From a young age I’ve loved anything with wheels – cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, aircraft, tractors – you name it and you can bet my Hot Wheels, Matchbox cars and Ertl farm toys logged many feet driven and square feet of carpet planted and harvested. So it would stand to reason that I’d have some motorcycles, too. I’ve certainly had my fair of bicycles – simply way too many to mention and a 2019 Honda Monkey has been my latest motorized purchase, so this seems like a logical sign-off.
Let’s get started
Not technically a motorcycle but my first foray into two wheels was with a lightly used 2003 Honda Ruckus I bought freshman year after my F-150 was out of commission. It was to be a brief affair, one night it was stolen from the parking lot at work. Remarkably it was found on the other side of metro Phoenix and returned to me. Fearing a repeat, I fixed the damage and sold it immediately after.
After that, it was a while before I got into motorcycles again – just a year or two out of college I bought a modified 1964 Allstate scooter (rebadged Vespa VBB) kitted to 166cc from a friend. But unfortunately, it ate throttle cables like candy and frequently left me stranded. Also, I was pushing my luck riding it – I did not have a motorcycle license at the time, nor did I have a title/registration for the old scoot but it was fun while it lasted and those old large frame Vespas are a thing of beauty.
In my mid-20s, many of my friends were into small displacement mopeds and motorcycles so I had a whole spat of them, often concurrently.
A few years later came another Vespa, a 1980 Sport 100 – the last of the small-frames and with 12v electronics – kind of a rare bird in the US, quickly overshadowed by the popular P125X. I came across it by way of a friend of a friend who plastered a nearby city with wanted ads for mopeds and stuff. It was a nice original machine and with some carb cleaning, my buddy and I got it going.
I had it a few years but it continued to have electrical and carb issues. After dinking with it a bit I sold it to a guy in St. Louis who fully rebuilt it.
One oddball was this Briggs repowered Honda CT70. It was very torquey but with just one gear, it topped out quickly. What a curious bike – what was the purpose? It was cheap, though.
A farmer I used to work for in high school had a number of old Hondas in his barn ranging from little mini-trail 50s to a first-year Goldwing. I bought this CL350 from him, fixed it up a bit with some cleaning, carb syncing, new tires and I got my motorcycle license on this bike.
That was a fun bike but in the peak of the whole café racer scene, these 350s were a hot commodity – even those with high pipes. A guy from Austin, TX gave me a pretty penny for it but it was a clean, low-mile bike and was sorted with new tires and service. Since I was living in a one-bedroom apartment I had a small offsite storage unit that was packed to the brim with bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, car parts and tools, I was motivated to move it.
During that time, I also had this Puch Magnum moped. It was a clean original bike when I got it but of course, I was tempted to do some mods to it (a cylinder kit, pipe, 5 spoke mags and re-jet). I had a few Puch mopeds in these years, the Maxi N hardtail and Magnum top tank models were my favorites.
Next up was a Yamaha TW200, a favorite among my friends due to their versatility and durability but they sure are underpowered. My first one was this 1995 “rainbow” TW I bought locally. It was a great riding bike but the transmission always felt a little “crunchy”, I at least replaced the previous owner’s stripped-out screws and RTV gasket repairs with Yamaha parts and sold it that fall.
This 1981 Honda Passport came to me cheap from an abandoned auto auction. Unfortunately, it had a Lifan 110cc repower engine mated to a twist-and-go centrifugal clutch which was handy for riding one-handed if carrying awkward items but only topped out around 25 mph. It was in great shape otherwise and was also handy for my girlfriend to ride. I couldn’t leave well enough alone – that fall I put the carb in an ultrasonic cleaner (I don’t know why, the bike ran well enough) and a seal swelled to the point the slide would not go back in. Instead of trying to find the same carb from all of China I just sold it as a project and moved on.
Later, I briefly got another TW200 from a friend. This was an ’88 model, a testament to their underpowered, understressed longevity. I sold it to another friend and it’s still running strong to this day.
This gets me up to recent history. I’ve always loved the vintage Honda Mini Trails (Z50, CT70, etc.) (just not those with Briggs engines) but seemingly so does everyone else, resulting in very high prices. My state requires titles and registration for on-road motorcycles and these old off-road machines were rarely issued titles – making those with rare and expensive. So, when I learned about Honda bringing to market a host of throwback bikes based around their popular Grom 125, I was hooked.
For almost the same price as that old Z50 you can get a titled, fuel-injected, modern machine that is far better in almost every metric. Sure, it doesn’t have that vintage cred but I was born in ’85, I have no nostalgia for these machines from “back in the day” I just think they’re cool.
As with the truck and camper, stuck at home during the pandemic left me with a lot of time to contemplate the purchase and look at several models for sale. Early on when things were really uncertain there were some used Monkeys as low as $2800. Unfortunately, I was too slow to scoop those deals up but eventually, towards Labor Day, a lightly used yellow Monkey popped up in NW Iowa. It had a scant 68 miles on the odometer and some very minor modifications but the seller’s wife already managed to lay it down pretty good and scuff the front fender, right side of the fork and front wheel. It wasn’t as cheap as those deals in the early days of COVID but it also wasn’t nearly $5,000 like the dealers want for a new one out the door.
The day after I bought it. The yellow color was available for the 2019 model year only for the US market. I prefer this color over the metallic red or blue offerings I looked at.
As it is today. Power is a bit lacking on these, so some mods include a Yoshimura full exhaust, ECU reflash and airbox de-restrictions. These helped a little but most noticeable is the more linear power output. The knobby tires were an effort to make the bike more ridable off-road and on gravel.
The Monkey has been a fun machine but as with most all my motorcycles, I use it so seldomly. I mull over selling it occasionally due to this but heck, it’s paid off and doesn’t cost anything to keep up- might as well hold onto it, I guess.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my COAL series! I’ve really enjoyed writing these posts and interacting with you all in the comments. See you around!