Honda continues to mine its archives for fun, approachable, small-displacement motorcycles with the release of their cool-as-a-Swiss-army-knife 2021 Honda Trail 125 ABS. This is the fourth model in Honda’s 125cc-powered miniMOTO line. The Trail follows the modern sporty Grom that debuted in 2014, and the hipster-cool nostalgic Monkey and ultra-retro Super Cub C125 introduced in 2019. Nostalgia sells, for sure, but the accessible and functional aspect of the Honda Trail 125 seems particularly timely right now.
One step better than Honda’s Super Cub, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 ABS goes from casual urban excursions to off-pavement adventures seamlessly. A more robust chassis, a bit more ground clearance and suspension travel, as well as ADV-style tires, combine to make the Trail 125 a pretty much go-anywhere two-wheeler. With steel fenders and ample engine protection, you can confidently tackle dirt roads and two-track trails with confidence.
At first glance, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 is a dead ringer for the Trail 110, last produced for the U.S. market in 1986. Honda did an admirable job of preserving the look of the original Trail/CT series motorcycles while sneaking in modern conveniences that no one except a Luddite would turn down. That appeals to both our aesthetic and practical sensibilities.
The 31.5-inch seat height might be intimidating on paper, but the Honda Trail looks shorter in-person. There is still room enough between the seat and steering head to step-through as the gas tank is tucked under the seat instead of in its traditional position. Not only does this mean you don’t have to swing your leg over the seat to mount the Trail 125, but you can also easily scoot forward and off of the seat if you need to touch down. This is hugely helpful should you need to wrangle the bike in a difficult off-road environment.
The riding position is welcoming and familiar to anyone who’s ridden a bicycle. Fully upright and neutral, the controls all fall under hand and foot as expected. The handlebars are comfortably wide for leverage, and the 45-degree steering angle in either direction allows tight maneuvers at low speeds.
Electric starting and electronic fuel injection are improvements to the original Trail series bikes. Being able to hop on your motorcycle, push the start button, and have it fire up instantly means you get to start having fun without delay—no petcock or choke needed. Yes, there is still a kickstarter on the Trail 125—always a good backup, and you can kickstart the motor even with a completely dead battery.
The adventure-style IRC GP-5 tires are a perfect match for the Trail 125’s on- and off-road duties. I wasn’t tearing up the asphalt on the Trail 125, but I could still confidently lean into turns while riding at a nice clip on paved back roads. The GP-5s are surprisingly inspiring on dirt roads and loose rocky jeep trails. You can easily break traction while pushing it, something the Trail 125 is not designed to do.
The Trail 125 has disc brakes, plus ABS right in its name. The engagement at the front lever is appropriately soft and will not catch anyone out. A firm squeeze returns enough stopping power for the speeds the 259-pound motorcycle will reach. The ABS is front-wheel only, which makes sense on an off-road-capable motorcycle, as there are times when you will want to lock up the rear wheel. The rear brake also has a soft engagement, and I found it useful in conjunction with the front.
With its semi-automatic transmission, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 is about as unintimidating as a scooter. Yes, you do need to shift with your foot, but for anyone who’s never mastered the skill of operating a clutch, there’s no need to retreat. The centrifugal clutch means you can’t stall it, as it disengages when revs drop to near idle. To get going again, simply twist the throttle—the increased engine speed engages the clutch and transmission automatically, and you’re on your way. This all happens transparently.
The heel/toe shifter is easier to learn for a first-time rider than for those of us who have been shifting a lever for years. Neutral is at the bottom of the gear sequence—normally it’s between 1st and 2nd gears—and each press down with your heel moves you up a gear, while pressing down with the ball of your foot drops you back down. There is some nuance to releasing the shifter slowly for smooth transitions between gears—the clutch disengages automatically as you shift. Should you make a ham-footed shift, the transmission will clunk into gear.
The Honda Trail 125’s toothier rear sprocket gives it better low- and mid-range pull than the Super Cub. This is essential to its off-road ability and allowed me to pick through rough sections of a rocky two-track with confidence. Trying to hustle through these sections as I would on a larger dual sport bike was not rewarded. When I allowed the Trail 125 to move at its own speed, its 17-inch tires happily trekked over everything I threw its way.
The Trail 125’s suspension is uncomplicated, yet capable. Other than spring-preload on the shocks, the only adjustment you can make to the suspension is what you contribute by standing on the pegs and, at 5’ 6”, that totally worked for me. Off-road, the shocks do a commendable job of absorbing the dips, stutter bumps, rocks, and ruts, as long as I rode at a pace that matched the bike. Operating the heel/toe shifter from this position is natural, and the reach to the bars comfortable. Taller riders will probably feel the bike is small when standing.
There are also no ride modes or traction control to enhance the riding experience. Yep, what you see is what you get—an air-cooled 125cc four-stroke single with an overhead cam managing two valves. The engine response is not snappy, and that is perfectly fine. It’s not a performance motorcycle, and a newer rider will never get in trouble by grabbing a handful. At the same time, the Trail 125 will move up to speed linearly and predictably. I managed a top speed of 56 mph on a paved downgrade, but that isn’t the sweet spot. I enjoy it most between 35 and 45 mph on the pavement, and 15 to 25 mph on the dirt.
With a 1.4-gallon fuel tank, the Honda Trail 125 is ready for whatever adventure you have planned. Although we don’t have any exact fuel consumption figures, you should be able to get at least 100 miles out of a tank, unless you’re riding through sand all day.
Small but mighty, the sturdy rack behind the thick and comfortable seat is rated for over 44 pounds—more than twice that of the trunk on a Honda Gold Wing Tour. That has to be the highest cargo-to-weight ratio of any motorcycle in production. The large, flat platform is just waiting for a milk crate to carry items more easily. Unfortunately, the cargo capability comes at the expense of accommodations for a passenger. Also, make sure you don’t block the deep-water snorkel air intake that live underneath the rack platform.
The DIY crowd will be delighted that the Honda Trail 125 comes equipped with a centerstand. Happily, there is also a kickstand for those of us who haven’t yet mastered the technique of getting a bike onto its centerstand.
Who is not going to feel cool riding the Honda Trail 125 around town? Whether for a quick errand to pick up something you will strap to the back rack, or to meet friends for a bite, or as a commuter vehicle to work, the Honda Trail 125 is the anti-profiler that confirms your coolness. Its no-nonsense functionality makes its own statement. It will surely find itself on the back of many motorhomes, just as the previous iterations of the CT series do.
The 2021 Honda Trail 125 ABS is super accessible and welcoming, super functional, and is Honda-reliable. Most importantly, it is 100 percent fun. It’s hard not to have a smile on your face while riding this bike. From the throwback aesthetics to the unself-conscious contrarian—the Trail 125 creates a carefree feeling that takes you back to simpler times. The versatile step-through is ready for around-town excursions, daily commutes, and weekend adventures for both new and returning riders, young and old.
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!