Honda have made some pretty exotic motorcycles over the years, but some of their humblest models have also been their biggest hits. Almost everyone knows about the legendary C90 Cub, but for many British bikers the equally modest CG125 brings equally rose tinted memories…
As a staple steed of British motorcycle training schools in the 1990s and 2000s, the Honda CG125 has done as much to get new riders on motorbikes as any other individual model ever to go on sale in the UK.
Introduced in 1976, the CG125 was a development of the CB125. With a focus on low maintenance and economy for commuters, particularly in developing countries, the CG125 featured valves operated by shirt pushrods, rather than the CB125’s overhead camshaft design, which was notorious for wearing out. Like the C90, the simple and durable CG125 also ran an enclosed rear chain, simple instrumentation and basic drum brakes. As a bike for the emerging markets, the CG125 was built in Brazil rather than Japan.
So far, so what? The CG125 was never a glamourous motorcycle and was never meant to be. The air-cooled, two-valve single was good for around 11bhp and a top speed of between 60 and 70mph, depending on how favourable road and weather conditions were. As a strong and simple means of transport for Asian markets it had few peers, but even here in the UK it became a legend, of sorts.
By 1983 the British Government changed licencing laws, meaning that learner riders would be limited to 125cc motorcycles (it was previously 250cc) and by the back end of 1990, the law was further changed to introduce Compulsory Basic Training (known as the CBT) for new riders.
The introduction of the CBT led to a growth in training schools. No longer could a 17 year old simply apply for a provisional licence, buy a 125 and chuck on some L plates. Now, at least, learners needed to do a few hours basic training in a closed car park before heading out into the big wide world.
The introduction of the CBT made the CG125 an icon. The CG125 has been developed to take on African deserts, so it was more than capable of handling anything the most ham fisted of learners could throw at it. The need for inexpensive, strong and simple four-strokes (at a time when most learner bikes were two-strokes) meant that pretty much anyone learning to ride in the 1990s would have taken their formative steps on a Honda CG125. Yamaha’s custom style SR125 was the only other real alternative to the ubiquitous Honda, and even that couldn’t compete with the CG on sales.
The riding experience wasn’t much to write home about. For riding around town at 30mph the performance and light handling was adequate enough, but the open road proved something of a struggle for the asthmatic engine, bouncy ride and weedy brakes. Later examples upgraded the electrics from a six volt to 12 volt system and a move from points style ignition to a CDI system. In 2004 a posher CG125 was introduced and had more modern styling, electric start, disc front brake and a fuel gauge, although they lacked the enclosed drive train, which was a major factor in the little Honda’s low maintenance running. The model ran through to 2008, by which time new emissions regulations and changing customer tastes meant that it was the end of the road.
Few will bestow true classic bike status on the Honda CG125, but we think that it fully deserves a place in our Iconic Bikes series. Any motorbike which has helped so many of us get onto two wheels has to be a bit special, and when you consider the miserly running costs – with a low insurance group, cheap tax, 100mpg capability and DIY servicing – you could consider that it more than achieved Honda’s original brief from the early Seventies. No one quite knows how many were made and sold but we do know that production peaked at over 250,000 units a year in its heyday. The design was also copied by Chinese manufacturers, who built clones by the million as well.
Unsurprisingly, in light of the vast numbers originally produced, there are still plenty of usable examples available on the second hand market. The bike’s unglamorous nature meant that very few were modified – a top box being the most common accessory – and even today they can be used as inexpensive daily transport.
With so many in good condition, we also wouldn’t be too surprised to see the CG picked up by the Shoreditch set for future customisation projects. Such a simple canvas seems perfect for modification, or maybe that’s just us!