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2021 Honda ADV150 first ride review

Aug 10, 2020

It’s pretty easy to look at a machine like this new ADV150 from Honda and wonder, quite simply, why? Who wants a scooter dressed up as a quasi-off-road motorcycle? What follows is my best attempt to explain the unexplainable: I want one.

First, it helps to understand where it came from. Underneath that rugged skin this ADV150 is essentially a Honda PCX150, the lovechild of urban practicality and Star Trek styling that has always offered an amazing combination of flawless operation and unrivaled forgettability. A few years ago, so goes the story, a design competition for a new scooter was established within Honda, centered around markets where step-throughs are most popular (e.g. mediterranean Europe and Southeast Asia). The Thai team won, and the concept was an adventure-ized scooter to follow in the footsteps of the full-sized X-ADV, which in turn is meant to follow in at least some of the footsteps of Honda’s adventure-touring motorcycles.

Honda ADV150 front
Wide-set lights with a furrowed brow and a blunt nose give the ADV150 a tough look. For a scooter, anyway. Honda photo.

With the PCX’s 149 cc engine and underbone frame as a platform, Honda ladled on LED lighting, chunkier tires, adjustable wind protection, a totally different dash, and of course new bodywork. Most crucially, the suspension componentry is also new. Snazzy, remote-reservoir shocks from Showa help give the ADV150 around five inches of travel as opposed to the PCX’s 3.6 inches. I know the numbers are small, but c’mon, take it easy, so are the bikes. Credit where credit’s due, that’s 25 percent more, people. The other notable features are shared across the two models — a charge port in the little front cubby, ABS on the front wheel, and about 27 liters of lockable storage under the seat.

2021 Honda ADV150 riding through city
The seat-to-footrest length is pretty wide, making the riding position relaxed and comfortable. Note the windshield is in the low position here. Honda photo.

On road and off

On the street, the ADV150 is as close to perfect as a 150-class scooter gets. That shouldn’t be a surprise. A company like Honda making a scooter is like a professional chef making pasta — it was probably one of the first things they learned to do well and after that they don’t even know how to screw it up. The CVT transmission is tuned well and the fueling is smooth, but you won’t notice that, or the fact that the mirrors are superb. It rocks back on the centerstand like it’s made of balsa wood even though it weighs almost 300 pounds. Despite that weight it will sprint away from stop lights with plenty of urgency to keep ahead of sedated sedan drivers. Handling is light and agile, too. 

2021 Honda ADV150 charge port detail
The dash is a little complicated, but packs a lot of info. Fuel gauge is upper left, and the meter running along the bottom right shows instant fuel economy. Nothing like saving gas to want to know exactly how much. Honda photo.

Doing all of this stuff really well is expected of a scooter and exactly why people often think they’re boring. If that’s you, fine. I’m intoxicated by it. I love how easy scooters are to ride and I love the significance of their breed. Motorcyclists like to think of scooters as basic, unrefined. But they are highly evolved, efficient in all of the ways that are important to so many riders. It’s the sheer size of their population that somehow, ironically, makes them seem inconsequential. They are the worker ants of the motorcycling world. Scooters make whole cities tick and create profit to underwrite the machines our heroes ride. Plus, you can jump this one.

I’m not going to overstate this scooter’s off-road capability. The ADV150 makes good use of its small-but-useful upgrades for riding off the beaten path, and the result is a medium-sized improvement over a regular scooter when it comes to bombing down a gravel road or bumpy trail. That means feeling less awkward in general, and offering a rude jolt over big bumps rather than threatening to turn your vertebrae to powder. The fatter tires and extra suspension travel do make a difference. Even though it’s no dirt bike, that’s a notable achievement. There also seems to be an odd confluence of factors that all work together, almost by coincidence. Steering lock is generous, for one. That’s great for traffic and goofing around in the dirt alike. Then consider the ADV150 has a drum rear brake, which means no ABS in the rear. It might be accidental, but that’s a desirable feature for an adventure machine these days.

2021 Honda ADV150 jumping
A wide-angle lens and a Spenser Robert will make almost anyone look good. Still, this scoot's got moxie. Photo by Spenser Robert.

The odds and the end

On the topic of features, there are some that are better than others. For starters, I’ve got questions about the cigarette-lighter power port. I know adapters are easy to come by, but why not just install a USB plug? The brochure shows a millennial charging a phone, so throw them a bone and cut out the middleman. On the other end of the tech spectrum, I struggle to understand the fob-style key. Sexy as it is, I still have to push the ignition dial to wake the scoot up, then turn the switch, then hit the starter. Same as I would with a normal key, in other words, except a normal key seems less apt to break. Maybe I’m just getting old. That must be why the dash seems a little dim to me, too.

Honda ADV150 rear
Sometimes global models have some oddities; check out the castings in the back of the swingarm to carry a caliper for a rear disc brake. American aftermarket shops, take notice. Photo by Honda.

My gripes included, the ADV150 is a pretty stellar little machine. For me, easily worth the $600 premium over the PCX150 on which it is based. It wraps up all of the same practicality and capability, aside from a seat that’s an inch taller, with the advent of a slightly more comfortable ride and adjustable wind protection. And call me vain if you must, but I genuinely appreciate that the ADV150 has a unique look. It’s angular and aggressive when most scoots this size look like someone designed a pocket protector in a wind tunnel. 

2021 Honda ADV150 charge port detail
The front cubby offers two liters of storage and a power outlet, which this person obviously doesn’t need. Honda photo.

Even so, there’s certainly competition for the ADV150 outside the walls of Big Red. Yamaha’s 155 cc SMAX will keep up with freeway traffic, uses disc brakes front and rear, it’s $500 cheaper than an ADV150, and has more luggage capacity. Heck, for an extra $200 there’s a Kymco scooter with a 300 cc engine. I mean, my goodness, think of the speed. None of them have the swagger of the ADV150 as far as I can tell, with the possible exception of the Vespa Primavera — then again that’s a different bean and a different brew. Also, the price starts with a five. People will rant and rave about how many other motorcycles could be purchased for approximately the same $4,300 as it costs for an ADV150. Play that game if you like. Haters gonna hate.

2021 Honda ADV150 nose fairing
The knob just visible behind the notch in the windshield is mirrored on the other side — pulling both out allows the screen to move. LED blinkers are a nice touch. Photo by Honda.

When the BMW R80 G/S debuted in the early 1980s there were plenty of people who said it was ridiculous — why would anyone want a compromised street bike and a terrible dirt bike at the same time? It was an answer to a question nobody asked, and somehow became what people wanted. Riders came around to the advantages of the middle ground, and the novelty of a bike that didn’t quite know or care where it was going.

Hitting a jump on this scooter makes about as much sense as doing it on a BMW GS, and the allure is the same. If you’re going to ride around town, why not have a machine that could hit a jump if it wanted to? I don’t think the ADV150 is going to change the world of two wheels, but I do prefer to see it as the best of both worlds rather than the worst. That’s why I want one.

2021 Honda ADV150
Price (MSRP) $4,299
Engine 149 cc, liquid-cooled, two-valve, single cylinder
final drive
CVT, belt
Claimed horsepower n/a
Claimed torque n/a
Frame Steel tube underbone
Front suspension Showa 31 mm fork; 5.1 inches of travel
Rear suspension Showa piggyback shocks; 4.7 inches of travel
Front brake Nissin two-piston caliper, 240 mm disc with ABS
Rear brake Honda drum
Rake, trail 26.3 degrees, 3.4 inches
Wheelbase 52.1 inches
Seat height 31.3 inches
Fuel capacity 2.1 gallons
Tires IRC Trail Winner GP-212, 110/80-14 front, 130/70-13 rear
Claimed weight 294 pounds
Available Now
Warranty 12 months
More info