What gets people into riding? Is it the feeling of wind in your face, a bike beneath you, and the freedom that comes with it?
For us, part of that feeling is the sounds of a motorcycle. Of starting a bike, and feeling its engine purr to life. Of revving it, and hearing its full power at your fingertips. Your bike roars down the freeway, in a tunnel, or pulling into town announcing your presence. (Or even hearing your garage door magically open, triggered by a flick of your high-beams?)
That may not be your day-to-day ride, but that’s the mystique of the sound of a motorcycle. People know what a bike sounds like, and it may scare, inspire, or even annoy them, but they recognize it.
And, since the early days of riding, musicians have tried to capture the feeling and sound of motorcycles in their music. To some, music and motorcycles are inseparable. We want to dive into some of the more notable songs inspired by and about motorcycles.
Beach Boys’ “Little Honda”
“Little Honda” is a song by the Beach Boys, released on their 1964 album “All Summer Long.” Unlike most of their other songs that focused on cars, girls, and the beach, this song focused on a motorbike. That’s right, not a motorcycle, “just a groovy little motorbike.”
The presentation of the motorcycle in this song is interesting for several reasons. The Beach Boys, an all-American, blonde hair and blue-eyed band, didn’t sing about an American bike. They sang about a Japanese bike.
The Honda 50, also called the Super Cub, has been in continuous production since 1958. It looks more like a moped than a motorcycle, especially by today’s standards. But, it fit right into Honda’s ad campaign: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” In fact, while the song may not have been paid for by an ad agency, it sounds like it could have been written by one: “I’m gonna take a ride with you/We’re going down to the Honda shop, I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do.”
Unlike later in the 60s, as Easy Rider and a grittier view of motorcycles took over, the early-60s perception of a motorbike was very much fueled by Honda’s entry into American markets. They focused on a lighter, fun (“more fun than a barrel of monkeys”) bike that appealed to pop culture icons like the Beach Boys – Harleys stayed towards the fringe.
The light, bouncy song even describes why they like the Honda so much: it’s light, it’s fun, it’s fast, and it’s groovy. The Beach Boys even contrast their Honda with a different motorcycle brand: the Matchless. An old, British motorcycle maker, Matchless made bikes that looked very much like a standard (and heavy) motorcycle. To a bunch of teenagers in the early 60s, why would you need all that weight? The light Honda goes just as fast, and takes turns just as well if not better.
It may not be the most famous motorcycle song, or even the most representative of bikers, but “Little Honda” gives us a snapshot of a weird, liminal time in motorcycle history. Harley hadn’t shaken its old, stuffy image yet, and the “cool” motorcycle was a bubbly, groovy Honda.