Honda's goofy Monkey bike returns with a 125cc motor
Drunk on the global sales success of the cheeky Grom, Honda has finally decided to officially release a 2018 version of its iconic Monkey, a comically styled, knees-round-the-ears, 49cc minibike that found cult status after initially being designed for a children's amusement ride.
Welcome to the late noughteens, dear readers, and a time when the struggling Western motorcycle industry seems to be enjoying a quiet revival under the steam of two factors nobody really saw coming: Uber Eats-style food delivery mania, and grown men giggling their way around town on undersized, blinged-out joke bikes.
When Honda's Grom launched just five years ago, it was a head-scratching anomaly. What kind of serious rider would throw a leg over that thing? Well, it turned out there were more than enough riders who didn't consider themselves very serious at all. It didn't take long for companies like Kawasaki and Benelli to spot a winning formula and jump on board.
And if the Grom's a bit quirky, it's as stodgy as an accountant in a three piece suit next to a Monkey bike. Originally developed as a 49cc kids' toy for Tokyo's Tama Tech amusement park in 1961, with no suspension, 5-inch wheels and a padded seat not much more than 10 inches (25 cm) off the ground, the Monkey bike proved so popular that Honda put it into production.
Fast forward to the late '70s, and the Monkey was a full-on global phenomenon. It had easily detachable forks, so you could throw it in the trunk of your car or strap it to the back of your RV. It had a three-speed gearbox, a centrifugal clutch and a mighty 4.5 horsepower, so you could give it to anyone and they'd be putting around having fun in minutes. And it had big ol' ape hanger style raised handlebars, which looked like some sort of an attempt at toughness and made it even funnier.
Last year, Honda showed a 125cc Monkey concept bike in Tokyo, and now it's announced specs for the official release of the 2018 Honda Monkey.
It's vastly bigger than the old ones, using the 125cc motor from the Grom and making an uprated 9.25 hp (6.9 kW). Its 775-mm (30.5-in) seat height is actually half an inch higher than the Grom's, and its 107-kg (236-lb) weight makes it also a touch heftier.
The bike's 12-inch wheels are suspended by twin rear shocks and a set of upside-down forks. The frame is steel and the headlight, taillights and indicators are all LEDs.
Electronics-wise, the 2018 Monkey gets ABS with an integrated IMU to act as an anti-stoppie system, as well as a key with a button you can press to make the lights flash, just in case you've parked it in a row of identical minibikes.
Most importantly, it looks the part. From the chunky tires, to the beefy padded seat pad, to the slotted heat shield, tiny 5.6-liter (1.5-gal) tank and circular headlight, it looks like a Monkey through and through. We have to say, though, we want to see some higher, cleaner handlebars on this thing for the full ape hanger effect.
With a four-speed manual transmission, it's no longer something your grandma can jump on. It's a fully road-specified motorcycle that probably goes 50 mph (~80 km/h) and actually requires a license. It also won't fit in the trunk any more. So, it's unlikely to fulfil the role of the early Monkeys, which Honda describes as being "so easy to ride, it did more to sell the concept of motorcycles to a wider public than perhaps any other machine."
Instead, we suppose it'll be a retro version of the Grom. And that might be enough to make it a hit. It'll go on sale this year in red/white, black/white and a very Monkeyish banana yellow/white. Ook ook.