2021 Honda Trail 125 vs. 1975 Honda CT90 article highlights:
- Although they’re not the most well-equipped off-road motorcycles, both the 2021 Honda Trail 125 ABS and 1975 Honda CT90 can survive across 1000 miles of Alaskan wilderness
- With a lower curb weight and dual-range transmission, the CT90 arguably edges out the Trail 125 in off-road capability
- However, the modern Trail 125 is more efficient and easier to live with—and unlike the worn CT90, it didn’t die a quarter-mile from the finish line
The typical tool for travelers looking to ride over trails and tarmac is usually some version of a BMW GS. However, some motorcycle brands offer simpler, more approachable alternatives than an adventure bike. And in terms of accessible outdoor exploration, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 is a real breath of fresh air.
But what happens when the metaphorical fresh air meets the real air of a place like Alaska? And does the new Honda Trail have the same character as its predecessors? All worthy questions, the RevZilla Common Tread team thought. So, it shipped a 2021 Honda Trail 125 and a 1975 Honda CT90 off to Alaska for a 1000-mile trip to find out.
2021 Honda Trail 125 ABS vs. 1975 Honda ‘CT90’ Trail 90: similar looks, similar specs
|2021 Honda Trail 125 ABS||1975 Honda ‘CT90’ Trail 90|
|Engine||125cc air-cooled fuel-injected single-cylinder||90cc air-cooled carbureted single-cylinder|
|Horsepower||8 hp (rear wheel, Cycle World)||7 hp|
|Torque||7 lb-ft (rear wheel, Cycle World)||6 lb-ft|
|Transmission||Four-speed semi-automatic with centrifugal clutch||Dual-range four-speed semi-automatic with centrifugal clutch|
|Front suspension and travel||27mm inverted telescopic fork; 3.9”||Telescopic fork; 4.0”|
|Rear suspension and travel||Twin shocks; 3.4”||Twin shocks; 3.0″|
|Curb weight||259 lbs||200 lbs|
Although it shares its name with a dirt bike category, the Honda Trail 90, aka the CT90, isn’t a dirt bike. It, along with its fellow vintage Trail models, technically predate that term’s inception. But Honda did design them to take advantage of the same ‘60s and ‘70s scrambler boom that eventually gave rise to dirt bikes. And while the Honda CT90’s step-through frame mimics that of a moped, the Trail 90 has a foot-operated transmission, so it’s a real motorcycle, Motorcycle Classics explains.
Speaking of design, in terms of overall shape, form, and specs, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 is practically a dead ringer for its ancestor. Both have rear luggage racks, center stands, skid plates, high-mount exhausts, and spoked wheels with off-road-rated tires. Even their tire sizes are identical. And while the Trail 125 has a starter motor, it has a kickstarter like the CT90. Also, both use a Super Cub-derived semi-automatic centrifugal clutch.
The 2021 Honda Trail 125 has more tech tricks, but the CT90 has its own off-road party piece
However, unlike the Trail 90, the Trail 125’s engine is straight from the Super Cub—in this case, the modern fuel-injected C125. But that makes sense, given that both are part of Honda’s modern miniMOTO range. Honda gives the Trail 125 a different rear sprocket, intake, and exhaust for more low-end power and torque, though, Cycle World says. It also has a longer wheelbase and more suspension travel.
On the technology front, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 beats out the CT90. The modern bike has front and rear disc brakes instead of drums, LED lighting, and a digital display. Also, front ABS as well as an optional 12V port and heated grips.
However, the vintage Trail 90 has a trick up its sleeve. Flicking a lever selects a final reduction gear, a bit like selecting low-range on a transfer case. Plus, to make transportation and storage easier, Honda gave the CT90 quick-fold handlebars. The Trail 125 doesn’t have that feature, either.
Across 1000 miles of Alaskan wilderness, the 1975 Honda CT90 kept up with the Trail 125 right up until the bitter end
As noted earlier, neither the 2021 Honda Trail 125 nor the 1975 Honda CT90 are true adventure bikes. Even the new bike has a 55-mph top speed, Cycle World says. And while they’re great introductions to the world of trail riding, especially for new and shorter riders, traveling 1000 miles from Anchorage to the northernmost tip of the US is far removed from that.
Yet, that’s exactly what RevZilla Common Tread co-hosts Ari Henning and Zack Courts did. But they had reasons beyond ‘why not?’ for picking these Trails. The northernmost tip of the US, the Alaskan town of Utqiagvik, is only reachable by boat or a single-prop airplane. And something like a GS or Honda’s Africa Twin simply wouldn’t fit in the plane. Thus, for the sake of expediency, the duo chose the Trail 125 and CT90.
So, how did the 2021 Honda Trail 125 and 1975 CT90 cope with six days of riding through gravel, dirt, rain, fog, mountains, hail, mud, mosquitos, snow, and sand? Surprisingly well, as it turns out. Although Henning and Courts had some difficulties—they almost ran out of food, Zack lost his dry-sack of sleeping gear on the last day—both Trails shrugged off the worst Alasaka could throw at them.
Well, almost. While the CT90’s dual-range transmission and lighter weight made it nimbler than the Trail 125, the older Honda was less efficient. To be fair, 90 mpg from a 46-year-old motorcycle is impressive; the Trail 125 did 110 mpg. But fuel economy wasn’t the issue. The CT90 burned oil at a rather alarming rate, smoking from its exhaust along the way. And a damaged spark-plug boot let water into the electrical system. That eventually killed the old Trail 90 within eyesight of the end goal.
Still, both bikes made it to the finish line. They’re not enduros, ADVs, or even ‘proper’ dual-sports. But the ‘Trail’ part of the name isn’t just a marketing gimmick. And the new Honda Trail 125 is no less fun than the CT90.
How much is one of these stalwart trail steeds worth?
While not everyone is up for crossing 1000 miles of wilderness being pelted by gravel, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 does make a good camping motorcycle. Pack a tent, sleeping bag, clothing, and other gear in a waterproof bag, strap it to the rear rack, get dressed in weather-appropriate safety gear, and hit the road. Though keep in mind that the Trail 125’s rack has a 45-lb limit.
While the Honda CT90 is arguably simpler to maintain than its fuel-injected descendant, the new bike is cheaper to buy. The 2021 Trail 125 ABS starts at $3899. In contrast, a well-maintained CT90 typically costs about $4000, Hagerty reports. So, if you go with the modern bike, you’ll have some extra funds for snacks.
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