Its engine is almost nothing, a single cylinder that’s air cooled, fuel injected, and displaces only 125 cubic centimeters. That’s less than eight cubic inches. If it makes 10 horsepower, it would be overachieving. But it doesn’t have that much motorcycle to push around since, as Honda says, the 2020 Super Cub C125 weighs only 240 pounds. This is the first production vehicle I’ve evaluated for C/D that weighs less than I do.
Since the original Cub went on sale in 1958, Honda has built more than 110 million of them. It is by far the best-selling self-propelled vehicle of all time. In the United States, it’s been sold as a harmless thing to play with through the summer. It’s the Honda upon which you meet the nicest people. It’s happy and fun, designed to be operated by someone wearing tight white jeans, boat shoes, and a blond ponytail. But in Asia and other parts of the world, it’s a truck, an F-150 for squeaking through crowded streets delivering food orders or lugging goods from farm to market.
Even more than the Civic, Accord, or a HHT25SLTAT lawn trimmer, it’s the Cub that established Honda around the world. Over the past 63 model years, Honda has built Cubs with engines ranging from a nominal 50 cc to this relatively beastly 125. The four-stroke, single-overhead-cam, two-valve engine itself is shared with other small Honda motorcycles, including the super-adorable 2021 Monkey and the goofball Grom. Besides its classic step-through design, the big advantage the Super Cub has over its siblings is its 17-inch alloy wheels and relatively long 48.9-inch wheelbase, which make it more stable and comfortable, and make it more of an actual motorcycle and not a moped.
While it looks like the Cubs of old, Honda pulled the original from the United States in 1974. This is an all-new machine that Honda introduced to the American market in 2019. Assembled in Thailand, every plastic body panel, every engine casting, and every other component is beautifully finished and impeccably built.
Modern touches include a proximity key so that the Super Cub can be started simply by turning on the ignition and touching the switch on the right side of the handlebar to engage the electric starter. The front disc brake is equipped with anti-lock control, but the rear drum is on its own. All of the lighting systems are LEDs, and they work exceedingly well. The instrumentation consists of a speedometer, some warning lights, and a small digital display that doubles as a clock. There’s only a single seat on the Super Cub and no place to store anything. Well, there is a small compartment on the side that’s just big enough to fit the owner’s manual. A chrome rack that bolts to the front of the leg shield is a $73 accessory.
Throwing on a borrowed Arai Classic-V helmet that neatly matched the seat top, I looked like a background extra from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. But there’s something emboldening about a helmet no matter how funny you look. I felt a sense of safety as I got onto a motorcycle for the first time in about 20 years.
The Super Cub is amazingly easy to ride. The four-speed sequential transmission operates with a lever at the rider’s left foot. Neutral is at the bottom, and the rider toes up for first and keeps going up until it runs out of gears. If your toe is hypersensitive, the shifter can also be operated with your heel on the opposite end of the lever. A centrifugal clutch and spring-loaded clutch plate handle engaging drive, so the rider can concentrate on keeping a death grip on the left side of the handlebar. The right side is capped with a conventional twist throttle and a lever to operate the front brake. The rear brake is operated by a foot pedal on the right.
Comfortably upright, the riding position compromised the aerodynamics of my torso. Rolling into the throttle, the Super Cub pulls away with no drama. Of course, with a bit less than 10 horsepower available acceleration is hardly intimidating. First gear runs out pretty quickly, but second is good for up to about 30 mph. Third will take the bike all the way up to its terminal velocity of about 60 mph—assuming the rider bends forward to cheat the wind. Fourth is best used as a cruising gear on flat roads or downhill.
During my time with the Super Cub, I rode it for 230 miles and put 1.4 gallons of fuel into its 1.0-gallon tank. Including the gallon of gas that was in it when the bike was delivered, that works out to 96 mpg. The total fuel bill came to $7.40, which is kind of awesome.
That in mind, one frustrating element of the Super Cub is filling that tank. The filler lives under the hinged seat and is accessed by pressing a single release button. That’s no problem. But there’s a support rod that runs across the tank just below the filler, and that makes it impossible to insert the fuel nozzle all the way in. That may not be much of a problem in other parts of the country, but in California where vapor recovery systems are mandatory, it makes for an awkward amount of finagling to pull the rubber vapor hose up enough to allow fuel to flow freely. But since the tank is small, it doesn’t take long to fill it.
This is a stable, easygoing motorcycle for puttering around a town like my Santa Barbara home. Its feathery weight means it’s easy to pull up onto its center stand for parking. Nearly everyone you meet wants to talk about it, and even at full speed it never feels ragged or strained. It corners securely, allows greater lean angles than I have the courage to exploit, and rides comfortably over road irregularities. As my re-entry point to motorcycling, it’s about perfect. And at $3839 the 2020 model is priced at about a tenth that of the average new car. The 2021 models are already arriving and will cost $100 more.
Motorcycle riders make for better car drivers. You can’t afford to be distracted on a motorcycle—no Bluetooth chatter full of podcasts and pundits (unless you wire your helmet), no eating an Egg McMuffin, no daydreaming. On a motorcycle, a keen situational awareness of everything around you emerges almost naturally, and there are so many inattentive drivers out there that stark terror is only one idiot pulling out of a Starbucks driveway. The intense concentration necessary, even on a bike as benign as the Super Cub, will follow you when you get back behind the wheel of a car.
As for meeting friendly people on this Honda? Well, I can be kind of surly.
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