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.
Are we ready for electric motos? Probably not, but I did atwitterpoll and it looks like we certainly want them.
I’ve always liked utility bikes (‘ag bikes’, ‘farm bikes’) where functionality is measured in terms of load carrying and off-road agility, rather than tarmac-creasing acceleration or foot-long suspension travel. They even get their own section in AMH8, left. For the right sort of gnarly adventure, or with a recalibrated attitude towards pace, bikes like Honda’s AG190 (left) could make a tough little travel bike. Ag bikes possess that do-anything, go-anywhere appeal, which must also be behind the adventure motorcycling phenomenon. Yamaha’s TW-inspired Ryoku concept of a few years ago (below right) seemed to bridge both segments.
Whether intended or not, UBCO’s 2×2 electric utility ‘moped’ may also benefit from this ‘I-could-if-I-wanted-to’ conceit. People need personal mobility, sure, but many like to be feel cool while doing so, be it in a RAV 4 or on a GS12 or Raleigh Chopper. While staying in an affluent suburb of Sydney recently, along with skimpy urban scoots like the Sachs (above left), Chinese urban retros similar to the Mash Roadster as well as a few XSR7s outnumbered anything else I saw on two wheels there. In fact it’s said bikes like these are now beginning to outsell adventure-styled bikes. Expect Bike Shed franchises to start popping up like Pizza Huts.
The Ryoku never got off the drawing board, but Honda’s recent X-ADV adventure scooter sought to capitalise on that urban adventure cachet. But after riding one – and even though I now have DCT out of my system – I felt something more akin to the current Ruckus moped (left; not sold in the UK) would have been more fun. In Australasia and South Africa, ag bikes have been on the scene for ever, but have changed little since the 1980s. What you want is an ag bike’s utility with scooter-like ease of getting on and off – a mini X-ADV. But do you also need 2WD and would you choose electric?
You can be sure that one long winter some obscure engineer-farmer has experimented with front-wheel drive long before most of us were born. The vid below is one of many crazy-arsed compilations on youtube. And a couple of years ago Visordown dedicated one of their Top Tens to 2×2 motos, some pictured right.
At that time Visordown said: ... a modern generation of batteries.[…] and hub-mounted electric motors mean that … this must surely be the future of two-wheel drive – allowing almost any bike to be adapted to drive both wheels.
Such predictions proved to be on the money. If AWD is seen to be as desirable as it was when Audi introduced the Quattro road car in the 1980s, then the advent of hub-mounted electric motors is by far the least complicated and most elegant way of doing it. Ask Nasa (above) or even Ferdinand Porsche. The mechanical or hydraulic solutions powered by an ICE (internal combustion engine), as in the vid above, are mostly just too clumsy, expensive, complex or otherwise lacking in real-world commercial potential.
Off-road the benefits of AWD traction is obvious. I can think of many sandy pistes in the Sahara (above; Algeria) which would have been a whole lot easier and therefore safer to ride with the addition of front-wheel drive. Just like in a 4×4, AWD means you can tackle loose terrain like sandy ruts or dunes without resorting to momentum (aka; speed) which will catch you out (right). And in my experience in the desert, a 4×4 with an automatic gearbox is an unbeatable combination, especially on slow rocky climbs or in soft sand. Just the right amount of torque is fed to all the wheels to give traction, and on rocky trails there is no risk of stalling, again allowing you to concentrate on precise wheel positioning and clearance issues.
Automatic scooters are common, proper motorbikes less so, but do you even need 2×2 on a road bike? The answer is: not really. While road tests affirm that Yamaha’s recent ‘2FW’ Niken (above) delivers eye-opening improvements in front-end grip, on the road 2×2 would only benefit acceleration, by spreading the torque to both wheels and so limiting wheel spin (just as front and rear brakes improve braking all round). But advances in electronic traction control and tyres to match have proved just as able in optionally eliminating wheel spin. Combined as it is with ABS sensors, TA probably adds just a few ounces to a bike’s weight. Any front-wheel drive system would add several kilos while drawing overall power. All up, the US-built 200-cc Rokon below is the only successful production 2WD motorcycle – a two-wheeled tractor that looks even less comfortable to drive on anything easier than a wooded hillside and for most people has has probably been superseded by AWD ATVs, even if the latest model features the miracle of front suspension.
UBCO: Electro Glide in White
UBCO stands for Utility Bike Company, founded in 2015 when the work of a couple of creative Kiwi engineers got picked up by entrepreneur, Tim Allan (riding, below). In 2018, after the original off-road only model had spent a couple of years in development with Kiwi farmers, a fully road-legal, version was released for global export. It’s the world’s first production 2×2 electric motorcycle aimed at farmers, rangers and forestry, while also being bought for urban deliveries and just plain off-road fun. Being restricted to 50kph, it’s classified as a moped which in many territories means it can be ridden on just a provisional licence. You can add luggage or wider racks and run power tools off it. To recharge the 16-kilo battery takes 6-8 hours. The bike is made in China and in NZ and Australia costs $8000, (about £4200) in the US it’s more. That’s about the same price as a KTM full-suspension e-bike (above right) I saw in an NZ shop window.
Wisely, UBCO dodges competing with the likes of recently folded Alta or Zero who produce(d) full-sized electric road-legal motorcycles. Instead, it’s aiming squarely at the utility market where the benefits of a light, rugged, easy-to-ride and near-silent all-terrain bike outdo its limitations in range and performance.
Weight is 65kg and with 2.4kw (3.2hp) via the 48-Ah, 50-V Lithium-ion battery, power is less than an ICE moped. But 90Nm or 66 ft lbs of torque across two wheel is a figure equivalent an 800cc bike, and all that torque is delivered instantly to each wheel so both will spin as you pull away on loose dirt. Electrotoque is not really comparable with ICE torque: old but interesting article. Very few electric motorcycles have motors in the wheel hubs. Once you get beyond a moped power level, they become too heavy and bulky so need to return to the typically central ICE location. Above (the two sides of a hub motor), the number and size of copper windings correlate to the power, and these motors are designed to spin fast, hence the three reduction gears on the left. The UBCO’s motors are about as small and low powered as they get on an e-moto, so hub fitting is not a problem. There’s just the low, centrally positioned battery with a power cable reaching out to each hub. Simple.
Tim, myself and his mate JB set off along an overgrown MTB trail at the TECT Trail Park close to Tauranga where UBCO are based. No clutch or gears, no heat, drive chains or belts and virtually noise, plus hydraulic MTB brakes, speed-calibrated regenerative braking and low CoG and seat all make the UBCO effortless to ride. Along with the cleated footrests, it all means you can concentrate on fern-dodging and where to put the front wheel.
Unlike an ICE moto, terrain permitting an electic bike is most efficient with the throttle at the stop and hard acceleration doesn’t consume power like it does on an ICE. Despite its optimal traction and light weight, the low power rating means it’ll only climb 1:4 at which point the short-action throttle is pinned. If you run out of go it’s dead easy to hop off and push. Even with my weight, I found what looks like basic suspension well suited to the bike’s speed potential and the terrain we rode. It’s operation never intruded on my ride and it never bottomed out.
I can’t say I noticed the 2WD, apart from wheel-spinning when pulling away on loose dirt, but it rode as on rails despite the Kenda trials-pattern tyres being at road pressures. The 2×2 has no negative effect on the steering, probably quite the opposite, but you barely notice it. Just like I found myself pressing air for the foot brake, it probably takes a while to believe and then fully exploit the front end’s drive. And no, it won’t be more efficient in one-wheel drive (like old-school 4x4s could be) – the small motors are designed to work most efficiently together. As you can see below, the air-cooled hub motors (the only part of the bike which gets hot) aren’t fazed by shallow water crossings either.
Sure, the MTB handlebars were way too low when standing up, and there was nothing to brace the legs against. But the UBCO is so light and power levels so manageable it didn’t really matter. When sitting down I found my knees banged against the frame, but some trousers or pipe lagging would fix that. Just like a DCT Honda, the lack of gear changing or fear of stalling really frees the mind to deal with other things, meaning you can ride more smoothly and have more fun doing so. Before I got my current Himalayan I considered adapting a DCT NC750X into something akin to the Rally Raid CB500X. To me this is one of the greatest benefits of electric bikes. Doing the same ninety minutes riding on any sort of ICE dirt bike would have left me comparatively worn out. The fast-paced off-roading we did would give you about 40 miles range – you’ll get nearly twice that on a flat road at 20mph. And the regen braking means coming down a long pass actually adds a bit of charge. The dash info is basic and includes the temperature of each motor, but you can change or monitor various functions with the bike bluetoothed (or some such) to a smartphone app. Lights are LEDs up to a very bright 2200 lumens.
At the end of the ride I was able to nose the front wheel against the back of the trailer, turn the handle and let it climb up. But even without the 2×2 or even the utility element, like the Sachs moped above, the UBCO can also pass as a cool-looking urban runabout. In the right setting it would be a great way of nipping around without frightening the horses.
In 1967 the Electric Vehicle Association claimed that Britain had more battery-electric vehicles on its roads than the rest of the world put together. Almost all were milk floats (right) rated at around 8-10Kw and with a range of 50-60 miles. Even then, the first Golden Age of electric vehicles can be dated back to the start of the 20th century when, in the US for example, 40% of cars were steam-powered, 38% were electric (about 34,000 in total), and just 22% were dirty, smelly, noisy, rough-running ICEs. Then major oil fields were discovered around the world and before domestic air travel became the norm, the interstate road network went on to outstrip the railroads. Now there are well over a billion ICE road vehicles in the world, about 20% of which are bikes. The total number of EVs surpassed 3 million in 2018, a 50% increase over 2016.
The future will be electric, again. That may well be the case in urban settings or for other short-range applications. In 2008, alongside the more common pushbikes I was amazed to see electric scooters (right) whooshing around the streets of Kashgar, western China. And in Auckland last week I was equally intrigued to see dock-free e-scooters (left) either left on the pavement or whizzing about between pedestrians.
But any form of trans-continental overlanding in the less-rich AMZone will probably be the last place to see e-motos. The world is just too divided between rich and poor, urban or rural. Just as with fast internet or mobile phone masts, the cost of installing the necessary infrastructure everywhere is too great. It’s an overlanding quandary which has become analogous with diesel cars. Low-emission engines designed to run the low-sulphur fuel sold in rich countries will play up on the old, high-sulphur stuff sold in some parts of South America, Africa and Asia where emission regs are less strict and ‘Euro 5’ is a football tournament. So while in the next decade you might be able to ride your e-moto across Europe or North America, as things stand Cairo to Cape or Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia will be a challenge for a long while.
Visualising a sunshine-powered, off-road coast-to-coast traverse of Australia, similar to their World Solar Challenge race, I asked the UBCO tech guy would the necessary 400-w solar trailer (about two panels on the left) do the job? No. A battery can’t be charged and discharged at the same time, but a spare battery could be charged. Broome to Adelaide at 30mph max would sure give you plenty of time to get a nice sun tan. Some say the specific problem with electric motorcycles (as opposed to e-bikes, cars or trams) is that, price apart, with the available technology the weight vs power or range doesn’t add up with current perceived expectations of what a motorcycle can do. It ends up either too heavy, too slow or runs out of charge too soon. But even Harley’s turbine-smooth Livewire (above) only weighs 210kg, does 0-60 like a 701 and might last 100 miles. We’ll know more (or not) when the Long Way Up comes out this autumn. Other electric bikes will do better. As we approach the fabled Tipping Point you’d hope things can only get better.
The reaction to Honda’s category-bending X-ADV ‘X-cooter’ seems to have been positive; most reviewers get it or accept it for what it is. Credit to Honda for trying new stuff, though it’s said good sales haven’t followed, probably due to the £9600 price alongside more conventional maxi-scooters used most commonly as commuters rather than travel bikes. The X-ADV suggests you could do both.
• Pricey • Tall for a scooter • Scooter seating position • Dreary in silver
Under that bodywork and between those small wheels they’ve slung the low-tuned, 54-hp 750cc twin from the Integra scooter and NC range and best of all, the DCT auto/manual gearbox which – don’t ask me how – gives a real neutral plus a more direct drive, unlike a typical scooter’s mushier CVT and belt drive. And unlike the NC motorbikes, you stash your lid under the seat not ‘in the tank’. On the ADV that space is the air between your knees, though I was a little disappointed there was no ‘glovebox’ in the frontal bodywork – looks like the air filter sits in there. And getting on wasn’t so scooter-easy; you need to do an awkward frontal leg swing through the mid-section – I could see the plastics here getting all scuffed by clumsy boots. It’s quite high for a ‘scooter’ but maybe a better technique develops with use and some yoga. The 32-inch-high seat sounds low, but with the wide bodywork getting both feet flat on the ground wasn’t possible without shuffling forward.
One the move, sitting with your feet forward or even right forward ‘highway-pegs-style’, means your unfolded legs don’t take much weight so the bum-to-seat interface becomes all the more critical. Despite the X having a generous bucket seat, I can’t say I fully adapted to this position. Like a lot of riders on regular bikes, once in top gear I find putting your toes on the footrests is comfier for long rides; it pre-tensions the legs and angles you forward to take more weight off the butt. On the X you’re sitting upright, feet forward, like on a chair.
One thing you can’t grumble about is the near-seamless DCT gearbox. You hear the clicks as it changes, but you rarely feel them. What a pleasure it is to ditch all that clutch and foot-changing business. Some say quick-shifting has rendered DCT redundant. Never tried it, but I can’t see how; you still need to work a clutch and a foot-shift lever. With DCT it’s like an auto, with a Sport mode (higher rpm changes) plus a manual override with paddles on the left bar. It’s the cake-and-eat-it best of all worlds. Let’s hope they introduce DCT on some other smaller trail bikes before we all end up riding electric.
Just before getting on a motorway I pulled over and cranked up the adjustable screen to the max with the easy-to-figure-out knob (left) on a clever parallelogram hinge. Back on the move I can’t say I felt swathed in a hushed bubble of still air, but at 5°C, without that screen and the frontal bodywork keeping the legs out of the wind, I’d have been freezing, even with the heated jacket plugged into the cig plug under the seat. I bet there are wider, taller screens available and anyway, the X-ADV rolled effortlessly up to a stable 80mph which equals just 4000 rpm. The engine is another one of those characterful 270° twins as on my XSR700 (and ATs, TDMs, Super Teneres, some Triumphs, the forthcoming BMW 850s and 800cc KTM). The biking world has gone 270-° crazy and I’m all for it. It sounds a lot better on its standard pipe than my XSR, even if its twist-and-go acceleration isn’t as crisp. (One benefit of DCT autos over conventional CVT scooters is the reduced ‘rubber band’ lag.) The Honda has 30% less power than an unrestricted XSR700 (my XSR actually runs 47hp) and nearly 30% more claimed weight.
Good thing the brakes are brilliant twin, four-pot radials on the front; you want good brakes with a heavy auto. It wasn’t till nearly back at the shop that I remembered the left lever works the equally meaty back brake and is not a locking parking brake (as on my old 400AT Dream, above). That late 1978 bike was a doddle to despatch round town; a neutral + two-speed clutchless box which left the left hand free to operate a radio, eat a turkey and coleslaw bap or wave cheerily at tourists.
I should have taken the X-ADV down some backlanes but didn’t want to get caught out on a sunless icy patch. Even then, you could tell the suspension felt better than my XSR, especially the adjustable cartridge USD fork (I couldn’t see a way to the rear shock which comes with spring preload only, but no remote HP adjuster that I could see).
Oddly, even in official promo literature no mention gets made of the tubeless spoked wheels; shame the AT didn’t get something similar. What some reviewers described as a ‘fully enclosed chain’ is just a wraparound chain guard; more a chain-spray catcher than a proper crud-cover like an old MZ or a CD175.
There’s plenty of easy-to-read data spread over the digital display which can doubtless be reconfigured. Fuel consumption was displayed in miles-per-litre; not seen that one before but makes sense in the UK; ‘13.2’ (left) adds up to just 60mpg average, but the NC twins are famously more frugal than that, getting closer to 100mpg is possible if really trying.
I’m won over by the DCT just like I was on an Africa Twin a couple of years back. One day I’ll get a DCT bike, but I didn’t warm the X’s scootery layout like I thought I might. It’s not much easier getting on and off – something that increasingly bugs me with tall saddled dirt bikes. Plus I miss that conventional poise which would feel more natural on the dirt, and couldn’t visualise enjoying riding this bike on my easy Morocco tour dirt routes.
I’m not sure that ‘sat-at-a-table’ seating would be comfy on a long ride either – too much pressure directly on the crumbling old spine, although the bars looked like they could’ve pivoted and raised forward without fouling the screen.
I’ve seen accessory front footrests which bolt on behind the boards around the swingarm pivot (left) and which may enable a better road / off-road stance, as well as possibly being able to grip the seat for better control when standing. Interestingly, all the dust-kicking promo shots below and in the link at the end for the 2018 model have these pegs fitted, but as I found on the XSR, this leg-to-bike contact area needs to be well thought out and comfy if it’s to work sustainably.
The bland 2017 silver ‘Mondeo’ livery didn’t really work for me and may have contributed to my tempered enthusiasm for the X-ADV. The red-black-and-whites look much more like it, but silver is clearly popular in Caterham as the shop had two other low-mileage silvers going used, presumably by commuters who didn’t get on with the genre-busting X-ADV.
If DCT is so good but an AT is too pricey, what about the much cheaper NC750X (left; I rode one in 2019)? I’ve thought about that one before, but the only real benefit over my XSR700 would be the DCT. The stock suspension is said to be as basic, and the claimed 220kg weight is 34-kg greater (but 18kg less than the X-cooter), even if it’s positioned lower. Getting suspension right is costly and can be hit and miss. What would be great is an NC750X-ADV with a 19-inch front and better suspension all round, but that would come too close to an Africa Twin.
Scoot my Dirt I was recently reminded what would have been fun is a bigger-engined version of the Honda Zoomer or current Ruckus (left). Genuinely hop-on low and light enough to chuck about – sort of in the vein of the fat-tyred Yamaha Ryoku concept. In fact there was a Big Ruckus 250 about decade ago (right) more here), but at 160kg, it looks as heavy as it is and presumably never proved as popular as the Ruckus.
I was a bit surprised I didn’t take to the X-ADV for my intended use. Perhaps a longer ride on a warmer day may have made a difference. As a road bike it’s fine, but then so are just about all the other road bikes out there.
The 2018 model out in a couple of months will come in a 34-kw A2 license version (6kw less than normal). It will also have the AT’s G-switch (less clutch slip for off-road traction), as well as lower ratios than other DCT Hondas and switchable, two-level Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC). The engine’s red line is also set 950 rpm higher at 7500 and it will cost 200 quid more.
The last leg of my Southwest tour followed the southern UTBDR down to the Arizona border (map, right or zoom here) to arrive in time for the Overland Expo near Flagstaff in a few days time.
In late 2020 a few miles south of the Lockhart Trail, the mysterious Utah Monolith made global news but within a week of its discovery it was removed by the ‘Leave No Tracers’.
The remains of the BDR could be broken up into three stages:
• The Lockhart Basin alternative route for experts only.
• From Montecello over the Abajo mountains, around Elk Ridge and back down to Blanding on the highway.
• Then over Snow Flats Road towards the Valley of the Gods scenic loop and the Arizona border near Monument Valley.
After a few days of rain in Moab, temperatures were set to soar again.
Canyonlands to Mormon Pastures short cut
The Benchmark Utah Atlas showed a possible direct route towards the UTBDR as it ran west of the Abajo mountains round to Elk Ridge. It avoided the road section to Montecello where fuel may not be needed and was also a way around the Abajos, should they be snowed under or too muddy.
I took a day off at Canyonlands Outpost, and rode up North Cottonwood Creek to see if I could connect with the BDR. (If you want a GPS .kml tracklog for this route, it’s in this post).
Abajo Mountains and Elk Ridge
Pleased my recce to Mormon Pastures had panned out, next day I headed down to Montecello. The L was a bit more underpowered tha normal; old fuel at the Outpost? You never know.
Snow Flat Road to Monument Valley
The last section of the BDR was set to be a hot day, with soft sand and bull dust on the menu, but spectacle right up to the AZ finishing line.