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Little Bikes For Little People

    History shows that in the early seventies, there was a huge increase in the sales of motorcycles in North America, especially dirt bikes. Just about every manufacturer offered some sort of dirt bike, and there were many "new" manufacturers who appeared, and disappeared over night, or so it seemed.  Someone took notice that there was a segment of the market that needed to be addressed, and that revenues from this untapped market were in the millions of dollars.
    Mini bikes" if you will, began to appear in the latter part of the sixties, and ranged from an unsuspended bike, with a frame made of plumbing pipe, and a lawn mower engine, to well built, purpose built, minature motorcycles. This page will concentrate on those bikes that came from Japan, the ones that introduced millions of six year olds to motorcycles, many of whom continued to ride throughout their adult lives. This page will discuss those bikes between 49 and 75cc in displacement, but there will be pages discussing the larger "kids" bikes in the future. 
    First at bat was Honda with their 50, which is still in production today, albiet much modernized. The Z50K0 made it's entrance in the late sixties, and sold in the millions. The original model had a ridgid rear end, a three speed semi auto transmission, propelled by a 49cc single cylinder, over head cam engine, which was truly bullet proof. You could hammer this bike forever, and it would comtinue to run. It also came with handlebars that would fold down so dad could put it in the trunk. As time went on the bike got rear suspension, plastic body work, spoked wheels, and a much heavier price tag, but it's reliability never waivered. Honda also produced the QA 50 from 1970 -1972, which was a totally different machine. It was a two speed semi automatic and the engine was an over head valve. while the frame resembled the original Z50K0, everything else was different from the Z model. 
    By the mid seventies, motocross was mainstream, and Honda saw a way to capitalize on this, and the result was the MR 50 ELSINORE MX, also known as Mister Fifty. It was a minature version of the CR motocross bike and although it had a short production run, was very popular. In later years the CR-60 appeared for a short time but 80CC became the smallest of the motocross bikes. Then there was the CT 70, which was basically an upsized Z 50, but was big enough for adults to ride. Just as reliable as it's little brother, this bike sold well and had a fairly long production run. Todays' CRF 70 uses the same engine as the CT. Honda also saw a need to build minature enduro bikes, that echoed the look of their larger family members, first with the SL-70, then the XL-70, then with the XL-75 mini enduro. While the SL and XL series used the same engine as the CT series, the XL-75 used a totally new engine, a single four stroke, overhead cam, with a new layout. This engine went on to form the basis of the XL/XR 80 motorcycles. The final bike in this class is the XR-75, which was meant as a four stroke play /motocross bike. It looked like a minature elsinore, but with the new four stroke engine. A whole new series of after market performance parts were created for this bike, which could be modified into a very potent race bike...just ask Jeff Ward. Today Honda still markets the CRF 50 and 70 as their kid sized bikes, which are much more reliable than thier big brothers, which is truly a shame.
    Kawasaki offered many models of motorcycles for little people, but most were of 80cc in capacity or larger. For the smaller kids they offered the Coyote, and the KV-75. Later they offered the KX60. The Coyote was a utility engined, torque converter driven, minibike released in 1969 and ended production in 1972. The 1969 models came with a two stroke engine but for 1970 that was changed to a four stroke. The KV came later and was a totally new machine which was quite popular. As for the KX-60, it appeared in the early 1980's and was designed as a motocross racing bike. It had a long production run which saw the addition of a liquid cooled engine and other upgrades to keep it viable. It was replaced by the KX-65 which is a totally different bike.
     Yamaha, like the others, manufactured many bikes for children, the majority of them being 80cc or greater, which will be covered in the future. As for bikes of smaller displacement, and in my opinion one of the coolest of that time, we'll start with the JT-1 60CC mini enduro. This bike was every bit a scaled down DT-1, with full lighting and instrumentation, it was street legal. Most were used in the dirt, and like it's big brother, performed like a champ. The engine was a single cylinder, two stroke, rotary valve, with a manual clutch...just like big brother. They also had oil injection which meant that little Jonny didn't need to mix oil with gas. This bike was in a class of its own and taught a kid how to ride a real bike.
    Next on the list is the Y-ZINGER 50, also known as the PW-50. It was always assumed that the "PW" stood for "PEE WEE", but when i hear that word i think of a former childrens show, whose main character still annoys me to this day. The bike is physically one of the smallest kids bikes produced, and is still in production, with few changes after three decades. It's powered by an oil injected two stroke engine, torque converter transmission, and is shaft drive. With a weight of 83 lbs and a seat height of 19", it has been and is the first step for thousands of kids, into the world of motorcycles.
    For motocross Yamaha offered the yz-50, and later the YZ-60, but in a short time dropped these bikes in favour of an 80cc version, which lived on for decades, and in many incarnations.
    Finally there was the TY-50 trials bike, which was a scaled down version of it larger ancestors. Trials is a very special niche in the motorcycle world in North America, and these bikes seemed to sell in small numbers as compared to in England, so my guess is that the TY-50 wasn't a big seller here.
    Suzuki, like the others, manufactured a few models that were specifically for the little ones. One of the earliest ones was the "TRAIL HOPPER MT-50". It was introduced in the early 70's and being a 50cc model was in direct competition with Hondas' Z-50. Having said that, my thoughts on this bike were that rather than a competitor, the idea was for the trail hopper to carve its own nitche in the market. It was a two stroke, oil injected model, somewhat like the later Kawasaki kv-75, but was small and fat tired like the Honda-Z. Then there was the styling, which was very unique to say the least....sort of space aged.
    Next on the list is the JR-50 which has been in production for decades. It's Suzukis' beginner bike and has introduced thousands to the sport. Although it was originally styled to look like part of the "RM" motocross series, at heart it was a mild two stroke, and for some kids, a perfect first bike. Should a younger kid decide that motocross was his cup of juice, there was the RM-50, supersceeded by the RM-60, but neither made a good first bike for junior because of the power hit and top speed, when compared to other models. Suzuki also produced the TS-50, but it was a full sized bike, so it really doesn't fit into this category. Strangely, they also produced the TS-75 which was directly aimed at Hondas' XL-75. It was a minature version of the larger TS series, and was street legal. It was a two stroke with oil injection so it likely gave the Honda a good run for it's money.
    In the end, there is no question that the Honda Z-50 out sold, and outlasted everything else in this class. Today those early hondas are highly sought after by collectors, and one in factory original condition can fetch a kings ransome. Having said that, it's nice to be able to step back in time, and have a look at what was on the market back then.