2019 Honda Monkey | First Ride Review

Honda Monkey
They say you meet the nicest people on a Honda…and there are few bikes as nice (or as gosh-darn cute) as the Honda Monkey. (Photos by Kevin Wing)

We normally lead off our bike reviews with an action-packed image, dramatically leaned over, the rider a masked superhero in flight. Somehow that didn’t feel right for the Honda Monkey, however, so we chose one more in alignment with its personality and mission.

After all, one of the hashtags provided by Honda for the press launch on Catalina Island (which it had dubbed the “Isle of Monkey”) was #POWERofNICE. And come on, it’s the Monkey. As in “more fun than a barrel of….”

A little backstory on the Monkey bike before we dive into the particulars: back in 1961, an amusement park in the Tokyo suburbs called Tama Tech debuted a ride to promote the “joys of driving,” using little bikes dubbed the Z100 that used Honda’s 50cc Super Cub engine.

Riders at Tama Tech rip around on the little Z100 Hondas.
Riders at Tama Tech rip around on the little Z100 Hondas.

The ride was so popular that Honda introduced a CZ100 production bike in Europe and Asia in 1963, with an off-road-only Z50A introduced in the U.S. in 1968. Honda sold 50,000 Z50As that first year, and a legend was born.

An entire generation learned to ride on the little Z50 (which was nicknamed the monkey bike due to how riders looked on the thing), and today’s young ‘uns can still get their first taste of two-wheeled delight on the CRF50 dirt bike.

Honda Mini Trail
This Honda ad from 1970 shows all the fun the whole family can have on the Mini Trail 50 or 70.

In 2013, Honda introduced the 125cc Grom, blowing the doors open in a new (for the U.S.) mini-moto category previously inhabited mainly by Ruckus owners who’d stretched, stripped and souped-up their scoots into little twin-headlight hooligans.

Nearly 40,000 Groms have been sold in the U.S. since then, impressive when you consider its stock top speed is about 65 mph, and the mini-moto subculture is growing. Turns out it’s pretty fun to rip around on a small bike.

Read our First Ride Review on the 2014 Honda Grom here.

Honda Monkey
Displacement has been beefed up to 125cc, there’s no kickstarter and it’s fuel injected, but squint hard and the modern Monkey looks an awful lot like its Z50 ancestor. Shown here in Pearl Nebula Red.

Now we come to the Monkey, a Z50 clone powered by the Grom’s 125cc, air-cooled, SOHC, 2-valve single. It also shares the Grom’s easy-shifting 4-speed manual transmission, 31mm USD fork, single 220mm disc/two-piston caliper front and 190mm/single-piston rear brake with optional one-channel IMU-based ABS, and a tubular steel main frame.

For all its retro-ness, the Monkey is a thoroughly modern little motorcycle–no, there’s no kickstarter, and you can’t fold the handlebars down and put it in your trunk like the original Z50, though you can probably load it into an SUV.

Honda Monkey
There have been grumbles about the price, but fit and finish on the Monkey is impressive. The gas tank and chrome fenders are metal, and it sports LED lights front and rear.

Apart from the obvious styling differences, other changes from the Grom include a new rear subframe and swingarm, dual rear shocks, a model-specific air cleaner, intake and muffler, and a new crankcase cover.

The bottom line is that, yes, the plethora of existing engine and fork upgrades currently available for the Grom will work on the Monkey bike as well.

At this point I’d normally begin my in-depth assessment of the bike’s handling, power, performance, etc., but let’s face it: this is a 232-lb, sub-10-horsepower mini-moto.

Honda Monkey
Do I look fast? I felt fast. Ripping around on the 232-lb Monkey was too much fun, and it’s even better when you’re riding with friends on similarly-sized bikes.

The 125cc four-stroke has enough grunt to get you up a twisty hill, 12-inch wheels spinning furiously beneath you, and it’s geared fairly tall so don’t be afraid to downshift. It’ll even tackle some light off-road riding, but you’ll want to maintain momentum if you encounter any loosely packed hills.

The brakes aren’t great, the suspension is squishy and I don’t think we topped 40 mph on our test romp around Catalina. But if you’re concerned about hard performance figures you’re sort of missing the point.

The Monkey is all about one thing: having fun. It’s meant to hook you on the experience of riding a motorcycle in a way that’s been somewhat lost over the last few decades. If this thing doesn’t bring a smile to your face, there’s something wrong.

Honda Monkey
We likely looked like the least-scary biker gang in history: eight journalists with smiles smeared across our faces as we paraded around Catalina. Normally we get stern looks on photo shoots. Not this time.

Freeways aren’t going to be a very safe option, at least not without some mods, but if you’re happy keeping it under 65 mph the Monkey is a hoot. It’ll tootle around town happily, and your biggest issue is going to be the amount of times you’re stopped by people who want to know what you’re riding and how they can get one.

I lost count of the number of golf cart-driving tourists on the island that asked me where they could rent one, and one young guy on a street corner yelled out a compliment that I can’t repeat here…let’s just say he thought the Monkey bike is “freaking” cool.

Honda Monkey
In fitting with its Z50 look, the Monkey differs from the Grom with its dual rear shocks (non-adjustable) with 3.3 inches of travel.

Its diminutive size and positively adorable style makes it approachable for just about anyone, which is exactly what Honda wants. As its U.S. reps put it, the Monkey bike is a brand ambassador, exactly what the Cub and Z50 were back in the 1960s, when you’d meet the nicest people on a Honda.

Whether it’s on the back of an RV, terrorizing the streets of your subdivision, scooting through traffic in town or barreling off a jump at the annual Smoky Mountain Crawl, the Monkey will bring a smile to your face—and likely to the face of anyone who happens to be watching.

Honda Monkey
Its wide, cushy seat is half an inch higher than the Grom’s, at 30.6 inches–still well within reach of almost any rider, especially since it only weighs 232 lbs with its 1.5-gallon gas tank full.

Want one? The 2019 Honda Monkey will be available in dealerships starting October 1. It’s available in Banana Yellow or Pearl Nebula Red for $3,999 (non-ABS) or $4,199 (ABS, available in red only).

Jenny’s Gear
Helmet:
Sena Savage
Jacket: Cortech Bella
Riding Jeans: Bolidster
Boots: Dainese Bahia

(keep scrolling for more pictures)

2019 Honda Monkey Specs
Base Price: $3,999
Website: powersports.honda.com
Engine Type: Air-cooled single, SOHC, 2 valves
Displacement: 125cc
Bore x Stroke: 52.4 x 57.9mm
Transmission: 4-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 46.5 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 deg./3.2 in.
Seat Height: 30.6 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 232 lbs. (as tested)
Fuel Capacity: 1.5 gal.
Avg. MPG: NA

Honda Monkey
Round LCD display shows speed, fuel level and switchable odometer, tripmeter and fuel consumption data.
Honda Monkey
The optional one-channel IMU-based ABS controls the front wheel only, and senses pitch to keep you out of whatever trouble you manage to get yourself into.
Honda Monkey
Engine is lifted directly from the Grom, which means that most existing mods will fit the Monkey. Intake, air cleaner and muffler are all new.
Honda Monkey
Tall handlebar makes for a comfortably upright riding position, and the Monkey is easy to toss around without feeling skittish or wobbly.

11 COMMENTS

    • A “real motorcycle” is one somebody enjoys riding. And while the Monkey is certainly pricey, that doesn’t make it any less “real”.

    • Where can you buy a new Harley for $4,600? You did say real bike right? 🙂 Keep in mind folks this is street legal (not a Big Box Briggs powered toy). Being street legal and emission approved it’s gonna cost you more. Also It comes with Hondas bulletproof reliability and service availability. It is for a very specific market…so if you like it and the price, buy it. If not buy what you want or what you can afford.

  1. To Much Money!!! Wake up Honda, Lets Make Motorcycling Great Again, you did it in the 60’s, pull out the old play book and show us how it’s done.

  2. Yeah, it cost too much, but people will line up in droves to buy one none the less. You have to give Honda credit, though. They took a chance on the Grom a while back and it’s been successful. This one will be, too.

  3. Ok, typical Honda genius, mixed with 21st-century greed! Honda we all know that you can build that cute little bike for less than half that! Then you sell it at what must be a 100% markup? Yes, you meet the nicest people ON a Honda, but look out for the greedy thieves in their beancounter/marketing dept! How can I say this? Well if Royal Enfield, a small company in India can build full-sized bulletproof bikes of all types at the prices they do? Now, do you see what I mean! Honda if you were to lower the price, sure your profit on each bike would go down, but you would sell even more!

  4. I’ve owned couple of Honda cycles, CB 650 (82)and the 750-4(77). Due to health reasons I can’t go 55, 40-43 is my max. The price is high but dependable cost. My new Chinese Retro scooter has had more problems than it should but at 1200 bucks what should I expect.

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