First Ride: Honda Super Cub C125 ABS, all-new and still super cute
Quick: Name the best-selling motorized vehicle in history! Ford Model T? Nice try, but Henry only sold 15 million of those. Toyota Corolla? Better, but so far, Akio has only moved 44 million out showroom doors. No, the greatest-selling motorized vehicle in the history of the world is the Honda Super Cub, which surpassed 100 million sales in 2017 and is still going strong. Even the Vespa scooter has only sold 18 million and change.
Why has the Honda Super Cub done so well? Simple: it’s efficient, reliable and cheap. “Nifty, Thrifty, Honda 50” read the ad in New York Magazine back in the day. Plus, it’s cute as heck. And the Beach Boys wrote a song about it, “Little Honda:”
First gear! It’s all right
Second Gear! I’ll lean right
Third gear! Hang on tight
I don’t know how old you are, but I was alive when that song came out. I lived one beach down from the Beach Boys, and I wanted a Honda. Everybody wanted a Honda. The famous ad campaign, “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda,” had been out a year by the time Brian Wilson and Mike Love wrote that song. American Honda had been in the United States all of five years, offering two motorcycles and the Super Cub. The first Honda motorcycles, the Benly and the Dream, were problematic, with failing clutches and blowing head gaskets. While Honda was sorting those troubles out, the small staff at the fledgling subsidiary noticed that everyone liked the little Super Cubs they were scooting around on. So they decided to sell those, too. Soon after, America fell in love with the Super Cub. In fact, the world fell in love with it, a love that helped Honda pass 100 million Super Cub sales two years ago.
Now, after several years off the U.S. market, the Super Cub is back. It looks just like the original, with the front fairings, the scooter-cute handlebars and the enclosed back half. But where the original had a 50-cc engine, the new Super Cub has an electronically fuel injected 125. It’s mated to a four-speed semi-automatic transmission –- there’s no clutch handle, you just shift the toe-heel lever all the way down for neutral then up through the four gears. How smoothly you shift the lever with your left foot translates directly to how smoothly the bike responds.
The front brake has ABS, something even the brightest Honda engineer couldn’t have fathomed in 1958 when the Super Cub debuted in Japan. Same with the new bike’s LED lighting, keyless Smart Key ignition and tubeless tires.
But it looks like an original, with its step-through chassis, round headlight and neo-retro twin rear shocks. Even the colors are similar to early Super Cubs.
To show it off to the press, Honda took us all to its original corporate headquarters in a nondescript storefront building on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. The original place is now an acupuncture college in front and a marijuana dispensary in back. How times have changed.
We jumped onboard the Super Cubs and headed for the beach, passing not far from what used to be the Hawthorne home of the Beach Boys. At 125 ccs, the new Super Cub makes a lot more power than the original 50, an example of which some of us got to try out later in the day. The extra power is most noticeable at the top end of the tach. But even 125 fuel-injected ccs has its limits. While you will have no trouble maneuvering around in urban and suburban traffic on one of these, the 125 ccs are not enough to allow you on the freeways of California. For that, you legally need 150 ccs or more. Plus, while one rider claimed 65 mph, most agreed that 50 mph was a more comfortable velocity on this particular bike.
Honda also points out that this is not a scooter -- you still have to shift for yourself, so, therefore, it's a motorcycle. A centrifugal clutch automatically disengages the driveline when you pull up to a stop and engages when you throttle away. A separate spring-loaded clutch pack then operates as you shift up and down through the gears. Smoothness in boot operation means a smooth ride. The shift lever was a little awkward to use, at least for my clunky boot. I found myself aiming my left heel for the back half of the shifter lever to go up, and tapping the front half to go down.
I am just over 6 feet tall and I felt fairly large on the Super Cub. Gearwise, I always go out in all the gear I have, since I like my skin. So in Dainese D-Air jacket and pants, Red Wing motorcycle boots and a carbon-fiber AGV helmet, I was the epitome of overkill. The people in those 1963 ads were wearing seersucker suits and fur hats. Yikes.
Nonetheless I was completely comfortable during the day’s ride. The tires are narrow, only a little bigger than bicycle tires, mounted on 17-inch cast wheels, but I never felt like I wanted a wider tire. Leaning the 240-pound bike into corners, even though the photos show that the fixed peg is close to scraping, I never scraped during the day’s ride. But I always felt too big for the bike. Perhaps I’ve just been spoiled by CBR1000RRs and Gold Wings. Shorter members of our ride group looked more appropriately sized.
While you wouldn’t want to take a Super Cub on a serious, long-distance ride, especially if it required freeway access, you could use it as a commuter scooter in a city environment. The tubular steel frame is stiffer than the pressed steel of the original model and while the rear shocks look like original equipment, they are tuned for a softer, more compliant ride.
You could also use it as a pit bike if you drive an IndyCar. Or keep one at your beach house in Balboa. The limits are those of your imagination. It’s a larger and more serious conveyance than a Honda Monkey or Grom.
At $3,789, it’s among the cheapest transportation purchases you can make. And if you make it, chances are you will be smiling the whole time you ride it. Maybe even singing that Beach Boys song.