THE MAIL EXCHANGE - NEW BIKES, NEW COLOURS
Those “more mature” readers might remember when the daily mail was delivered by a postie on a pushbike. A red pushbike of course. The posties had to be fit young fellas (they all seemed to be fellas back then): especially in areas, such as around my place, where there are hills. So Australia Post (or PMG, as it once used to be called), decided to motorise the deliveries, and equip the posties with bikes with motors. (They were still red, of course). That was in 1971, although it took a while for all areas to get them. What they got, of course, was what we came to know as the “Postie Bike”. It was actually a Honda CT90.
A HISTORY OF HONDAS
The CT90 was first produced in 1966; and was originally designed as a dual-purpose motorcycle – as evidenced by the high exhaust. The air-intake was positioned up high too, allowing the bike – so they claimed – to be ridden across streams with most of the engine under water. It had an engine of 89cc and produced a mighty 5kW. It had a 4-speed gearbox with an automatic clutch. Note that this is not the same as the CVT type transmissions we might be used to in scooters: this is a normal gearbox – so you still have to change gears – but the clutch is “automatic”, working on a centrifugal principle. The clutch engages when the engine revs above idle. When idling, the clutch is not engaged, so the bike doesn’t move. To change gear you quickly back off the throttle, which momentarily disengages the clutch, press the gear-lever in the required direction, then open the throttle again. In 1980 it was replaced by the CT110, which was basically the same bike with a slightly larger engine. It had a capacity of 105cc and developed about 6kW.
THE POSTIES ON THEIR ROUNDS
I remember a couple of my former music pupils who were posties. They told me stories of their day-to-day routines, which involved dodging hazards like over-protective dogs, wayward cats, angry residents, mail-boxes positioned in impossible-to-get-at locations, cars reversing out of driveways without looking, and so on. There were the joys of riding on warm sunny days, but also the misery of riding when it was cold and rainy and the bike was sinking to the rims along muddy footpaths. They told of skinny tyres skidding on wet grass, being slapped in the face by wet tree branches, and all that sort of fun. I remember at one time the mail headquarters for our area was re-located to a suburb a few kilometres away. Reaching it involved a bit of highway running, and one postie told of hammering the little Hondas along the highway at full throttle, doing about 80kph, almost being rear-ended by cars and trucks, and being blown around by the aerodynamics of a couple of huge mail-bags flapping on the sides. And all of this on those skinny little tyres. It sounded scary! “They’re just not suitable for highway running!” He said. I remember the other pupil telling me about the training sessions she (yes, “she”) had to go on. These sessions involved some basic maintenance, like changing a spark-plug, but also doing a bit of stunt-riding! She said they had to get the bike underway then move to a position of kneeling on the seat, while they continued riding along the training area (which was a deserted road). Just why they would need this particular skill wasn’t clear – to either me or the postie.
GOOD BUSINESS FOR HONDA
Honda did very well out of this, of course. Australia Post sends the bikes off to auction after 25,000km or 3 years. (I’ve been told that in some areas the replacement happens at 30,000km). There are currently around 7,000 of the little bikes delivering mail around the country, so that’s an average of at least 2,300 sales Honda can bank on making every year. No wonder they end up being Australia’s top-selling bike!
CHANGING THE STEED
In 2013 Australia Post began changing horses. They stuck with Honda, but changed models. Why, is not totally clear. I was told that Honda aren’t making the CT110s any more, but I haven’t been able to confirm this. Australia Post say that the new bikes are more fuel-efficient, so maybe that’s the reason – not that they could complain about the CT110 being a gas-guzzler! In any case, when looking for a replacement Australia Post needed a bike with no clutch and an engine positioned towards the front of the bike. If the motor was towards the rear of the bike, as with most scooters, when they added the mail-bags there’d be a heap of weight on the back wheel and nothing on the front – which would make for some interesting riding! And if there was a clutch, the posties would need two left hands – one to hold the clutch in and one to poke the letters in the box. Not to mention the wear-and-tear on clutch cables – they’d be worn out in a fortnight! So with those requirements there was really only one bike that fitted the bill – the Super Cub 110. Electric-start provided a bit of extra convenience for the rider, and a bright new colour scheme (not red!), including flouro-coloured mail-bags, greatly increased the visibility, making it safer for the postie riding the footpaths and suburban streets.
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN
If you think that the new bike looks just like those iconic old Honda 50 step-throughs you remember from the 1960s, you’d be right. The current Super Cub is a direct descendant from the little machines pictured in the ad that told us we’d “Meet, the nicest people on a Honda”. The Super Cub was first introduced in 1958, although the “Super” prefix wasn’t added until 1960. Since then it has been produced in 50cc, 70cc, 90cc, 100cc and now 110cc versions. At the time of writing (late 2014), well over 60 million have been produced. During this time the bike has seen some refinements; especially in the engine department, with the current version boasting overhead-cam, fuel-injection, and electric-start. The current Super Cub 110 engine is 109cc, and produces 6kW. There’s the same 4-speed gearbox with automatic clutch as fitted to the CT110. It weighs just 99kg (dry). A recall by Honda for a fuel-pump issue soon after Australia Post began using them delayed the changeover a bit, so it was 2014 before most areas saw the new bikes coming down the footpaths. Then there were little things like the side-stand spring: the knob where the spring hooks around on the end of the side-stand was very small, which allowed the spring to come off. Australia Post’s answer was to secure the spring to the stand with cable-ties. (And that was what had been done to the bike I saw). That’s poor design for something that’s been around for 50 years! Although, as I said, it isn’t made by the same people. (The photo on the left, by the way, is just a stock photo, not from the postie I spoke to). Another issue was with the kick-start lever. (Yes, they’re electric-start, but the kick-start lever is still fitted). From the factory it is fitted in a vertical position, which makes it very easy to bump with your leg if you have your feet on the ground. And if you happen to bump it, that puts the bike in gear: a bit dangerous if you don’t particularly want it to go into gear at that moment! The answer, for many riders, is to re-position the lever so that it is more horizontal and not likely to be bumped. Another potential hazzard is the centre-stand, which has a long lever-type piece poking out. That makes it easy to get your foot on to swing it down, but it’s not far behind the foot-peg and the postie said that some riders were getting their leg smacked by it, or getting their leg wedged between the bar and a wall etc. when they pulled in close to a letter-box. As mentioned earlier, the new Cubs come with fuel-injection, but this brought criticism from the postie too. He said they were a bit jerky off the idle, so not as smooth as the old carby engines when taking off: not good for a bike that is stopping and starting all day! He said several riders had found that they were spinning the back wheel on take-off in the wet, (especially on grass I suppose, as some footpaths still are), with some having come off as the bike spun sideways. “Brakes are terrible!” He said. “Very spongy”. He showed me how the lever could be pulled all the way back to the handlebar. Yet, despite this, he said it was very easy to lock the front wheel, especially in the wet.
SAD TO SEE THEM GO?
Now I must stress that this was just one rider’s opinion – although he did cite examples of complaints from others as well. It’s a familiar story I suppose. We often see new models being released that, while displaying many advances, have changes that are not necessarily all for the better. It’s interesting to look back at the history of the iconic CTs, as well as the Super Cub that has replaced them. The CT110s have become such an icon that it’s kind of sad to see them go. And it seems the posties aren’t all that enthused by their replacement either. But despite that, no doubt we, and the posties, will get used to the new little flouro machines delivering our mail.
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