Even Pit Bikes are cool at Laguna Seca

Emmet White

The Rolex Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca Raceway is a car enthusiast’s dream. Everything from bellowing Trans-Am V8 racers to an actual BMW M1 and Mazda’s howling 787B can be found in the paddock, and you can admire them from inches away. If you’re lucky, a friendly neighborhood runner might even let you take a closer look inside.

Of course, those folks giving you a glimpse of their cars are actually driving the 2.2-mile road course for multiple sessions a day. Such races take their toll on the car and the bodywork, and getting around the big paddock isn’t always easy. Fortunately, a solution to this problem was created years ago, something we like to call the pit bike. Pit bikes are typically small electric or gas-powered motorcycles or scooters that allow racers, mechanics and officials to move seamlessly around the track. Any track event you attend – from popular drifting to official IMSA races – will have an omnipresence of pit bikes humming at 10 mph. Of course, historic Laguna Seca races are no different, but pit bikes are following the Monterey Car Week trend.

These bikes are exquisite—a brilliant show of low-CC utility build. Given the nature of the event and the associated nostalgia, it’s no surprise that some of the most interesting examples have been Hondas, which were marketed widely in the 20th century. Let’s take a look at some of the weekend’s top picks.

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Sitting in the paddock next to a Shelby Cobra, this Honda CT70 belonged to Randy, a Southern California elevator inspector who spends his free time restoring these little Hondas. After restoring a shed full of CT70s, Randy arrived at Laguna Seca with just two of the 72cc models, intending to sell them both.

Often known as the Trail 70, Honda began producing this bike in the summer of 1969, following the release of what became its hero bike – the CB750. It produced all 6 hp from its single-cylinder engine, weighed 150 pounds, and was priced at $395. That’s $3,180 in 2022 money, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator.

Honda introduced these bikes as a sort of entry-level incentive for new riders to join the motorcycling ranks. It was light and easy to drive, with a capable engine, a three-speed semi-automatic or four-speed manual transmission, and a simplistic mechanical makeup. Produced from 1969 through 1982, the first batch of CT70s accounted for 380,000 sales, with the bike returning for model years 1991 through 1994.

These days, Honda’s mini-bike creation is riding the nostalgia bandwagon for baby boomers and Gen X riders, who remember the joy of owning a lightweight piece of simple transportation. Selling prices have skyrocketed as restorations like the one seen here sell for over $10,000. Honda has also caught on to this trend and reintroduced modern versions of its most popular models, such as the Trail 125 and Super Cub.

Ah, the Honda Spree is arguably the pinnacle of retro mopeds. This particular model came with a Washington racing team with a 1961 Cooper T56 – talk about polar opposites! With a rear top case and some flamboyant paint required, the Honda Spree was this team’s transportation to lunch and back.

Similar to Honda’s CT series motorcycles, the Honda Spree was the company’s entry-level moped, featuring a 50cc two-stroke engine and single-speed belt drive. Getting a Spree to go beyond 30 mph in stock was dodgy, and the model was even sold in states like Iowa with a mandatory 25 mph speed limiter. The Spree was priced similar to the CT70, reaching $395 during its 1984–1987 run, although the difference in inflation shows this model to be reasonably priced at $1100 in today’s money .

The Spree was built as crudely as possible, meaning it only weighed around 90 pounds. It has drum brakes front and rear with just 2 inches of suspension travel, although the Spree has rarely seen more than city streets. A cult following followed the Spree, as the solid paint colors, boxy styling and ease of use made the moped a retro choice for urban commuters. The Spree received aftermarket adjustments, although the single-speed transmission and brake hardware made it difficult to increase the power of the Spree.

For future Spree owners, these mopeds remained largely affordable. Because the modding margin is slim and it was originally marketed as the cheapest mode of transportation money can buy, these models will go for around $2,000, if you can find one. The Spree was only sold in the United States for four years.

By far, the Honda Cub EZ90 was the most prolific pit bike found at Laguna Seca. Everyone from dressed-up riders to officials with helmets could be seen riding these jet-ski-like mopeds. What’s even more interesting is that the Cubs seen here are technically part of the family that includes the legendary Super Cub and CT series models, even though you wouldn’t know it by looking at them.

The Honda Cub EZ90 follows the path of the CT70 and Spree, in that it has focused on a ride that is accessible to everyone. What sets the EZ90 apart from these bikes is that it was explicitly designed for off-road use, which ended up making it a more affordable pit bike. With a 90cc single-cylinder engine, automatic transmission and electric start, the EZ90 was a technological feat when it was introduced in 1991. Honda wrapped all the mechanicals in the bike’s plastics, adding to the user-friendly nature for the beginners of the package. Again, drum brakes are front and rear, but a suspension travel aid (3.9 inches front and 4.3 inches rear) made this more capable scooter over bumps and even the occasional off-road path.

What really makes the Cub EZ90 fascinating is its style and design that invite adventure. It looks like a Dakar scooter and that made the model popular with families who weren’t ready for a full motorcycle. Maybe a full-size bike, with a kick start and hand controls, seemed like too much, but the Cub could be taken in the back of your truck and ridden around the campground for family fun. Interestingly, the EZ90’s off-road prowess wasn’t just a marketing scheme. It came equipped with knobby tires, handguards and extra suspension travel.

These days, a Cub EZ90 has become a hot commodity and sold on Bring A Trailer for over $9,000. It’s a pretty penny for a 90cc scooter, but the nostalgic design mixed with its flashy engineering makes it a collector’s item. Who knew Laguna Seca was paradise for rare scooters?

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Custom Honda CT70 212cc

Back at Randy’s paddock, we found an outlier in the pit bike brigade – a custom. While most motorcycles are preserved originals or simple beaters, this bike was a custom built and modified Honda CT70. Even at a glance, it’s clear that this CT70 isn’t like other production models, but the real engineering genius is in parts that aren’t immediately obvious.

Replacing the 72cc engine with a bored-out 212cc single-cylinder version, the custom model is nearly all new, even the dash and footpegs. Modern lighting has been fitted to this version—a major pain, Randy says—in addition to a new seat and miniature suspension bars. What’s really cool about the modified model is its suspension setup: inverted front forks with a monoshock rear setup bring the senile 1970s into modern times. A bigger disc brake and meaty tires were integral to this build, given that it can now reach almost 90 mph.

Randy said all that stress can actually bend the bike frame, so extra suspension stiffening is a necessity. After sorting out the mechanics, a black and white snakeskin paint scheme was chosen – appropriately reminiscent of the 80s – and the number plate was relocated. While it may not be original and certainly overkill as a pit bike, it’s a wonderful example of just how big the aftermarket is for these little machines.

Tucked behind a vintage BMW racer, this Honda SL100 is probably one of the oldest pit bikes in historic racing. Unlike the cars around it, the SL100 is one of the most basic motorcycles ever produced, which is what makes it so great. Originally produced as an off-road enduro motorcycle, the SL100 is street-legal and helped create a class of motorcycles called farm bikes.

These little dual-sport enduro CC bikes are dirt bikes with a few extra gear and lights, and they’re fun. Thanks to a basic design and the absence of fairings, these bikes were kept light and often had generous suspension travel, equipping them for just about anything. Sure, the SL100 was first built in 1970, so technology has come a long way since then, but that doesn’t mean this 99cc single-cylinder four-stroke bike can’t excel at paddock hauling. .

Unlike many pit bikes shown today, the SL100 can actually hold its own on the road, as long as traffic isn’t too fast. With a 5-speed manual transmission and a speedometer of up to 80 mph, the SL100 was equipped for 1970s rural driving, but probably wouldn’t keep up or slow down fast enough for 21st century California roads. That’s why it’s exciting to see such a pristine model preserved as a pit bike.

Separating from others means lower prices. Due to its relatively old technology and lack of real-world use, the price of the SL100 hasn’t risen too much, with examples selling on Bring A Trailer for around $3,000.

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