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Hero Honda Street: Gone But Not Forgotten
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Hero Honda Street: Gone But Not Forgotten

The iconic ‘You meet the nicest people on a Honda’ slogan was coined for the Honda Cub, the step-through that came to India as the Street

Sirish Chandran

What you’re looking at is the highest-selling bike in the world. Wait, scratch that. What you’re looking at in the highest selling motorised vehicle of all time. A bike that many claim to be the best in the world. The bike that made Honda what it is today. And India, the largest two-wheeler market in the world, can proudly claim to have added exactly… nothing to the 100 million or so Honda Cubs that have been sold since 1958. Strange are the ways of the Indian buyer!

India got the Cub in 1997, christened Street, and it went up against the only other step-thru in the market, the Bajaj M80 — itself inspired by the Cub and the Pearl Yamaha and boasting of a desirability factor of precisely zero. The Street was actually the third step-thru you could buy. A month prior, Kinetic, a major player back then, launched their own reverse-engineered Cub. Editor Adil tells me that Nana Patekar launched the K4-100 and the second time they tried to kick it to life the lever broke… an accurate representation of where quality had headed after Kinetic bailed out of their scooter joint venture with Honda.

The Hero Honda Street had no such problems. It had an electric start in the days when not having to kick your bike was so decadent the socialists would call for a general strike to protest against it. Even more amazingly, it had that rotary gearbox with a centrifugal clutch that not only eliminated the need for a clutch to engage gears but from fourth you could go straight to first making it easy-peasy to ride. And it was super-reliable, the precise reason why millions were buying it around the world. The Street got the same ‘Fill it, shut it, forget it’ engine from the CD100 and Splendor — but rather than the motorcycle donating its engine, truth of the matter is that the sloper engine was originally designed to fit under the frame of the Cub (hence the underbone monicker) and allowing for a lady in a skirt (or saree) to ride it. Except in India, women in sarees had yet to get astride bikes in a big way and the men who had only just begun lapping up motorcycles couldn’t fathom how a decidedly unmanly strep-thru was just two grand cheaper than the Splendor. And that was that for the Street, cannibalised by its own stablemate, the Splendor, that went on to set world records for the highest sales in a year and consequently making Hero the largest manufacturer of two-wheelers in the world.