Leslie’s Advent Calendar – December 18

December 18 – Honda SS50 (I think)

Motorbikes generally scare the crap out of me. This is because, in my mind anyway, they combine the worst elements of bicycles and cars. Just like a car, you can go fast enough to to serious damage to things. And just like a bicycle, the chances are that whatever you collide with, the most damage will be done to your own body. Multiply the probability of breaking yourself by the higher forces involved with higher speeds, and you have a recipe for certain death.

I’m not likely to gawp at motorbikes in the same way I do with rare or interesting cars. The most exciting and interesting bike in the world could go whizzing past me and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid – unless it had just scared me by overtaking at 130mph on a single-carriageway road, but that’s another matter.

I was therefore surprised to find myself spending a considerable amount of time yesterday admiring a motorcycle that was parked up outside an art gallery in Meguro-ku. So impressed was I with the bike that I even took a photo on my phone. Here it is.

The bike

What I liked most about it was the functional styling of the thing. Motorcycles have always struck me as a bit pointless, but if there was a definite purpose for a motorbike then this is the kind of vehicle that would be built to fulfil that purpose and that purpose alone. The handlebars point upwards in a manner that encourages the rider to sit up and watch where they’re going rather than crouching over like some nutjob going over the mountain road on the Isle of Man TT. There’s a big hatch behind the seat for putting useful things like, say, wallets and groceries in. And the tyres are big and chunky so you won’t go sliding off in light drizzle and get your testicles impaled on a fencepost.

I became even more impressed when the owner regaled me with the bike’s performance figures. Only 50cc, he said, so a top speed of no more than 50 kph. If this was a car, I would piss my pants laughing, yet this seemed like a good thing for a motorcycle. It means that when you do come off or crash into a sandwich board, you’re not doing so at a significantly higher speed than you would on a push bike, and even then you have a nice big helmet to keep you safe. The low power also means no stupid acceleration and nothing to egg you on to go that wee bit faster – this is a vehicle that could quite safely be driven flat-out through a speed camera back in the UK. It’s a motorbike designed primarily for urban use. In other words, a moped that you can ride without feeling like a bit of a tool. Or a scooter that you can cruise around on without everyone thinking you’re trying too hard.

I was still thinking about the bike this morning to the extent that I went onto Wikipedia to find out its model type. Shortly afterwards I caught myself on the Honda Japan website checking out prices. I was really, really keen on this thing, until I remembered something. If it can only do 30mph, if its primary aim is to weave in and out of traffic and if you want a way of getting around town without having to fork out for road tax and fuel, you’d be as well buying a pushbike or walking. And that, my friends, is why I will never be a motorcycle owner.

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Filed under Japan, Road Cars

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