Nostalgia is a powerful thing and the folks at Honda know it. With the kind of rich history that Big Red has, we can hardly blame it for periodically plucking an iconic model from Honda’s extensive back catalog, tarting it up with modern technological fixings and using it to tug our heartstrings. And my, oh my, does the 2021 Honda Trail 125 ABS give those yarns a yank with its $3,899 MSRP.
Dating back to the early 1960s, these lovable motorcycles initially became popular with outdoorsmen, much lauded for their user-friendly semiautomatic transmission and centrifugal clutch combo, as well as their off-road capability. What also helped propel these bikes into the limelight was their affordability, and many Honda CTs and Trails saw duty as faithful grocery-getters strapped to the back of RVs, or as stout compatriots on the farm and ranch. They were everywhere and many still are.
During its nearly three-decade tenure, the CT/Trail series saw several revisions and sold more than 725,000 units in the U.S. before being discontinued in 1986. Globally, the CT/Trail lived on in many other markets, further solidifying its grand legacy. Mention the CT/Trail to anyone hailing from New Zealand or Australia and they’ll recognize it as the “Postie Bike” of their neighborhood postal carrier.
More than 30 years later, the Honda Trail 125 has come home to the States. What better way to welcome it back than with a collapsible fishing kit strapped to the rack and Lake Cuyamaca in our sights, tackling the fire roads and mountain twisties surrounding Julian, California.
Just like its forefathers, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 proudly carries on the tradition of being a quaint and understated dual-sport machine. The steel backbone frame, upright handlebar, square turn signals, upswept exhaust, high-mount snorkel and luggage rack have all been transported into the 21st century, and so, too, has the go-getter spirit of the original CT. It’s a charmer, having the same adorable qualities seen in a variety of fluffy creatures. Sadly, the spare fuel canister didn’t make the cut, while it does one-up its ancestors with an accessory charger, fuel injection, disc brakes and LED lighting.
Part of the rambunctious “miniMOTO” lineup, which also includes the popular Honda Grom and Monkey, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 is an offshoot of the Honda Super Cub C125, sharing its frame and engine. However, there are several crucial updates to suit the Trail’s off-road proclivities.
Toss a leg over the reshaped 31.5-inch seat, grab onto the upswept handlebar and let those sentimental feelings percolate. A comfy upright seating position awaits and my 32-inch inseam can get boots on the deck confidently. The vintage-styled LCD display needs to be a little brighter and, when standing, the heel-toe shifter will cause you to go a bit pigeon-toed. Luckily, the foot controls don’t feel clumsy when seated.
The Trail’s frame and swingarm are reinforced in critical areas like the head tube and suspension mounts. To increase stability, the wheelbase has been lengthened by half an inch to 49.4 inches. Front suspension travel grew to 4.3 inches, 0.4 more than the Cub, and ground clearance is hoisted to 6.5 inches. The cast alloy rims were ditched in lieu of wire-spoke 17-inch wheels and IRC GP-5 dual-sport rubber with inner tubes. Lastly, fuel capacity is upped 0.4 gallon to 1.4 gallons total — it’s a fuel sipper, too.
To say that riding the Trail 125 is “easy” simply doesn’t do it justice — M class license tests don’t stand a chance against it. Powering the Trail is a 125cc single-cylinder engine equipped with a 4-speed semiautomatic transmission and centrifugal clutch. Fire it up with the electric or kickstarter, give the heel-toe shifter a tap into gear, twist the grip and let the big dog eat! Arooo! Power delivery is as welcoming as can be and it has enough pep to playfully zip around in traffic. I managed to achieve a blazing 55 mph, as indicated on the basic LCD instrument panel. Land speed record setter it is not, but it is a silly amount of fun and with modern fuel injection, it wasn’t wheezing at 4,000-plus feet while exploring the Cuyamaca Mountains.
The rear sprocket gets an additional three teeth for a little extra oomph in the dirt and the fuel tuning is optimized for low and mid-range power. Also, the upswept pipes and high-mount intake will allow a modest water crossing.
Where the twist-and-go philosophy pays off is on the trail. With no clutch to feather, stalling in tricky sections is impossible and all one needs to do is manage the throttle, which reinforces the ease-of-use ethos that Honda injects into many of its models. However, there is a downside — downshifting without rev matching results in a jarring ca-chunk, since you cannot slip the clutch manually. A properly timed blip of the throttle circumvents the issue. Also, the auto-clutch can struggle when starting out on steep inclines, something that the dual-range transmission of the original Trail probably wouldn’t have been fazed by.
The Trail’s beefed-up chassis and non-adjustable suspension perform admirably on the street. Adequately sprung and damped suspenders keep everything balanced well. It’s light, agile and incredibly easy to maneuver, with a wet weight of 258 pounds. That gives the bike a load capacity of 264 pounds against its 522-pound GVWR. Neither a passenger seat nor footpegs are available, so don’t plan on carrying a co-pilot unless it’s furry and fits in a milk crate on the giant luggage rack.
Off-road, it’s a similar tale, as long as you respect the Trail’s limits. Attempt the same amount of hang-time you would on a dual-sport and you’ll quickly bottom the suspension out, although it doesn’t become squirrelly. The Trail 125’s suspension and 17-inch wire-spoke wheels gobble up obstacles respectably well and it won’t deflect erratically in rocky terrain.
Compared to a traditional ADV or dual-sport motorcycle, the Trail has an advantage due to its simplicity and low center of gravity, making quick recoveries a snap. This is as unpretentious as it gets, so, sit down, relax and amble along to your campsite or watering hole.
A single caliper and 220mm disc, featuring non-switchable ABS, handle front-wheel braking duties. There is plenty of stopping power with a soft initial bite. In the rear, a single caliper and a 190mm disc without ABS offer decent feel and unmitigated fun while in the dirt.
As a successor, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 does right by its ancestors, providing the same fun, casual riding experience that the original CT/Trail built its famed reputation on. It isn’t quirk free, namely in respect to the awkward foot controls, but in every other way, the Trail 125 impressed me with its can-do attitude. At long last, Honda’s prodigal son has returned and the loveable scamp is still making us smile.
2021 Honda Trail 125 ABS Specs:
Engine Type: Air-cooled single, SOHC, 2 valves
Bore x Stroke: 52.4 x 57.9mm
Transmission: 4-speed, semi-automatic centrifugal clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 49.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 27 degrees/3.1 in.
Seat Height: 31.5 in.
Wet Weight: 258 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 1.4 gal.
Avg. MPG: NA