Honda Trail 90: A look Back at the First True Adventure Bike

Honda Trail 90: A look Back at the First True Adventure Bike

And it’s got a deadly secret...

Recently, I got to know a fellow who lives up in the western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’m just guessing here, but I think he’s on the north end of his 80s.

Age hasn’t slowed him down, and one day when I was admiring his 1968 Honda Trail 90 (aka CT90), he stunned me with the revelation of the little bike’s deadly secret.

It seems he likes to use the little Honda to prowl the logging roads, fire lanes and tote roads of the U.P. in search of small game.

Honda Trail 90 History

The bike is equipped with a scabbard attached to the forks that he slides his 12-gauge shotgun into during “bird” season. That’s mainly devoted to hunting the U.P.’s stock of partridge, but woodcock and other upland game birds are in season, too.

He said the muffler had rusted out some years ago so its sound is a little louder than stock, but actually not much. He discovered the CT90’s deadly secret quite by accident on one of his partridge hunting forays. He was riding the CT90 along with an abandoned railroad grade when he stopped to take a look around and left the bike idling.

As he sat there, looking ahead for grouse moving along the ground or roosting, he was startled to see a partridge winging its way right toward him. Before he could draw his shotgun from the scabbard, he noticed another bird coming in hot from a different direction. He limbered up his 12-gauge and harvested the birds.

It was then that he realized the “thup-thup-thup” exhaust note of the bike without its stock muffler resembled the sound of a partridge drumming its wings as they do during the fall mating season and that is probably what brought the birds to him! Turns out the CT90 can double as a bird call deadly to lovelorn partridge.

He added that it doesn’t always seem to work, but even a time or two is pretty amazing. You have to wonder what Soichiro Honda would have said if he only could have known! A new marketing slogan may have resulted: “You meet the nicest upland game birds on a Honda!”

The Trail 90 has sold in the multi-millions since its introduction in 1964 as the CT200 Trail 90, when the engine was an air-cooled 87cc single-cylinder OHV pushrod four-stroke. In 1967, it became the CT90 and the engine’s displacement was nudged up to 89cc and the pushrod was replaced by a chain-drive OHC design.

That engine, which churned out eight horsepower at 9500 rpm was used in no less than five different models in the 1967 model year. Its economy, simplicity, and reliability kept it in the line-up for 13 years when it was again bumped up, this time to 105cc for the new CT110 model.

Honda Trail 90: A look Back at the First True Adventure Bike

The engine was slung beneath a pressed steel frame in a nearly horizontal position. To protect the head and cylinder cooling fins, a pair of steel bars on each side of the engine dropped down from the steering head and attached beneath the engine near the midships-mounted footpegs.

The ’68 model had a four-speed that fed power through a centrifugal clutch, making navigating narrow trails and difficult terrain while managing engine output a lot easier. To increase off-road ability, there was an added feature: a 1.867 reduction spur gear that provided high/low ratios, in essence, giving the CT90 eight speeds.

The same leading-link front suspension design that had been in use for years on a range of models was in use in improved form in 1968, which would change to a telescopic fork by 1969. The rear suspension used a conventional twin shock set-up.

The step-through frame made more mount and dismount options available that could come in handy in the woods, where trees and terrain might make the swing-your-leg over the top approach difficult.

In an effort to keep both intake and exhaust as high as possible for the occasional deep-water stream crossing, the air filter box was mounted in the step-through portion of the frame and a snorkel dropped down to the carburetor, while the exhaust was upswept on the bike’s right side with a liberal dose of heat shielding to keep you from scorching your camo.

It came equipped with street-legal lighting, but no turn signals to get knocked off in the bush. The solo saddle concealed the fuel tank filler cap and a substantial luggage rack on the rear enabled the Honda CT90 to be a match for a good pack mule.

Mastering the transmission required no prior motorcycle experience. Neutral was at the top position and clicking down without having to putz with a clutch reliably if somewhat noisily, engages each successive gear.

Twist the throttle and away you go with no potential to stall out—as engine speed increases, the weight of the friction shoes in the clutch forces them out by centrifugal force against the drive surface of the clutch. Clutch engagement is automatic.

Speeds of between 40 and 50 mph were generally the top line on the road, and in the woods, the thing will putter along happily at a walk, as the terrain may allow. With its gallon-and-a-half gas tank and 70 to 80 mpg, you could figure on well over 100 miles on the road before needing to top up. Dry weight was about 180 pounds.

Perhaps the most amazing feature of the model was the sticker price - under $350.