Honda C90 trip to Sutherland


 The Old Codgers Highland fling.



    We bought these 2 C90’s with the intention of having a trip from Orkney to the Mosel valley in Germany sometime. The bikes had been restored by a motor engineer friend of my Cousin before we bought them but we were advised that the engines hadn’t been touched as they didn’t appear to need anything. With such a good standard of work on the rest of the bikes, I felt that at the very least all engine cases needed painting to match the very good finish of the rest and Doug’s bike appeared to have an occasional problem engaging top gear on one of our early runs. It fell to me to strip and rebuild both engines, which needed little more than gaskets, seals, clutch plates and springs as a precaution and cosmetically sprucing up. I did fit new rings to Doug’s engine as it appeared to use a bit of oil. I never did really find anything wrong in the gearbox when I stripped his unit which is always a bit worrying but it all seems fine now - hey ho!  This run was to be a kind of ‘shakedown’ to test the bikes, the intercoms, luggage carrying, fuel usage and our own stamina. Although I’m well used to long distance travel by motorcycle, it’s normally on a much larger machine but Doug had used a 6 volt C90 many years ago for long distance commuting. Obviously fuel capacity is a limiting factor as they don’t hold much to start with - a tad less than 4 litres on the 12 volt models.

Our German trip will entail 120 mile days to the next B&B and the rough plan is to use the ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen then a couple of stops on the way down to Hull for the ferry across the North Sea. Leaving Rotterdam it’s only one or two overnight stops to the Mosel - job done!

    Anyway, for this particular trip I set off just after 8.30 on a glorious Orkney morning to meet up with Doug at 9.30ish at John Shearer’s garage in Kirkwall for fuel - although it’s now a car garage there is a fine array of Japanese motorcycles on display in the showroom including a CD 175 Sloper. I only managed to dribble £1.88’s worth of unleaded into my tank! Doug needed a little more when he arrived and then we were good to go. We had a relaxed ride through Kirkwall, down over the Churchill Barriers with a few detours thrown in and into St Margaret's Hope, well in time to catch the Pentalina Catamaran Ferry to Gill’s Bay, which is situated on the north coast between Thurso and John O’Groats. Once off the ferry we picked the much quieter back roads to get down to Latheron and visited the 'Grey Cairn' on the way down to the A9 and stopped at the bottom of the Berriedale Braes to have a cuppa and bun at the recently opened cafe there.  I’d forgotten just how capable these little bikes are and the notorious long climb out of Berriedale was accomplished with ease in 2nd gear most of the way before selecting top as the steep ascent levelled out near the summit.


Some of the roads in Caithness certainly are straight!



Just stopped to visit the Grey Cairn


The Grey Cairn in the distance

Doug waiting patiently for his snack!

    We had a little scenic detour into Brora before arriving at the B&B I had booked for us in Golspie, having done about 120 miles (about 100 since filling up in Kirkwall) and still had enough fuel to get us back to Brora to fill up the next day. This equates to around 150mpg!  Many garages have a minimum delivery of 4 litres at their pumps, so from now on we filled both bikes at one pump each time.

    It was a lovely evening as we took the short walk from our B&B into the Main Street to the Trawler restaurant for our well deserved evening meal of Fish and Chips and a glass of something alcoholic.  Golspie is a wonderful little place with many coastal and inland walks but most folk just hammer through on their way to and from the North.

    After a good nights rest and an excellent breakfast it was time to check the bikes over and repack everything - I had fitted a spare base-plate to the rear rack so that I could use the Honda top box from my CBF600 SA and Doug had a large hold-all strapped to the seat. We will have to see if we can get another more suitable rack for his bike. I made an aluminium rack for each bike which sits in front of the seat above the leg-shield which Doug used for some stuff and I fitted my push bike bag to mine. I have ordered a 1 litre fuel friend container and that amount should take us at least 20 miles if necessary, even in a head wind! - Doug will get one the same and I’ll make a front rack for each bike to carry those.  We had a spare inner tube, puncture repair kit and levers - I need a stronger set of those. Neither bike used any oil and the only real issue was with the mirrors vibrating to new positions - we’ll overcome that one too. The brakes are adequate for what we are intending and the rear one is really good for steadying the bike on some of the very narrow twisty stuff we encountered in Sutherland - but we really did get ‘off the beaten track’ on this trip with many of the very minor roads having grass in the middle, a few well placed potholes and a generous sprinkling of gravel to trap the unwary.
    Leaving Golspie around 10 o’clock we retraced our route to Brora for fuel and turned off the unusually quiet A9, taking the very narrow, slightly rough road up and along Glen Loth, which takes you into an area of wonderful tranquil views and on to the Strath of Kildonan where some of the brutal Highland clearances were perpetrated in the name of ‘improvement’. Eventually we arrived at the railway crossing in Kildonan and paused a while for a photo shoot.


At rest along Glen Loth

We had just been watching a Buzzard circling overhead to the left


    We enjoyed the leisurely ride from here along the Strath of Kildonan to Kinbrace, where a group of railway workmen were busy doing line-side work and gave us a cheery wave as we gingerly negotiated the less than level crossing - they could have been just laughing at us but a least we weren't working!  The well surfaced road opened up a bit more now as we made our way alongside the River Helmsdale to Syre at the end of Strath Naver - another of the Straths cleared by Patrick Sellars and his ‘Constables’ to make way for sheep at the behest of the Earl of Stafford and his Wife.  Rumbling tums had us searching for sustenance as our ample breakfast had by now started to wear off. We decided on Bettyhill at the north end of Strath Naver as a suitable stop and made our way first to Farr Beach and then back to the Village and a lovely cafe - not particularly great for parking motorcycles (glad I wasn’t on the GoldWing!) but can certainly be recommended for food. It was starting to look rather overcast now and had cooled off considerably from earlier in the day; the sky was a strange colour, not really threatening impending rain and only when we reached the north coast did we see the acres of heath-land fires burning, darkening the otherwise blue sky we had enjoyed so far. I had overheard one of the Cafe staff talking about the road being closed earlier, which I assumed wrongly to be as a result of an accident but must have been due to the fires near to the road. There were a great many fire engines in attendance along the coast road following this unusually dry spell. We had plenty of time to get to Scrabster for the return ferry so took a great little detour out to Strathy point by the lighthouse. Rejoining the A836 we made our way to Thurso for fuel and then had a short ride south via Westerfield and Halkirk to use up a bit of time before heading for Scrabster and the Ferry home.

    We had done around 250 miles in the two days which seemed about right - Doug did perhaps 10 less as he lives nearer to both Ferries. This should be fine for the trip to Germany - there is no real rush as we want more smiles per gallon!  It’s about 400 miles from Aberdeen to Hull (2 overnight stops) and only about 300 from Rotterdam to the mid Mosel in Germany, probably needing only 1 stop but we easily have time for more if the mood takes us.  As I said earlier, I’m well used to long distance continental touring, nearly always by GoldWing but these bikes are a lot of fun and can be parked virtually anywhere - true, you have to re-adjust to covering less distance each day and weather protection is limited. Doug has fitted a handlebar screen to his bike but I am a bit reluctant to do that as I don’t like the feel of the steering in crosswinds. We both have decent wet weather gear, adequate for the speeds we'll be doing so we’ll just have to take what comes.




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