Honda’s string of small bike hits makes me wonder if they’re somehow reading my mind. My adoration for my CRF250L Rally project bike is well-documented, and the Grom is a long-standing favorite of mine (and the entire crew). At the new Monkey’s launch on Catalina Island, Honda also shared information about the then-coming-soon Super Cub, driving home the point that fun, small motorcycles are priority number one.
It could be argued that the Super Cub is the most important motorcycle ever. The small step-through hit our shores in 1959, and effectively established Honda in the US market. The friendly and utilitarian little machine hit a brilliant balance between the scooters and bigger bikes of the early Sixties, no small feat in the era that framed every motorcyclist as a cast member of “The Wild One.” The four horsepower four-stroke engine and clutchless transmission tore down the notion that motorcycles were the territory of rugged social outcasts and daredevils.
The Super Cub was only a small part of Honda’s ad campaign that changed the face of motorcycling in the US. “You meet the Nicest People on a Honda” was the tagline and the principle that guided the entire business model of Honda North America. The Super Cub was quiet and clean, utilizing an enclosed chain drive to ensure that riders stayed oil spray-free, bucking the stereotype that motorcycles were necessarily dirty and noisy. Honda carried that cleanliness over to its dealerships and repair shops: shops were brightly lit, featuring spotless floors and employees in clean, tidy uniforms.
All this effort yielded serious results: as of October 2017, the Super Cub had sold over one hundred million units worldwide, firmly establishing it as the best-selling motorized vehicle in history—despite not being consistently offered in the US market. It was first sold here from 1959 to 1974, and reappeared as the Passport from 1980 to 1984.
Photos: Drew Ruiz
For 2019, Honda has given Americans another chance to embrace the Super Cub, and the updated C125 version gives us no reason not to. The C125 uses a version of the 125cc powerplant from the Grom and the Monkey, re-tuned to be more tractable and low speed-friendly. Like the Grom and Monkey, the air-cooled 125cc single is fuel-injected, with flawless fueling and an enjoyable amount of power.
Accompanying that engine is a transmission straight out of my youth, the clutchless four-speed. The centrifugal clutch eliminates some of the learning curve associated with riding a motorcycle, making the Super Cub even more beginner-friendly.
If you were privileged enough to grow up on one of Honda’s many minibikes or ATCs that were sold throughout the Seventies and Eighties, the unconventional, four-up transmission will seem like home. If not, there’s a bit of a learning curve: if you press the shifter all the way down, expecting to accelerate away from a traffic light, you’ll instead be greeted by the free-revving scream of an engine in neutral.
There is a gear position indicator on the LCD in the dashboard—quite helpful if you remember to look at it. It’s not that the dashboard is hard to see, mind you. It’s an elegant design that includes a fuel gauge as well as a clock and trip meter. I know the clock doesn’t seem important, but it makes running around town just a little easier.
The speedometer frames the LCD beautifully and is one of the many design cues that make the Super Cub a more interesting and inclusive motorcycle.
The $3,599 price tag also bolsters that inclusiveness. For that reasonable amount of coin you get single channel ABS, smart key ignition, LED lighting, and a very attractive (in my opinion) motorcycle.
Beyond the features and aesthetics, the C125 bridges the gap between entry-level ease and overall practicality. It does lack the under-seat storage of a traditional scooter, but its chain drive and manually-shifted transmission make it more of a motorcycle anyway.
That lack of onboard storage is kind of a bummer, but there are luggage options out there. Honda offers an elegant chrome luggage rack, and there are countless baskets and creative solutions that have been employed by Super Cub owners all over the world. That history kind of invalidates any grumbling I have about the storage situation.
Cubbin’ Loose on the Streets & Sidewalks of Los Angeles
Honda introduced the Super Cub to me and a group of my fellow moto-journalists in a unique way: we were bussed from Honda’s current headquarters in Torrance, CA to the building that once housed the company’s first US headquarters, on Pico Blvd in Los Angeles. The storefront has changed slightly but the building remains remarkably intact. Honda even went so far as to re-create a historical photo of the building taken in 1959. While the contrast between the trucks was obvious, the look of the bike hasn’t changed a lot. You could be tempted to call the Super Cub retro, except it’s been in constant production since 1959.
Right out of the gate, the new C125’s good looks won me over. In person, the blue bodywork and red seat really pop. Combining that with the lighter-blue, almost white fairing and side covers, the bike exudes a simple grace. Modern LED lighting is packaged in traditional housings, as to not significantly alter the profile from the original 1959 bike. Even the modern DOT-approved turn signals and taillight look right at home. For me, the styling is a home run.
Closer in, the keyless ignition system adds to the cleanliness of the package—no lock cylinder. Controls and switches are fairly standard equipment with no surprises or complications involved in operation. The bright red seat is quite comfortable to sit on, and despite the chassis’s compact size, the ergonomics are surprisingly roomy and accommodating, offering plenty of room for the rider.
If you know my work, you won’t be surprised that I started my Cub time with parking lot antics. Tight circles and low-speed maneuvers are intuitive and fun. The bike’s narrow 17” wheel/tire combo enable it to respond to requests for tight turns with resounding compliance.
I could have spent all day playing around in that lot, but Honda’s PR department had other plans that required me to abandon my hooligan inclinations.
We departed Honda’s former HQ and wove our way West towards the coastline, experiencing all the traffic and potholes that downtown Los Angeles has to offer. That meant fending off Mercedes G-Wagens piloted by Instagram influencers while checking my mirrors for hurried Uber drivers and avoiding the occasional pedestrian. Seriously though, who walks in LA?
On the mean streets, the Super Cub certainly holds its own. I wouldn’t call it powerful, but the bike is definitely quick enough. With a top speed around 55 MPH, you don’t have to be too scared of being run over, and there’s enough grunt to let you get the jump on most cars when the light turns green.
When you find yourself faced with an inattentive text-walker crossing your path, the brakes have all the whoa you need to haul the bike down with no drama. The rear mechanical drum is easy enough to lock up and skid, if you find the need to do so, but it requires a bit of intent to do so.
While navigating the maze of traffic, a few advantages quickly became apparent. The little blue bike’s seating position offers a great visibility advantage over the smaller Grom and Monkey, as well as some scooter competitors. The bars are narrow, enabling very easy splitting. The classic-looking, round mirrors provide a good view to the rear without forcing you to look away from the road. As I mentioned earlier, the ergonomics are quite roomy and comfortable despite the bike’s length-challenged size—the wheelbase is just 48.9”.
Honda has a special relationship with the Redondo Beach Police Department, thanks to a pair of Roland Sands-developed Africa Twin police bikes in active patrol use. So our lunch stop on the Redondo Beach pier included a police-escorted ride along the pier to the restaurant.
Should you ever find yourself in a position to ride on a pier, I can definitely recommend the Super Cub for such an occasion. Contrary to the typical perception of motorcycles on pedestrian routes as antisocial, people greeted us with waves and smiles. Not what I expected, even with the police escort.
I challenge you to find a motorcycle that elicits more smiles and waves than the Super Cub. The classic profile transforms you from some hooligan on a minibike to an urban commuter sharing an unconventional path.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
After lunch, our escorts took us along the beachside bike paths, as though the Redondo Beach PD was testing my self-control. I envisioned myself departing the paved path onto the loose sands, genuinely curious if the narrow tires would allow me to get to the hard pack, or if the Cub would simply sink to the axles and be rendered immobile. Possibly for the first time in my life, I avoided such urges and stuck to the plan, allowing for some very lovely photos to be taken instead of something captioned with “Fish out of water, axle-deep in sand.”
From the bike paths, we traveled off the beach to into some mildly twisty non-residential streets. With The Fuzz no longer dutifully observing our actions, we were allowed to get to know the sportier side of the Super Cub. This is obviously no CBR, but the C125’s competency was rather surprising. For a bike that’s earned its reputation carrying families and other oversized payloads, the Cub certainly has a super-fun personality.
I’m certainly no stranger to going fast on inappropriate motorcycles, but those well-honed skills weren’t required to keep things under control when things got curvy. The tall wheels keep the Cub feeling very stable, and sweeping turns are really rewarding. The bike’s weight is concentrated centrally enough that transitions are easy-breezy even at 30 to 40 MPH.
The twisty hillsides eventually gave way to a more urban landscape: four-lane, divided roads clogged with commuters and delivery trucks, a familiar sight, despite being 400 miles from home. At that point, I’d been on the seat of the Super Cub for more than three hours, but that fact only became apparent after looking at the clock on the dash.
The seat was still quite comfy, my arms and wrists had no inkling of soreness, my back had no complaints. Dodging the ever-present phone-focused drivers and confused tourists, the Super Cub and I never missed a beat. The one emergency stop provoked by someone engaging in a blind U-turn was a non-issue: the single 220mm front disc brake provided great bite, with no ABS intervention needed.
Back to the Future
Back at Honda’s modern day headquarters in Torrance, a special treat awaited us: an original 1960 Super Cub and an early Eighties Passport, prepped and ready to ride. Comparing the early bikes to the new C125 certainly opened my eyes to both how far technology has come, but also to how good the early bikes were. The ‘60 Super Cub sported the centrifugal clutch but had a traditional one-down, three-up shift pattern. Only mildly confusing after a day becoming accustomed to four-up shifting, the little bike still felt quite peppy.
Its leading-leg front fork definitely took more getting used to. Hard application of the front brake actually raised the bike up. Supposedly inspired by Disney’s cartoon deer Bambi, the forward angle of the rocker fork was intended to help the front wheel dig in and stop sooner. Not exactly effective for that task, the fork still did an acceptable job of maintaining composure over the various driveways and potholes encountered.
The bright yellow Passport looked straight out of my childhood. Sporting a front basket and a luggage rack, it’s exactly what a Super Cub looks like in my mind. Perfect for parts runs and grocery stops, it’s the ideal blend of a modern variator-driven scooter and a classic motorcycle. By this time, the transmission had evolved into the four-up pattern that I know so well. It still sported the leading leg forks and drum brakes of the original bike, but with just enough refinement to not feel archaic.
These reminders of where motorcycles came from helped me realize exactly how good the latest Cub is, with its simply good telescoping fork, disc brake, fuel injection, electric starter motor, and modern seat materials. I’m even happy about the keyless ignition.
The Super Cub combines classic looks with modern reliability, making a good grocery getter or a serviceably enjoyable Sunday cruiser. It satisfies both the aesthetic and utilitarian desires that are sometimes at opposition to each other. I know Editor Surj is firmly entrenched in camp Monkey, but my modern minibike stable will certainly start with a Super Cub.
Fish is Founder and President of the CityBike Society for the Preservation of Front Tires. We’ll blame the lack of Super Cub wheelie photos on the presence of The Fuzz at the launch.
2019 Honda Super Cub C125 Specs
Type: 124.9cc air-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke Valve Train: SOHC; two-valve Bore x Stroke: 52.4mm x 57.9mm Compression Ratio: 9.3:1 Induction: PGM-FI with 24mm bore, automatic enrichment Ignition: Full transistorized Starter: Electric Transmission: Four-speed semi-automatic Clutch: Automatic centrifugal Final Drive: Chain; 14T/36T