Express Mail: Post Modern Motorcycles

Photography: Luke Ray.

If there was a survey conducted to discover the most recognised motorcycle in Australia, I have no doubt that the winner would be Honda’s CT110.

It’s not the CT110’s scorching performance figure of 7.5bhp or its stunning good looks that’s gained it this attention though, it’s the 20 or so years of employment by Australia’s suburban postal service. It’s also because of this that very few of the people who recognise the bike would know it as a Honda CT110, they would instead refer to it as a “Postie Bike”.

A few years ago I came across the website of a workshop in Melbourne called Post Modern Motorcycles. Post Modern was the first outfit I’d seen that were tackling the CT110 as a platform for customisation and they were nailing it! Their impressive portfolio of custom Posties included the “Blackmail”, a stripped down, blacked out CT with low bars and Avon rubber; the “Dear John” a military themed Postie with a stiff rear end and chunky off-road tyres and the “Junk Mail”, finished in grey with black detailing, a peanut style fuel tank, raked forks and a stretched frame. Today the Post Modern workshop can be found at Champion Motorcycles in Abbotsford (behind the Yarra Hotel) where owner, operator Jim Clark is continuing to customise Honda’s utilitarian CT110.

Back in the early nineties Jim was customising Yamaha SRs and British bikes under the influence of the Japanese custom scene. After a friend suggested he try Postie Bikes as a platform Jim started sketching a few ideas. He stripped away the stock seat, added some fat rubber and was happy with the result. Soon afterwards he purchased his first Postie and it was transformed into the ‘Blackmail’. When Jim started showing people the bike the feedback was unanimously positive and Post Modern Motorcycles was born.

All of the Post Modern builds are ex-Australian Postal Service vehicles. These versions of the CT110 were designed and built especially for Auspost by Honda and feature a series of special modifications to cope with the day-to-day wear and tear of postal delivery. Postie Bikes feature a heavy duty gearbox, rock solid heavy duty gauge rims, 3 stands (center, left and right) so they can be quickly parked on any surface and a locking front brake. Starting with this platform, Jim performs a set of standard upgrades to all of the bikes he builds. The engines are rebuilt by removing the side cases, barrel and head. Jim then replaces the piston, ring, cam chain, seals and gaskets and the heads are blasted clean. The barrel is also given a thorough clean before being resprayed in engine black and pieced back together. While there’s no huge power improvements to be easily gained from the CT110’s engine, Jim unlocks a smidge more grunt by dropping around 5 to 10 kilos of excess weight and by opening up it’s airways. He starts by pulling out the stock air box and fitting a K&N filter to the carb. The exhaust is debaffled or completely replaced with a hi-flowing system and the carb gets a new set of jets. With modifications like these a Post Modern Motorcycle will haul along at around 90-100 km/h at full tilt.

The black bike is Jim’s most recent build. The customer wanted another Blackmail so it’s almost a carbon copy of the original. After the tear down it was treated to a full respray in gloss black. The stock seat was replaced with a Nitro Heads unit and the bars swapped for Café Racer style, low hanging Clubmans. The red bike (“Pinko Bastard”) is Jim’s personal ride, which he refers to as a kind of Street Tracker. He prefers a more comfortable upright riding position so this bike has a wider set of handlebars, giving it the look and handling characteristics of a BMX. The rear end has been made rigid by swapping out the springs for solid struts, lowering it by around an inch and tucking the rear wheel up into the fender. Jim says the bike will easily get air over speed humps but recommends standing up on the pegs before landing. Post Modern bikes also regularly feature a mix of custom components from Japanese parts manufacturer Easy Riders, for which Jim is the Australian distributor. Individual design/style changes come in the form of custom paint and decals, the occasional fuel tank add-on and Brooks leather saddle bags, grips and mudflaps to compliment the ‘40s/’50s aesthetic of his builds.

Champion Motorcycles is Jim’s latest venture and represents his idea of a workshop that goes beyond purely being a place where motorcycles get built. Its location at the back of a tavern, in a reclaimed part of the beer garden, makes it the perfect setting for a destination where motorcyclists can hang out. While we were there our shoot was backed by a Tom Waits soundtrack and finding cool backdrops for our shots was made simple amongst his tastefully decorated workspace and his collection of vintage and obscure curios that line the bench tops and walls. In his modest courtyard is a large bench for visitors and Jim regularly holds movie screenings of motorcycle films which he projects onto the building next door. If you’re in the neighbourhood drop by and take a look, his door is always open to anyone with an interest in motorcycles. Champion Motorcycles is at the rear of the Yarra Hotel at 295 Johnston St, Abbotsford in Melbourne.

More about the CT110…

Honda first released the CT110 in 1980. Powered by a 105cc, 4 stroke, air-cooled engine it was the predecessor to the CT90 and offered commuters exceptional economy and reliability. Like the CT90 the CT110 had an automatic centrifugal clutch for ease of operation and a robust, steel pressed frame. Certain models also featured a “dual range subtransmission” that could be activated by flicking a switch under the transmission. With the subtransmission engaged the CT110 could tackle the steepest of slopes under full load, despite it’s low powered engine.

Through a special agreement with Auspost, Honda has been manufacturing specially designed and built postal service CT110’s since the late ‘80s. These special models aren’t available for purchase by the public as a brand new bike though. Instead if you want to get your hands on one you’ll need to wait till an ex-Postie goes up for auction when Auspost decommissions one at around 20,000kms. Since 2009 Honda have also produce a road-registerable “AG” (agricultural) version of the CT110, which can be bought new, unfortunately it lacks some of the best features you’ll find on the Postie version though.

To label the CT110 as indestructible would not be an exaggeration. During their time in service a Postie Bike will run for around 4 to 6 continuous hours a day, will constantly be revved to redline from one letterbox to the next and driven straight over kerbs without hesitation. After this less than forgiving “break-in” they are usually then purchased as cheap commuters and treated to years of irregular or non-existent servicing and abuse, but to hear of one that has a mechanical problem is a rarity. If you’re looking for a reliable run about the CT110 could be just the ticket.

This article first appeared in Tank Moto issue 02.

Follow Jim: @championabbotsford.