Honda Anniversary and Buddhist Meditation

This year is an anniversary year for Honda, Soichiro's crew are celebrating the 55th year of producing the venerable Honda Cub step-thru with a special limited-edition motorcycle.

Since its launch in 1958, Honda has built more than 85 million Super Cub C100s and the firm is producing 1500 Anniversary Little Cubs (the 50cc version of the Super Cub) to celebrate this achievement. This “sadly” Japanese-market-only special edition comes in Black or Fighting Red, with red rims, black hubs, chrome side panels and commemorative decals.

One has to ask what lies behind the little Honda's unprecedented longevity. European rivals such as the Bantam aren't in the same league. Perhaps the answer lies in Zen meditation, Soichiro Honda, the Cub's designer, was in the habit of meditating at Buddhist shrines to clear his mind and get inspired by ancient ideals. By contrast, the guys at BSA, which was at the time one of the largest motorcycle manufacturers, pondering how to turn their war-booty two-stroke German engine design into a doughty utility machine, used nothing more mind-expanding than strong char and roll-ups.
The Honda Super Cub is not the only way in which Soichiro's Buddhist meditation has changed Western civilization. He achieved it in a far more philosophical way via another of his designs – the 305cc Honda Superhawk. This was the machine that inspired Pirsig to write “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Previously, Pirsig had scraped a living writing at college. There he had suffered a severe mental breakdown and, following the breakdown, he had become convinced that he was an enlightened Zen disciple.

But Pirsig had sufficient grip on reality to realize that declaring this fact publicly would get him locked up again. Instead, he devised a two-wheeled way to spread his ideas. In 1968 he started writing a book based around a 17-day road trip from Minnesota to the Dakotas on his 1964 Honda Superhawk with his son Chris on pillion. 'It was a compulsive thing,' he recalled. 'I wanted to write about motorcycling because I was having such fun doing it, and it grew organically from there.'

The 28 horsepower Honda Superhawk may seem an odd start point for meditating on the meaning of the universe. But, as anyone who ever sat in their incense-hazed teenage bedroom struggling through the book's windy perambulations will recall, the Honda Superhawk's elegantly-pared mechanicals provide the keystone for Pirsig's ideas about true Zen quality. This he contrasted with his riding pal's flashily leisure-oriented and very un-Zen BMW.

Pirsig's mash-up of Haynes Manual and Tibetan Book Of The Dead was not an instant success. It is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most rejected book ever to become a bestseller, finally hitting the shelves in 1974 after 121 rejection slips and sold five million copies. The author still reportedly owns the original Honda – it is believed to languish in one of his sheds. In 1981 he offered the Honda Superhawk to be used in a still-born project to make a film of the book, though he admitted that it was in need of some maintenance.Tag: Honda Soichiro Honda Super-Cub Buddhist Superhawk Zen Step-Thru Celebrating Anniversary Special-Edition Production
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