HONDA MONKEY 125 (2018 - on) Review
- Impossibly cute, retro-styled version of Grom mini bike
- Road legal and eligible for riding with CBT
- Typical Honda build quality
At a glance
|Owners' reliability rating:|
|Annual servicing cost:||£80|
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
Honda produced the very first production Monkey bike back in 1967 and the new model continues the spirit of the original.
- Latest news: 2021 Honda Monkey 125 unveiled
The frame and engine are from Honda's MSX125 minibike as introduced in 2014, which also donates its wheels, brakes and front suspension, but the styling is very much inspired by the original, with the result being mouth-wateringly cute but with thoroughly modern mechanicals and manners.
Size-wise we’re talking small – the new Monkey has 12in wheels and a seat height of only 776mm. But the biggest compliment we can give the Monkey is that it works just like any other modern 125: it’s hugely enjoyable to ride, able to keep with – and cut up – traffic with ease, with the result that for riding around town, it’s quite simply brilliant.
It’s so small, light and nimble that it slips through traffic but unlike other dreary commuting bikes, is a laugh a minute.
On faster roads, such as country A-roads, with a top whack of around 60 and a sense of vulnerability that goes with its size, it’s a different story of course – and we wouldn’t recommend the Monkey for dual carriageways or motorways, either.
But that’s missing the point. Honda has built a bike that not only looks good but also functions in the modern world. On some retros that isn’t always the case as, frustratingly, styling so often takes priority over ride-ability.
What’s more, as with most 125s, the Monkey can be ridden on L-plates with a provisional driving licence, as long as you've taken a CBT. All of that’s true of the slightly cheaper, arguably funkier Grom, too. But that bike’s more for trendy teens. If you like a touch of classics and want a fun bike that reminds you of your youth we can’t think of any cuter introduction to motorcycling.
The Honda Monkey is a laugh a minute
The biggest compliment you can give the Monkey is that it works just like any other modern 125 – with a sheet chucked over it you’d be hard pressed to tell you were riding something that looks so daft.
Honda have built a bike that not only looks good, but also functions in the modern world. On some retros that isn’t always the case as, frustratingly, styling so often takes priority over ride-ability.
As with most 125s, the Monkey can be ridden on L-plates with a provisional driving licence, as long as you've taken a CBT.
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
Because the Honda Monkey is so small you can simply fly around town – hitting gaps in traffic that aren’t really on before buzzing off into the distance.
- Related feature: Touring on a Monkey
The suspension – modern-looking inverted forks at the front with colour-coded, non-adjustable twin shocks at the rear – is set ultra soft, as is the enormous, deeply padded and ribbed seat, but on the rough roads of our London West End test ride, it was my derrière’s best friend, dispatching potholes with ease.
The only downside to this soft ride is that the Monkey has a max permissable weight limit of 105kg, which you could easily reach if you’ve got all your gear on and a bag full of ‘swag’.
At the other extreme, you could also take the Monkey on a motorway – not that we would recommend it. It’d be utterly tedious not to mention making you feel slightly paranoid. Realistically, the Monkey is a bike designed for urban living, something it demonstrated by making light work of a heavily-congested Stratford near the Olympic Park.
Given the Monkey’s so light, the braking is good, too. Although there’s just a single 190mm disc upfront grasped by meagre twin piston caliper with a matching set up at the rear, they’re powerful enough with plenty of feel.
While even the ABS system, which is linked to an IMU to keep the bike level under hard braking, is faultless and the only time I managed to get it activating throughout the day was on some very aggressive traffic-calming bumps.
EngineNext up: Reliability
Honda’s modern Monkey is powered by an air-cooled, four-stroke 125cc motor producing just 9bhp and 8.1ftlb of torque – although this was uprated for 2021 – and is easy as pie to operate: key in, turn it on and the Monkey's LCD dash bursts into life and gives you a cheeky little wink (no really).
Then you simply stab the starter button, click it into gear and set off on one of the most grin-inducing rides you can imagine. The little Monkey is unbelievably fun.
The little air-cooled single has enough poke to keep things interesting and because it weighs nothing it pulls away quite quickly.
It only has four gears though (although this again was uprated to five for 2021), so it does seem to run out of puff around 55mph – but that's more than enough for inner-city riding wher you also appreciate its ultra-light clutch and feather-light gearbox, meaning that changing ratios takes little effort.
The Monkey's throttle is delightfully smooth too, without any hint of snatchiness at low throttle openings, and is also remarkably vibe-free, except at tickover when it shakes like a miniscule Harley-Davidson.
But while all that’s fine around town and for sitting in flowing traffic, that meagre performance means overtaking is pretty much ruled out. Yes, the Monkey accelerates well and you can outgun cars into roundabouts and up to about 40mph, but even 50mph lorries require a very long stretch of clear road to crawl past.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
Although the Monkey, and its stablemate, the MSX125 Grom, aren’t the only monkey or mini bikes currently available on the market – and are certainly not the cheapest, either – both exude an air of class and quality few others come close to.
Although small it’s as properly designed and equipped as any other Honda. The Grom has a good reputation for reliability so there’s no real reason the Monkey shouldn’t develop one, too. Owners also rave about its quality and reliability, it stands out in a crowd and both have also developed a devoted following, reassured by Honda’s quality dealer network and a two year warranty.
With the Monkey, besides the basic MSX mechanicals, all the required classic details are present and correct, including the old-school Honda Wing logo on the tank – but it doesn’t look any the worse for its modern features either. It even exudes an air of old-school Honda quality because all the shiny things are proper metal, not just plastic with a chrome veneer.
If looked after, we’ve no reason to expect any problems. The Monkey is a Honda, with all the reassurance and quality that brings. It’s an understressed 125, so is unlikely to suffer wear or strain, and it’s dimuitive and a doddle to ride, so unlikely to suffer crash damage.
Our only slight hesitation comes from any damage or reliability issues that may arise from owner Tomfoolery or neglect – it is a fun 125 after all. Although, on reflection, that’s more likely a doubt to be aimed at the Grom rather than the Monkey, which we suspect will probably be bought by more mature riders.
In our experience, people instantly warmed to the wacky Monkey. From the petrol pump attendant who laughed at its size to the builders on the M40 who filmed the Honda as it crawled past a lorry, everyone reacted positively to it.
Throughout the day we spent together there were so many small moments as people reacted to the diddy Honda that made me smile.
Our Honda Monkey Bike owners' reviews show glowing praise for the tiny tearaway, with no reliability issues reported.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
Although not cheap to buy compared to some mini or monkey bikes, the Honda Monkey 125, and its MSX125 Grom sibling, should be as cheap as chips to run.
The only comparable monkey bikes recently available have been WK Bikes Colt 50, which has nothing like the credibility or performance of the Hondas, and Benelli’s TNT 125, which is now deleted, and was more of a budget Grom-rival than an alternative to the Monkey.
Being a 125 means Monkey insurance will be cheap, too, depending where you live of course. Its diminuitive performance means it doesn’t have much of an appetitie for the usual consumables such as tyres, brake pads, chain and so on.
Servicing should be affordable, too, as it’s a doddle to work on and on top of all that Honda claim it does an impressive 189 miles to the gallon!
A further boost will almost certainly be residual values. While cheaper, less desireable monkey bikes will see their value plummet the second you wheel it out of the dealer’s door, both the Monkey and MSX125/Grom are already almost cult bikes and hugelt in demand, meaning residual values are strong – something again assisting cost of ownership.
When launched the Monkey cost £3695, exactly £300 more than the Honda MSX125 Grom that it’s based on but, in our eyes at least, it’s worth it for the extra cool factor alone.
Like all modern manufacturers, it’s also available via a couple of finance options including PCP for around just £65 a month and HP for £100 a month. That said, as we write Honda were also offering the larger Honda CB300R for just £59-a-month, or a Honda CMX500 Rebel cruiser for £89-a-month, which both make the little Monkey look like poor value. But do they offer the same cool factor? Only you can decide.
Some monkey bike history with Honda. Which do you remember pic.twitter.com/xhFTDnUYMF— Motor Cycle News (@MCNnews) July 19, 2018
This is one of the key areas where the Honda Monkey 125 – and its MSX125/Grom brother – stand out from other mini bikes available on the market.
Amazingly the wee Honda Monkey is full of the latest tech. For a start the little LCD dash features a digital speedo, two trips plus a six bar fuel gauge – all useful stuff – while the little key fob has a button to ‘answer back’ in case you lose it in a crowded bike park or indeed a field with tall grass…
There’s also LED lighting throughout and, perhaps most impressively of all, an IMU is fitted enabling anti-tilt or cornering ABS on the front wheel. (This is the system found in the 2014 to 2016 Honda Fireblade and works well, too, although the rear brake, which isn’t part of the ABS system, is poor in comparison.)
The Monkey (and MSX) was also updated for 2021, gaining a revised, now-Euro5 compliant engine that actually gained a touch more power and a useful fifth gear.
While the Honda 125s’ popularity also means there’s a thriving aftermarket for accessories – particularly for the cult and longer established – Grom.
|Engine type||Air cooled SOHC four-stroke, 2 valve|
|Frame type||Steel backbone|
|Fuel capacity||5.6 litres|
|Front suspension||Non-adjustable USD forks, 100mm travel|
|Rear suspension||Non-adjustable twin shocks, 104mm travel|
|Front brake||Single 190mm disc, with IMU ABS|
|Rear brake||190mm disc|
|Front tyre size||120/80 x 12|
|Rear tyre size||130/80 x 12|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||189 mpg|
|Annual road tax||-|
|Annual service cost||£80|
|Used price||£3,300 - £3,600|
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How much to insure?
|Warranty term||Two years|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||9 bhp|
|Max torque||8.1 ft-lb|
|1/4 mile acceleration||-|
|Tank range||235 miles|
Model history & versions
Although the Monkey 125 was launched in 2018, the Monkey name has been around since the 1960s, starting in 1961 as an attraction for children at a Japanese theme park, complete with dinky five inch wheels and rigid suspension.
This then spawned a variety of other models, each sporting their own style and size. The first road-going Monkey arrived in 1963 and remained in Honda's line-up until 2009. Nine years later, it makes its return. See the above review for a more in-depth infographic of model history.
The Honda Monkey 125 is based on the similarly-sized Honda MSX125, or Grom as it's also known.
Using the same wheels, brakes and front suspension, the humble Grom has been with us since 2013 and, in that time, has recieved updates to make it Euro4 compliant.
MCN Long term test reports
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Owners' reviews for the HONDA MONKEY 125 (2018 - on)
3 owners have reviewed their HONDA MONKEY 125 (2018 - on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.
Summary of owners' reviews
|Ride quality & brakes:|
|Reliability & build quality:|
|Value vs rivals:|
|Annual servicing cost:||£80|
The Honda 125 Monkey Bike is great fun, built to a high standard and surprisingly comfortable. It handles like any other 125 but with a low seat height and being very lightweight, it is easy to ride and exceptionally nimble and manoeuvrable around town.
The ride quality is very good and the seat is exceptionally comfortable. The bike has ABS, so breaking is quite reasonable. The smaller tyres just mean you have to be careful of pot holes but it generally rides like a regular bike.
The engine is quite spritely, given its size and will get you away from traffic lights fairly swiftly. The four gears take a bit of getting used to and with no gear indicator, at first I was always trying to change up to an imaginary 5th gear. On faster roads it will sit comfortably at 55/60 mph but I wouldn’t like to take on a dual carriageway as it lacks power at higher speeds.
I have only had the bike a few months, so long term reliability is unknown but so far it hasn’t let me down. Starts first time, all the switches and gauges work fine and the bike has LED lights and indicators which help you to be seen. The bike feels premium and well made.
The bike is very frugal and so far I’ve covered nearly 200 miles on £5 of fuel! Insurance is very cheap (but obviously this will depend on your age and where you live) and annual road tax is next to nothing (£20).
Equipment wise, the bike is quite basic but that is part of the attraction. It has a nice electronic gauge with speed, fuel and mileage easily readable and comes with ABS. It could benefit from a gear indicator though.
Buying experience: Bought pre-owned from Moonraker Motorcycles in Norwich who were excellent.
makes you smile from ear to ear
Super nimble and confidence building
Annual servicing cost: £85
Running costs make this bike practically invisible to own ( I’m 56, insurance negligible, road tax £20 and MPG easily 160) Looks awesome (imho), suspension more suited to the “lighter” rider!
Suspension is suited to the lighter rider, consider upgrade if in the 85kg or higher category as the bike bottoms out to easily if you like the pies...
I don’t know what you’d expect from a road legal 125 but it’s more than adequate for its intended purpose.
Built to last - Typical Honda.
Took out a service plan to ease the cost. Good value overall from the dealer.
Could do with a gear indicator, Rev counter and clock imho but it has most everything you need. Easily sorted via the aftermarket..
Buying experience: £3650 not much discount as the bike was a new release and in demand so dealers couldn’t get them quick enough to meet demand. They are being discounted now though ( 12 months later)