Was this scooter too cool for its own good? And other thoughts on a memorable step-through.
It may not have been a wild success but its spirit lives on. Honda often rolled the dice on designs that raised eyebrows but with the Helix they may have nailed it. The Honda Helix was a futuristic and an eye-catching scooter in the mid 1980s. Nothing else looked like it amid the generics wallowing in the small scooter landscape of the “me” decade.
Dare we say it? The Helix was a cool scooter before scooters became cool, which was years later. I know whereof I speak. My garage had a scooter in the 1980s. I’m still not sure why. It was an odd addition and sat around not doing much. It had two wheels, which should have made it tempting but it was … a scooter. A red Yamaha Beluga to be exact and it was, as far as I can remember, the only scooter in the interior region of British Columbia where we made our home. There might have been another, but I never saw it.
There were many scooter equivalents in the form of CT90s and CT110 that even back then could have passed for vintage cool. But the Beluga, well the name alone was a problem.
I rode that scooter to work occasionally once I had my licence. It was a long trip from home to the fast food restaurant. But when I turned up on that scooter, I might as well have been driving a rusty Pinto with the hope of trading up to a less rusty Gremlin. It wasn’t a pretty sight but considering I was wearing a brown polyester uniform and paper hat, I wasn’t looking so pretty either. I don’t think my co-workers ran into the parking lot pointing fingers but they did have plenty to say once I was inside.
The Beluga was no RD350 but I briefly thought it was better than riding my bicycle—it wasn’t uphill both ways but it was a lot of uphill. Fortunately there weren’t many spots where the 65-kmh top speed of the Beluga wasn’t almost up to task.
This was only a few years before the Helix turned up in 1986 at a time when scooters were in desperate need of inspiration. Would I have been cool had I arrived to sling fries on a Helix with its long, sleek bodywork, extended wheelbase, aerodynamic shape, foot forward riding position and far larger engine? Probably not.
But I could see where Honda was going with the idea and it did look modern compared to many of the motorcycles of the day.
The Helix had a long run in some markets, long enough to go from modern to retro chic. It was replaced by the Reflex, but the Reflex lost the Logan’s Run vibe and sold out to the corporate man and his focus groups.
The Helix made a brief comeback with little to no styling changes before expiring in the carousel in 2007. The true successor in the spirit of the Helix wasn’t a Honda and it may have contributed to the Helix’s eventual departure. The Yamaha Morphous appeared in 2007 and was just as wild as the Helix had been 20 years before—long, low and sleek with an updated modern flare. It was a striking scooter but it didn’t last long. The world wasn’t ready for another cool scooter. Perhaps the Helix satiated the need for too long a period and for far less dollars.
As John Campbell mentions, the Helix remains a platform for customizing. While some have been decked out with fancy paint and freshly upholstered seats, much of the fascination seems to come from removing the bodywork to expose the long wheelbase and stretched frame.
The Honda Helix occupies another spot in the interesting footnotes of motorcycle history. Craig Vetter built a streamliner kit for the Helix and ran the scooter in his annual Fuel Economy Challenge achieving upwards of 80 mpg (US gallons) at highway speeds. Vetter, of Windjammer fairing fame, thought the Helix with its feet forward riding position was ideal for streamlining. In 2012 he placed sixth in the challenge with several diesel motorcycles and a streamlined Ninja 250 featuring one of his fairings coming in ahead of him. Beneath the faring the mechanicals of the Helix were left pretty much stock.