No tiny steel bears in sight!
Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Yamaha took a stab at making a Super Cub? It’s probably the farthest possible thing from a wild and baseless idea. After all, a lot of motorcycle industry innovation was driven in the past by manufacturers of each era feeling a deep-seated need for one-upmanship. Japan’s Big Four, in particular, constantly riffed off of each other’s ideas, taking whatever came first and putting a new spin on it.
Take, for example, Honda’s decades-long reign as manufacturer of the world’s most popular bike. After Honda first introduced the Super Cub in 1958, it was only a few years later that Suzuki and then Yamaha followed down the underbone, pressed-steel-frame path to scooterette glory. Suzuki went first, offering a two-stroke Super Cub answer in the form of the M30 Suzy, a two-stroke 50cc beast that burst onto Japan’s scene in 1963 and later paddled quite a long way to the UK in 1966.
You can read a bunch more about the M30 Suzy, and its eventual evolution through the 1970s into the F and FR-series scoots, via this excellent Iceni CAM Mag piece about all the Cub copycats. What we’re really here to talk about today, though, is the Yamaha TownMate.
The TownMate is the final incarnation of Yamaha’s multi-generational stab at Super Cub-style greatness. Like the Super Cub, it featured a four-stroke, single-cylinder engine. It also came in two different displacements: the T50, which was a 50cc bike, and the T80, which was a slightly more powerful 79cc bike.
Unlike either the Super Cub or the Suzuki M30 and subsequent Suzuki versions, both tiny TownMates also had a shaft drive. Our very own noted Yamaha enthusiast, Director Jason, called it “the most and least surprising thing from Yamaha I’ve ever seen.”
TownMates were once readily available in the UK, Japan, Australia, and other places outside the U.S. In the UK, they were sold as new until 1997, although very little changed from the time they were first introduced in 1983. The fuel tank sits neatly underneath the saddle, tucked away inside the steel frame. The four-speed, semi-automatic gearbox is shifted via a left-foot control, and all of them have a kick start. It’s simple, honest transportation around town, as long as you don’t need to get anywhere too quickly.
This TownMate T80 restoration video series from YouTube channel Mech It Better takes you through a complete teardown of one that has a pretty solid frame. It even runs OK once they sort out a few issues, including one induced by a homemade paper gasket that isn’t quite thick enough to do the job. Sadly, the series is not yet complete, so you and we will have to subscribe if we want to see how it all turns out.