Back in the 1960s, Honda created something fun and silly. The Z50 “Monkey” was an amusement park toy turned into a real tiny motorcycle that eventually took the hearts of motorcyclists around the world. It’s a street-legal minibike you can put in the back of a hatchback. You can even buy them new today, but none of Honda’s own Monkeys have come as a Harley-like cruiser. Don’t worry, though, because if an Indian Challenger is just too big for you, there’s always a Monkey wearing a Kijima Mon-Davi cruiser kit, like this wonderful unit up for grabs at Iconic Motorbike Auctions.
If you couldn’t tell, ridiculous Japanese motorcycles are on my mind today. Yamaha seems to think you want a motorcycle as a pet or jogging buddy, which is still making me giggle. You can’t buy that motorcycle, but you can buy this one, and I have a feeling riding this Monkey is going to be so silly you’ll be crying in your helmet. At the very least, I’m sure I would be. It’s also bidding at just $1,600 with about two days to go, so it’s an affordable joke!
All Fun And Games
Today, when you go to Honda Powersports’ website, you’ll find its line of miniMOTO small motorcycles. These scaled-down machines offer concentrated motorcycling fun for prices that don’t break the bank. The Honda Navi can be an incredible learning tool for just $1,807 while the $3,899 Super Cub C125 is the latest iteration of the best-selling vehicle of all time. Meanwhile, you can get your wheelie shenanigans at slow speeds on the $3,599 Grom and hit the trails on the $3,999 Trail 125.
Then you have the Monkey ABS, below, which gives you that minibike experience with vintage looks for $4,299. Honda is on a roll with its pocket rockets and the seeds were planted decades ago.
The Monkey owes its existence to an amusement park. Starting in 1961, Honda had an amusement park called the Tama Technical Center. Park visitors could ride the ferris wheel or strap into the park’s rollercoaster. Motorsports were also a huge part of the park. Visitors aged 6 to 60 were invited to try all sorts of experimental Honda vehicles at Motorland. Driving activities included kid-size hot rod cars and three-wheeled vehicles. Motorland also had midget car races, scaled-down passenger cars, driving saucers, and even group activities such as five-person bicycle rides.
Some of the most popular attractions at the park were the motorcycle challenges, which put visitors on Honda motorcycles and then sent those riders up steep inclines and technical terrain.
According to the Pacific Stars & Stripes newspaper in a 1962 issue, each day at Tama Tech involved the sounds of roaring engines and people of all ages having a ball fully sending vehicles around the park. Apparently, the best part was the fact that there weren’t any police officers or speed limits there, so the only thing stopping you from finding the top speed of one of the Honda toys was your own bravery.
Tama Tech was exceedingly popular as well. In 2002, the park brought in over 1 million visitors, the highest it would ever record. Going into the late 2000s, the park went into a decline with fewer visitors showing up each year. Only 620,000 people showed up in 2007 and ultimately, Honda decided to close Tama Tech at the end of 2009 after an impressive 48-year run.
Anyway, one of the rides at Tama Tech was the 49cc Z100 motorcycle. The tiny motorcycle was intended to be a learning tool to teach visitors the joys of riding.
Visitors ended up having a ton of fun with the Z100 and Honda discovered a huge interest across a large swath of age groups who wanted their own Z100 from the park. Honda worked quickly and in 1964, the manufacturer started selling the CZ100 in European and Asian countries. America would have to wait until 1968 to get its own variant, the Z50A. While the motorcycles were officially some combination of Z and a number, the bikes earned the nickname of “Monkey” as a reference to how riders looked perched on top of them.
Those first American Z50As had 8-inch wheels, knobby tires, an adjustable seat, and folding handlebars. The compact size meant the bike could be stuffed in a car and brought somewhere for riding fun. Honda had a great formula but kept improving it.
The 1969 and 1970 Z50A had a headlight and taillight, expanding the motorcycle’s capabilities to night rides. Many Monkeys also got mirrors, allowing them to be used on the road in many countries. By 1972, the Z50A had dual rear shocks.
Incredibly, Honda was able to keep this tiny bike in production for 50 years until emissions regulations in Europe and Japan made the baby dinosaur extinct. But, Honda recognized that demand was still there and in response, brought the Monkey back in the modern iteration we know today.
This 1996 Honda Z50J Gorilla
This motorcycle started life as a normal Honda Z50J Gorilla. The first Z50Js of the early 1970s were similar to their American counterparts but featured speedometers, turn signals, a horn, and other equipment to make them road-legal. The Z50J was one of the more enduring models of the Z50. Honda changed the designation to AB27, but the bike was still virtually identical to the Z50J well into the 2010s. The Gorilla specification of this particular Monkey means it has a 2.37-gallon fuel tank, nearly double the capacity of a normal Z50J.
The highlight of this Monkey is its Kijima Mon-Davi cruiser kit. Kijima is a motorcycle parts supplier in Japan with its own line of custom accessories. The supplier isn’t huge, but it’s been around for more than 50 years and for the most part, sells parts to maintain or improve a motorcycle. One of Kijima’s custom kits was the Mon-Davi cruiser kit, which made a Honda Monkey resemble a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited. Apparently, the Electra Glide is a status symbol in Japan, so some Monkey owners might want to ape the look. Kijima first sold the kit in 2011, then brought it back as the MON x DAVI kit in 2019 for the new Monkey. Sadly, the kit has since been discontinued, so you would likely have a hard time finding the kit by itself.
The kit is pretty comprehensive and includes a batwing fairing, cases, white wall tires, and a pair of distinctive exhaust pipes. The cases also appear to have extra lights, to cap off that American highway tourer look. Iconic Motorbike Auctions says the motorcycle came to the auction platform from a collection in Japan. It’s in great condition, probably owing to the fact that there’s the equivalent of just 452 miles on its odometer. Thankfully, the nearly new tires have 2021 date codes on them and the tank is clean.
The motorcycle is currently located in Santa Monica, California, but since it’s an import, it lacks the necessary compliance and emissions stickers that would make the motorcycle legal in the state. So, this is best as a 49-state steed. If you’re still interested, the motorcycle is just $1,600 with about two days to go at Iconic Motorbike Auctions.
In 1996, the Z50J made all of 4.5 horses from its 49cc engine. Expect a top speed pretty close to 35 mph from this roughly 150-pound motorcycle, so this isn’t a hog you’re riding to Sturgis next year. But please do trailer it out and park it next to all of the big boy Harleys. I hope you have as much fun riding the little guy around as I would!
(Images: Iconic Motorbike Auctions, unless otherwise noted.)
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