crusty, and the forks and swingarm can corrode through from the inside – prod suspicious bits with a screwdriver.

Other stuff? Clutches slip if incorrectly adjusted (two-minute fix with a screwdriver) or the engine level is wrong. Bushes in the front forks can fail, and so can the ones in the rear shocks, given away by squeaking and an even bouncier ride than normal.

Parts are readily available for 1980s-on 12-volt models, though most bits for bikes from 60s and 70s now tend to be ‘budget’ parts from the Far East. Look out for examples with replacement engines from Chinese-built ‘pit bikes’ – no good if you want originality, but handy if you fancy more power and an extra gear.

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
3 out of 5 (3/5)

Classic insurance will cost less than a night in the boozer, servicing is peanuts, and you’ll get over 100 miles from a fiver’s worth of unleaded. Tyres last ages and are cheap when you need them, and if you get a bike that’s 40 years old or over road tax is free, and it won’t need an MOT test. The C90 might no longer be the penny-pinching commuter’s tool of choice, but it’s still super-cheap to run.

Whether spending four or five grand on an old Honda step-thru’ is good value is another question. You can’t put a price on the personal satisfaction and warm fuzziness that ownership might bring, but the recent surge in values – and no shortage of supply – means the cost of a good C90 has surely peaked. Buy one to ride and enjoy, not as an investment.

Equipment

1 out of 5 (1/5)

You get a speedo (that also shows which gear to use at what speed on a pre-1984 bike), indicators, hooter and lights. That’s about it – and if you’ve ever ridden a six-volt Cub then you’ll know that classing the feeble glow from the front as a headlight is pushing it.

You don’t need more, mind. The C90’s charm is in being simple, honest, fuss-free two-wheeled transport.

Minimal info on the C90 speedo

Alaska to Argentina on a Honda C90

In 2011 36-year-old Seán Dillon from Ireland left his job, stuck his 25 year old Honda C90 into a crate and left for Alaska. His aim: to ride from Anchorage, Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of the South American mainland.

Seán said: "I chose a C90 because I wanted to pay tribute to what is regarded as the greatest motorcycle in the world, the Honda Cub. The C50s, C70s and C90s were the people’s motorcycles and they had a huge impact on transport in Ireland and the world from the 1960s onwards.

"There is so much about travelling on this bike that fitted in with my journey. I wanted a simple and reliable machine, and there are none more so than the Honda Cub, I also wanted a bike to blend in with the crowd. When you ride into the poorer areas of the world with a fancy BMW or a shiny KTM you immediately set yourself apart from the local people.

"This bike allows you to melt into the background and become part of the picture and surroundings. It breaks down barriers between locals as they will see you as more of an equal, an underdog and not a rich gringo. Perhaps most importantly it’s a go-anywhere bike. It never once held me back no matter where I rode. I took that little bike across some of the worst terrain imaginable and ended up in places most large over-landers simply couldn’t reach. It’s so light you can take it anywhere."

Sean Dillon

Specs

Engine size 85cc
Engine type 2v ohc air-cooled horizontal single, 3 semi-auto gears
Frame type Steel tube backbone and pressings
Fuel capacity 4 litres
Seat height 760mm
Bike weight 82kg
Front suspension none
Rear suspension none
Front brake Drum
Rear brake Drum
Front tyre size 2.25 x 17
Rear tyre size 2.50 x 17

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption 100 mpg
Annual road tax £20
Annual service cost £50
New price -
Used price £4,000 - £4,500
Insurance group 2 of 17
How much to insure?
Warranty term One year

Top speed & performance

Max power 8 bhp
Max torque 3.5 ft-lb
Top speed 55 mph
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range 88 miles

Model history & versions

Model history

C90 (September 1967-July 1977): Replaces the CM90 and CM91, with an 89cc OHC single-cylinder engine and ‘slammer’ gearbox with centrifugal clutch and rocker gear lever. Essentially the CM91 with changes to replicate the recent C50: new handlebar, headlamp, taillight and indicators, enclosed forks, and D-shape speedo (up to 60mph!). Six-volt electrics. Grey, red or brown, with white sidepanels and no badges. New-shape rear light, helmet holder and brighter red paint from ’72. Leading-link fork with no torque arm (like C50/70) in ’74. 

C90Z-2 (May 1977-May 1979): New carburettor and handlebar-mounted choke lever. 

C90Z-Z (May 1979-August 1983): Revised gearshift pattern – previous bikes were 1N23 (back on the rocker for first gear, then forward for neutral, second, third in order) but the Z-Z is N123 (all gears forward). New conical end to the silencer, too. 

C90-C (March 1983-February 1984): New headlight plus reshaped cowling and leg shields mark the arrival of 12-volt electrics in 1983. New 86cc engine too (based on the C70 unit) with CDI ignition, revisions to the chassis.

C90-E (February 1984-September 1986): Another gearbox revision – a rotary selector means it goes N123N, so you can come to a stop in third gear and then tap straight into neutral. Updated chassis parts too, plus more angular styling, larger rectangular headlight and indicators, bigger seat, rust-hiding plastic rear mudguard part, updated hand controls, fuel gauge.

C90-G (September 1986-April 1993): Wider-mounted winkers, grease nipples removed from front suspension.

C90-N (May 1992-September 1993): Engine has a different crankpin, con-rod and big-end bearing. 

C90-P (September 1993-May 1996): New generator with more angular cover, sidestand removed (due to new stand cut-out legislation). 

C90-T (May 1996-model discontinued in 2002): Updated brake plates and wheels, changes to wiring. 

C90M-F/G/N/P/T (April 1985-model discontinued in 2002): M signifies the electric start version of the above variants, with starter motor behind a new cover on the left-hand side of the engine. Revised generator, larger battery… oh, and a starter button.

Other versions

The C50 and C70 are basically the same thing, only slower and with a slightly different chassis up until the early 1980s.

The engine has been used in various other models, some with increased capacity – the later Wave and Innova scooters are basically a modernised C90 with a 125cc version of the engine and a four-speed gearbox.

The 2019 Honda C125 Super Cub is a completely modern machine but still takes its styling cues from the original version. It still uses a centrifugally clutched, three-speed gearbox too.

Owners' reviews for the HONDA C90 (1967 - 2002)

4 owners have reviewed their HONDA C90 (1967 - 2002) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your HONDA C90 (1967 - 2002)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Engine: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Reliability & build quality: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Value vs rivals: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Equipment: 3.5 out of 5 (3.5/5)
Annual servicing cost: £50
5 out of 5 The greatest little bike ever.
13 April 2020 by Leiba

Year: 2002

Annual servicing cost: £21

You see the world around you whilst riding a Cub. You're not looking at the speedo all the time. It's a refreshing non-hurried ride. Bad bits? Owners of bigger bikes looking down then ignoring my faithful steed. Other vehicles (inc bikes) bullying my little bike on the road.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

You can't help but grin when you ride it.

Engine 5 out of 5

Nothing wrong with it. Simple to service, don't need a mechanic to do it.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

A proper workhorse, made to last.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Cheap tax = £20, good mileage, insurance varies. Do the servicing myself for only the cost of parts - oil - brake shoes etc. Simples

Equipment 5 out of 5

It does what it's expected to do.

Buying experience: They don't import them anymore so was used when I bought it. Got a bargain though.

5 out of 5 Excellent
23 October 2015 by Neil lonerider

Version: Deluxe (6v self starter model)

Year: 1985

Annual servicing cost: £60

it does what it was meant to do... perfectly (you shouldn't expect a cat to do what a lion does should you?)

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

Braking efficiency is not satisfactory. front link thing rises the front up when front break is applied...

Engine 5 out of 5

since it was designed in an era where speed was not that expected in demand... and after all it's a 90cc

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

excellent. treat it with love and it'll treat you the same. (I've put like 100k kms on it and it has never failed on me)

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5

Buying experience: bought it privately and completely restored it.

5 out of 5
20 June 2015 by xandra

Year: 1991

Annual servicing cost: £80

just a bike which works as a bike should do. simple but this is its charme

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

it could be a bit faster, a bit higher, a bit smarter - but hey? the c for cub stands for cheap urban bike. and this is exactly what the bike is. a nice cheap urban bike. it managed to carry me nonstop 100 miles. so no problem at all. however for a trip through Europe i would rather take a bigger one.

Engine 5 out of 5

the engine does what it should do. taking the bike from A to B. in the city the bike is as quick as any other one.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

corrosion and other age signs within a normal or even better than normal range. the bike is more reliable than a lot of modern scooters

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5

well, regarding this bike the question is, are there any extra features? lol

5 out of 5 My Honda C90
09 October 2009 by leogreek

First of all I have to agree with part of the review given on the C90. It is very basic, the suspension and breaking are bad and it is slow. But wasn't that the point all along? I owned by C90 for 13 months and rode it to work every day. My total expenditure for that time was £15 on one oil change. Nothing else. Petrol was about £3 for 10 days of riding. I reckon I was getting near 130mpg out of it. For the money you pay for a C90, you can't expect much and yet you get so much in terms of reliability. I left my C90 standing for more than a month when I upgraded to a CB500 and it started with no problems by using the kickstart. My only complaints were the front suspension and the front drum brake. Also, it always felt that it could have done with a fourth gear. Then again, that would be the Honda Innova. All in all it was an excellent bike which I will buy again the moment I have my own garage to put it in. Peace of mind was the greatest thing this bike had to offer.

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
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