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Monkey on your back (porch) – Honda’s classic minibike returns to the U.S. market

Published in blog.hemmings.com

2019 Honda Monkey. Photos courtesy American Honda.

Once a preferred platform for those learning to ride a motorcycle, Honda’s Z50A “monkey bike” hasn’t been offered to U.S. consumers since 1979, when the model was replaced by the off-road-only Z50R. That changes in October, as Honda recently announced its aptly named 2019 Monkey will be sold through U.S. dealers, and available with or without anti-lock brakes.

2019 Honda Monkey

ABS-equipped Monkey, in Pearl Nebula Red.

Named for the way a fullsize rider looks astride a half-scale bike, Honda’s original 49cc Z100 monkey bike debuted in 1961 at the company’s Tama Tech amusement park in Tokyo, Japan. Part of an attraction meant to demonstrate the joy of riding to park visitors, the bikes proved popular enough that Honda put them into production in 1964 as the CZ100, sold in Asian and European markets (though Canada received the Z50M monkey bike shortly after). In 1968, the Z50A debuted in the United States, quickly gaining popularity for its affordability and ease of operation – especially among young riders new to the sport.

2019 Honda Monkey

Though the model evolved over the years – gaining a rear suspension in 1972 – the monkey bike remained a familiar staple of Honda’s American product line until it was displaced by the Z50R in 1979. Essentially a scaled-down version of an adult dirt bike, the Z50R occupied a slightly different niche in the market, and proved popular enough to remain in the lineup through 1999. In 1988, Honda made a brief attempt to market a new monkey bike variant – the street-legal ZB50 – to U.S. buyers, but it proved too expensive for consumers to embrace (or Honda to continue manufacturing).

2019 Honda Monkey

Banana Yellow Monkey with non-ABS brakes.

In August 2017, Honda marked the 50th anniversary of the Z50 monkey bike with a limited-production special edition, offered only within its home market. The model was meant to commemorate the end of monkey bike production, since the Z50 model’s 50cc four-stroke single was said to be incapable of meeting stricter Japanese and European emission control requirements looming on the horizon. Just one month later, Honda surprised attendees at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show by showing concepts for an all new Z50-inspired monkey bike, as well as a modernized version of its Super Cub 125.

2019 Honda Monkey

Monkey instrumentation.

The 2019 Honda Monkey comes powered by a fuel-injected, air-cooled 125cc four-stroke single, mated to a four-speed manual transmission, and while Honda isn’t discussing output ratings for American versions just yet, in other markets the minibike is rated at 9.2 hp and 8.1 lb-ft of torque. Though retro in appearance, the Honda Monkey comes chock full of the latest technology, including an LCD gauge that blends a speedometer, odometer (plus dual trip odometers), fuel gauge and warning lights into a single instrument. It’s got inverted front forks, LED lighting and an “answer back” key that can flash the lights in a crowded parking lot, making it easier to find. For new riders concerned with safety, it’s even available in an ABS version, though the single channel anti-lock brake controls the front wheel disc brake only (the rear remains a conventional disc).

2019 Honda Super Cub C125

2019 Honda Super Cub C125.

In an effort to get more new riders on two wheels, Honda will reintroduce the Super Cub to American buyers as well. Though last sold on these shores in 1974, the Super Cub has remained in production since its debut in 1958, and in 2017 Honda produced the 100-millionth example, making the step-through motorcycle the highest-selling motor vehicle in the world. Like the Honda Monkey, the 2019 Honda Super Cub C125 carries a retro appearance, but comes equipped with a proximity key, LED lighting, partial LED instrumentation, a four-speed transmission with a semi-automatic centrifugal clutch, and an anti-lock front disc brake (combined with a conventional rear drum brake).

2019 Honda Super Cub C125

Super Cub C125 instrumentation.

Both models play heavily on nostalgia, or, as Honda describes it, “the power of nice” in reference to the brand’s “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” ad campaign of the 1960s. Lee Edmunds, American Honda’s Manager of Motorcycle Communications, said of the new/old model introductions,

Since our ‘You Meet the Nicest People’ campaign of the ’60s, Honda has produced fun, confidence-inspiring models that attract new customers to the joy of motorcycling, while introducing new ways for existing enthusiasts to express themselves and interact. With the 2019 Monkey and Super Cub C125, ‘The Power of Nice’ returns. We’re continuing the tradition of offering American customers machines that are simultaneously nostalgic and up-to-date, and that beg to be ridden and personalized. We’re eager to see how our customers use these bikes to extend ‘The Power of Nice’ to the next generation.”

The Monkey will be priced from $3,999 ($4,199 with ABS) when it debuts in the fourth quarter, while the Super Cub C125 ABS will have a target price of $3,599 when it hits U.S. dealers in January 2019.