WORDS: MARK FORSYTH PICS: JAMES WRIGHT/DOUBLE RED
MY FIRST ever bike was a Honda Monkey. I was eight, I think. Maybe nine. It wasn’t a real Monkey, it was an ST70 Dax but it was kinda close, in a balloon-tyred, high-barred, early seventies way. Being fortunate enough to grow up on a farm in a farming community meant we had plenty of places to ride, especially after hay time when the short-cropped stubbly fields provided infinite racetrack opportunities. We all got pretty adept at clandestine fuel syphoning, too but I digress…
This experience taught me that small bore Hondas are utterly unbreakable. We tried our hardest, trust me. You can throw your worst at them and they just keep going, idling like sewing machines, not burning a drop of oil, starting first kick. In five years of max-rev thrashery, I don’t think I even checked the oil level, never mind changed it.
So I’m feeling a pretty strong affinity to this, the all-new Honda Monkey. Sure it’s 125cc and fuel injected. Sure it’s got an electric start and 12v LED lighting. Christ, it’s even got ABS and an IMU to stop you stoppying. But, hey, it’s still a funky looking, balloon-tyred, high bar, small cc Honda so I’m absolutely down with that.
Ignore the fact it costs a pretty salty £3,699 for the moment, if you will. Please? Ta.
At 107kgs it’s hardly a heavyweight but the very first impression, when you hoik it off its titchy sidestand and throw a leg over it, is how roomy it is. There’s quite a lot of bar-seat-peg space considering its truncated 46in wheelbase. The seat is mega soft and squidgy, too.
That and pretty respectable stability up to around 50mph makes it an ideal commuter but it’s the WMTC 189mpg that is particularly appealing to those who hate public transport and stopping for petrol as much as I do. Its compact dimensions make it a breeze to park, as well. The fuel tank holds 5.6L – enough for more than 200 miles.
If this engine was a two-stroke it’d nip up seconds after starting. It runs super lean – presumably a down-side of being air cooled and having to pass current emissions testing. To try and inject a sensation of torque this little fuel-injected SOHC motor uses a very heavy flywheel. It works to a degree. The four widely-spaced gears need a bit of flywheel effect to counteract the drop in revs on upshifts. On back shifts, if you want to successfully match engine and road speed you need to do a comically large throttle blip to allow the engine time to respond to your inputs.
Top speed? I saw a best one-way of 63mph on my GPS speed app, sat bolt upright, cables stretched to the max in fourth gear. Weirdly, it’ll do 59mph revving its tits off in third gear. Top gear can be coaxed down to 25mph and still pull away pretty smartly without any noticeable farts or burps. At flat chat it’s not quite the paragon of stability it is at lower speeds, with the lightest of touch needed on the bars to keep it tracking straight and true.
But its 9bhp is fast enough to toast any car away from the lights up to around 40mph and, in town, that’s all you need isn’t it? The narrow physique also makes it a breeze to filter and you get the feeling motorists don’t begrudge you that space because of the Monkey’s inherently cheeky but friendly nature. It’s quiet, too so you’re not going to wind people up that way, either.
All you get when you’re riding a Monkey is grins and appreciation. There’s a lorra Monkey love out there. It’s s-o-o-o easy to ride. The super-light clutch actuation is consistently progressive with an easily controllable bite-spot. The same can be said of the throttle action and the gear selection. It takes you about five metres to feel at home and properly used to every control. The vertically challenged will approve of the 30in seat height as well.
There’s around four inches of fairly softly sprung and damped suspension travel fore and aft and coupled with those fat little 12" V-Rubber tyres it manages to deliver a pretty comfy ride over all but the biggest potholes. Nice touches? The way the LED dash blinks a pair of eyes (actually two zeros) at you when you first turn the ignition on. The 90-degree tyre valves are a thoughtful touch, too. I loved the Honda wing tank badge and the 70s font Monkey logo on the sidepanel needs to be on a T-shirt I reckon.
Right, I said you should ignore the price for a moment and the reason for that is the PCP package that Honda is offering on the Monkey. That package is £500 down and £65 per month. That’s the same sort of money as a Sky or BT package. And if it's a choice between a Sky subscription and a Monkey, Rupert Murdoch can do one.
I reckon Monkey is going to be a bit of a cult success but I reckon the real winners won’t be Honda, it’ll be the aftermarket accessory industry. If ever a bike cried out for modification, this is it, right here. I’ll have a 180cc high-comp big bore kit, a Keihin flat slide and a Moriwaki full zorst system please. Oh, and maybe a Lockhart oil cooler with braided lines.
Then, all I need is a stubbly field and a mate on an ST70 Dax to race...
Engine: 2v SOHC, air-cooled single, 125cc
Bore x stroke: 52.4 x 57.9mm
Compression ratio: 9.3:1
Max power: 9.2bhp@7,000rpm (claimed)
Max torque: 8ft lb@5,250rpm
Transmission: four speed, chain drive
Frame: steel tube backbone
Front suspension: USD fork
Rear suspension: twin shocks
Brakes: 220m disc, two-piston sliding caliper (front), single 190mm disc, single piston caliper rear, ABS with IMU.
Wheels/tyres: cast aluminium, Vee-Rubber 120/80 12 front, 130/80 12 rear
Rake/trail: 25° /82mm
Wet weight, fully fuelled (claimed): 107
Fuel capacity: 5.6 litres