In 1959, Honda set up its first North America headquarters in Los Angeles, only 11 years after the company was founded. They were determined to break into the global market by way of the United States, and did that by introducing one of their most recent models: the Honda Super Cub.
As an approachable, easy-to-ride machine, that 50 cc step-through motorcycle helped increase Americans’ interest in motorcycling. Along with the famous "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" ad campaign, which featured the Honda 50 (as the Super Cub was called in the U.S. market), it also changed public perceptions of motorcycling.
While Honda has continuously sold the Super Cub worldwide since 1958, reaching total sales of 100 million in 2017, the United States hasn’t seen a Cub available in our market since 1974. With the return of the highest selling motor vehicle of all time to American turf, can Honda once again play a significant role in reviving the U.S. motorcycling market?
Not exactly your great aunt's Honda 50
First, Honda wants to make 100 percent clear that this is not a scooter. The Super Cub is listed under their “miniMOTO” sub category of standard street motorcycles (along with the Grom and Monkey), and the Super Cub is a step-through variation of the miniMOTO. What’s the difference? Motorcycles require shifting a manual or semi-automatic transmission, while scooters are all automatic.
My first introduction to the step-through Super Cub was awkward. I’m used to saddling up on a regular motorcycle by swinging my leg up and over the seat. But this large gap between the front fairing and the single saddle-topped gas tank had me second-guessing my approach. I mean, it’s called a “step-through,” right? So should I, in fact, step through this two-wheeled conveyance?
I tried, and it was… well… awkward. Toe first? Slide my foot through laterally? I ended up just swinging my leg over like I do with every other motorcycle. But Honda tells us, during our mini history lesson of its Super Cub’s origin story, that the original Cub, named the Honda 50 here in the states, was made with the female rider in mind. Because skirts, right? Well, it was 1959.
A lot has changed since Honda first set up shop in Los Angeles 60 years ago. The styling of the Super Cub certainly makes a solid nod to the original Cub, which gives it a timeless appeal. But, thankfully, everything else has been updated, starting with the way you start the Super Cub. Like many touring motorcycles today, the Super Cub comes with a smart key, which is a fob you keep in your pocket. Where you would normally insert a key, there is a grey plastic knob that is locked in place until the smart key is close enough to tell the sensor to unlock the ignition. Turn the knob to the "on" position, punch the starter button (no kicking, like in 1959) and off you go.
The dash is modernized, with an analog speedo and digital odo, trip, fuel and gear indicator. Lights are LEDs. The engine is no longer a carbureted 50 cc, but now a 125 cc engine based on the one in the Grom. It has four gears, with a heel-toe shifter, and no clutch lever.
Shifting with my heel was a whole other learning curve, but I got the hang of it after 20 minutes of inner-city stop and go, with plenty of upshifting with the heel and downshifting with the toe. If that bugs you, you could still click up on the toe shifter. Oh, and neutral is at the bottom, and all four gears are up from there. Got it? Good.
Once I got past my awkward mounting procedure, we pulled away from the parking lot of 4077 Pico Blvd., the site of the original Honda North America headquarters. It was a perfect nod to the company’s 60-year anniversary of setting up shop here in the states. We rounded a corner and immediately I fumbled to find the heel shifter, but once I did, I clicked it into second gear, and caught up with the rider ahead of me. Throttle response is peppy enough to get around town, but at just 125 cc and about eight or nine horsepower (Honda would only give us an estimated number), the Super Cub won’t win any drag races. Our ride was limited to surface streets and the highest speed we saw was about 50 mph on one of the larger boulevards. Honda says it's capable of 60 mph. The Super Cub won't entertain you with sheer speed, but you’ll be smiling and laughing while riding it, regardless.
Strangers will be smiling at you, too. I lost count of how many drivers in traffic rolled down their window to ask about the Super Cub, or say “nice bike!” We even got the thumbs up from one rider aboard a Honda XR650, and another aboard a cruiser. Kids and parents alike waved to us as we buzzed through their neighborhoods. When the press ride took us off the street and onto the boardwalk of Redondo Beach Pier (with an escort by a motor officer riding an Africa Twin), pedestrians smiled and turned their heads to watch us roll by.
As we made our way through the surface streets of Los Angeles, the Super Cub’s suspension proved mostly comfortable. Over the broken sections of concrete slab, ruts, and potholes, the road feel was transferred to the seat more than I would like. Suspension felt firmer than I expected, but not painful or unsettling, though smooth road surfaces and gentle speed humps were no problem. For a step-through that looks like a scooter, I half expected the suspension to be a bit softer. It’s almost sprung as if Honda expects the Cub’s average rider to take corners at a spirited pace, though I was a bit timid to do so on the narrow tires.
Maybe the suspension is set to accommodate a heavier rider. You might be thinking “Hey, it could be stiffer to accommodate the weight of a passenger, or cargo,” but the new Super Cub shows little consideration for either, at least not on this side of the Pacific. The new not-a-scooter only comes in a single-seat version. While the global version of the Cub comes with passenger pegs and a tail rack (for the versatility to quickly switch from carrying cargo to toting a passenger), the U.S. model offers neither. I suspect these features will turn up later in an accessory catalog or for a later model year. It also just begs for an aftermarket of bench seats, tail racks, and front end baskets. The only other cargo area on this miniMOTO is a small compartment under the seat, just big enough for a small tool roll and maybe your phone.
The four-speed transmission with centrifugal clutch is easy enough to click through, once you get the hang of heel-toe shifting. First gear is short and gives a peppy takeoff, while second is just short enough to take off from a stop, though you’ll be lagging a bit until you get up to 10 or 15 mph.
The new Cub comes with a disc brake up front, with ABS, which works fairly well. The rear drum brake, without ABS, had a vague feel, but provided adequate stopping power for this type of bike.
You can get your Super Cub in any color you like, as long as it’s Pearl Niltava Blue, with a bright red seat. The color combination is inspired by sea, sky, and Mr. Honda’s famous red shirts. Considering the earlier versions of the Super Cub have been offered in a variety of colors, I suspect there could be more options in the future.
2019 Honda Super Cub: Price and value
The Super Cub retails for $3,599, which is a bit of coin considering the first Honda Cub sold for $250 in 1959, which, adjusting for inflation, would only be $2,150 in today’s dollars. Chalk it up to a 300 percent increase in displacement, an estimated 200 percent increase in power output, and ABS. Whether that makes the price worth the purchase is up to the buyer, but it feels a little steep for a bike that is aimed at beginner riders or as something to invigorate the motorcycle market by drawing in new riders. People are generally looking at this segment as an affordable means of transportation, and affordable should be under $3,000.
So, bottom line, should you buy one? If you have $3,600 burning a hole in your pocket and you want a classic-looking minimoto that people will still refer to as a scooter, then go for it!
You’ll have fun and get enthusiastic responses from everyone you meet. You won’t just meet the nicest people on this Honda. Like walking around with a basket of puppies, you’ll attract the nicest people.
|2019 Honda Super Cub C125 ABS specs|
|Engine||124.9 cc air-cooled four-stroke single|
|Bore x stroke||52.4 mm x 57.9 mm|
|Transmission/clutch||Four-speed manual/semi-automatic centrifugal|
|Front suspension||26 mm inverted fork, 3.9 inches of travel|
|Rear suspension||Twin shocks, 3.3 inches of travel|
|Front brake||Single 220 mm disc, two-piston caliper, ABS|
|Rear brake||110 mm drum|
|Tires, front/rear||70/90-17 80/90-17|
|Rake/trail||26.5 degrees/2.8 inches|
|Seat height||30.7 inches|
|Curb weight||240 pounds|
|Fuel capacity||One gallon|