Due to their loyalty to the four-stroke way of doing things, Honda very nearly missed out on the “Ped” revolution during the 70s. While Suzuki and Yamaha threw their hat into the ring with almost identical disc-valve, two-stroke, machinery, the mighty H produced a four stroke. A single-cylinder overhead camshaft design that looked great but lacked so much when placed in direct comparison with the others from the 70s revolution. The SS50 was heavy, 10kgs more so than the Yam, underpowered, but still a stylish machine, that won many a youngster’s heart. On paper the SS50 shouldn’t have sold at all, speed and power was everything to the youngster eager to make their mark on the world, and yet sell it did and in great numbers too, no doubt due to the ever expanding Honda dealer network within the UK when compared to the relative hit and miss of other brands on the high street.
Even when the others moved on and updated their respective machinery, in particular when Yamaha added a hydraulic disc brake to the FS1E, Honda again got it potentially so wrong and implemented a dated cable-operated front stopper to the SS, although to be fair the MT125 race bike of the period utilised the same technology. The Honda was, and still is, a superb machine however, not as fast but not far off great on fuel consumption and as good looking as any mass produced moped could be; the build quality being typically Honda and the engine near bullet proof too.
All of the Japanese mopeds of the mid 70s were based heavily upon machines that had been around in the previous decade, in the case of Honda the cub first emerged in 1958, the earliest Japanese models were of small capacity so the engines and chassis of the first models saw action throughout the 70s as sixteener mopeds. The basic format across the three major players was a simple one; a cheap to produce, pressed steel frame, simple single cylinder engine and just enough equipment to keep them legal and attractive to the youth buyer. Of course all this was topped off with aggressive marketing and advertising, trying to associate the learner legal machines with the top racers or Superbikes of the day.
All that had to be fitted to comply with the UK law of the period was a set of working pedals and all used the same method, both pedals aligned when not in use to make the footrests like a normal motorcycle, and then by flicking a lever they reverted back to pedals, and could propel the bike along as you would a bicycle. Well that’s all well and good in theory but practice proved somewhat different, if the bike hadn’t been crashed and the pedals bent, then sure enough, they would operate correctly, but any misalignment and there was no chance of them working correctly. Also once in pedal mode, the moped wasn’t easy to get going along, weighing a good deal more than a cycle meant pedalling was hard work and speed was not anything to write home about either. Effectively fitting the pedals was simply to skirt around the letter of the law and no one in their right mind would ever consider using them for real.
Over a long run the differences between the SS50 and other Japanese mopeds of the period largely levelled out but the dash up to top speed and back usually resulted in the Honda being left well behind, its sluggish acceleration and low top speed meant the two strokes would buzz passed in an instant, however every 30 miles or so would require a lengthy fuel stop and the need to mix two stroke oil into the petrol while the Honda could achieve around 120mpg and run all day, and without fear of the dreaded two stroke seize up.
If the law had dictated the use of four-stroke engines throughout the moped breed, then the SS50, with Honda’s huge pedigree in the field, would have been top of the tree, however it will remain as the slowpoke, the bike that the sensible people opted for. As a stand alone machine the SS50 makes perfect sense, tough dependable and with absolutely stunning MPG figures with the added bonus that those in the know could easily transplant a 70cc top end from the C70 and have an instant boost in grunt and top end speed.
In 1975, in a bid to keep the SS50 at the front of the ped race, Honda introduced a new 5-speed model. Top speed saw a healthy boost with 49mph being claimed and graced with a disc brake, albeit no more powerful than the tiny single leading shoe drum that previously sat within the front wheel, Power was up by a whopping 1.5 horses extra, the result was nothing to shout about though, as the opposition still reigned supreme in the top speed stakes. Incidentally the early 4-speed models can be recognised by their grey frames while the later 5-speed version all had black frames. Not that the Japanese actually ruled the roost at all, the Latin machinery taking the top honours in that respect, and by a big margin too. Few standard Fizzies and AP50s topped the 50mph mark unaided by tailwinds and steep slopes, while the bulk of the Garelli and Fantic brigade could do so with comparative ease, but more on that contentious issue another day.
Ironically, the new learner laws introduced in September 1977 favoured the SS50 despite the types demise in the Honda line up. Any vehicle registered after that date would be restricted to just 30mph so ideal stomping ground for the torquey and dependable SS, unfortunately the model was replaced by the CB50J, a machine designed from the outset to produce only enough power to reach the lowly speed of 30mph.
Honda SS50 Specifications
- Engine – air-cooled single cylinder four stroke SOHC
- Capacity – 49cc
- Bore/stroke – 39 x 41.4mm
- Power – 2.5bhp @ 8000rpm
- Torque – 1.64ft-lb @ 5400rpm
- Carburetion – 12mm Keihin
- Transmission – 4-Speed, wet clutch, chain final drive
- Frame – pressed steel
- Suspension – 25mm telescopic forks, Twin shock rear
- Brakes – 110mm single leading shoe drum front and rear
- Wheels – 2.50 x 17
- Weight – 80kgs
- Top speed – 43mph
- Wheelbase – 1181mm
- Fuel capacity – 6.7ltrs
- Top Speed – 43mph
Honda SS50 Gallery