Vintage Boat Cross: Bikes in a Boat

Two friends, a Honda SL90, a Honda CT90, a Chrysler Sport Fury, and a trail on the other side of a lake. Enter the boat pickup!

  • And it was this last asset, the generous floor area, that hooked me, because the Sport Fury’s cockpit, measuring over 6 feet long and 5 feet wide, looked similar to a pickup bed in size, which, as every hillbilly knows, is just right for carrying dirt bikes.
    Photo by Seth DeDoes
  • The SL90 went in first, all the way to the back. The CT90 gets loaded up front, straight from the back of the truck!
    Photo by Seth DeDoes
  • Everybody here can swim, right? Author John (right) and friend JG (left) with their bikes, roaring across the lake.
    Photo by Seth DeDoes
  • Bikes, cooler and gear loaded in the boat, it’s off across the lake for the trails that beckon on the other side.
    Photo by Seth DeDoes
  • Across the lake and ready to get this motorcycle business rolling, as it were. Time to break out the ramp and go!
    Photo by Seth DeDoes
  • Unloading on the beach went smoothly.
    Photo by Seth DeDoes
  • Helmets on, it’s time to ride.
    Photo by Seth DeDoes
  • Left to right: John aboard the borrowed Honda CT90, and JG riding John’s Honda SL90. Trail bikes in their element.
    Photo by Seth DeDoes
  • Loaded up and heading back after a day on the trails.
    Photo by Seth DeDoes
  • They say man is empowered by victory, but that we learn more from defeat: I regard this trip as a blend of both.
    Photo by Seth DeDoes

There it was. Just another old Craigslist motorboat. Faded and forlorn, a 1970 Chrysler Sport Fury lazing in an equally fusty dirt lot, its formerly gleaming Pirates Gold, 16-foot hull chalky and dull, its interior moldy, and its 85 horsepower Magnaforce outboard engine entangled in creeping vines. Once a catalyst for family fun, it was now neglected and needy, like a dusty, swaybacked nag. Its time, quite sadly, had passed. Or had it?

I’m a hard-ass in some ways; a vigorous competitor in the waves, on the track and in defending moral principle. But I’m a total softy when it comes to those suffering undeserved misfortune … and also neglected machinery. I fell in love. I opened my wallet. I bought it.

Superficially, I had merely fallen for a needy boat. But I soon became infatuated that the boat, engine and trailer were all produced by mighty Chrysler Corp. during its 1965-1984 dalliance with America’s recreational boom. What other car company had the stones to do that? Most importantly, though, I liked its shape. Hardly beautiful by marine design standards, Chrysler’s “Cathedral Hull” runabouts debuted for 1969 promising superb stability, affable ride and handling, great value and roomy interiors. And it was this last asset, the generous floor area, that hooked me, because the Sport Fury’s cockpit, measuring over 6 feet long and 5 feet wide, looked similar to a pickup bed in size, which, as every hillbilly knows, is just right for carrying dirt bikes.

“Huh,” I thought. “Dirt bikes in a boat …”

A spacey odyssey

If an asteroid can hurtle through space for 4.6 billion years before igniting in the Earth’s atmosphere, why can’t an idea do the same in our cosmic brainpans? Ten years ago, I had stood on the northern shore of a pretty lake while traveling through California’s Sierra Nevada. No paved roads encircled the lake, but there on the other side, amidst a backdrop of craggy hills, faintly appeared some trails. And the sight excited my prefrontal cortex with a desire … go ride them. But how? The discovery of the Chrysler boat online, and remembering a 1969 Honda SL90 long moldering in my own garage, made the answer abundantly clear. Yet while this sketchy boat/bike concept practically designed itself, making it real would take some work.

Mad for Motosports

What is it with unfulfilled dreams? Since high school, one of mine had been to own a Honda Motosport 90, aka SL90. Whereas the related CL90 scrambler and S90 street bike had dopey stamped-steel “T-bone” frames, the Motosport 90 uniquely featured a dual downtube frame, internal-spring fork, high-mounted fenders, fatter universal tires, and proper dirt-bike styling.

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We used to do this on the late 60s in my Whaler knock-off, a Bronco by Roy Rogers(yes, that Roy). We'd load up 2-3 minibikes and cruise over to the marsh islands in the Great South Bay of Long Island. We had immense traction in the palsticine clay-like solid muck base, weaving the bullrushes and dodging helicopter landing practice-good times. Try that nowadays and the helicopters are Cobra gunships confiscating your bike and you a felon.

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