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.
Left: CT150. Now you’re talking!
In AMH8 I write about Jap ~200-cc ag (farm) 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 is the world’s best selling two-wheeler. The machine your not-into-biking grandad once rode to the factory 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 It’s 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.
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 frontsprockets (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 export models). 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 when off-road – 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 ergos 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 CRF250L like everyone else.
MCN‘s recent claim of Honda’s plans to make an Africa Twin based on the NC750 motor was a rare instance of my wish coming true. When the popular CRF1000L (below) became an 1100L last year – in part to compensate for power losses due to Euro 5 regs – the cry went up for a mini-AT, not least following the popularity of the XT700 and the KTM 790 ‘middleweight’ adventure-styled bikes.
Honda seems to have heard the call and recognises the gap in their current 14-model Adventure category. At the moment, unless you fancy the old VFR 800X Crossrunner which must be close to getting Euro’d, it’s a huge jump from a CB500X (above) to the newest 1100AT at twice the price. Slotting the NC750X into that Adventure category (which also includes the CRF450L) was always is a bit of a reach. An 800L is much more like it.
Right from the start I’ve been a fan of the NC concept: a low-revving, high-economy, low-CoG, big capacity chugger with all the real-world power you need. Last year I ran a 2018 750X, partly to properly try out the DCT gearbox but also with a view to adapting it to an all-road travel bike, as I did with the XSR7 (below) with reasonable success.
The NC750X (below) was a great road bike which loved to corner, occasionally flashed up 100mpg and still seemingly plain suspension was a big improvement on earlier models. But for many obvious reasons it would have been too hard/costly to adapt. As I’ve found with the XSR, it takes more than a set of bar risers, suspension lift and wheel change to turn a road bike into a travel bike. An NC750 may have a low CoG compared to my current AT, but it’s still heavy (my NC-DCT weighed 232kg; my AT is 240kg before add-ons).
There is talk that the whole NC range may be getting an 800-cc makeover, probably for the same Euro-5 reasons. You do wonder it this may mean a more conventionally upright engine as in the mock up, losing the frunk ‘tankbox’ and putting the tank in the normal position, as BMW have done on the 750/850 GSs. Analysing patent designs (as below) may suggest something in that vein. The Honda designer in the MCN article talks of a budget spec bike, like the CB500X, to appeal to learners with A2 licences. That will keep the price down and, with a good motor, as with the 500X, will be easy for owners or outfits like Rally Raid to offer suspension and wheel upgrades for those who want them. We watch and wait.
With AMH8 (right) sent in, I have a week and a bit to get the Africa Twin in shape for some Morocco tours and Mauritania road tripping. It doesn’t sound a lot of time but I’ve done this loads of times so know exactly what needs doing. Or so I thought. As I write early on in AMH: Beware and even anticipate a last-minute cock-up (‘LMCU’). While undertaking some wiring, my LBS noticed the left radiator was bent and fan jammed. I thought I’d smelt the whiff of coolant on the last couple of rides. It was clear from the damaged fairing the ex-Honda Off-Road Centre bike had fallen on the left at least once before they removed the crash bar, stitched up the fairing and sold it on. Looks like those crashes may have been heavier than they looked and my bargain AT wouldn’t be such a bargain after all. Oh well.
Honda parts prices? Don’t ask. Ebay to the rescue. Because there are so many ATs around I snagged a used radiator-fan assembly (left) and dropped it off at the shop. With that fixed, it now transpired the used OEM crash bar I’d bought a while back (probably also from the HO-RC) had missing brackets and my ferry was leaving next day. Luckily, the pressure was off as Storm Ciara (below) put paid to that ferry crossing and with the next one too late to get to Marrakech in time, I was left to van the bike to Malaga (£420) and pick it up after my tours. I hope that’s all the LMCUs out of the way. I really don’t want to leave our descent to Mauritania any later than it already is.
The fixed stock screen is famously ineffective. I settled on a Palmer screen, as on the CB500X a few years ago. It consists of a taller screen mounted on a pressed steel frame with three heights and three angles (left). That should surely deliver a cruising sweet spot. All up, it adds a kilo over stock; let’s hope the mounts can handle that extra mass on rough tracks. Riding the bike, I found with the setting left, I could ride up to 70 with no goggles wearing a Bell Moto 3 which is as good as it gets. While fitting the Palmer frame (start with all mounts loose and work from there) one of the lower rubber grommet mounts fell into the abyss. Universe 1; Me 0. It seems commonly done but Rugged Roads sell similar ‘top-hat’ grommets that will work and ebay is even cheaper. One thing to know: these lower screen mounts slide up into place so don’t need completely unscrewing at all. Once you’ve undone the less lose-able top mounts, just slide the lower mounts down and out.
The stock plastic ‘handguards’ are rubbish and not surprisingly, the clutch lever was bent. I was hoping my 2008 Barkbusters might get their nth outing on an AMH Project Bike, but it was not to be. The threaded ends of the Honda bars need a specific insert. Reluctantly I coughed up 90 quid for some Barks to fit an AT with, for once, no bodging required. I’ve had a good run with those old Barks and at least the scuffed black plastic covers fitted right on – the Bark bar design has not changed in all that time! I was also hoping to re-use my Rox Risers to lessen the stoop while standing, but the Rox’s bike-mount ends are for thin bars only. You can pay crazy prices for CNC milled risers (or much less from Asia) but Adv Spec’s Risers (left) are a more normal 40 quid and come with a selection of nicely knurled shim stacks adding up to a 40-mm lift with three lengths of hex-head bolts to suit. I found about 30mm was the limit on the AT’s cables.
WTF’s the battery? It’s not under the seat. What would we do without the internet – RTFM I suppose. Turns out it’s jammed in above the gearbox (above right) but behind a ‘toolbox’ that can only be opened/removed with the 5mm key clipped under the seat (where my actual tools were located). With the empty toolbox off, I wired in a plug (above left) to run the tyre pump, but the added wiring and fusebox fouled the snug-fitting toolbox. Luckily, you can pull the box apart at the hinge (left) and just mount the front to cover the battery.
The wiring of the GPS and a USB port I left to my LBS. Here’s a good link on the fiddly job or removing the cowling, including snappy how-to vids. I don’t want to be doing what’s demonstrated below by the kerbside with tiny fittings disappearing into gutters full of rotting mid-winter leaf mush. Though obviously very handy, there are some rambly, ill-thought-out how-do vids on ebay; some old dope droning on for 20 minutes for a <1-minute video on how to access the battery while reminiscing about his dad’s old tractor. The non-lingual vid below shows how it should be done.
Michelin sent me some Anakee Adventures but the front looked a bit too roady compared to last year’s Anakee Wilds on the Himalayan. The AT may only be 60 kilos heavier, but has over three times the power which may chew through tyres fast. On this trip of several thousand kilometres I’ve decided to try the ‘gnarly front – roady rear’ tyre strategy I write about. The rationale is: prioritise secure loose-terrain steering on the slower-wearing front while, on a powerful, heavy bike you need longevity from faster-wearing rears where sliding in the dirt is less problematic as you won’t be cornering this tank like a 125 MX. Anything too knobbly on the rear risks an unnerving ride, fast wear and ripped off knobs on the road.
I fitted a Motoz Tractionator Adventure (left) to replace the front Karoo which isn’t the sort of tyre I’d choose for teaching off-roading in muddy Wales on a quarter-ton AT. On dry tracks it’s less critical but the Karoo only had 5mm left (same as the rear Karoo). The bike is front-heavy but with a centre stand and a trolley jack, once fully deflated, the Karoo just squeezed out between the twin calipers. But getting the wider, stiff and new Motoz in – no chance. I tried to undo one of the calipers but they’re torqued off the scale and the loose forks make it hard to get tension (better done with the wheel on). Instead, I loosened one fork stanchion and shoved the wheel in.
I was just about to remove the rear when I remembered I had a nearly finished DIY tubeless wheel upstairs. All it needed was taping up and a Michelin Anakee Adventure (left) slipped on with some proper tyre soap. Inflating a newly mounted tubeless can be tricky as the tyre needs to catch a seal to accumulate pressure and get pushed over the lips into place. I know from 4x4s and my old XT660Z this can be hard to do, but the uninflated Anakee ‘pre-sealed’ well enough and, with the valve core removed to speed up the airflow, eased over the rim’s lips with a pair of loud pops. A cold day a week-and-a-half later and it’s down 8-10 psi so will need watching, though I recall early pressure loss is not unusual, even on proprietary tubeless spoke sealings.
Hopefully, it may settle down but I now have a v2 Michelin TPMS to keep an eye on things and may have to get some Slime in. I’ve stuck one activating magnetic dish to the fairing at a readable angle (right) and will keep another spare in the tank bag when off-road in case the display shakes off (a common complaint according to amazon reviews).
From the state of my fairing and radiator, the OEM crash bars which came on the HO-RC bikes (and are now selling used online), don’t really do the job. But what would you expect from 250 kilos of bike hitting the ground? I specifically want them to mount my ex-Himalayan Lomos which I hope will act as sacrificial impact-absorbing airbags. Better the bags’ soft contents get mashed than what seem to be vulnerable radiators.
The stock bash plate is at least made of metal, but it doesn’t come up around the sides of the engine which look vulnerable. On the rocky trails of the Adrar plateau I’ll have to tread carefully and have some epoxy putty at hand.
CRF1000 USD forks are leak-prone – one of mine was leaking before I even bought the bike at 1800 miles (fixed on warranty). Repairing a seal in the field sounds too tricky to do well so I’m hoping some Kriega fork seal covers (right) will keep the seals from getting worn. They’re easy to fit and remove if needed. The full-sock tubes like I had on my XCountry are better and cost the same, but require removing the forks from the bike to slip over the top.
And that’s about it. It would have been fun to ride the Honda across Spain, but this is the first time doing that crossing over many winters that the weather has caught me out. It would have been even more useful to get the feel for the AT doing my regular tour circuits in Morocco. That too is not to be so I’ll be renting a ragged Sertao for the duration and will just have to learn to manage the AT on the fly down in Mauritania. More news and impressions on the road in March.
I’ve rewritten conversing spoked rims to tubeless. There are several updated pages from here on what, why and how.
If ever a bike wanted tubeless wheels it’s the AT (and T7 for that matter). These bikes run 21-inch fronts and were initially pitched at a low price to get them moving. Choppers aside, cast wheels are unknown in 21-inch, while OE spoked tubeless wheels (as on many European 21-inch advs) are expensive. The new 2020 1100 AT Adventure Sport finally has a tubeless 18/21 set up.
MT or WM?
I’ve investigated various proprietary methods and, after 12 years and a lot more theoretical and second-hand knowledge, decided to give DIY sealing another go – but carefully this time and only on the back wheel (above, top) where it’s fairly easy to do. Like nearly all 21s, the AT’s front rim lacks the ‘MT’ safety lip or ridge which is important if planning to run tubeless tyres. Without it, a TL tyre seals less well on a regular WM rim (above, bottom) and may leak. And in the event of a flat, it will slip into the rim just like a tubed tyre with the usual undesirable results.
The only way around that it to get the rare, lipped, 2.15 x 21-inch Giant rim from CWC for £111. Add anodising, spokes, wheel building, their Airtight™ vulcanised sealing band (similar to DIY mastic) plus post and that’ll be nearly 400 quid. I could seal it myself and save £120, but 21-inch wells are narrow and curved and so are less suited to taping. So while CWC make my wheel, I may as well cough up for the Airtight and be done with it.
The high cost of a new wheel build is why DIY is so attractive, providing your rim is MT with the requisite safety lips. Most rear wheels, tubed or tubeless, have been like this for decades (they will be stamped ‘MT’ on the side, as opposed to ‘WM’). And the AT’s rear well is also nice and flat and 55mm wide which makes it easier to seal well.
Sealant tape such as 3M 4411N (not the 2mm thick 4412N). From £18 on ebay
Or some etching primer and mastic sealant like Puraflex about £6 for 300mm
A tubeless valve
Rim sealing procedure
If you’ll be in a wet environment, consider also sealing the spoke nipples from the outside.
The mastic sealant method is probably better. The tape adhesive might lift if it gets very hot; a black tyre and rim sat in the hot sun. But then, pressure building up in a hot tyre will tend to push the tape down.
Mounting and inflating the tyre
Mounting is easy as there’s no tube to worry about. Soapy beads help reduce the effort needed and tubeless tyres are actually quite flexible – or that’s how the Michelin felt. I know from cars and the Tenere years ago that home mounting tubeless tyres can be tricky. It took me most of the day to get the TKCs on to the Tenere, and that was with a pokey 2.5cfm 4×4 compressor. Because there is no inner tube pushing the tyre on to the rim, you need both edges of the loose tyre to at least make a partial seal with the rim and allow pressure to build up. When that happens, the seal improves, leakage stops and you’re on your way. Using a small car compressor and with the valve core removed to allow faster filling, nothing happened for a bit and then pressure slowly built up as input outpaced leakage. At around 35-40psi there were a couple of loud bangs as the last segment of bead slipped over the safety rim and into place.
I am fairly confident my gluing alone has made a good seal. The tape is probably redundant. Overnight there was no drastic pressure drop. If there is in the next week and I can’t fix it, I’ll swap back to the tubed wheel and will anyway take a spare tube. This time I’m not using Slime sealant, though I’m told it doesn’t affect the 3M tape’s adhesion.
I’ll be monitoring it with TPMS but a few days in it was about 8 psi down and the same again when I picked the bike up in Spain in March. So it seems to depressurised down the mid 20s psi. I seem to recall this was normal in the early days and so gave the back a shot of Slime in Spain. No more leakage.
In last year’s end-of-year preview I wrote ‘… the future looks bright – we’re gonna have twins.’ And twins we got: the long-awaited XT700, Guzzi’s 85TT, a ’19-er’ CB500X, and the KTM 790s. Only the Norton 650s remain stuck in the birth canal while the unplanned Enfield 650 twins popped out later. It’s time to review what’s new or in store for 2020.
Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT As a travel bike, the one-litre DL dating from 2002 was always overshadowed by the 650. There was nothing wrong with big Strom but the 650 did it all as well for less cost, weight and fuel and, as is often the case, the smaller engine simply felt better.
Now, imitating Honda’s Africa Twin and a few others, Suzuki have clad some 80s-style Dakar livery on the DL thou’ in an attempt to recall Gaston Rahier’s 1988 750 desert racer (below) as well as the not-so-successful DR 800 S Big production bike (left) from the same era. The DR 800 may have failed to catch on (can you imagine the vibration?) but was the first big trail bike (as ‘adventure bikes’ were called back them) to feature the now-iconic beak.
They’re calling the new model the V-Strom 1050 (XT, above left), though capacity is the same 1037cc it’s been since the 2014 makeover. You can see (below left) that it’s not hugely different in profile to the current DL1000: the motor has been lightly upgraded (mostly for emissions) and which now delivers (less) peak torque at a useful 2000rpm less. The headlamp is Katana-ish (another revived 80s classic) and, just like the new 1100 AT (below), it’s been liberally wired up with more electronics than the Hadron Collider: “… the [V-Strom 1050] system incorporates the Motion Track Brake System, Hill Hold Control System, Slope Dependent Control System, Load Dependent Control System, Cruise Control System, Suzuki Drive Mode Selector (SDMS) and a Traction Control System plus a System Control System.” I made the last one up.
The 1050 XT version is spoked tubeless with bashplate, protection and other adv paraphernalia, plus a tool-free adjustable seat and screen, adding up to 246kg. The plain 1050 (above left) currently goes from under £10,000 in the UK and features cast TL wheels, less gear and 10 fewer kilos. Tanks on both are unchanged at 20 litres. Of course what we’re all actually waiting for is a new, injected DR650 or DRZ450. Not this time round.
Husqvarna Norden 901 Just as the KTM 690 begat a barely different Husky 701, it’s no great surprise to see the 790 or now 890 KTM parallel-twin motor reappearing under a Husqvarna badge (owned by KTM’s CEO). That’s your Norden (left and below) – only a concept right now but you can see it looks both functional and quite good (the two are probably related). Note the virtual sidestand – a first in motorcycling – and what look like nifty fluo tyre valve markers – a smart idea we used to use back in the day (right). Wheels don’t look tubeless but you’d hope they will be, and there’s lots of protection and cladding to keep that motor snug and warm. Feel free to add your own speculations. Two days later… it’s coming for 2020. https://www.husqvarna-motorcycles.com/gb/news/int/norden-confirmed/
Harley Pan America 1250
It’s nearly 2020 and Harley have decided it’s high time to clamber aboard the adv bandwagon with the Trail-Glide Pan Am 1250. Details are scant but the ‘new’ DOHC, liquid-cooled Revolution Max engine claims no less than 145hp, putting it up there with Multistradas and the like, but with oddly less torque than a 1250GS. By current H-D standards it’s hard to think it will weigh less, cost less or go anywhere near as well, but the bloke in the vid below seems to manage OK. It all seems a bit incongruous but who knows, stick some deafening pipes on it and it could be a trans-continental hit.
Honda Africa Twin 1100
Twenty sixteen’s CRF1000L Africa Twin was a deserved hit for Honda, selling nearly 90,000 units and even tempting a few GS12 riders away from their BMWs. The new CRF1100L gains some capacity to cover power lost to new emissions standards while, like the 1050 Strom, getting a fuller suite of electronic riding aids and modes. I suspect what some might call gimmickry has now become a relatively cheap way to add value and safety claims to a new model. If any of them were serious about such things, TPMS would be a standard fitting, especially on a so-called adventure or travel bike. The new dash is TFT, it’s lighter by 1.5% and the frame is new. The jacked-up Adventure Sport version gets a 28-litre tank (up from 19), a better screen, protection, electronic suspension, cornering lights, Christmas lights and best of all: tubeless tyres. And like the 1000L, it’s still a great-looking machine and available in have-your-cake DCT. Stock screen notwithstanding, all this underlines how good the original CRF1000L was all along. Soon after writing this, I bought one. With discounts and so many around, hopefully used prices will put one of the best, big-capacity all-road travel bikes in reach of more riders. Some even hope it may give rise to a smaller 750 AT or – even less likely – an adventured NC750X. Is that the alarm waking me up?
Ducati DesertX 1100
The well-sprung 800-ccc Desert Sled is the best of Ducati’s retro Scrambler range, and now the 19-er shod Scrambler 1100 (right) has been thoroughly jazzed up into the Desert X concept based on – you guessed it – Cagiva’s 900cc Elefant Dakar desert racers of the 80s and 90s (left or click the link for more Elefant porn) ridden by Serge Bacou, among others. Back then iirc, Ducati owned the Cagiva brand. The suspension is yellow, the front’s a 21″ and the tank is said to be a serious 30 litres. Bring it on!
Yamaha Tracer 700
Having liked my XScrambleR 700, I can’t help thinking the same-engined Tracer could make a faintly better travel bike if you don’t want, need, like or can’t afford the XT700. Yes, the front is still a 17 (a 19 can fit, I found) but a Tracer has more weather protection and a 20% bigger tank. I’ve spotted the still pretty fit-looking original model (left), going for just 6000 quid new. Now there’s a 2020 version with a bold new look, much improved adjustable suspension (the 700 CP2 range’s weak point) including USDs, an adjustable screen but with a wet weight still under 200kg.
BMW have done a clever thing: they’ve bored out the 853-cc F750/850GS motor to 895 and given it the ‘sports adventure’ XR look from the ballistic fours. Behold the F900XR. Being a grunty, 270-degree twin, not a migraine-inducing five-figure redlining four makes it a whole it more desirable and accessible. Yes, like a Tracer it’s got a 17 on the front but call me shallow, it sure looks good. The electronics package looks identical to the 750GS I recently rode, which is more than enough. Perhaps I’m just having a confused Pablovian reaction to the red paint job and XR suffix.
Husqvarna 701 Enduro LR
The Husky 701 is amazingly economical for what it is but has now gone Long Range with a 12-litre tank up front adding up to 25 litres with a potential range of 600km. All it needs is a fairing and a seat you can sit on. As it happens I had a quick spin on a friend’s radically lowered 701 out in Morocco last month (left) and can confirm the current, second-generation model is much smoother than the 701 piledriver I rode a couple of years back. You’d wish they’d go all the way and make a mini Norden out of a 701, like the old KTM 640 Adventure. I suspect I’m not the first person to have this thought.
KTM 390 Adventure
Here, at last, is the 390 Adventure, with a motor based on the unchanged 373-cc, 43hp Indian-built Duke right down to the claimed 15/45 final drive. The rebound-adjustable suspension gives it a lift and adds up to a 170-kilo wet weight with the 14.5-litre tank – all up about the same as the G310GS I know well. You’d hope the 390 will ride better on the dirt and, being KTM, surely they’ll offer a 21-inch ‘Adventure R’ option alongside the 19-er pictured below.