2019 Honda Monkey Does Basic, Two-Wheeled Fun

Honda introduced the Monkey for the 2019 model year as the Grom’s retro, naked mini-moto counterpart. And if that sentence means nothing to you, let’s explain it this way: The Monkey is a small motorcycle with minimal bodywork, a 125-cc fuel-injected engine, and a four-speed manual transmission. While it looks like an overgrown minibike, the Monkey is street legal and capable of 60 mph—on a good day, downhill.

Most motorcycles are drenched in menace, but the Monkey doesn’t take itself too seriously. The digital instrument cluster blinks out a cartoonish monkey face when you turn the key, and the color of the bike we rode is called Banana Yellow. Topping off the tiny 1.5-gallon fuel tank often costs less than the price of a Happy Meal. The exhaust includes the cutest little catalytic converter you’ve ever seen. With its 12-inch tires, the Monkey wouldn’t look out of place in an elementary-school bike rack. It makes the Super Cub look tough.

Jeremy M. LangeCar and Driver

And yet, this is a real motorcycle. The Monkey gives off a bit of a dual-sport vibe, and this wee Honda is happy cruising dirt roads. Knobby tires and skid plates are available from the aftermarket if you want to tackle more serious trails. After-sales add-ons also include engine modifications, which you’ll want to investigate if you plan to ply the realm of 55-mph speed limits. First and second gears feel punchy. But by the time you shift into third, the single-cylinder’s climb to its rev limiter slows considerably. By fourth gear, the revs stop building at all and what we’ll call Monkey Cruise Control kicks in, meaning that you just hold the throttle wide open for miles.

In stock form, the Monkey can eventually hit 55 mph on a flat road, but it might only reach the high 40s if you encounter a hill or a headwind. However, add a handful of bolt-on mods and it should top 70 mph, enough to enable a daring sprint down the highway. For 2022, the Honda Grom receives a new engine with a higher compression ratio plus a five-speed transmission, so perhaps those upgrades will eventually trickle down to the Monkey. One or two extra horsepower would make us feel a lot better about its useless mirrors, which provide an excellent view of your own shoulders. On a Monkey, what’s behind you is important, because you’re probably not outrunning it.

Jeremy M. LangeCar and Driver

The aftermarket is also stocked with solutions for the Monkey’s twin rear coil-over dampers, which some riders may find too soft. If you weigh, say, 193 pounds, you’ll use up a fair amount of suspension travel just by sitting on the bike. And the Monkey—low-slung thing that it is with a seat height of only 30.6 inches—will not be confused with a full-scale dirt bike. The inverted fork up front is good for 3.9 inches of travel, with the rear suspension offering a slightly more generous 4.1 inches. The ride is supple and comfort oriented, but the Monkey is as agile as you’d expect from a bike that weighs a claimed 231.5 pounds. It’s funny that Honda includes a decimal point in the quoted curb weight, but a half-pound is a big deal when you’re talking about a vehicle that might weigh less than the person it’s transporting. If you do regularly compress the bike to its bump stops, aftermarket rear coil-overs that are tailored to your weight may be in order. Öhlins offers a set that pair nicely with Banana Yellow.

Jeremy M. LangeCar and Driver

Sadly, that color was discontinued for 2020, making the bike pictured here a 2019 model. But the color palette and the price are the only Monkey attributes that have changed since its launch. For 2021, the starting price is $4189, with $200 anti-lock brakes the only option. The Monkey’s base model is available in blue or red, but the ABS version only can be had in the latter hue. All models come with a one-year, unlimited mileage warranty, which sounds like a challenge. Who’s up for a ride to Patagonia?

The Monkey is a throwback, not only to the original Honda version (which began as an amusement-park ride in Japan in the 1960s) but to the legions of small-displacement bikes that taught many of us how to ride. Every twist of the throttle takes you back to the first time you set off on two wheels. Yeah, it’s a toy, but it’s also a time machine.

how to pull a dirtbike wheelie

Illustrations by T.M. DetwilerCar and Driver

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Fredrick R. Siegel

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