Seaside Scoot: Nicola Manca’s custom Honda Helix
I’ve only visited Sardinia once, but it was enough for the Mediterranean island to leave an indelible mark on me. Loaded with scenic mountains and beaches, and with more twisty roads than you can shake a stick at, it’s a motorcyclist’s paradise. And it’s the perfect backdrop for this quirky, surfboard-carrying moped.
We had trouble placing exactly what make and model it is—until the builder, Nicola Manca, filled us in. It’s actually a 1980s Honda CN250: a stretched scooter with 80s jet ski styling, that was also known as the Honda Helix in the USA. But thanks to a heavy restyle, it’s shed its retro-futuristic looks for a vintage beach cruiser vibe.
Nicola’s a pretty fascinating guy; he holds multiple degrees, works as business advisor in the aerospace industry, and organizes various charity-related motorcycle events. He’s also the founder of MAAN Motocicli Audaci—a custom workshop that’s actually more of a space for friends to hang out and tinker.
The Helix cost Nicola just €300, but the motor was shot. So he stripped off all of the bodywork, sold it for €350, and set about rebuilding the motor. “So I got €50 and the frame of a Honda Helix,” he quips. “What good luck!”
With the global pandemic sending Italy into lockdown, Nicola had plenty of time to overhaul the Helix. That not only saved him money on the engine rebuild, but also gave him the opportunity to pay attention to every last detail.
“I wanted to apply a custom approach to the project,” he says, “so much so that I forced Matteo, a 120 kg, two-meter beast, to make sure I didn’t get on the bike and use it before it was completed. This Helix has taught me to be patient, to take care of the details and only use it once it is fully completed.”
Once Nicola had removed the plastics, there was a ton of reworking to do to the frame. The entire rear section is new, the shock absorber mounts had to be rebuilt, and the radiator bracket was relocated. Nicola also fabricated new surrounds to mount a set of custom-built floorboards.
The floorboards and the ‘dashboard’ panels both feature teak inlays. Nicola took inspiration from the stunning wooden boats made by Riva, shaping the panels by hand from broken teak garden chairs that were destined for firewood. Then he used the leftover chair frames to fashion a surfboard rack.
The Helix’s wheels and brakes are original, but the suspension is pieced together from scalped parts. Nicola wanted a full chrome setup, so he matched Suzuki TU250 shocks to Yamaha Virago 550 springs, added shims to adjust the load, and had everything chromed.
Out back you’ll find a pair of drag-style mufflers, mounted up on a custom header. And there’s a license plate bracket too, mounted off the swingarm and equipped with a taillight.
One of this seaside scoot’s standout features, is its super-sano cockpit. Nicola installed a set of 18” ape hangers with Biltwell Inc. grips, but made sure there wasn’t a single cable, switch or lever visible. For starters, the ignition and essential switches all sit on one of the teak panels lower down, and the throttle operates inside the bars.
“I built the throttle with an internal cable on the lathe” he says, “and spent many hours with the file in my hand. Then with putty. Then again with the file. And then more putty and file, until it was perfect.”
There’s no more front brake lever either, because Nicola built his own linked foot brake system that works with a cable-operated hydraulic pump.
Matteo handled the Helix’s paint and upholstery, with a brief to keep things intricate, decorative and playful. “I wanted to create a vehicle that had a strong vintage appeal and the taste of freedom and being carefree,” says Nicola, “which during the pandemic was what we missed the most.”
Nicola’s Helix is so whimsical, it’s almost easy to forget how much work went into it. Despite its size it’s one hella impressive build, and has already started delivering Nicola and his surfboard to the beach.
“When my friends visited my garage,” he says, “they thought I was crazy to try to make something beautiful from that Helix. But I think I fulfilled my goal.”