“You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”
While this bit of creative marketing genius was crafted for the legendary Honda Super Cub moped, perhaps this ethos also convinced a certain amusement park in Tokyo back in the early 1960s into asking Honda to build some tiddly bikes for kids to tool around on its premise.
As Japan’s post-war industrial boom was already in full swing then, Honda naturally obliged, quickly developing what was effectively a tiny, two-wheeled 49cc toy bike of sorts. No, I’m not kidding. This really was how the original Honda Monkey was born, or at least what the cult-like folklore would lead all of us into believing.
Fast-forward to the 1970s and this little child’s plaything quickly became a highly sought-after mode of transport amongst the decade’s hip and cool crowd, of which many were a tad bit child-minded too if we’re honest. Crucially, it also appealed especially to those who appreciated clever, simple design and perfect proportions.
The original was indeed larger than life. Since its popularity picked up in the 1970s, everybody who was ‘cool’ had one, including the likes of musical icons John Lennon and Michael Jackson. With this in mind, you could understand the slight skepticism some folks held when Honda decided to reboot this cult classic for the modern day.
Well, thankfully, it seems much of the original Monkey’s magic has successfully returned in this revival. Riding on the MSX 125 (or Grom in certain parts of the world) meant that it has grown in size slightly, but it still is relatively tiny by any modern day motorcycle standards.
Honda has also blessed this modern day reboot with a host of modernised features, most notable being its new fuel-injected 125cc powertrain, disc brakes front and aft, a neat and simple digital speedo, not forgetting LED lighting front and aft that will make any millennial say “It’s #LitAF.” These are all welcoming changes indeed.
What remain though are the classic looks of the original. It still rolls on a pair of chunky tyres that look ready for the rough wrapped around 12-inch wheels, not forgetting its retro-styled 5.6-litre fuel tank, brat tracker-esque high-mounted exhaust pipe running down the right side, complete with a very wide and comfortable single-seat ribbed saddle
Unchanged is the image of child’s play which, let’s be honest, has led to many into dismissing the Monkey altogether. There’s also the very serious starting price tag of RM13,999 that importer and distributor Boon Siew Honda Sdn Bhd has set. In perspective, it cost two or three times more than any regular Honda kapchai on sale today.
Anyone with a pragmatic mind would say “it’s a useless novelty.”
In all fairness, a 10-year-old child could master it.
But I would gladly counter those claims and tell you that the Monkey is a fun bike, perhaps as fun as any other full-sized bike money can buy. With that, I asked myself, what would anyone do for ‘fun’ on a full-sized bike?
Well, the answer came when editor Daryl Loy said during one of our usual office banters: “Why don’t you take it up Genting Highlands, bro?” Yup, taking a bike this small with barely 10hp to make the climb up to the famed hilltop retreat sounded like the right way to prove once and for all just how much fun the Monkey can be.
A few days later, I found myself parked outside Dunkin’ Donuts in the famed BHP station along the Karak Highway, which is a usual starting point for many avid two-wheeled weekend warriors heading up to Genting Highlands. As we were there late on a Friday morning, there weren’t many of said warriors around, which saved me from many embarrassing laughs and stares.
Speaking of attention, the Monkey effortlessly commands quite a lot despite its small stature. Having commuted astride it over the past few days, I couldn’t help but notice the attention it got from other motorists. From those gasping in amazement to those who chuckle upon first sight, right up to a handful – mostly other bikers – who flashed me a thumbs up in admiration, there were plenty.
If anything, these were all signs that this modern day homage of sorts is still larger than life as the original. Despite its creators being one of the most serious players in the motorcycle industry, the Monkey simply doesn’t take itself too seriously, perhaps that explains why so many gravitate towards it and wanting to take a picture whilst on it too.
Like the original, it doesn’t take much to master this modern reboot. While you needed to kick-start the original bike’s carburetted, two-stroke 50cc heart, this one only takes a twist of a key and the press of a button to bring its modern, air-cooled, four-stroke and fuel-injected 125cc single-cylinder heart to life.
Getting the Monkey going also doesn’t take much, and that despite it having a proper clutch lever, foot-controlled gear lever and throttle to master and balance – just like any proper full-sized bike.
In all fairness, a 10-year-old child could master it. One just needs to master the motor’s rhythm and remember which of the four cogs – one more than the original – you’re in as the speedo doesn’t show you the latter.
Naturally, a bike this small isn’t meant to chart speed records or laptimes, so don’t expect this thing to get off-line smoking its rear tyre as its Fireblade cousin would. In fact, as I got it going out of the BHP station and into the Karak Highway towards Genting Highlands, I began to question if it’ll make it at all.
Firstly, there’s the aforementioned 5.6-litre fuel tank that, again, is relatively tiny by modern standards. Secondly, there’s also the fact that the Monkey’s single-cylinder heart doesn’t even thump out 10hp – it barely has that at 8.9hp in fact – and just about 10.5Nm of twist. Then again, the Monkey doesn’t need much to get its 105kg kerb weight going
Through urban traffic, this lack of power isn’t a huge bother really. In fact, things felt quite the opposite as filtering this in between cars, even during peak traffic hours, was a breeze thanks to its miniscule size. It’s when you’re out on the open road that things start to feel scary, especially when you’ve got to weave past large MPVs, SUVs, buses and lorries through a slightly busy Karak Highway on Friday just before lunch.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Monkey’s apparent lack of power really showed once Daryl, who was driving his own and perhaps fitting banana yellow-painted Kia Picanto as a chase car, easily went past me on the Monkey through some of the Karak Highway’s steep climbs. Mind you,even at full twist in fourth gear, the Monkey couldn’t even muster past 75kph during these climbs.
In case you’re wondering, the Monkey will barely hit 100kph, even on a good downhill run. Yes, there really isn’t much speed its single-cylinder can thump out. But that’s not the whole point of the Monkey. Instead, it’s how large of a grin it can carve on your face when you’re riding it. That is really what the Monkey’s all about.
What was surprising though was how frugal this air-cooled single-cylinder mill was. Leaving the BHP on Karak Highway with a full tank, I was surprised to find that the Monkey barely went through one of its six fuel bars presented on the monochromatic digital display – another neat feature if I might add – once I reached the Petron station in Gohtong Jaya – yet another popular bikers’ haunt.
What made the whole affair a lot comfortable too was the Monkey’s wide and amply padded ribbed seat saddle. With just one look, I don’t need to tell you how comfortable it was to rest my derriere on it over long periods. I just wished all bike seats were this comfortable, never mind the fact I couldn’t bring a plus one along for the ride.
At this point, I was already certain the Monkey could go further. So after a quick discussion, Daryl and I agreed to proceed at high noon to the top of Genting Highlands. What we didn’t take into account was the notorious fog that covered the peak, even at odd times of the day.
Riding through the fog on something so small was equally as scary as making the climb through a busy Karak Highway and towards Gohtong Jaya. Though we did reach the top where First World Hotel & Casino is, the ride down towards the Chin Swee Temple parking was indeed harrowing through such low visibility
Nevertheless, the Monkey effortlessly did all this, despite having to crawl in second gear for most parts of it. Again, what was surprising was how frugal the Monkey was through this ride as I had more than enough to make the trip home towards Cheras later on after our photoshoot was done.
What was also certain was the big grin hiding underneath my Shark lid whilst doing all this. With the Monkey, power and speed, let alone size and stature are suddenly irrelevant. Instead, what the Monkey is big on is style, fun and, most of all, spirit.
If you’re new to riding and want a fun and less serious introduction to it all, then this is the right kind of Monkey business to indulge in. It may not be the cheapest, nor is it the most practical for the daily grind, but the Monkey is certainly worth every penny if you wanted to have a lot fun in style.
And, should you have enough courage and can-do spirit, there’s little in the way of you, or anyone else, from having bucketloads of riding fun with this Monkey…
|Engine||Air-cooled, 125cc SHOC single cylinder with electronic fuel injection (PGM-FI), 8.9hp, 10.5Nm|
|Price||RM13,999 (base price)|
|Transmission||4-speed constant mesh manual with multiplate clutch|
|Fuel tank||5.6 litre|