Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Three Wheels of Death: 1972 Honda ATC-90

I think for most of us, our first experience with wheeled transportation that we could control was the ubiquitous red tricycle.  For the truly lucky, it was the Big Wheel (I think Ken Block must have had one of the ones with the handbrake). But, did you know, that three wheeler was actually waiting to kill you?  You were lucky you didn't taste death right there. It's a miracle we all managed to survive.  Find this 1972 Honda ATC-90 for sale in Tacoma, WA for $750 via craigslist.

The ATC 90 was designed by Osamu Takeuchi in the late 60's as something for U.S. Honda dealers to sell during the slow winter months for motorcycle sales.  It was powered by an enlarged version of the 4 cycle motor that powered the Honda ST70 minibike, punching out 7hp.  It began sales in the U.S. in 1970, equipped with low pressure tires instead of a suspension, 4 speed automatic transmission and swiveling handlebars with a dead man's throttle instead of a traditional twist grip motorcycle throttle.  All for the introductory price of $595.


It was upgraded and sold in many different versions: a small frame 70cc version for kids, a 200cc version with a reverse gear for farmers and a mad version fitted with a 250 cc two stoke from a Honda Motocross bike (my personal favorite).  The other major Japanese manufacturers also sold 3 wheeled ATV's as well.  This bike is an early ATC-90 with the oh so apt for the early 70's Aquarius Blue paint and original balloon tires made from unobtanium.


Due to its three wheeled nature, the ATC required a rider to move their body around on the trike like a sidecar monkey and sometimes counter steer by applying opposite lock in order not to tip over.  My first intro to the joys of opposite lock was riding my uncle's ATC in a gravel pit in Ketchikan Alaska.  Due to its unique cornering technique and the fact that the ATC could be ridden by someone who had never ridden a motorcycle or even a bike, it was singled out by the safety crowd that appointed itself "your keeper" on its mission to eliminate all risk from society.  Along with its partners in crime, the trial lawyers, they were able to convince the U.S. Justice Department to outlaw the sales of 3 wheeled ATV's in 1988 and shake the manufacturers down for $100 million to finance a Consumer Product Safety Commission campaign to buy up all remaining 3 wheelers and spare parts. 


See a better way to thumb your nose at the Consumer Product Safety Commission? email us here: tips@dailyturismo.com

Gianni is Daily Turismo's Pacific Northwest Correspondent.  He rode an ATC once and has since been able to live a complete and happy life and bring you this post.

18 comments:

  1. Yeah, the CPSC and 'Diamonds are Forever' and having owned one of these as a kid is almost enough reason to have it around, though I can't imagine actually USING it.

    When you take your ten-year-old horse-riding daughter out on a quad, and she gets mad at you and takes off across the dunes at a speed that is scaring the crap out of you to try to keep up with, your thoughts rotate between:

    1) I'm gonna kill her
    2) She's gonna kill herself
    3) Damn, she's good
    4) Back to (1)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. That .049 powered ATC is cool. Brings back memories of the distinctive sound & smell of the .049 engine. I feel like I should go out and by an .049 just so my kids can see, hear and smell one running...

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    2. You need the Cox .049 Meyers Manx, or maybe the original Jerobee Cox-powered 1/12-scale McLaren M8.

      Oh God, I"m having a castor-oil flashback.

      Delete
    3. And here I've just been thinking about bringing out the old American Flyer train hardware for Christmas this year...you're causing me TROUBLE, I say....

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    4. I had the Cox PT-19 Trainer and the Cox free flight Sky Copter heli with an .020 engine in it as a kid. Man I wish I still had them...

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    5. I have a picture of me holding the Cox P-51 for Christmas1970. I killed it the first time I flew it. Don't think I ever had the PT-19, but we did go through some 'profile' balsa kits - slab wings, slab fuselage - that survived admirably.

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    6. The PT-19 was cool, held together by rubber bands. When you augured in, it just flew apart and you could put it back together and fly it again without waiting for glue to dry.

      Delete
  2. shotgun!

    [img]http://images.jungleredwriters.com/uploaded_images/RRyder-768045.jpg[/img]

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    Replies
    1. Well, BB gun. Had a couple of those, too. Lined up on a grasshopper outside the house of some friends of my parents, pulled the trigger, the BB hit the tree behind the grasshopper and ricocheted forty degrees to the left and broke their kitchen window.

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    2. when i was maybe 12, my pal SJ and i decided it would be fun to shoot clay pigeons with my Red Ryder and a lightbulb in his backyard - "pull!" i shouted and he chucked it as high as he could - i never expected to hit the darn thing, much less on the first shot, nor that it would shatter into a thousand pieces, nor that his dad would be coming out the back door at that exact moment - we spent the next hour picking shards of glass out of the lawn with needlenose pliers

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    3. ...you'll shoot your eye out kid. Merry Christmas.

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  3. I just gave my 1983 Big Red 200cc three wheeler to my brother and his kids as an early Christmas present. I wasn't riding it because, frankly, it rides horribly. This was a similar model - relying on balloon tires for suspension.

    I'm holding out on an '86 350x. It still amazes me how many people think these are illegal, or more dangerous than riding a bicycle.

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  4. We moved to a relatively rural area of Indiana when I was in the 6th grade and not long after, I got an ATC 110 to share with my Dad. I drove it daily to deliver news papers. We upgraded to the 185 (which later became the Big Red") and finally upgraded that one to a fully suspended 200x. I delivered papers on mine all through school until I started my first job, and then I rode it back and forth to there until I got my first car. My friends with minibikes and snowmobiles all made fun of my "tricycle" until they noticed I got to ride mine all year long, and soon they had them too. Lot's of great memories on them and no one was every seriously injured. Any crashes were all of the sort that would have happened to any kid riding atop anything with an engine and testing the limits of physics. Honda ATC's play a role in nearly everyone of my great childhood memories.

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  5. When i lived over seas had to make my own fuel for 0.49 those PT-19 trained you to buy more parts rubber bands or not.

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    Replies
    1. Around my neck of the woods it was Cox or K&B, and 5%, 10%, or 25% nitro IIRC.

      Delete
  6. This from the LA Times in 1987: The senior managing director of the Honda Motor Co. began weeping on the witness stand Wednesday when an attorney gave him a list containing 789 names of victims--about half of them children--who have died in accidents involving all-terrain vehicles like those built by his company.
    So maybe there was a problem....

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  7. Had one of these little blue ones for my son when he was about 4. Smartest thing we did? No. But he didn't die.

    I, too, had an ATC 110 with "wooly booger" tires (snow paddles) and graduated to a Big Red. We rolled them, ran into barbed wire fences, end over ended them in sand pits, and lord knows how many other idiotic stunts. However, we all lived (there were a few fractured collar bones acquired by the kamikaze's on the 200's).

    I have been hurt riding far more "safe" vehicles. In the end, it's not the vehicle, it's the loose nut behind the wheel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I felt nervous enough getting my daughter on a four-wheel ATV at age 9, and I'm not exactly a helicopter parent.

      As related above, she left me a nervous wreck AND failed to die so I still have to deal with her.

      (the above is intended to be humor)

      But then she's spent a fair amount of time on horses, a little less in karts and quarter-midgets, so she's not completely clueless.

      Delete

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