Category Archives: Bikes

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 (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 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 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.

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.

‘CRF800L’ Africa Twin

The engine pictured in this mock-up is a CB500, not the distinctive slopping NC.

See also
Africa Twin
Honda CB500X 5000 miles
Yamaha XScrambleR

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.


More Adventure Twins for 2020

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.

202-drstromSuzuki 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 202-DR800the 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. Y202-vstromou 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 hadronbeen liberally wired up with more electronics than the Hadron Collider: “… the [V-Strom 1050] system incorporates the Motion Track Brake System, Hill Hold Control 202-vstrom1050System, 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.


202-nordnHusqvarna 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 valvemarker(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.

Harley Pan America 1250

202-revmaxIt’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

202-at11Twenty 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

Terruzzi-Cagiva-1989-3The well-sprung 800-ccc Desert Sled is the best of Ducati’s retro Scrambler range, and now the 19-er shod Scrambler 1100 202-scram1100(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

ScramlogoHaving liked my XScrambleR 700, I can’t help thinking the same-engined Tracer could make a faintly better travel tracer700-2020.jpgbike 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.


202-90rBMW 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

202-701g2The 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

202-3390Here, 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 202-390-Engineabout 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.


See you at the back end of 2021.

BMW GS310s still in Morocco

More about Morocco tours

See also:
G310GS 2200km review
G310GS first ride in Morocco

T2019---68Three groups did a similar 1200-km loop, mostly on G310Gs all with around 30,000 rental kms on the clock. The 310 engines and finish are still great in mostly dry Morocco, gearboxes work fine, but neutral is hard to select (as it was on the old Tornados) and the shock damping is not what it was (which was never that much). There are no leaks from the USDs and for wear and tear, that’s about it. The worse mpg was 75, best was an amazing 112 or 39kpl. We got 12 litres into the supposed 11-litre tank with ‘1km’ indicated on the range.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABike problems over a cumulative ‘21,000km’ (1200 x 3 x 6) included a persistent flat battery on the same bike which we deduced must be down to an intermittent electrical fault somewhere, probably as a result of vibration from rough tracks. There were no punctures on the Mitas Terra Force TL tyres and one smashed front wheel from an unlucky fall which smacked into a square-edged rock. Oh, and another sidestand failure (a known 310 weak point and new frame warranty) literally coming to a halt back in the garage and even though they’ve been strengthened.
So at this rate the 310s seem to be keeping up well with the old XR250 Tornados, but perhaps that’s because renters don’t take them onto the tracks the which Honda could manage easily.

Honda NC750X DCT – 1100-mile review


See also:
Africa Twin 800


I tried an NC a few weeks back, liked it as I knew I would, so bought a low-mileage current XA/XD model with an idea of converting it into a budget but high-economy ‘Africa Twain’. Plus I wanted to properly get to grips with this DCT malarkey. Judging by Google search results (right), I’m not the only one.
I picked it up near Leamington, rode straight down to Cornwall, then over a couple of days headed back to London via the Dorset Coast. Here’s what I found.

  • High 80s/low 90s mpg without really trying. Back off a bit – say 60mph – and it will register a live 26.4mpl or 100mpg. With the 14.1-litre tank, at 88mpg/31.1kpl that would give a range of  438km or 272 miles.
  • Plenty of real-world power to get the job done. Fifty-four hp really is all you need
  • Thumb/finger manual changes slicker than my MTB 
  • I like the manual override on auto
  • And the auto downshift override when in manual. They thought it through
  • Suspension – what a surprise! I assumed it would be poor, like a CB-X or XSR7. Far from it. I rode an RE Interceptor recently; it’s better than that, too
  • Corners really well. Not had such a planted road bike for years
  • Right-engle tyre valves. No more struggles with inflation nozzles
  • Tubeless tyres
  • TFT dash – also new on me and the way to go
  • Despite low-speed lugging, day to day preferred the smoother D mode. Settled OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoccasionally on S1. Higher S levels felt more jerky.
  • Tank box (but even open-face lids can be a squeeze; right)
  • Seat was actually pretty good; sore over 4 slow hours, but not in outright agony
  • For a modern bike, the slabby space ship look is less bad than some
  • Nice crobba-crobba thudding noise as the 270° mill pulls away.
  • Average mpl display was pretty accurate – 5% under at fill up
  • You pull in, flick down the sidestand and it switches off. Remove the key and walk away.
  • It’s a Honda; peace of mind on a long trip
  • Heavy – on the home scales it came very close to the claimed 232kg wet. Holds you back on some rough bends.
  • Lumpy pulling away at town speeds. That was my impression hopping back on the bike after a couple of weeks. A bit more lumpy than you’d assume is good for the engine, but it’s only a 750, not a huge Harley. It may well smooth out when warm.
  • Harshness – noticed this as soon as I pulled away from the seller’s place. Could be part engine, part transmission (on the move). The test bike I rode a month earlier felt notably smoother, but this wouldn’t be the first time a Honda-sourced (not dealer) test bike felt better than what you buy. It mostly cleared after 1000 miles – maybe old fuel stood for months and needed a good blast? But it’s not as smooth as modern injected twins can be, cf: Interceptor.
  • The engine on my XSR700 was much nicer – and it was 47hp restricted, not the full 72hp. But the XSR only averaged 74mpg over 4000 miles. Can’t see an NC ever dropping below 80. I do wonder if extreme leanness – either to gain economy or pass emissions regs – can spoil an engine’s feel.
  • Still a bit auto-clunky at low speeds, not seamless like an auto car despite the so-called Adaptive Clutch Capability Control.
  • Rode mostly in D but felt like it lugged at times, especially up steep hills and despite ‘a control system in AT mode for gauging the angle of ascent or descent and adapting shift pattern accordingly’. Got into manual downshifting. Auto downshifted better on downhills. Maybe it would have adapted for uphills in time?
  • Maxed it out but the TFT dash was still a bit dim in daylight. Plus would have liked engine/ambient temp info on there, too
  • No 12-v power outlet. I thought there was one in the tank box?
  • I know it’s how we fill up in the UK, but would have preferred other metrics besides Miles per Litre – a new one on me but you’d learn soon enough. (I assume it shows kpl or L/100km if you flip the speedo to kph). Older models had mpg – maybe I didn’t RTFM enough.
  • Like other bikes I’ve had lately, trip distance total (for true mpg calcs) is annoyingly lost when it resets to reserve towards E (or I didn’t work out how to dig it out)
  • Screen is of course too small
  • No centre stand. I bought one before I even picked it up
  • Traction control was a new game for me. I played with it on mid-road gravel patches and the steep track down to my Cornish mate’s house. But unlike ABS, I can’t really see a real-world use for it on a fat-tyred, 54-hp bike like this, assuming you ride alert and sensibly. Corner too fast in the wet or hit oil and the front might go just as fast. TC just seems to be a brake on applying so much power you lose traction. How often do you do that on the road ?
  • The TC switch on the left bars is a clumsy afterthought. Same could be said for the parking brake, tbh.

At the Overland show, organiser Paddy Tyson told me he’d covered 38,000 miles on a manual NC and wondered ‘why isn’t everyone using these for overlanding?’ It was a good question. Manual or auto, an NC is a practical and exceedingly economical machine which carries it’s weight low while easily keeping up on fast highways. I’m pretty sure even in stock form it could cover the tracks on my Morocco tours, and with tyres to suit would have easily managed what I rode on the Himalayan in spring, but without the need to be truck to Malaga. And it would have used 15% less fuel too. CRF250-like mpg but with the grunt to tackle headwinds and hills and the power to sit comfortably at 70+ is not something you get on most bikes. That makes the NC sound like a pretty versatile machine but as is often the case, some bikes fail to catch the buying public’s imagination. The NC is a big seller among commuters, but I’ve barely heard of travellers using them. If DCT is so fabulous, it seems the much flashier Africa Twin is the bike of choice from what I’ve seen at shows lately. Just like BMW’s F800GS trounced the 650/700 version, despite my avowed pronouncements to the latter two’s superiority!


To me an AT (left) was going a bit far. Yes, it may have eaten all the dirt I was able to feed it but is even heavier an NC with a higher CoG, costs more and had much inferior economy. I’d like to see DCT in a lighter bike like the CB500X, but maybe that just cannot be achieved, yet. Or a sub 200-kg 750 Africa Twin as has been mooted now the 1000L is becoming an 1100.
Low-speed clunks apart, it’s great not have to concentrate on stalling or heavy clutches or agricultural gearboxes or miss-shifts while still having manual control for slowing down into fast bends or steep hills. It allows you to concentrate on other things, and that includes gnarly climbs with steep, clutch-stressing hairpins which in auto or manual 1st would be easy work on the DCT.

Behind a plastic cowling the electro-hydraulic gear shifters look a bit vulnerable. Get a crash bar.

I’d bought an unusually nice (for me) late model which would be easy to shift – at ~£5k the most I’ve ever spent on a bike. In the end, I decided the 750X was too nice a road machine to meddle with weight-adding protection, longer travel suspension, higher-profile tyres and maybe a 19er front (I suspect the front wheel from a 2019 CB500X would fit). At over 230kg it was too heavy for my sort of gravel roading and the lack of smoothness compared to similar motors was surprisingly off-putting. How spoiled we’ve become!
I lost 100 quid selling it back on ebay; a reasonable sum for a fortnight’s rental. While selling the NC I took Enfield’s 650 Interceptor out for a quickie. Read what I thought about that one here.