Go slow: inside the club for Super Cub racers
Honda’s Super Cub might be the most produced vehicle of all time – a whopping 100 million have been built in the past six decades – and it’s renowned for its durability. Its scooter-like, step-through design is now iconic around the world. But this ever-popular bike is perhaps not the quickest.
So, the idea of 100 souped-up Cubs battling it out on the UK’s top motorbike racing circuits is, well… a bit odd.
Welcome to the Plop Enduro, a grueling seven-and-a-half-hour endurance event for Honda C90s, and whose unofficial motto is: ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re slow enough.’
Intrigued? We certainly were. Which is why we decided to catch up with a competitive team to learn more about the Cub racing community, and what it takes to turn a £180 pizza delivery bike into a £3,000 track beast.
Super Cub racing? Eh?
Harry ‘Princess’ Mitchell and fellow product designer Matt ‘Gadget Boy’ Steels didn’t have the foggiest notion Cub racing even existed until they stumbled upon the sport while Googling random stuff.
But they reckoned that trying to get a knee down on a C90 might just turn out to be pretty good craic.
So, the two London lads co-opted two mates – mechanical engineer Mike ‘Crow’ Corder and designer, boat builder, custom bike wirer and general expert Will 'Willy' Valentine – into their quest to conquer the Plop Enduro. A few weeks later the ‘legendary’ TOMP Racing team was born.
“We’re all up on the grid with a common goal,” says Harry seriously. “To have a good laugh.”
Their first order of business? A bike, of course.
The C90 proved an obvious choice. “It’s brought so many people together, from all walks of life – and from right across the UK. It’s iconic,” Harry enthuses.
So, the boys scoured the internet for the best bargain buys.
The pizza delivery bike of destiny
“Some were just too far gone,” says Harry. “But we finally found one that was relatively healthy – and only cost £180. It was actually a pizza delivery bike in a former life. When we went to pick it up, it was propped up against the side of a skip in some East London back alley.”
It was, in a word, perfect – and surprisingly rust-free.
There were a few issues, though. The front sprocket had been welded onto the output shaft. “Any racers out there will know that it helps to change the sprockets out, depending on which track you're riding,” Harry explains.
And, because these bikes don’t have a huge amount of power – six or maybe eight horsepower at best – it really is all about the gearing.
“Different circuits require different gearing, because you’re at full [throttle] the whole time. The better you’re gearing for the straights, the more speed you can hold around the corner. If you slow down too much, even with the quickest gearing in the world, you won’t pull away as fast as someone who already has that speed up.”
Souping up a C90 for Plop Enduro
For their first race, the modifications to the bike were minimal: a full respray, adjustments to the riding position, and improvements to the brakes and suspension.
It wasn’t until the second race that they made big changes. The biggest of all was a full engine rebuild, as the bike had topped 40,000 miles.
The cost? “It’s not that bad,” Harry says. “But the bike does get ruined each race. We’ve probably spent around £3,000 between us. It helps that race entry – again split between three of us – is relatively modest and goes to charity. So, in some ways, it doesn’t really matter.”
It's all in the finish
After racing C90s around some of Britain’s top tracks for up to eight hours at a time, the team’s proudest achievement to date – “finishing every race” – might sound a little mundane.
But don’t forget: plenty of bikes (even ones as hardy and reliable as Honda’s) don’t complete the endurance challenge due to engines seizing up, parts vibrating off or wheels crumpling.
“I think the fact that we’ve finished eight events on the same bike is a pretty big deal,” says Harry.
“Our first race was particularly memorable. We’d spent many, many hours building the bike without really knowing how it would hold up – so we were excited to find out. And the road trip to Anglesey – which is a good seven or eight hours from London – felt like a sort of pilgrimage for us.”
No pain, no gain
But with a grid of 100 bikes, hairy moments are never more than a turn away.
In Anglesey 2016, the Plop Enduro actually broke the record for the most number of crashes in a single race: 107 rider-down incidents, all told.
“Personally, I’m quite proud to be a part of that number,” says Harry, who suffered just the one crash. Unfortunately, it was a highside where he flipped over the front of his Cub – with the bike not far behind. “I managed to break a rib when the bike landed on me. It all happened in slow motion.”
But that’s racing in its purest form, according to Harry.
And with Cub Racing, you’ll find extremes of every type. There’s a huge range of rider abilities and mechanical know-how. You’ve got the folks that look like they got lost on their way to the shops, or those you’d think had just passed their test. And then there’s the pro BSB riders.
Ah yes, the pros, laments Harry. “Some of those guys will ride completely standard bikes, and still run rings round the rest of us – mods and all. But that’s OK,” he adds, quickly. “Because there’s a proper sense of camaraderie. Everyone in the pits helps each other out. We’re all out there with a shared passion. And yes, it’s affordable. But it’s not really about that. It’s about taking these bikes to the limit.
Super Cub racing might not draw the crowds of an F1 race, but what it lacks in scale it more than makes up for in community.
And when all is said and done, it’s another chapter in this bike’s incredible history.