Honda Monkey Bike: Getting naughty with some Monkey bits
We know of some Honda Monkey Bikes that have five-figure upgrades done to them. Not this one though. It’s owned by a Scotsman, so even though he’s armed with a credit card, any fiddling with his Monkey is going to be done on a budget.
It’s not summer anymore as I drive to Bens Bikes Racing, the Monkey in the back of my van. Overcast with showers, it has me trundling and mulling. Mulling over how I find myself with a Monkey and not a Grom when I loved my Grom so much. The mulling lets the drive disappear in one of those trips where you can’t remember the journey but get there all the same. Why did I go from a ‘first impressions’ demo ride of the new 2018 Monkey, to actually owning one of my own and now committing myself to actually spending my own money on such a thing? I mean, c’mon, spending money, me, a Scotsman, with my reputation? It clearly was more than the small bike thing because with the Grom I had a mint small bike.
I think for me, nudging 50, nudging aches and pains taking over, nudging becoming the pub bore with the ‘I used to do that’ stories, I wanted something more in keeping with my age and demeanour, i.e. older and more stupid. The Monkey is, to those I ask in the trade, more appealing to those over 35years old and a simple questionnaire on the ‘New Honda Monkey 125 Group UK’ Facebook group shows that absolutely to be the case. So I think I’ve been swept up in the romance of the original Monkey, and the new one has a real kinship to the original. It looks to the less-trained eye as though they got a football pump out and pumped up the old one to make the new one. I like that. And, like the Grom, it has that cult ‘customise if you want to, don’t if you don’t want to’, look about it.
And that’s why, on an overcast and showery day, I find myself, van and the Monkey at Ben’s back door, so to speak. Bens Bikes Racing shines behind a somewhat unremarkable main drag in the outer belt of South East London. It’s an emporium for small bikes on the scale you’d almost expect for small bikes. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in goodies, kind of like the Monkey really.
The owner Ben focuses his business towards pit bikes, Groms (MSX125) and now the Monkey 125 from Honda. I’ve come to realise that he’s one of the experts in the field and well respected within the small bike community. You won’t find a more enthusiastic but chilled bike shop owner, which really is in keeping with the small bike community, given that you can’t take these things too seriously. Given the vast options available Ben understands that not everyone has a budget that can clear his shelves. And I’m one of those who needs to tap into that understanding. I want my Monkey to be a bit different but show that it can be done affordably with off-the-shelf customisation.
Having ideas and no money isn’t unique, so priorities have to be set. What needs doing, what should be done, rather than what could be done without a limit. And maybe add something bling to treat myself and Monkey (I don’t do the whole calling your bike a name thing, FFS I’m not a child in an adults body….oh, wait a minute).
Anything can be done to these bikes, you can literally build them from the ground up in aftermarket parts, no different to any other bike. If it’s on the bike, you can take it off and replace it with anything from bling to tat, functional to useless.
So what should be done is the subjective part. These bikes lack performance, they’re not built with that in mind. For many they do a grand job as they come out of the box, but for me and my Circus Bear bulk there are limitations. And if you’re reading this asking why not just buy a better bike instead of something that pretty much needs changes to suit, then you don’t get small bikes. Test ride one and re-read this, the test ride might cast some light on the choices the small bikes make for us, not the other way around.
The engine isn’t the cheapest place to start so that’s going on the back burner, for now. The brakes are a mixed bag of acceptable front, has someone stolen the rear? I went from one finger braking on my 765RS, to keeping my fingers crossed on my Grom. Lacking feel and power these small bike brakes aren’t what I would expect in 1988, let alone 2018. The Monkey is a little better so, for now, brakes can wait and I’ll continue to keep my fingers crossed.
What can’t wait is the suspension. While I haven’t ridden my own actual Monkey, sitting on it tells me all I need to know. In the same way you don’t need to sleep on the floor to know you won’t have a good night’s sleep, I don’t need to ride the bike to know it’s not going to work for my Circus Bear bulk. A quick scan of the specification and straight away I’m over the spring rate. Suspension is a must change, front and rear. Support and adjustability are what I’m after.
RacingBros does fully adjustable suspension for the Monkey at a mid to upper-end price, cheaper than Ohlins, more expensive than the likes of YSS, their quality stands out. Plus the RacingBros are black. My Monkey is black. You may get the drift to part of the appeal over others.
What is also a must change (but really isn’t), is the exhaust. I have no intention of riding around and people thinking I have a flatulence issue. Farty is the best way to describe the stock exhaust. Heresy will be committed with an underslung Zoom Brute exhaust (A lot of owners believe the stock ‘scrambler’ look with the high exhaust and guard is what should remain). The hell with that. And the hell with the neighbours, they’re mainly too old to hear it anyway so no db killers cheers (the exhaust comes with two db killers to fine-tune the level of offensive). With the stock exhaust gone there is a space exposing the frame and wiring, so a bespoke carbon side cover from Zoom tidies that up no end.
Another must change in my mind is the shifter. I come from a background of decent road and track based bikes where the controls generally are decent. But the standard Monkey linkage is cheap and sloppy, a simple swap to a direct shift lever is all that needs. Cheap and cheerful the direct shift lever is, as the name suggests, directly bolted to the box with no linkage to reduce the efforts you put through the gear lever. It gives a more responsive feel and makes finding neutral a hell of a lot easier at the very least. The gearbox still has that ‘am I in first, cos there is still some movement below first?’ you find in the Grom, but it makes getting into gear easier. It won’t change that vague idiosyncrasy.
All that’s left for the gearbox, for now, is a change to the front sprocket by going one tooth down to 14 given that worked so well on my Grom. Helps the bike rev out my bulk, rather than fade away on any incline I might come across. And it’s a must for me given I live in the UK and not the Netherlands.
A tail tidy is a must / could change depending on your view. Small bikes need a small numberplate carrier in my opinion so with R&G doing one already that’s going on. The R&G tail tidy does a cracking job of being a straightforward fit and angled nicely so the plate still acts as a bit of a mudguard. All too often these tail tidies allow every bit of UK road grime to flick up onto your back and lid, so this should help reduce that. I may take my chances with the fuzz and put a smaller, but not rudely small numberplate on to match up to the slender lines of the R&G tail tidy. Hopefully, the fuzz will be too busy spending their time knocking off knobber thieves on stolen mopeds to notice.
Add a bit of colour to the engine casing to match the shifter and red tank logo and we’re done all bar the fitting and paying. A handful of hours is all Ben needs in his busy workshop, so I disappear for lunch and come back drenched after being chased for a few hours by the showers. I’m grateful I’ll be heading home in the van, not on the bike.
I return to a very different looking and sounding bike. Suspension front and rear are set up by Ben to hold me up without being too stiff, the advantage of having a spring rate to suit alongside proper preload, rebound and compression adjustability. A few rides and a bit of tinkering will let me find the absolute balance I like.
The exhaust has lost its flatulence with the Zoom Brute and is now more braaaapppp!!!!!, with a knowing depth at tick over, but deep barking tone at the top end of the rev range. For the money, it is a very well made bit of kit. It sounds nothing like the bike looks though, and I like that a lot. My neighbours will be needing earplugs after all and fortunately I have a large bag of foam plugs sat in my garage for them. An early Xmas gift perhaps. My other half will definitely be wearing shades and a high collar whenever she leaves or enters the house. The exhaust has elevated the Monkey from cute, with those blinking eyes on start-up, to ‘what you looking at bruv?’ No more kids bike, now it’s a sweary adolescent with a Dead Kennedys ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’ t-shirt on.
The gears shift crisply with the Zeta gear lever and with the added colour of red Zeta ignition cover engine plugs it has a subtly matched bit of bling on top of the seriously good suspension and seriously WTF exhaust note.
Loading the bike into the van I can’t help thinking this is not the end of this journey of change. The bike has some serious additions now that work and with it being a solo bike, as such, I’m thinking a rear rack to carry a Kriega US5 I have for simple bits to save filling pockets and looking even fatter than I do already. There is a bit of carbon on the bike now with the Zoom side cover and there are plenty more carbon options available out there to make the bike look a little bit more bling. Would be a nice to add a bit more to the newly placed serious kit, but of course, could cost serious money if you went a bit mad.
And as I type this, I’m feeling ever more protective of the Monkey. I’ve spent a few quid on some very good kit, fitted ever so well by Ben, but has the Monkey gone from winter toy to serious ‘don’t trash her’ bike? That would be a worry given how suitable a bog stock one would be for winter fun. The Derek and Clive routine with my 150yr old mate might have to be reduced to winter phone calls instead. Would be warmer I guess, even if I do have heated grips on the Monkey. If I keep myself busy planning other bits and pieces to do to the bike perhaps I can justify in my own mind keeping her mint for 2019. Bugger. I think I’ve done my own short legs. This may require some more thought than I first thought.
I’ll let you know how my legs are in the next Monkey instalment.
Get yourself sorted:
Huge thanks to Ben at Bens Bikes Racing for fuelling Jock’s Grom and Monkey addictions. If you need a farkle dealer, here’s the number: 01322 440655 or find them online here.