It’s hard not to love the Honda Monkey bikes, dating all the way back to the original 61 years ago. The first American iteration of the Monkey was the 1968 Honda Z50M, better known as the Mini Trail. Although a dual-sport bike, the Honda Mini Trail’s primary constituency was kids learning to ride in the dirt—it launched countless life-long careers on two wheels. Fast forward to the all-new 2022 Honda Monkey, which is a homage to its ancestors, while being updated for adult consumption.
Unlike the 1961 Honda Monkey, the 2022 is designed for adults. While it looks remarkably similar to the Mini Trail 50, the 2022 Honda Monkey has adult ergonomics. The seat height is 30.5 inches—three inches higher than the Honda Rebel 1100, and less than a half-inch shorter than a Honda CB500F. While the seat height might seem a bit tall, the seat is soft, so you sink into it nicely. Also, the 231-pound curb weight makes the Monkey easy for most adults to tame. Overall, the rider triangle is compact, though not cramped, making it comfortable for hours-long rides around town. That soft seat—one rider only—is notably comfortable and won’t force you off the Monkey prematurely.
Honda outfitted the MiniMoto Monkey with a more muscular motor this year. The bore got 2.4mm narrower, and the stroke was stretched 5.2mm. Although the change drops a cubic centimeter, the long-stroke, fuel-injected, SOHC, two-valve, air-cooled motor is impressively torquey. A bump in the compression ratio to 10:1 adds to the Monkey’s grunt. The electric start gets proceedings underway without delay.
The Monkey’s motor also gets a new five-speed transmission. The old four-speed was okay, but limited the effectiveness of the Monkey. The five-speed widens the available ratios, as it’s lower in first gear and higher in fifth gear. Along with the additional torque from the new motor, the lower first gear makes the Monkey easier than ever to get off the line at a stop sign. The manual clutch returns, though we wonder why Honda didn’t entice new riders with an automatic centrifugal clutch, as was used on the Mini Trail and the current Super Cub C125. Yes, we know a fully automatic DCT is too much to expect on a $4199 motorcycle.
We like the way the 2022 Honda Monkey pulls away from stoplights. You’ll want to get on the gas when the light turns green so you can stay out of the way of cars—especially Teslas. If you are lazy, you will have automobiles bearing down on you. You don’t need full throttle, though that’s not a bad idea. Given the Monkey’s modest power output, you don’t have to worry about subtle movements of your right wrist—good news for new riders, and an invitation to fun for experienced motorcyclists. The clutch is light, though we wouldn’t complain if Honda added an assist function for those all-day rides.
As long as the road you’re on has a speed limit no higher than 50 mph, the Monkey does fine. Top speed varies considerably, depending on the road’s grade and the rider’s weight. While we’ve hit over 60 mph on the Monkey on downhills, consider anything over 50 mph a bonus. As you get past 40 mph, the rate of acceleration slows. You’ll want to wring the Monkey’s neck in fourth gear to have a bit of zip on tap. Fifth gear is more of an overdrive—a nice feature when cruising at higher speeds on flat ground or slight downhills.
In addition to the new motor and transmission, the chassis is quite different. While Honda didn’t touch the rake or trail, the wheelbase is 1.5 inches shorter than last year, and the twin shocks have 0.7 inches more travel. As you’d expect from a motorcycle with a 45-inch wheelbase and 12-inch wheels, the handling is exceptionally agile. Experienced motorcyclists must adjust the amount of body English used, or they’ll override the bike. New riders need no introduction—it just works for them. The easy handling of the 2022 Honda Monkey is a large part of its appeal.
You feel a bit vulnerable in traffic due to the small physical size of the Monkey. It helps to remind yourself that while it is a MiniMoto, you are sitting higher than on most cruisers, so people can see you. The lack of acceleration is another cause for nervousness, so ride smart.
Honda did a fantastic job with the suspension. You would expect a small motorcycle with 12-inch wheels to be a rough ride. That’s not the case, thanks to expertly tuned suspension from the factory. There are four inches of travel at the rear, and the inverted fork has a touch more. Although you have to be wary of potholes due to the small wheels, the suspension is more than happy to smooth out rough or uneven pavement, even when tapped out in fifth gear. While you still feel the imperfections of the road, jolts are eliminated. The fat Vee Rubber tires give the suspension units a bit of assistance
The Vee Rubber tires acquit themselves nicely. No one thinks of the Thai brand as providing premium rubber, yet the ADV-style tires handle the Monkey’s humble demands effortlessly. We can drag the pegs in slower corners and hold our line at 50 mph in fast sweepers. The tires brake well, resisting locking up and calling on the ABS to bail them out.
The 2022 Honda Monkey’s brakes will not intimidate a new rider. The pads initiate braking gently, and never feel aggressive. This motorcycle wants you to use the rear brake along with the front—that extra deceleration will come in handy in emergencies. We rarely felt the ABS kick in, though we didn’t abuse the brakes. Experienced riders will want to explore some of the available brake upgrade paths.
We took the Monkey out on some urban dirt with laughter-inducing success. The Monkey doesn’t bother anyone, so bystanders aren’t whipped into a frenzy when they see one ridden on a path in a sensible manner—the sound from the scrambler-style muffler keeps things quiet. The Vee Rubber tires had no problem finding and retaining traction off-pavement; make sure you avoid rocks, as the exhaust header is vulnerable under the cases. Otherwise, have fun in the dirt.
The LCD dash feels out of place. However, it’s easy to read, and the speed is displayed in a tiki-like font—pretty cool. An analog-style speedometer would have been nice, but you’ll be the only one to know. The round chrome case is stylish, matching the LED headlight, turn indicators, and mirrors. There’s a fuel gauge that feels superfluous—you’ll never ride it far from a gas station. We would prefer a gear position indicator in the limited space.
You won’t be putting much time into maintenance. Other than putting gas in the 1.5-gallon tank every now and then, changing the oil and (new) oil filter once in a while, and checking the chain occasionally, there’s not much for you to worry about.
You get two color choices when buying a 2022 Honda Monkey. However, we can’t imagine why anyone would go with Pearl Black over Banana Yellow. A Monkey and Banana are made for each other, and it looks great with the Arai Defiant-X’s Number White retro paint scheme. Regardless of the color you choose, chrome is abundant.
We’re not even going to try to avoid the cliché—this motorcycle is more fun than a barrel of monkeys! If you want retro urban transportation that brings smiles to almost anyone who sees it, you can’t do better than this pleasantly approachable primate. At $4199, it’s hard to not find a place in your heart and garage for the loveable 2022 Honda Monkey.
Hello everyone and welcome to Motos and Friends, a weekly Podcast brought to you by the editorial team at Ultimate Motorcycling. My name is Arthur Coldwells.
Yamaha’s Ténéré 700 is an excellent foray into the middleweight ADV world. Associate Editor Neil Wyenn owns a 2021 model, and has spent the last year adding and improving various aspects of his bike. Some add-ons are more vital others, and he lets us into his secrets for getting the most out of the Yamaha Ténéré. His total enthusiasm for ADV riding and the Yamaha Ténéré in particular were pretty obvious to me—I’m sure you’ll feel the same. Links to all the items he mentions are below.