In the 1960s, Honda launched a series of new minibikes, officially known as the “Z-series.” But to many people, these bikes go by a different name – “monkey bikes.”
In this blog post, you’ll discover:
- How the Monkey Bike phenomenon became a phenomenon
- Common traits of a monkey bike
- 4 examples of Honda monkey bikes, including one that (mostly) never left Japan
Before we dive in however, we need to address the elephant, or rather the monkey in the room:
Why Are They Called Monkey Bikes?
The term “monkey bike” originated in 1961 at the Tama Tech Amusement Park – a motorsports-themed amusement park owned by Honda, located in Hino Tokyo.
This is where the first prototype monkey bike, known as the “Z100” (pictured below), was displayed as an attraction for children – hence its small size, which was considerably smaller than most motorcycles.
Although the ride was intended for children, adults also liked the Z100. And when an adult would ride the small Z100, people noticed that they’d look huge – almost “monkey-like.”
And thus, the term “monkey bike” was born.
What Are Some Common Traits of Monkey Bikes?
The two most noteworthy characteristics of a monkey bike are its small frame size and low engine displacement.
Many also had collapsible handlebars, much like the Honda Motocompo that came out a few decades later.
4 Examples of Monkey Bikes
This bike was the first mass-produced monkey bike to after the original Z100 prototype found an unusual target demographic.
The CZ100 had 5” wheels and a C100 engine taken straight from a Honda Super Cub (which might explain the inclusion of the letter “C” in its name).
If you’re interested in seeing a CZ100 in its pristine condition glory, one’s available at the Honda Collection Hall Museum in Motegi, Japan.
When people hear the term “monkey bike,” they usually think of this – for a good reason.
If you include all the different models and versions of the Z50, its production spans an impressive 30 years, from 1969 to 1999.
During its long production lifespan, there were 3 primary versions of the Z50:
The first model was introduced in 1966 and became known as the Z50M, available to the Japanese and European markets.
The most noteworthy characteristic of the Z50M is its muffler design, which due to its resemblance to a lunch box, gave it the nickname “lunch box muffler.”
By September 1968, the Z50 became available for the American market – now known as the Z50A.
At first, Honda produced 3,000 units, although production increased after they were all sold out as early as December 1968.
Designed initially as hardtails, in 1972, Honda introduced full rear suspension for the Z50A with the introduction of the K3 model.
In 1979, the third version of the Z50, known as the Z50R (1991 model pictured below), saw the light of day.
This model was made to appeal to dirt biker riders, with motocross-styled handlebars and plastic parts in place of the chrome of previous Z50s.
Beyond that, there are so many differences between each Z50 model that you could write an entire book about the subject.
If you’re interested in getting down to the nitty-gritty, I highly recommend the book Honda Mini Trail Enthusiast’s Guide by Jeremy Polson.
Honda Ape 50 & Ape 100
Despite the fact that the monkey bike phenomenon was taking much of the world by storm, some models never made it outside of Japan (apart from private importers). The Honda Ape is one such bike.
Although it has “Ape” in its name, it’s much bigger compared with the previous monkey bikes.
Made between 2001 and 2017, the Ape was available both as a 50 and a 100cc engine.
In 2008, a special one called the Type D was released, with disc brakes instead of the drum brakes of the original one.
2018 Honda Monkey
In 2018, Honday unveiled a modern tribute to their old lineup of monkey bikes, a bike which fittingly became known as “The Monkey.”
But underneath, it’s essentially a 125cc Honda Grom. As such, it’s the most powerful of all the bikes we’ve looked at so far.
The Monkey’s yellow color scheme, known as “Banana Yellow,” also has a cute tongue-in-cheek reference to the original bikes.