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ADV NewsHigh Adventure Aboard Honda’s Trail 125

High Adventure Aboard Honda’s Trail 125

Cutting through the nostalgia on an unconventional ride to the high country.

Published on 06.22.2021

As I finished up some last-minute packing far later in the evening than I had hoped, some reservations began to creep in about the next day’s ride. While I had already done a press ride on the Honda Trail 125 and taken it out for several jaunts around town, it was now time to crank things up a notch and use it on a small adventure. The idea was to do a two-day, 300-mile solo ride, both on and off-road, from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles to the rugged and high San Bernardino mountains, fully loaded with camping gear. 

Yes, the CT125 is designed to be a ‘trail bike’ not an ‘adventure bike’ in the traditional sense. And with its tiny 125cc, four-speed automatic gearbox, 17” wheels, and diminutive size, it’s not an ideal mount for a journey like this one, especially for someone of my size at 6’2” and 215 pounds. My first challenge — location. Living near the beach in Los Angeles, I am far from anything resembling adventurous terrain that is legal to ride. There are lots of great areas to explore in Southern California but you need to drive about an hour and a half on the freeway to get to the closest options. The problem is the CT125 doesn’t do Freeways. 

Honda Trail 125 adventure ride

Yes, I could have thrown it in the back of my truck, but where’s the adventure in that? I wanted to experience riding from my garage to the trails, which would mean traveling across one of the world’s biggest uninterrupted metropolises, stoplight by stoplight. 

Call it a masochistic streak but the idea of riding a motorcycle unsuitable for the task excites me. Sure, this would be a plush journey for Ed March who has ridden around much of the world on a C90 but with the Honda Trail 125 sporting only 8 horsepower, no wind protection, roughly 4 inches of suspension travel, and a 1.4 gallon fuel tank, there would be plenty of challenges ahead to keep me stimulated. 


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There is a deeper reason why I wanted to do this ride though. I grew up in the 1980s seeing Honda trail bikes everywhere as a kid. My first motorcycle ride happened on a CT at the tender age of 13. It was a brief trip that ended with me returning the bike to my generous friend sporting a few new scratches, as well as a few scuff marks of my own. But that ride made a huge impression on me and cemented my desire to one day own a motorcycle.

Honda Trail 125 and CT110
Honda did a great job of duplicating the look of the classic CT trail bike (right) but added modern upgrades to make it a more versatile machine.

Perhaps because I had only a fleeting moment with that first bike, I now felt the need to bond with it in a deeper way decades later. Or at least the modern version of it. A longer ride, where I could truly experience its unique character and intricacies, would allow me to clear away the cobwebs of nostalgia and come to terms with my childhood crush. 

Through the Concrete Jungle

Leaving early Friday morning, I was soon fighting through congested roads filled with hurried drivers on their way to work. Luckily, the little Honda is great at lane filtering and I was able to pass countless cars to get up to the front of the intersections. But I quickly realized that when the light turned green, the typical advantage off the line you have on a motorcycle was not there. Loaded down with 40 pounds of camping gear and tools, I was immediately swarmed by a tsunami of cars.  

Timing the lights with a rolling start and really giving it all the beans, proved to be the best way to get a jump on the cars. Even so, some ‘a-hole’ in a BMW still had to show me he could get the holeshot as he zoomed by with side eye.

Honda Trail 125 adventure ride
Since my adventure started in the concrete jungle of LA, I made a stop to snap a quick picture in front of the Grauman’s Chinese Theater on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a hot spot for tourists that was considerably less crowded due to Covid-19.

Through downtown boulevards, neighborhoods, airports and movie studios, it was like linking every Waze traffic shortcut I’d ever taken into one trip. It seemed like an eternity, but I finally crossed LA and arrived at the base of the Angeles National Forest, covering a total of 33 miles in about 1.5 hours.

Climbing

Big Tujunga Canyon and the Angeles National Forest Highway are some of the best high-speed twisties California has to offer. These remote roads are a magnet for sport bikes and high-performance cars alike. The elevation rises quickly to 4,000 feet, and on these steep grades my pace slowed to a crawl. Cars and motorcycles were passing me every so often at break-neck speeds and I would try to pull over to the shoulder quickly to let them go by. Luckily, traffic was light on a Friday morning and I got ‘the wave’ from all riders who passed. One rider in full leathers had to double back to make sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. Yes, that was a Sasquatch on two wheels. 

Honda CT125 adventure ride

With the elevation gain also came a drop in temperature. I had decided to wear something more casual rather than a full-blown ADV suit, which seemed kind of ridiculous on this bike, so I opted for the Aether Mojave jacket and pants. It’s a quality suit but it’s made of breathable heavy-duty canvas material more-suitable for warmer weather. I was definitely feeling the superior breathability and not in a good way. Thankfully, I brought my electric vest which helped to keep my core warm, but without any wind protection even that was proving to be insufficient as temperatures dropped down into the 40s Farenheit.

Having no windscreen obviously didn’t help but what made matters worse is the step-through design of the CT125, which means there’s no fuel tank in front of you to protect your lower extremities. The wind shoots straight at those sensitive parts that aren’t used to getting cold air on them. Without hand guards or heated grips, my hands were also starting to slowly freeze, even though I was wearing insulated gloves. On most motorcycles, you can put your hands down around the cylinder head to warm them while you ride, but the engine is hard to reach and barely puts off any heat. I had a set of thermal underwear buried deep in my bag ready to throw on, but the thought of stripping down in the chilly air seemed even more painful than it was worth, so I just gritted my teeth and pressed on.

Honda Trail 125 adventure ride

After several hours in the saddle, my legs were feeling a bit cramped. Normally you can hang your legs off the side of the bike to give them a good stretch but with the CT being so close to the ground, you’re touching almost immediately, so I resorted to standing up on the pegs periodically to get the blood flowing. The thickly-padded seat was comfy though and my duffle bag made a nice back rest. And as I climbed higher into the mountains, a plethora of bends helped keep my mind off the cold.

Getting High

Honda Trail 125 adventure ride

After reaching the Table Mountain ski resort area, I decided to go explore some new trails to warm my blood. This area offers incredible views of the surrounding alpine landscape and desert floor below, and there’s even an observatory where NASA tracks near-earth objects. I spent around an hour or so exploring a maze of trails, getting as high as 7,500 feet in elevation. But the sun was getting low in the sky and it was soon time to move on. 

Honda Trail 125 adventure ride

For the last 20 miles or so, the fuel warning light had been blinking red but I thought for sure the gauge was pessimistic. I figured with claims of 100+ mpg, I’d get at least 125 miles range out of the 1.5 gallon tank. But it seems it was me who was overly optimistic. With all the additional weight and elevation gain, the CT125 was getting way worse mileage than expected. The bike began sputtering to a stop after traveling just 110 miles.

While in disbelief I had run out of gas, I also couldn’t believe my luck. I had just crested the top of a ridge and only needed to coast downhill for the next 5 miles to reach the nearest gas station. Thankfully, I arrived mostly on gravity power, only having to do my Flintstones impression a couple of times. With premium at $3.28 per gallon, it cost a measly $4.60 to fill the tank, which boggled my mind.

A man in his 50’s made a beeline toward me as I cleaned my visor and started firing off questions about the CT. He talked about how he had one as a kid and we chatted for a while about the new model. He couldn’t stop staring at the bike. Even after we finished talking, he stood there watching as I rode away. He had that look in his eyes. I knew he had to have one.

Now heading down in elevation, I was able to achieve a top speed of 62 mph on a short highway section. Although with big trucks rolling by at 80 mph, I felt like a tiny target on the road. At least it was getting warmer as I descended but with the light dimming fast, this would only be a temporary respite.

I had originally planned on camping at a developed campsite but upon arriving at my destination, the campground had been closed just days earlier due to new Covid restrictions after a recent spike. All established campgrounds were closed in the area, so I had to think quick to come up with a wild camping spot I could get to in the area. 

Into the Night

Honda Trail 125 adventure ride

Heading down a rocky path I’d gone down countless times on a dirt bike, I was noticing the lack of suspension travel and how easily the small wheels were getting bounced around. But I absorbed the additional punishment impacts with my legs, pressing on to get to camp, eager to rest my tired body and warm myself by a fire. It was now completely dark but at least the CT’s LED headlight does a great job of lighting the way and I was able to trudge through the rough terrain without any mishaps. 

It would be a sure bet that this low-powered machine with 17” wheels and street tires would be challenged in deep sand, but I hadn’t anticipated testing that hunch in pitch darkness, fully loaded with gear. As I crossed through a sand wash, the CT struggled for grip with its smooth tires and I had to use my Flintstones technique again to avoid getting completely stuck. At least I was working up a sweat now, despite temperatures dropping into the 30s F.

Honda Trail 125 adventure ride

The remote camp site I found turned out to be a little gem, with a makeshift fire ring, ample firewood nearby, a sandy patch to rest on, and no one else around. Even better, I packed a marinated steak and a couple of cold beverages to relax by the fire with. I fell asleep easily that night with a belly full of medium-rare steak, cozy in my tent. But that tranquility wouldn’t last for long. 

Honda Trail 125 adventure ride
This marinated steak was frozen, then left to thaw and tenderize throughout the day in my backpack. Grilled over an open fire, it was glorious!

A Cold Awakening

I was awakened in the middle of the night, freezing cold, to the sound of coyotes howling nearby. My head was just grazing the wall of my tent and the beanie I was wearing had formed a layer of ice on top of it. In fact, the entire inside of my tent was gleaming with ice crystals as I shined a light on it. Throwing my motorcycle jacket and pants on top of my sleeping bag allowed me to sort of get back to sleep for a few more hours.

As I forced myself out of the tent at dawn, wearing every piece of clothing available, I could see my tent was completely frozen over with morning dew. Even my hydration pack, which was inside the tent, was frozen solid. I fired up the CT and let it run for a while, hoping to warm my hands on the exhaust, but no matter how long it ran, the tiny motor never made any usable heat. After sipping on some hot coffee and chewing on a frozen breakfast bar, I packed up the tent and decided to hit the trail, numb feet and all.

That morning, I explored new areas around Silverwood Lake, warming my body through rigorous trail riding. As I pushed the bike hard on some rough fire roads, I could feel its spindly forks and slender swingarm flex under the weight, but it always felt willing to handle any punishment the trail doled out. 

Honda CT125 adventure ride

I also found a few steep trails that were a good test of its hill climb capability fully loaded. Many fans of the old CT’s have been disappointed that Honda didn’t include a Hi/Low reduction gear that was once a staple feature. I can see how a reduction gear would help make second gear more usable on steep terrain and put less stress on the clutch, but it’s definitely not a requirement for the type of riding this bike will typically be tasked with. First gear had enough grunt to climb everything I threw at it.

Eventually, I slowed my pace and enjoyed the calmness of the forest.  As I purred along discovering its nooks and crannies, it felt like I had it all to myself. This was exactly what I needed, no particular place to be, no one else to worry about, far away from it all, just finding what’s around the next corner.

Honda Trail 125 adventure ride
Honda Trail 125 adventure ride

Soon it was time to return to civilization. Reality was calling, though I wasn’t ready to go. Heading back roughly the same way, going mostly downhill toward the sea, I clocked off the miles quickly. As I joined the fray of LA traffic, it didn’t bother me much. I was in no hurry to get home. I arrived at my driveway where the journey started, road weary yet satisfied. And I wanted to do it all over again. 

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Mexico, North Africa, Europe, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

Author: Rob Dabney
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26 thoughts on “High Adventure Aboard Honda’s Trail 125

  1. Great story and trip. Sounds like the little bike is deserving of the title ‘adventure bike’ after all.

    • Thanks! This was definitely a fun assignment. It’s an adventure bike at least in my eyes, and this was an adventure I’ll not soon forget!

  2. I think some people will really love this one but I feel like if I was going to get a little 125 I would go with the monkey. Just looks more silly fun.

    • The Monkey would be great fun as well. Even more ridiculous for a journey like this one! Although, the CT125 is definitely more adventure ready with its utility rack, bigger spoked wheels and spread out ergos. But maybe it’s time to up the ante!

  3. Pingback: High Adventure Aboard Honda’s Trail 125 - ADVENTURE & OVERLAND MOTORCYCLE TRAVEL

  4. Great review packed with as much feeling as information. Thanks for taking the reader along with you on your adventure. Small displacement light bikes are just plain fun most of the time as long as you do not need to get on the freeway.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Chris. Definitely a ride I really enjoyed, despite the challenges. And telling the story was a lot of fun as well. Small bikes are awesome and there’s always a little room in the corner of your garage for one too. Thank you!

  5. THANK YOU Mr. Dabney ! .

    I’m one of those who thinks long distance touring on Tiddlers is a good idea and I managed to talk my fellow inmates at the V.J.L.A. int riding to Death Valley on Tiddlers once and we’ve done it again every few years .

    I tried mightily to buy one of these as I still ride and love my CT90K2 but no dealer ever had one for sale dammit .

    In the end I began rebuilding my ’84 CB125S .

    Now in Spring of 2021 I see I can by a slightly used CT125 and will hopefully get one before I get too old to ride .

    IMO, bottoming out the CT’s suspension simply meant you’re riding faster than it was designed to go : if you want a dirt bike, buy one ~ this is a trail bike that will go anywhere if slowly .

    -Nate

    • Hi Nate. I had a friend growing up who had a Honda CB125S and I was jealous because his top speed was over 70mph and I could only do 50mph on flat with my 50cc MB5! Those CB’s are great bikes! Did my motorcycle training course on one of those. Yes, I was definitely guilty of riding faster than the CT125 is designed for but I think doing something that you know the machinery is not designed for is all part of the fun. As they say, it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than it is to ride a fast bike slow… I have no complaints about its trail performance. It performed beyond what I expected it to do, especially with luggage in tow. But you are right, if you are looking for a dirt bike, this is definitely not that. Thanks and glad you enjoyed the story!

  6. Rob – any idea why Honda did not include the hi-lo sub-transmission that was so cool on the old Cat’s? Thanks.

    • Hi Dan. Honda didn’t have any answers for us as to why. I can only guess that it was due to cost considerations or perhaps US safety laws. The Japanese version called the ‘Hunter Cub’ does come with the Hi/Low reduction gear but I haven’t seen it available elsewhere with the dual range transmission.

      https://www.honda.co.jp/CT125/spec/

      I’m sure Honda has seen a lot of people are disappointed about its omission, so we’ll see if they decide to add it in the future. But with strong sales, who knows if they will want to change anything. I think it’s not a ‘need to have’ on the bike now that it has more power but it’s a cool gadget that gives the bike even more character, and would be fun to play with. So why not!

  7. Too bad Honda doesn’t push more of these out to dealers. You can never find them at any dealership and even when there is it is already sold the same day.

    • I’m sure they would like to. But like a lot of manufacturers, they had no idea the demand for off-road style bikes was going to be so huge in the last year. There have also been major delays in delivery due to COVID slowdowns in manufacturing and logistics staff.

      • I’d really love to test drive or just sit on this bike before I make the final decision. The shop I visited in Glendale said they used to have 80+ bikes in the showroom but due to the COVID, the bikes were sold out and new bikes are being delayed… Huge oof

  8. Looks like great fun! I never owned one but in 1972 when I was on trip with parents to ruidoso nm I rented one to ride up through the local mountains. Great fun. I have owned many bikes in the years since but that little bike could climb almost everything I have ridden since just a lot slower..
    .phil fritsch

  9. This thing has had my attention from the first pic I saw. I started out on a ’78 CT90 when I was about 8…worked great, no clutch and the girls bike design made it easy for me to stand over it. After I moved on dad taught my sister on it, she never really took to motorcycles. I even found an old picture at one of our camps of mom on it and my sister and I beside her on our go-cart. All of my friends had little dirt bikes that I was envious of then, but now that I’m older, I wouldn’t have traded that bike or the experiences it brought for anything. It proved to be the gateway drug for may other bikes from dirt to sport and back to dual sports. I really want one for around town especially, but my wife says no unless my DRZ or KLR goes and I can’t let that happen…sigh…for now

    • That’s the cool thing about these CT bikes, they are friendly enough that you can get the whole family riding it. Just remember, the CT125 is small and easily hidden in the garage behind some plywood. Good luck!

  10. This was a great read. Still ready to get my motorcycle license and get a Honda Super Cub. I’m almost 40 and ready to do something like this in Europe. Thank you for the write up.

    • Now is the time! And make sure you get good training before you hit the road. Thanks for checking out the story and hope you get your Super Cub soon. Your big adventure awaits!

  11. Hi Rob. Great story, great adventure! My first motorcycle experience was in the early ’70’s on a friend’s CT90 when I was a young teen. In the early 80’s when I was stationed at Fort Knox, KY, I had a CT110 to commute around the base and hit the nearby trails. It had a red plastic milk carton on the back to carry my stuff.
    Just as you did, I also had a Honda MB5 – 50cc two stroke that was like a mini sport bike. It was a blast to ride around base even at legal speeds.
    As the years went by I had bigger bikes – dirt and street – but none were more fun than those two.

    • Thanks Doak! Sounds like we had very similar experiences growing up. I will always have a soft spot for 1980s Hondas. I learned so much about riding fast by squeezing every ounce of speed I could out of my MB5. I felt like I could take on anyone on a downhill twisty road. Back then it was all I could afford, but I’m glad I got started with something small. So many riders want to start out with a big powerful machine and skip over some of the best motorcycling experiences one can have – learning how to ride on a lightweight, underpowered machine. And while I love my big powerful bikes today, riding a small bike never gets old.

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