Two Ways to Skin a Knee: 2021 Honda ADV150 Vs. 2021 Honda Trail 125
Modern city slicker takes on Hondas OG Minimoto
You don’t need big bucks or big bikes to have a swell adventure. But it helps. Or, you can have a perfectly fun adventure on either of these cute little Hondas, and still be one of the nicest people at the same time, as you’re getting nearly 100 mpg and treading lightly. These days, you take your adventures where you can get them. Instead of blasting off on a multi-day ride on big gas hogs, we poked around in our own Long Beach back yard.
The ADV150 got here earlier in the year, and falls into Honda’s scooter category – as well it should with its engine aft and belowdecks, and its constantly variable full-auto transmission. Running-gear wise, it’s just like the new PCX150 we tested last year, but clad in new adventure-style plastic, with about an inch more suspension travel, and a seat that’s 1.2 inches higher to match. Also knobbier IRC Trail Winner tires, on a 14-/13-inch wheel combo.
The Trail 125, Honda classifies as a miniMoto, since its engine is in the middle where God intended, and power flows through a four-speed gearbox with automatic clutch. Sixty years ago, it wouldn’t have been classified as a miniMoto; it would’ve been classified as Honda’s only moto: This “new” Trail 125 isn’t far removed from that very first Super Cub that launched Honda to worldwide fame. Last year, Honda announced it had stamped out its 100 millionth Super Cub series bike, making it the most prolific vehicle on the planet. Honda says it produces Super Cub series motorcycles at 16 plants in 15 countries, and sells them in more than 160 countries. So why not start up selling the Super Cub 125 and Trail 125 again in the US too? The tooling, as they say, is paid for. (And at $3,899, the profit margin can’t be all that thin.)
Lately it’s like Honda is going through a second childhood, pulling old toys out of the shed like the Monkey and now the Super Cubs to thrill riders of a certain age, and possibly new ones too. It’s a strategy that suits us just fine, since Ryan Adams has barely reached 30, and I’ve now been there twice.
It’s no contest. Though it’s a 2-valve design just like the old Trail motor, the more modern Single in the ADV150 is liquid-cooled, 25 cc bigger – and with 10.6:1 compression to the Trail’s 9.3 ratio – kicks the Trail’s butt and not just by a little. Hopping off the Trail onto the ADV is like going from a 600 to a literbike. Ok not really. But it’s a big difference. Also, the ADV’s CVT trans makes the most of its power, allowing revs to get immediately into the little piston’s happy place and stay there, right up to the top speed of about 65 mph, which the ADV gets to quick enough to outrun all but the most aggressive SUV moms.
On SoCal surface streets on the ADV, you filter up to red lights between the cars as you normally would, confident you can beat most of them. On the Trail, you size up the competition first, and about half the time you tuck in your tail and take your place in line with the Corollas and minivans. Not only is the old air-cooled motor a bit wheezy off the line, having to roll out of the gas to bang into second gear with your heel takes time (at least the heel/toe shifter is a nice touch, along with the kickstarter).
The Trail’s four-speed gearbox works okay, but with no clutch, it’s hard to be smooth with your shifts, up or down. We decided you’d bond with the gearbox after a decade or two, and learn to shift smoothly, but the whole deal makes you appreciate how nice the ADV’s full-auto transmission is. When you eventually arrive at top whack on the Trail, the speedo registers about 50 mph. That’s really not enough, even on surface streets, to keep SUV grills from constantly hoving into your mirrors.
Obviously, the results of our “tests” are highly dependent on where we choose to perform them. If you lived at the edge of a national forest and just wanted to amble off into it all by your lonesome, with speed not of the essence, the Trail 125 begins to live up to its name.
Its bigger 17-inch wheels deal better with obstacles, and even though it’s got less wheel travel at both ends than the ADV, it serves up a more comfy ride. The Trail’s ergonomics make it easier to stand up as needed, it has a skid plate to protect its engine, and it can even ford small streams thanks to its airbox snorkel.
Ryan says: It’s hard to find a practical reason to choose the Trail 125 over the ADV 150. The scooter is better around town in almost every way. Where the Trail 125 does shine though, is where it got its namesake. Off-road, the Trail’s larger 17-inch wheels roll over bumps as the decidedly soft suspension soaks them up before you ever feel them. The Trail 125’s front-only ABS with a standard rear braking system is the better setup for the trail too.
(The ADV has front-only ABS too; its rear brake is a drum.)
There’s no lockable storage to stash your valuables away like the ADV has under its seat, but you can lash even more stuff to the Trail’s big steel rear platform.
Overall, the Trail feels rugged and unstoppable, except maybe by steepish hills, and gives you the impression it could co-star in a ’60s western sitcom about an old prospector adjusting to the 20th century by phasing out his talking donkey.
RA: While the ADV 150 is actually a lot of fun to ride in the dirt, it’s the seating position that betrays its moniker. Unless you decide to stand on the ADV 150 – which puts the rider in an awkward position – you’ll be feeling every little bump in the road as the 150 transfers them up through your buns directly into your spine. The Trail 125 is still somewhat awkward to stand up on, but the more normal motorcycle-like riding position makes things easier.
With its engine out back and swinging up and down with the back wheel, the ADV150 doesn’t have the right weight distribution or ground clearance for rough trails, but Ryan Adams (who rode both of them off road quite a bit) agrees that if you just keep to graded roads, the ADV can do everything the Trail 125 does, but faster.
The ADV would be the Trail’s city slicker cousin in the western sitcom, who shows up to visit in a nice suit and bow tie, is wise to the ways of the world, and who the donkey never speaks in front of. Its key fob stays in your pocket, where it operates the ADV’s ignition remotely. There’s a USB port in the (not lockable) glovebox up front, and quite a bit of storage, 27 liters worth, hidden under the seat.
With 27 liters of gear or groceries stuffed in there, there’s still room for Miss Kitty on back. On the Trail 125, it’s gear or a companion, but not both. Sad. The Trail looks like you could crash it repeatedly and not much change its looks; the ADV’s shapely plastic, I learned the hard way, is in harm’s way and easily scrapable when you dump it on its side. Ouch…
Neither bike takes up much space, and both come with centerstands that make them easy to service. Only one needs its chain lubed now and then, since the ADV’s driven by a belt. The covers for the Trail 125’s lone intake and one exhaust valve are right there looking at you, which is a good thing because you’re supposed to inspect their clearance every 4000 miles, which is the same frequency the engine requires fresh oil. The ADV’s thumper wants the same oil change and valve inspection intervals. Its valves are almost as easy to get to with just a little disassembly, and don’t forget to check its coolant level now and then too.
The ADV150’s fuel tank holds 2.1 gallons, which is, in fact, plenty since it always gets 80 mpg or more (honestly, I’ve only filled it up once), and since scooter trips tend to be local, a tank lasts a looooong time. It’s typical of Honda to do the unexpected thing by giving the rugged explorer Trail 125 a smaller tank that holds just 1.4 gallons. But Honda claims over 100 mpg for it. We’re still trying to drain its tank.
Both bikes are super-convenient to throw on the centerstand for a quick warm-up while you put on helmet and gloves, then remember to go back inside for your phone – and both bikes’ PGM fuel injection has them starting and thumping along flawlessly from cold. (If you can call 50 degrees F cold.)
The Pleasure Principle
They’re both light on their feet, the Trail feeling a bit more motorcycle-ish and the ADV more scootery, thanks to their different ergonomics. The Trail rides a bit better over chopped-up pavement and off-road, the ADV owns the smooth stuff. In fact, the ADV150 just owns the Trail 125 95% of the time in the urban environment, due to its superior firepower and full-auto ease of use. If it’s the least bit chilly, it’s nice to be able to tuck your legs and torso behind the ADV’s bodywork and two-position windscreen. And since 90% of a scooter’s mission is hunter/gathering, that 27 liters of lockable, out-of-sight storage is impossible for the Trail to match with a bungeed-on milk crate. Even a nice one.
If you live in a yurt at the top of a rocky mountain trail or on the Ponderosa, YMMV, but the ADV150 (and its PCX150 sister ship) are such highly evolved little transport modules, they really make Honda’s retro miniMotos – this Trail 125, the Monkey 125, and the Grom it shares its engine with – seem like novelty items. Their styling does what it’s meant to do, pluck your nostalgia strings, but the novelty fades quickly on the road, especially if you’re riding them back-to-back with the ADV. And especially if you’re riding them in traffic.
Ryan Adams, who’s into off-road riding in a biggish way, even concedes he’d take the ADV’s extra power and convenience over the Trail 125’s greater off-road capabilities. Even if you did get into a tight spot on the ADV, its sub-300 pound weight means you should still be able to extricate yourself. Eventually.
This one’s a resounding win for the ADV150, a triumph of modern(ish) engineering and convenience over agricultural nostalgia. The Trail 125’s fun too, but a talking donkey, you gotta admit, is a hard act to follow.
2021 Honda ADV150
- Big power for 150 cc and ADV looks
- Twist and go convenience
- 27L lockable storage
- Would be cool if the glovebox locked too
- Keyless ignition and switch makes it easy to accidentally leave the lights on
- Saddens us Honda probably won’t import the new 750 Forza
2021 Honda Trail 125
- 100 million pizza delivery people can’t be wrong
- Robust engineering
- Thrives on abuse
- A little more power would be nice. Or a lot more
- Auto clutch is primitive next to a CVT
- Makes us pine for the great outdoors
Honda Trail 125
Total Objective Scores
John’s Subjective Scores
Ryan’s Subjective Scores
Honda Trail 125 ABS
|Engine Type||149cc liquid-cooled 80° single-cylinder four-stroke||124.9cc air-cooled SOHC, two-valve Single-cylinder four-stroke|
|Valve Train||OHC; two valves||two-valve, SOHC|
|Bore x Stroke||57.3 mm x 57.9 mm||52.4 mm x 57.9 mm|
|Induction||Fuel injection; 26 mm throttle body||PGM-FI w/ 24 mm bore, automatic enrichment|
|Ignition||Full transistorized||Full transistorized|
|Starter||Electric||Electric & kick|
|Transmission||V-Matic||Semiautomatic; four speeds|
|Clutch||Automatic centrifugal dry type||Automatic centrifugal|
|Final Drive||Belt||Chain final drive; 14T/39T|
|Front Suspension||31mm Showa telescopic fork; 5.12 in. travel||27 mm telescopic inverted fork; 4.3 in. travel|
|Rear Suspension||Twin Showa shocks; 4.72 in. travel||Twin shocks; 3.4 in. travel|
|Front Brakes||Single hydraulic caliper w/ 240 mm disc||Single hydraulic caliper w/ 220 mm disc; ABS|
|Rear Brakes||Mechanical w/ single 130 mm drum||Single hydraulic caliper w/ 190 mm disc|
|Rake/Trail||26°30′/3.4 inches||27°/3.1 inches|
|Length||76.8 inches||77.2 inches|
|Width||30.0 inches||31.7 inches|
|Height||45.4 inches||42.7 inches|
|Seat Height||31.3 inches||31.5 inches|
|Ground Clearance||6.5 inches||6.5 inches|
|Wheelbase||52.1 in.||49.4 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||2.1 gallons||1.4 gallons|
|Curb Weight||294 pounds (claimed)||257 lbs. (measured)|
|Color||Matte Black Metallic||Glowing Red|
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