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Reviewed: Honda ST125 Dax

Honda ST125 Stationary

In some ways, reviewing the ST125 Dax is quite tricky. Rationally, it makes little sense, being slower, smaller and less practical than most 125s on the market, but emotionally it reminds you of everything that’s great about small motorcycles.

You see, there are two ways to approach the Dax: emotionally or with your sensible head on. Looking at it logically, there are definitely more sensible 125s out there. There are learner legal bikes which are cheaper, faster, more practical, but in many ways the Dax isn’t really a rational purchase.

It’s one of those 125s only Honda can really do. Like the Monkey, the Super Cub (and to a certain extent the more contemporary MSX125 Grom), it’s a slice of Honda history made current. For those of us of a certain age, these are the modern representations of the bikes we started out on. At £3749, they’re inexpensive enough for many to have as a second (or third) bike, or they make a brilliant starter bike for cool kids looking for something distinctive and retro to get around on – as long as they don’t mind suffering a bit in the name of fashion.

 

History lessons…

Back in the 1960s, Honda was famous for making small recreational motorcycles. In 1969 the Z series of Monkey bikes was joined by the slightly bigger ST range, known as the ‘Dax’ in Europe by dint of its vaguely dachshund style shape.

Although sharing the same basic engine design as the Monkey, the Dax had its own frame, a steel monocoque which contained a small fuel tank and the wiring loom. The wheels, although still tiny 10” items, were bigger than the Monkey’s, making it a physically bigger design, even though the foldable handlebars made it much smaller than the average motorcycle and, like the Monkey, still suitable to be transported in camper vans.

Although not quite as iconic as the Cub or Monkey, the Dax is very much a classic motorcycle and has garnered a cult following, with prices for well-maintained originals on the rise.

 

Back to the present day…

Now Honda has rebooted the Cub and the Monkey, with the new-for-2023 Dax completing a trio of mini retros.

Last year we rode the Honda Super Cub C125, and much of what we said about that can be copied and pasted here. Although the Super Cub is not officially part of Honda’s mini-bike range (which consists of the Grom, Monkey and Dax) it shares the same mechanical set up as the ST125.

Where the Grom and Monkey utilise a conventional five speed manual transmission, the Dax and Super Cub get a semi-automatic four-speed gearbox, similar to the three-speed semis on the small Hondas of old. It’s a heel and toe system, pushing forward on the gear lever to go up the gears and back with your heel to go down.

 

Honda ST125 Side View

 

The gearbox is one of the quirks of these retro Hondas. I think I committed heresy last time and suggested the Super Cub would be better with a scooter style twist and go transmission, rather than the auto clutch set-up inspired by the original, and while I stand by that I think it suits the Dax better.

I guess that’s because while the Cub feels a bit like a scooter (ergonomically at least) the Dax has more of a novelty motorcycle feel and gets away with the quirky ‘box. That said, there’s probably a reason why Honda’s centrifugal clutch system never became the mainstream. To be honest I’d still prefer a manual ‘box and clutch, but the whole point of the Dax is that it shuns the conventional and embraces Honda’s storied history.

 

Honda ST125 Rear

 

And, to ride, the Dax puts a smile on your face. The mirrors are so small and low as to be almost completely useless, and the 3.8 litre fuel tank isn’t going to get you far between refills either. But then that’s not the point. You buy bikes like the Dax precisely because it shuns convention and it’s a right good laugh. Sitting so close to the ground just feels so wrong it’s right. The engine’s buzzy as hell at top speed (somewhere between 50 and 60, depending on conditions), the riding position’s mad and those tiny wheels, 12” on the current model, make it feel like an oversized roller skate.

 

Honda ST125 Tyre

 

At the beginning of this review we said that the Dax is an emotional, rather than rational, purchase and I’d stand by that. It’s a novelty motorcycle. If you want something practical, move on now. But if you don’t mind putting up with its quirks for your daily ride, or if you can afford a little plaything as a second or third bike, the Dax most definitely has a place in today’s motorcycling landscape.

 

Honda ST125 Gear and Screen

 

The quality is superb. There’s not a lot to talk about, spec wise, as it is as basic as it gets, but what’s there is lovely. The paint is lush, a retro ruby red with plenty of metalflake, the chrome pops, and the look is even more authentic than Honda’s other little retros, the Super Cub and Monkey. The lights and clock look like they were conceived in the ‘70s, but the tech is modern. There are LED lights all-round, while the diddy little LCD dash has a fuel gauge to complement the speed readout. That said, I would like to see a gear indicator as it is easy to lose track of which cog you’ve selected. 

 

Honda ST125 Tyres in Frame

 

Conclusion

On paper, the Dax doesn’t amount to much. It’s about as basic as a motorcycle gets but to consider the Dax based upon the spec sheet is to miss the point. It’s a bike you buy and ride because of its quirks, not in spite of them.

I could definitely see myself owning a Dax; not to ride a million miles a year on but to modify and cherish and to bring out on a sunny day. I envisage hooking up with the local Grom owners, riding down to the local bike meets and encouraging my mates to buy their own mini-Honda, in order for us to arrange mad day trips and holidays. That’s what makes these little Hondas so special. Whether you’re 17 or 74, rich or poor, they’re accessible and classless motorcycles which simply put a smile on anyone’s face.

Thank you Honda!

 

 

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