Hot on the heels of Honda’s Grom, Big Red offers a true blast from the past with its 2019 Monkey. The Monkey is the latest addition to Honda’s growing mini-moto lineup that also includes the soon-to-be-released Super Cub scooter. Harkening back to more carefree days, the Monkey is a street-legal on-/off-road bike, that’s perfect for zipping around town or for weekend fun at the cabin.
The Monkey shares the same platform as Honda’s electric-start-equipped and 125cc-powered Grom, introduced for the 2014 model year. This makes for a motorcycle that is as friendly to ride as a pedal-powered beach cruiser.
Although it weighs 236 pounds (as tested, with ABS), the Monkey feels like a toy—a very well crafted one. Assembled in Honda’s Thailand factory, fit and finish is excellent. We appreciate the fine attention to detail and how Honda stuck to the script, styling it just like the original.
Twin rear shocks, a big puffy pillow-like seat (0.6 inch taller than the Grom), and liberal use of metal and chrome on the fenders and exhaust make this minibike feel more premium than its $4,000 price tag implies. Attractive paint and subtle styling cues, including the round-face LED headlight and winking LCD gauge (during startup), not to mention the classic Honda wing logo, are more nice touches. Another plus is the instrument meter’s handy fuel gauge. One gripe: Unlike the Grom, there are no passenger footpegs… So you’ll have to roll solo or buy two.
To accommodate the shocks, the metal swingarm is different, and it rolls on a set of taller and more meaty dual-sport-style rubber. This gives the Monkey the kind of off-and-on-road versatility as the original. Together with the thicker seat, overall ride quality is more cozy than we remember aboard the ever-so-slightly more sport-oriented Grom.
Honda’s venerable air-cooled 125cc single propels the Monkey to a top speed of around 65 mph, sipping fuel via a 1.47-gallon gas tank. A smooth-shifting four-speed manual transmission and one-finger, light clutch pull make for a motorcycle that’s near perfect for learning how to ride on. Even with taller final drive gearing (15/34), the engine tractors up Catalina Island’s steep hills, site of the US Monkey’s press launch. Based on our experience with the Grom on the mainland, it will have enough pep to outrun sleeping drivers at stoplights. Although we didn’t ride at night, the LED lighting will help you stand out on dark roads.
An island setting like Catalina, or any other densely packed urban space, is where machines like Honda’s Monkey really shine. It offers the agility of a BMX bike and is almost as easy to park as a bicycle.
Twin hydraulic disc brakes keep speed in check, and, for an extra $200, you can add the safety of front-wheel-only ABS to the mix. The system also incorporates a CBR1000RR-sourced IMU (inertial measurement unit)—similar technology used in most modern smartphones—that provides the bike with situation awareness. It’s used to mitigate rear wheel lift (endo) during times of intense front braking. Some might gripe why Honda didn’t add rear ABS to the mix, but we appreciate the ability to slide the rear of the bike, just for kicks.
Just like the 1969 original Z50A, the new Monkey is a motorcycle that you’re going to want to keep in the garage for a couple of decades. Whether you plan on passing motorcycling to your kids or perhaps letting friends ride during weekend cabin visits, it’s a nice ride, and a great way to get your feet wet in the world of riding without breaking the piggy bank.