I have just returned from a three week trip to Japan with my band, Audacity. We played in Tokyo, Aishikaga, Yokohoma, Kyoto, and Nagoya. While I was there I had the opportunity to see what kinds of bikes were popular among the local riders.
First of all, motorcycles are extremely popular in Japan, and are perfect for navigating the narrow roads of Tokyo. In these tight places all over Kyoto and Tokyo you really don’t need anything more than a few horsepower to zip around town, and there are a couple two wheeled machines that really stood out to me; the Honda Ape 50/100 and the Suzuki Grasstracker 250.
I was on my way to a revolving sushi restaurant when I heard a little single cylinder motor creeping between cars and move up through traffic. I looked down from the (very) mini-van I was in and saw something even smaller; a Honda Ape.
Often referred to as “monkey” or “guerilla” bikes, the Ape is a modern of the Honda Z50, which was sold in America in from 1968 to 1982. The motor comes with either a 50cc or 100cc single-cylinder four-stroke engine, making 4 and 7 horsepower respectively. With a top speed just above 40 mph and a 5 speed transmission, these little bikes are perfect around town zippers. The seat height of 28.1 inches puts you only two inches lower than the new CBR250.
As our van continued on to our lunch destination, I kept seeing Ape after Ape! They were everywhere, passing cars left and right, zipping, revving and shifting. It makes sense why so many people ride the Honda Ape; it turns out the 50cc version of these minibikes returns an almost unbelievable 217 MPG! And with a 1.5 gallon tank, some people commute and ride for a month without worrying about fuel. The half-sized 125cc Honda GROM has made it to the states recently, however I’ve only seen a few on the road. These little Honda Apes cost about $2800 new, though there are no plans to bring them to the US market anytime soon.
As my trip continued, more bikes caught my eye. Lots of 400cc and smaller bikes were parked next to a sea of bicycles. Strange three wheeled food delivery machines could be seen, riding to and from restaurant and customer. There was one that I found as intriguing as the Ape; the Suzuki Grasstracker 250. Where in America, lines like the Grasstracker’s would take countless hours in custom work, the Suzuki comes looking like a tamed flat tracker from the factory.
The Grasstracker includes beautiful spoked wheels, a round headlight, and a sweptback muffler. The Grass Tracker is designed to simply remind everyone an important aspect of riding, to have fun. The grin turns into a teethy smile at the pump because this bike has great mileage; 115 MPG! The engine's 19 horsepower propels the 300 pound machine more than swift enough for crowded Japanese streets, and has a top speed of 75 miles an hour. The production of these began in 2002 and a new 2014 model costs around $8000.
Like the Ape, there are lots of these 250’s thumping around the streets of Tokyo, Kyoto, and other prefectures. It’s a truly beautiful bike that would sell well in the states, but there’s a problem. Even with a catalytic converter on the Grasstracker, the bike doesn’t pass California emissions and is not available in the US at this time.
Seeing the plethora of smaller bikes, especially these two, has made me ask the question: Will we ever see such aesthetically pleasing bikes make it to American motorcycle dealers? One can only hope, and until then imagine how much fun it would be romping around town on one of these small motorcycles.