RIDING DIFFERENT BIKES. RACING SOME
We don’t just write about famous superbikes from the late 80’s and 90’s. A bike doesn’t have to be big and powerful to be featured in our Classic Crush-series. So next up is the Honda Monkey. Is there any motorcyclist who does not know about ‘the Monkey’? It has become a concept in its own right.
The well-known mini bike is one of the most sold bikes in the world. The Honda Monkey might be small, but it is big in attitude. Over the years, the Monkey has grown in size. Officially, it is still a mini bike. But it used to be a whole lot smaller, with an engine of just 50cc. Let us tell you all about this little fellow.
Let’s go back to 1961. It was the year a new attraction opened in Tokyo’s Tama Tech Park. The park featured a section dedicated to Honda Motor. It did not just show motorcycle attractions, but secretly also was a test bed for de new models. The new attraction featured 50cc miniature motorcycles. The first mini bikes, if you will.
The attraction started as a kids thing, but sooner rather than later the kids were chased from the playground and the adults took over. It was huge hit from the start. Grown-ups squeezed themselves onto the mini bikes to race around a miniature racetrack.
The mini bike starring the attraction-show was the Honda Z100. A press member stated the adults that squeezed themselves onto those little motorbikes looked like monkeys. The iconic mini bikes never lost that name.
In 1963, the brand launched the Honda CZ100, which was street legal. They aimed sales primarily at the Asian and European market, where it launched in 1964. But the lawn-mower mini bike sales actually went through the roof in the United States. One can only imagine what would have happened if Honda had decided to launch in the US as well at that time. But Honda focused on their CB450 in the US, which turned out to be a very smart move as well.
It took 7 years for the first true Honda Monkey to roll off Honda’s assembly line. This was the Honda Z50 Monkey. Honda wasn’t the first to produce mini bikes. There were quite a few other companies who offered mini bikes with little lawn mower engines. But once Honda entered the game, they immediately claimed the throne.
Engine: 49 cc four stroke
Power: 2.4 hp / 1.8 kW
Seat height: 574 mm / 22.6 inches
Fuel tank: 4.9 litres / 1.3 gal
Dry weight: 49.5 kg / 109.1 pounds
Top speed: 25 mph / 40 kph
The second generation Honda Z minibikes – which basically started the Monkey stardom – were also known as the ‘Hard Tail’ Monkeys. They are iconic little bikes. The fat saddle, which was bigger than the fuel tank, stands out. But don’t be fooled. They did get the Hard Tail nickname for a reason. Due to their lack of rear shock absorbers, riding the Honda Monkey Z50A wasn’t all too comfortable. In 1972, the Honda Z50A was graced with rear shock absorbers, which sparked the new nickname ‘Soft Tail’.
The iconic Honda Monkey Z50Z was introduced in 1970. It had a front suspension with a quick-detach option. This allowed you to fold the bike, making it even smaller. This way, it could easily fit into the trunk of a car. A centre stand was added to support the bike when one removed the forks. Over the years, the Honda Monkey went through quite some changes.
The 1974 Monkey Z50J got rear suspension and and independent swing arm. Four years later, the 1978 Honda Monkey Z50J-I) is the first model with the iconic ‘tear drop’ styled fuel tank and an increased fuel capacity of 5 liters. And in 1985, the first Honda Monkey with a hand operated clutch was introduced.
Many variations of the Honda Monkey were made. Think of offroad versons like the 1979 Honda Z50R, which was Honda’s answer to the increasing demand for mini dirt bikes. It had a little bit more power than the previous Monkeys and it turned out to be a huge hit. Mini motocross competitions sprouted like crazy. And right now, the Honda Monkey Z50R is one of the most desirable Monkeys. At least, for collectors that is.
But also think of the Monkey Baja Africa. It is one of the rarest Monkeys out there. It’s the dream bike for many Monkey collectors. The Baja Africa actually wasn’t build by the Honda factory. They just made a kit you could buy and bolt onto your own Baja Monkey. The kit included a fuel tank, side covers, a rear cowl, front fender, an engine bash plate, a wind deflector and everything you needed to bolt it all onto your Baja.
It wasn’t that hard to do. And it fully transformed your Monkey Baja into a miniature version of the very popular Honda Africa Twin. Due to the Africa kit being produced only in limited numbers, it is one of the most collectible specials out there.
Also multiple limited editions were made. Such as chrome plated Honda Monkeys, and gold plated ones.
The production of the Honda Monkey Z50 series was discontinued in August 2017. It retired with the release of a limited edition. This was the 50th anniversary special, which was only available to Japanese customers. 50 years of production is a long, long time. Not many motorcycle models manage to be produced for such a long period of time. It shows how popular the Monkey was. And still is, actually.
In 2018, Honda announced a ressurrection of the Honda Monkey for 2019. The 2019 model actually isn’t a true Monkey anymore. It does not host the iconic 50cc engine which – alongside its charming small size – made it so popular across the globe.
The 2019 Honda Monkey is actually based on the Honda Grom and hosts the same 125 cc engine. But they have taken the styling and the paint schemes of the iconic Monkey and put the name on it. Is it truly a Monkey? I’m not sure. But one thing is for sure; it still looks really, really good. And cute.
The Honda Monkey stole, arguably, more hearts than any other motorcycle. Ever. It has the chunky tyres. The little ‘ape’ style handlebars. The little fuel tank that provides just enough capacity to ensure a whole lot of fun. And a big, squishy seat to rest your bum on. It wasn’t just timeless when it got first introduced. It was magnificent, right from the get-go. And it never lost that charm.
Not everyone might want to buy one. But I can’t think of any motorcyclist that would say ‘Nawh, I don’t want one’ when provided the change of acquiring one. For the right price. Because those babies aren’t exactly cheap. You easily pay between €4.000 and €6.000 for a decent, older Z50 model. And the new ones go for €5.000.
The Honda Monkey is one of the cutest motorcycles ever made, if you ask me. A production period of 50 years proves the high demand that went on for years. It was a hit from the moment it was first introduced. And it barely needed changes. Even now, the first generation Z series are highly collectible. People actually want the less comfortable Monkey. But it looks that good, and it is that much fun.
It was updated and somewhat redesigned over the years. But always kept its charm. Even the new 125 Monkey that was introduced, and the new one that was announced for 2023, resemble the charm of the original Z50. I knew what I would do, if I had a few grant left, that I would not need for fixing my bikes (oh the bike life..) or racing on track (one you start riding on track, you just can’t stop doing so). I would get myself a Honda Monkey and have a blast cruising around town. And enjoy all the smiling faces whenever I pass by.
The latter is also one of the reasons why we love classic motorcycles in general.