Why Honda’s new CT125 makes a great adv (and why it doesn’t)

After showing up at the 2019 bike shows, Honda launched the CT125 in March until you-know-what happened. Now it’s out as a 2021 model with enough out there to have a good old speculate. It’s expected to sell in Europe as the CT125 Trail Cub or the Hunter Cub in North America. Price just $3899 in the US where, half a century ago the bike was well loved.

In AMH8 I write about Jap ~200-cc ag bikes as lightweight travel bikes. Most are based on prehistoric air-cooled mutts but Honda’s AG190 (above) leads the pack with EFI and a front disc brake! However, I’m not certain my enthusiasm has translated into widespread uptake, perhaps because you can only buy them in RSA (called an XR190 – less ag-featured) or Downunder.

The CT is based on the retrotastic C125 Super Cub (left), the reborn Honda step-thru which claims to be the world’s best selling two-wheeler. The machine your not-into-biking grandad once rode to the sorting office every morning now has ABS, cast TL wheels, EFI and a modern take on the old hack’s bodywork. No, I wouldn’t look twice at one either, but I would at Yamaha’s stillborn TW-based Ryoku (below) from 2013.

Your CT (Trail Cub?) dates back to fondly recalled CT90 and CT110 scoots produced from the mid-1960s to the mid 80s in America, Australia and maybe elsewhere. The legend goes that Honda USA noticed farmers buying easy-to-manage step-thrus for ranch duties, went to the drawing board and gave them what they wanted. Like Cubs, the centrifugal clutch means no clutch lever: drive engages as revs climb, like an auto car. Good for hill starts. To change up just back off the throttle as you stamp on the heel-toe shifter. Old school quickshifting ;-D Kickstart only according to the Jap specs bottom of the page, though the red bike graphic below has what could be a starter motor on top of the engine. It’s probably some emissions. breather canister.

Some old CTs had dual rear sprockets (not unlike a derailing pushbike), others had no less than a dual-range gearbox like a proper 4×4! Honda took this seriously, although swapping front sprockets (as I’ve done myself on various desert bikes with long approach rides) is easier than swapping rears as it eliminates faffing with chain lengths.
Hard to believe but from the Jap spec sheet (bottom of the page) and the image left (could be a prototype) it does appear their CT125 gets L <–> H dual range too (it’s common for Jap spec models to be higher-spec / more exotic than what we get).
From my 4×4 experience I know that low-range is mostly about control: carefully picking your way through rough terrain or pulling out of power-sapping conditions without stressing the clutch. As we all know, first gear on most regular bikes is too high – hence the spare small front sprocket idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if the EU/NA CT125s end up having the regular four speed boxes.
Enough chat; let’s speculate on the images below. Click for larger.

Later…
After spending a few of hours putting all this together I’m not sure I’ve convinced myself a CT125 is for me. It’s just a spin-off from the Super Cub/Grom/Monkey Bike which I’d never see as contenders. The mpg is stunning but it’s a low-powered ONE TWO FIVE with poor standing eros which just doesn’t suit my size. It would make an easy-to-ride scoot for my Morocco tours and be loads more fun than the 310GSs we use, but if I’m going in this direction for my own bike I’d sooner import an AG190 which will probably end up costing the same. or just calm down and get a CRF-L like everyone else.

12 thoughts on “Why Honda’s new CT125 makes a great adv (and why it doesn’t)

  1. Robin Davies

    I ‘m desperately hoping that Honda actually bring the CT to the UK. I’ve ridden bikes all my life, and although I still have a ‘big’ bike, I find myself more interested in the smaller (different) stuff now as motorcycles seem to have morphed into everything being the same. I have recently bought a Honda Monkey 125 as a runaround, and was pleasantly surprised with it’s performance (I’m 17ST and 6′). I really fancy the idea of driving round europe on a CT….. Obviously sticking to back roads. A 200cc would be the ideal for a CT tourer, but it’s probably a pipe dream………….anyway, fingers crossed………….

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    1. Alexlebrit

      Perhaps the trick then would be to import an original from Oz and for a bigger engine from the likes of OO racing?
      I think they go out as far as 190cc.

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  2. Alexlebrit

    It’s a mindset thing I think, and comes down to how you want to travel. Little bikes like the CT125 are like bicycles with motors, load them light, ride them slow, if you’ve got long distances to cover either take the time, or load them into the back of a pick-up or public transport (we really need more motorail in Europe).
    And perhaps it’s about thinking that the adventure starts the moment you leave your front door, not when you arrive in North Africa?

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  3. Paul

    Nice review, Chris.
    I always thought the CT110 would make a good adventure bike for places like Mozambique where traffic speeds are generally reasonable, thanks to the parlous state of the country’s roads. Also, you could always throw it in the back of a “chapa cem” (public transport) without too much bother if needed.
    In the winter of 94/95, I spent a week touring the boonies around Hanoi on a Honda Cub C90. There were four us — two on Cubs and a couple on a Minsk 125 two-stroke scrambler. (Seeing the Minsk handle Vietnam’s rubbish roads two and and laden with kit convinced me that 125 cubic tiny ponies is all you need in a proper adventure bike.)
    I’m 6’3” and weigh 85kg and the Cub coped nicely, even on biscuit tyres. Comfy, too.
    We had planned to spend New Year in Dien Bien Phu, 280-ish odd kilometres on mountain roads from Hanoi. Luckily, we got lost leaving Hanoi. We spent a week tooling around in freezing rain and wind on a mixture of roads ranging from Russian-made highways to paddy dikes.
    Years later in Cape Town, I bought a Honda CT200 AG. Automatic. Sheep rack rear, lamb rack over the headlight. Double sidestands!
    Loved that bike but not enough puff for the highway and downright terrifying on Cape Town’s angry streets. Took it on some weekend adventures, though, and it made an OK commuter.
    Which is the long story about how I ended up with a brand new Suzuki fat-tyre RV125 “VanVan” in 2018 with plans to use it as a Karoo desert back road adventure bike.
    After an unhappy year of riding, I reckon the sweet spot for adventure is 250cc. The little Kwak would do nicely but they, like all bikes, are stupidly expensive here. I tested and loved the country’s one and only Enfield Himalayan but Chennai would only supply the bike to RSA if sales in the thousands were guaranteed. So it goes …

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    1. Chris S Post author

      ‘Lamb rack’ – I like it ;-D. Yes I forget my own experiments with 250s a few years back (CRF, XR, WR, KLX). It is the realistic minimum once carrying a load and as i’m better fed than you. Him was really good – but the weight of a 500.
      In the US there is a whole sub-cult among older riders for low-saddled TW200s on the BDRs.

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      1. Paul

        OH, yeah, the littleTeeDub. Nice little bike and bulletproof. I rode them a couple of times but it really was too small for me.
        Has a cult following here too and some people take them across the Limpopo into other countries.

        I reckon those tyres would be a nightmare to find if your shredded one on a bad patch of Moz Tar.

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  4. Marvin

    Hi Chris,
    Some good points you raise about the CT-125. I think they’d make a great introductory trail bike for youngsters or new bikers who are still on learner plates and limited to a 125. I reckon the combination of low weight and the weight being pretty low down too would make it a very easy bike to ride off road. Perfect for riding little B-roads then onto green lanes!

    Of course, for bigger trips around Europe or the USA, which involve using arterial roads, something that will keep up with the flow of traffic is more ideal…but I can see the appeal of the little hunter cub. Makes alot of sense in Asia too.

    I think they do have electric start – this Japanese vid a few seconds in shows being started via push-button:

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  5. SIL4

    To add to Jason’s post, the other thing of course is that the southeast asian demographic tends to be physically shorter and leaner than the western one, hence the popularity of trials bikes in Japan and proliferation of long established (bit now diminished) domestic market Serows etc. that catered for the shorter leg and make machines actually useable in those environments: a lowered version of CRF250L is offered as standard in Japan, but even there the market is being driven by bigger, more aggressive European tastes.

    As the owner of an ageing 30″ inseam and topping out at 12st, my days of trying to manhandle 250+kg from a 900mm seat height are well and truly past and so I’d like to see more affordable and accessible machines like this, to encourage more people to ride if nothing else, but it seems the largely adventure bike arms race hasn’t quite yet run its course…

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  6. jason

    Thanks for the review. Honda is spoiling us.

    About standing: Think of this bike more as a third world bike. “Onroad” to people outside USA/EU is off/soft-road outside the developed world. If they prairie-dogged at every sight of dust or bumps, they wouldn’t need a seat and handlebars would be like a segway. Instead, they just sit — all the time. Standing is for something really nasty that the bike should only experience occasionally (or for going fast over speed bumps to keep distance from cars”.

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Good point Jason. I was thinking that myself: it’s not like a proper trail bike. Locals in Morocco on Chinese CG125s ride the trails just as you describe. Me too most of the time: “stand up when you must; sit down when you can”.

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  7. SIL4

    Nice post Chris. I’ve been following the development of this with interest, as I always liked the idea of an old CT110, or something similarly simple, rugged and fun – I learnt to ride on a Honda ST70 Dax as a kid and so I’m a natural fan of this. I understand It’s already on sale on-line now in Japan via the Honda website.

    I bought the new Monkey when it came out for the same reason, another bike with obvious appeal and limitations in equal measure, and which I didn’t need, but which had a certain novelty value and was genuinely nice to ride and fun with it…this new CT has a similar charm and while it’s not the ideal travel bike for the reasons you state, it does have some pretty practical and no doubt there will be dozens of them circumventing the globe in due course…

    It’s got all sorts of potential as a commuter/errand/play/mini-adventure bike and I hope it’s launched into the UK market became I think Honda will be pleasantly surprised how just how popular it will be, tapping into the adventure bike vibe as it does.

    But the AG 190 is a far more useful and I’d have one in shot – simply nothing comparable in the UK but would be a great, simple, manageable travel/trail: and it’s a Honda. So if you really want to import one, let me know…

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Glad my afternoon wasn’t wasted then, Ian ;-) I agree with all you say: it may well be popular as an urban scoot and I hope to take a spin on one. As a traveller it may well suit someone 20 kilos lighter and a few inches less tall than me (which is most people).
      Check out some of the AG190 reviews in Ozzie – not as good as it looks compared to the old CTX 200 Bushlander. ‘Made in China’ they scoff and which explains the £2500 price. But as we know, China can assemble some pretty good bikes now. Would be good to know if these reviews aren’t just station owners with a hangover and get a real owner’s review. Maybe I’ll look again.

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