Motorcycles + Surfing: Wave Arcade CT90

Honda CT90 Surf Bike

There’s something that just feels right about the combination of old motorcycles and surfing. Maybe it’s the freedom of it, maybe it’s the feel, I don’t know, but I do know it feels right.

There’s plenty of motorcycle/surf brands and companies that do some pretty cool stuff with it – off the top of my head:

The Dues custom builds with surf racks built into them are some of the coolest bikes I’ve ever seen.

I’ve also flipped through plenty of blogs and forum posts that document somebody’s motorcycle surf trips through Mexico or exploring empty central and southern American beaches. It’s the coolest thing ever.

For as long as I’ve been interested in motorcycles, I’ve always wanted to use one to go surfing. Only recently did I chase that dream, and I’ve realized that it fits in with all the vibes and goals of the Wave Arcade project – mostly rad and sustainable-minded among other things.

Honda CT90 – The Original Dual Sport

Honda CT90 K0
1966 Honda CT90 K0

The first motorcycle I restored was a 1970 Honda CB750. Next was a quick fix-up of a 1980-something KZ440 that had been sitting behind my landlord’s garage in Salt Lake City for a decade. And then a partial rat-build of a 1970-something KZ650 before I had to move.

I was too much of a novice in both riding and wrenching motorcycles when I had the 750, and I sold it right before I moved to SLC. The next two bikes were in Utah for the entire time I had them, so not much surfing to be had. I had originally planned to bring the KZ650 back with me to complete my chopper-surf bike build in San Diego, but I had to let it go.

That left me with 3 old motorcycles and 0 motorcycle-surfmobiles. I had put the idea out of my head at that point, and motorcycles were not top of mind.

As luck would have it, eventually my girlfriend pretty much told me I just had to get a motorcycle – specifically a Honda CT90. (sarcastic, but based on true story).

I started looking on Craigslist, where I was pleased to find a variety of reasonably priced CT90s in various conditions. The reasonably priced part was a nice surprise being in Southern California and all.

After a couple weeks of monitoring the listings, a real nice, non-running CT popped up nearby for a few hundred bucks. I rented a truck (though I could have fit it in my Jetta if I really wanted, more on that later) and picked it up.

This thing was a little patina’d and worn in places, but had all its original parts. I cleaned it up and got it running pretty quickly. It wasn’t my first rodeo after all.

But, my over confidence may have gotten the best of me, and for various reasons the complete rebuild process consisted of the following steps:

  • Pulling and splitting the engine 4 separate times.
  • Pushing the bike for a few miles after the clutch broke, Ubering home, driving back to the bike, taking the bike apart, and loading it into my Jetta.
  • Pushing the bike home again after testing it around the neighborhood with a discharged battery.
  • Limping home again because I let the battery drain.

Now, fingers crossed, all the issues are taken care of and I’ve got my self a killer surf bike. So, with mechanical stuff aside I’ll get to the surf-bikey part.

The CT90 is a pretty cool bike. The origin story goes something like this: sometime in the early 60s, the head of Honda America was noticing a surprisingly large number of Honda Cubs being sold in rural Idaho. This was strange, due to the fact that the cub was more suited for city or on-road use. It turns out, the dealer in Idaho had been outfitting the Cub for off-road and trail use to go hunting. News of this made its way back to Honda, and the Trail Cub was born.

It was the first motorcycle to introduce an engine guard as part of its designed. It included a dual sprocket and later a dual sub-transmission for steep hill climbing. The bike came with knobby tires, and was designed in a way that it could ride through a pretty deep body of water and come out unharmed.

Weighing in at about 200lbs and featuring a step-through frame makes the Trail 90 super easy to whip around on the trail. The gallon-ish gas tanks gets you a little over 100 miles. On top of all that – it’s a super easy bike to work on. You could have the engine out and split in under 30 minutes if you know what you’re doing. You can rebuild the thing with only a handful of tools.

The CT90 Surf Bike

After learning more about the CT90 and getting to know the one I had purchased, it was becoming clear that it may just be the perfect surf bike – locally for sure. I’m not sure I would choose it for a motorcycle surf trek down the coast of Central America, but who knows?

The stock Trail 90 already has some ideal qualities for a surf bike:

  • It’s light-weight and small – making getting to and parking at your preferred surf spots easy.
  • It has built in mounting points for surf racks and luggage.
  • It’s semi-automatic, meaning you’ve pretty much got one free hand if you need it. (e.g. to steady your board in the wind).

It’s not the fastest bike – probably topping out at 60mph downhill or on a long flat stretch with a tail wind, but I’m not really interested in speed with a surf-bike.

Here’s how I took the stock CT to surf bike:

  • Added some motorcycle surf racks from Moved By Bikes, a Santa Cruz based surf rack company that makes some high-quality products.
  • Bolted an Ammo Can to the rear luggage rack and added a padlock so I could store and lock any valuables while I’m in the water.
  • Added some soft pannier racks for things like towels, wetsuit, wax, etc.
Motorcycle Surf Cargo Setup
All the surf-cargo room you need.

And that’s pretty much it. 3 simple additions and we’ve got the very first Wave Arcade Motorcycle Surfmobile.

I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but I think something like this fits right into the sustainability values of the Wave Arcade project. Here’s why.

Old bikes like this – ones that are not running, but otherwise intact – are well built, rugged machines. With only a little work and a few replacement parts, I was able to take something that would either end up in a landfill or sit in a field forever, avoiding having to purchase something new, and reviving an old thing that still has plenty of useful life. Not to mention, the CT90 is far more fuel efficient that my car.

And all of this was achieved for probably less than $900 bucks overall and less than 8 hours of work. That’s a killer deal for a surfmobile.

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