Consider this: The original Honda Monkey was created as an amusement park ride, its design a child's mind's-eye vision of a motorcycle, its feel a napping-enthusiast's dream of what motorcycling means. And it was named by users for how adults looked on it and because it was gosh-darn fun to ride. All of that, and more, is within the soul of the all-new Honda Monkey.

Added to that, the immediate riding impression of today’s Monkey is one of pure, visceral, monstrous fun. It’s a barrel of let’s-do-it-again fun. It shines. It’s business. It’s your uncle. It does what it sees. It makes one out of you. It’s a little bike that makes every rider a kid. Although fun might be a limited scope of performance, the Monkey makes no excuses for that while also making no excuses for how you look on it.

Honda Monkey
Designed as an amusement park ride in the early 1960s, the Honda Monkey was a child’s vision of a motorcycle.Kevin Wing

According to Honda’s Japanese website, the original “Monkey” mini-moto bikes were born back in the early 1960s when Takeo Fujisawa, a partner of Soichiro Honda, created three amusements parks in Japan to give children, and adults, a dynamic motoring experience that was engaging yet safe. The Ikoma Tec and Tama Tech parks opened in April 1962, with the Suzuka Circuit amusement park opening in January 1963.

In those days there were even very few automobiles in Japan, so these parks provided a means to experience motoring and motorcycling as new cultural experiences. For children in particular, those little people destined to be tomorrow’s adults, it was a transitional time of growing economies, rock and roll, and toys made of folded tin that bloodied their little fingers. Excellence of manufacturing would soon follow, as would televisions, stereos, and eight-track tape players.

The park rides featured Honda-made mini-motos with real 49cc Z100, Super Cub engines, from which riders could experience a thrill that was unavailable anywhere else. Essentially motorized carousels, the mini-moto rides featured each bike in a circle attached by a rod to a central hub, with them driving around on a single track. The technical and safety features of these rides are difficult to suss out today, but they worked, the riders had fun, and the children rode off into the future.

In 1968, the original Monkey was introduced in the USA, now 51 years later the Monkey returns.Kevin Wing

Within a couple of years, due to the popularity of the rides and manufacturing already in place, Honda put the mini-motos into mass production, first releasing them as the CZ100 for Asian and European markets, continuing forward with the 49cc engine as the powerplant.

Finally, in 1968, the Honda Z50A was introduced to the USA market, happily bringing with it its informal “Monkey” appellation. It featured 8-inch wheels and a folding handlebar, with the 1969–’70 version updated with a headlight and taillight, though it was not street legal. Dual rear shocks appeared on the Monkey in 1972, highly improving the ride from a true hard-core minibike that had a hardtail in lieu of suspension. In just its first year in the States, 50,000 Monkeys were sold, which is a stunning number by today’s measure.

The need for a street-legal retro-styled, 12-inch-wheeled Monkey, with more power than a 49cc can muster, was revealed by the surprise sales numbers of the Grom that was introduced to USA enthusiasts in 2013. The total of USA Grom sales since 2013 is now cresting 40,000 units, and it just might be the best-selling small-wheeled metric bike in the US today.

Honda Grom
The Monkey is powered by the same engine used by the Honda Grom—125cc of fun.Kevin Wing

The 2019 Honda Monkey shares some Grom components, but Honda considers the Monkey a boutique upgrade of its current mini-moto predecessor due to its posh details of retro styling. Retro features include twin shocks, a 1.5-gallon, painted metal fuel tank that features old-school Honda wing logos, and chromed steel fenders. Weighing in wet and ready to ride at 232 pounds (236 with ABS), compared to the Grom’s 229 pounds, it is pretty close to the same weight and with equivalent performance. It also shares the Grom’s inverted fork legs and forward chassis section, which is hidden from view.

Honda Monkey painted metal tank
Details like the painted metal tank are retro-perfect.Kevin Wing

Like the Grom, fork rake is 25 degrees, but the machine has 1mm more trail at 82mm. Considering the Monkey has a different swingarm than the Grom, due to its dual shocks, and considering the wheelbase from axle to axle of its 12-inch wheels is considerably shorter, at 45.3 inches compared to the Grom’s 47.2 inches, that would explain the moderately different trail.

The Monkey is powered by the same 125cc, single-overhead-cam, two-valve, air-cooled engine, with a four-speed transmission, as the Grom, though it has differing case covers to enhance the Monkey’s retro aesthetic. The Monkey has a catalytic converter hiding beneath the engine, with a high pipe and its artful heat shield efficiently distracting the eye from that EPA-required component.

The seat height of the Monkey is 30.6 inches, which isn’t low but the narrow tank gives it a lower feel than many seats at that height. For comparison, the Grom’s seat height is an even 30 inches.

Monkey seat
Seat height on the Monkey is 30.6 inches.Kevin Wing

Of course, the Monkey also has many modern features that riders don’t even think about today, such as electric starter, disc brakes at both wheels, EFI, LED lighting, and an LCD gauge that features a speedometer, odometer, fuel level, and two tripmeters. Tripmeters? Sure, okay, why not?

Monkey’s LCD gauge
The Monkey’s LCD gauge features a speedo, odometer, fuel level, and two tripmeters.Kevin Wing

ABS is an option and it is front-wheel only, facilitated by an IMU that limits rear-end lift as well as wheel lockup. The Monkey is available two colors: Banana Yellow or Pearl Nebula Red. For those who haven’t studied the images, the Monkey has no passenger pegs. So get your own. It also has no gear indicator on the dash, but with only four gears every rider should acquire a feel for which is which pretty quickly.

Riding the Monkey revealed zero concerns. Really. It is just plain and simply a bike that’s stupid fun to ride and we would still be riding it right now, and again tomorrow, had it not been taken from us. Oh, no, wait, here’s a concern, the clutch doesn’t engage until it’s nearly at full lever release, resulting occasionally in over-revving. Is that too silly to even mention? Does anyone care about that? I mean, we’ve all eaten birthday cake after someone has spit all over it, and we’ve all liked it.

125cc’s, four gears and 12-inch wheels
Stupid fun: 125cc, four gears, and 12-inch wheels.Kevin Wing

Although this was not a heads-up comparison, the Monkey does feel as though its slightly different chassis numbers might provide a more stable feel and more predictable feedback. It turns in smoothly, has no tendency to fall into a turns, and its feel is steady from tight corners to bumpy, sweeping, fast curves. Fast is, of course, relative.

We had limited time and miles on the bike but at the end of the day we were allowed freedom to ride alone, doing laps up and down a small mountain top on California’s Santa Catalina Island, always of course with respectful discretion. A couple of bikes tested throughout the years have brought out involuntary laughter due to being intensely fast, but the Monkey has caused that same reaction simply for being so intensely fun. It’s a gas.

Santa Catalina Island
Laps around the small mountaintop of Santa Catalina Island brought nothing but laughter and smiles.Kevin Wing

It’s stunning how simple little bikes can bring one back to the essential core of what is most enrapturing about motorcycling. Mini-motos rule and the Honda Monkey gets an A+ in that niche for being the right bike at the right time, with the right feel and the right look, on top of being from a trusted brand. While riders might be happy with any mini-motos on the market, if the Monkey’s $3,999 can be managed, or $4,199 for the ABS version, do not hesitate. If Honda sells 17,000 of them in 2019, I get $5 for a little side bet I made. But I’ll call foul if they don’t manufacture enough. I need the money.

The Monkey amusement park ride will be at dealers the first of October.

Honda’s Monkey is simple and fun—everything a retro-mini should be.Kevin Wing
PRICE $3,999 / $4,199 (ABS)
ENGINE 125cc air-cooled single
FRAME Tubular steel backbone
FRONT SUSPENSION 31mm inverted fork; 3.9-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Dual shocks; 4.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Two-piston caliper, 220mm disc w/ optional ABS
REAR BRAKE One-piston caliper, 190mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 25.0°/3.2 in.
WHEELBASE 45.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.6 in.
CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT 232 lb. / 236 lb. (ABS)
AVAILABLE September 2019