The Honda CT125 is back/new for 2021. Turns out Herb was onto something all those years ago.
Photography by Drew Ruiz, video by Jordan Powell
Back in 1960, there was a Honda dealer in Boise who was selling far more Honda 50 step-thru motorcycles than a dealer nestled in the mountainous ranges of Idaho had any right to.
That man, Herb Uhl, had noticed the rugged ability of Honda’s 50 before even Honda had. (To be fair, Honda had only been in the U.S. for one year at that point.) And he had been taking The Little Bike That Could and throwing a few choice mods at it, like knobby tires, removing the leg guards and fitting a larger rear sprocket to turn it into a trail bike.
Buyers were snapping these things up left and right, and it eventually came to the attention of Honda in California, so Herb sent one of his creations to the U.S. HQ for a bit of analysis by Honda’s Jack McCormack, then sales manager of American Honda.
“It was a brilliant little machine,” McCormack said to writer Aaron Frank in his book, Honda Motorcycles. “It worked so well because it was light and with the automatic clutch you could climb logs. To do that on a big bike, you had to have a certain amount of skill. I saw lots of possibility for something like Herb was doing, selling it as a bike that you could go in the woods and hunt or fish with.”
McCormack was so enthused about Uhl’s 50 that he sent it back to Honda’s home base in Japan demanding a production version. Honda, being the small and nimble company they once were before becoming the conglomerate they are today, obliged and created the CA100T Trail 50 for the 1961 model year.
Like the Cub/Super Cub, the CT became a motorcycle that could take you to the farthest reaches of the earth on barely the smell of an oily rag. In the 60 years since the first CA100T Trail 50 landed here in the U.S., there’s only been five model updates—1964 for the CT200 Trail 90, 1969’s CT70 Trail 70, 1981 saw the introduction of the CT110, and 2021 for the new CT125 Trail 125 ABS.
The CT110 saw the longest model run of almost any production bike ever created and has a special place in my heart as the motorcycle the postman came to deliver our mail on each day while I was growing up in Australia.
The new version in the 125 Trail 125 ABS (silly name, I know), was first shown to the public at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show and borrows heavily from the Super Cub that was released in the U.S. that year.
The Super Cub’s two-valve, single overhead camshaft, fuel injected, 125cc single-cylinder motor has been donated, although the CT gets a longer intake and a different exhaust, which helps with better low-end power, as well as a three-tooth-larger rear sprocket, and the CT still retains the trademark heel/toe four-speed auto-clutch gearshift.
The Super Cub’s frame has been used as the blueprint for the CT’s but there’s some pretty big differences between the two.
First, the wheelbase is 0.5 inches longer at 49.4 inches, the front suspension has got 0.4 inches-extra wheel travel to 4.3 inches, ground clearance is increased by 1.1 inches, and the seat height has been raised 0.8 inches to 31.5 inches.
The headpipe has been reinforced, there’s different handlebars with a much sharper upsweep and there are 17-inch knobby tires mounted on rims with stainless-steel spokes.
Disc brakes front and rear have been fitted to replace the CT110’s drum-brake setup, and the gas tank gets an extra 0.4 gallons of capacity to register 1.4 gallons. Finally, there’s a sump guard to protect the bottom of the motor.
Riding the CT125, it really doesn’t feel that far gone from the CT110, and that’s a good thing. This is about as unintimidating a motorcycle as you can possibly buy, with the 125cc motor good for (in my hands) a whopping 59 mph with a downhill and a tailwind. This is a bike designed to get you to faraway places, and one made in such a way you could fix most problems with a Swiss army knife.
The power is enough that it’ll keep up with traffic on back roads but, like the Super Cub, don’t go taking this thing on any freeways unless you want to become someone’s hood ornament.
The braking performance is better than I remember from when I had my own CT110 back in Australia, but the suspension is vastly improved, with ride comfort over dirt roads much better than I remember it (I guess my CT was pretty flogged by the time I got it).
It can take a bit of time to get used to the gearshift, but I’m old school and never bothered with the heel upshift. The auto clutch on the CT works brilliantly, as it should for such an old design.
VIDEO | 2021 Honda CT125 Trail ABS Review
There’s absolutely nothing fancy about this bike, and you can tell what it’s going to be like to ride pretty much before you climb on board. This is stripped back, easy-going riding at its best. There are no frills, no bells and whistles, just a bike with two wheels and an engine that will take you into some pretty remarkable areas. Off-road, the CT is so much fun to ride it’s almost criminal, and it will tackle most things you can throw at it—within reason. It’s no wonder Honda is still building this model 60 years (60 bloody years!) after they came out at the start of the 1960s. My only gripe off road is the front-only ABS, which pulsates so bad it’s almost scary when going down rocky hills. But that’s it. What a lovely little motorbike.
We could all use a good laugh these days, that’s why we love the CT125 Trail ABS.CN
2021 Honda CT125 Trail Specifications
|Bore x stroke:
||52.4 x 57.9mm
||27mm telescopic fork
||Single 220mm hydraulic disc; ABS
||Single 190mm hydraulic disc
|Weight (wet, claimed):