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Honda introduced the Z50 line of trail bikes in 1967 as a replacement for the older Z100 series. They produced variations on the original Z50M model which were small, lightweight and portable, until 1999 . The simplicity and ruggedness of the Z50 line made it an affordable and long-lasting option for enthusiasts who wanted a good first bike or a cheap off-road option.
The first Z50 was the Z50M, released in 1967 and sold new only in Canada. The 49-cubic-centimeter OHV single cylinder engine was air-cooled. It was a small vehicle with five-inch wheels, a squat body and low seat height. It also featured folding handlebars. Owners could store and transport it in the back seat of a mid-sized car. Its three-speed automatic transmission made it easier for novice riders to operate. Its gas tank and fenders were white.
The 1968 Z50A was available in either red or yellow with chrome fenders and white trim on the gas tank. Later models became available with blue, gold and orange color choices. The engine, transmission and size of the bike did not deviate from the original Z50M design until 1972. In that year the company redesigned the chassis, but it remained small and portable. Minor changes to the shape and materials in the grips and levers also took place and decals became a permanent feature. These decals typically displayed the manufacturer's logo and the model number of the bike. The Z50A was discontinued in 1978.
The Z50R, made from 1979 to 1999, was only available in "Tahitian Red" during its first two production years. It showed some significant changes in design, including a new OHC single cylinder engine and an exhaust pipe on the left instead of the right. In 1984 the engine changed again to a OHC four-stroke, 2-valve single cylinder engine. This was uncommon for small bikes, which usually featured two-stroke motors. The 1984 model also featured full front and rear suspension. The Z50R retained its carburetor until the bike's discontinuation in 1999, while other bike designs began to adopt fuel injection.
Z50RD'86 Special and Z50J
Short-lived variants on the current Z50 line also came out. These included the 1975 Z50J and the 1986 Z50RD. The Z50J introduced eight-inch wheels and a full front and rear suspension to the design, features most Z50 models adopted in the years that followed. The shiny Z50RD was mostly covered in chrome. This set it apart from previous Z50 models, which typically had chrome finish relegated to their fenders and other small parts. It also differed from the standard Z50R, which was only available in red that year.
Rob Callahan lives in Minneapolis, where he covers style, culture and the arts for Vita.MN and "l'étoile Magazine." His work has earned awards in the fields of journalism, social media and the arts. Callahan graduated from Saint Cloud State University in 2001 with a Bachelor's degree in philosophy.