Going Ape – Riding the Z50A
It is difficult, at first to take the whole concept seriously, particularly with one of the original un-sprung machines. Despite being lightweight, the old style Monkeys are sluggish and hard to get right at first, being so compact and having the same gear change mechanism as the Cub 90 that sees the clutch disengage with every depression of the gear lever. Low speed gear changes risk the whole show going vertical if carried out too quickly while higher speeds do calm the engine down considerably but at the expense of the chassis getting more than a shade wobbly. Once on the move, and settled into the cramped and awkward seating position, the ride is secure and handling controllable. The engine needs to be revved hard to make any head way, or keep up with the traffic flow and it can be quite disconcerting riding along below the level of most car windows. Stooping can be a fraught affair too, especially once up at the bikes top speed around 30mph, the single leading shoe drum brakes on each wheel, have a tough time impacting upon the machine and you do have to adjust your thinking distances, just in case.
The one overriding feature of the monkey has to be the fun of riding one, you cant go fast, but you can have a whale of a time getting around and you certainly do attract some considerably attention as you ride though towns and stop at traffic lights. It isn’t hard to see why the monkey was so popular back in the 60’s and it must have rivalled the Italian scooter in its practicality and novelty value too. With a standard Z50A model sampled, it was too great a temptation to resist when a couple of tricked up models were presented to me.
The Monkey bike stands out as a unique and hard to pigeonhole machine. It isn’t fast, or powerful, certainly not in its original format at least, it doesn’t set any new trends styling wise and yet it remains a desirable machine that most bikers would simply love to have in their garage. To most the type has stayed true to the original concept of horizontal, single-cylinder, four-stroke engine wrapped up in a simple chassis and with next to nothing in the way of social graces.
The first Monkey bike was never intended to be a production item, rather a kids plaything for getting around the vast fairground at the newly opened Tama Tech amusement park, on the outskirts of Tokyo. The theme park being aimed at all aspects of mobility and so the diminutive bike fitted in nicely with the concept and soon became a popular attraction. It was here where the name Monkey was first coined as people looked rather ape like as they rode around with arms stretched out low in order to reach the bars.
The idea proved popular and within a year the model was rolling off the production lines. Aimed at the US market, the Monkey sold in huge numbers, improvements were made each and every year with the most noticeable being the folding handlebars and seat introduced in 1968. Often thought to be a mod to get the bikes into a car boot in actual fact this was to enable the Monkey to fit into the luggage space of a Cessna 172 light aircraft, the thinking being that this workhorse of the air was soon to be owned by everyone in the US and the occupants would need transportation once back on the ground. The fold away features allowed the bike to slide into the side luggage door of the Cessna without interruption.
1973 marked the last year for the type in the UK, and the Monkey was no longer imported into this country officially. Since then however the cult has grown with many machines having been imported or indeed built from parts to create new bikes. Each year in Japan Honda release a new Monkey usually to celebrate one of the many successes of the huge corporation, this year sees the 40th anniversary model complete with a tartan seat like the original 60’s version while others in the past have included paint schemes to recognise various successes in competition and racing.
Honda Z50A 1972 Specifications
- Engine – air-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
- Capacity – 49cc
- Bore & stroke – 39 x 41.4 mm
- Carburetion – 13mm Keihin
- Max Power – 3hp @ 7500rpm
- Torque – 2.3ft-lbs @ 6000rpm
- Ignition – contact breaker
- Transmission – four-speed, automatic clutch
- Frame – steel tube
- Suspension – 26mm telescopic forks, solid rear end
- Wheels – 3.50 x 8
- Brakes – 110 mm single leading drum front and rear
- Wheelbase – 895mm
- Weight – 58kgs
- Fuel capacity – 4.5ltrs
- Top speed – 30mph
Honda Monkey bike Timeline
The first Monkey bike, the Z100, was launched in 1961; this was sold only on continental Europe & not in the UK. The pushrod engine from the 50cc C100 commuter bike was bolted into a rigid frame to create a fun runabout
The CZ100 was the first Monkey Bike imported into the UK featuring a 49cc ohv single cylinder engine, three-speed semi-automatic gearbox, 5-inch wheels with fat tyres and no suspension the machines came three to a crate and listed at £67.15s.5d each.
In 1967 the CZ100 got replaced with an all-new Monkey Bike, the Z50M. Designed to be more practical with separately folding handlebars, a higher seat (also folding) and a 49cc ohc engine. This was also the first model to be officially sold into the Japanese market and has since become a highly sought after version.
1968 Z50 AK0
The Z50M lasted only two years and was replaced in 1969 by the Z50A series. It has the same basic frame as the M but now with front suspension and 8-inch wheels, no lights were fitted as this was pure leisure and recreational machine.
1969 Z50 AK1 Mini trail
The first of the off road Mini Trail Monkeys arrives greatly increasing the appeal as a leisure tool and selling in vast numbers particularly in the US.
1970 Z50 AK2
This model marked the end of the line for the Monkey in the UK as during 1973, Honda UK stopped importing Monkeys. The breed did carry on of sorts with the Dax but that was not officially imported after 1978 although this did resume in the later 80’s
1974 Z50 J
In 1974 the Z50J was launched with full front and rear swing arm suspension and it is this model that has remained relatively unchanged in production for over 36 years. The current Z50J uses the basis of the 1974 model with 4-speed box and manual clutch, 12-volt CDI and 8 inch wheels. Current models include a 40-year celebration model complete with a tartan seat.
The Monkey grew up to become a Gorilla for a limited time, with larger fuel tank, front & rear racks, a manual clutch and 4-speed gearbox. In 1991 the Gorilla became near extinct and was replaced by the Baja until 1997 when due to huge demand the Gorilla was then reintroduced in 1998 to the present day.
Honda Z50 Monkey Bike Gallery
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