Jul 07, 2023
Starting out in style… The Top 10 BEST 125cc Motorcyc...
When did the choice of quality motorcycles in the 125 class become so good? From sports to nakeds to minis to even ADV bikes, there's a bike for everyone, but which is best? GIVEN the rules
When did the choice of quality motorcycles in the 125 class become so good? From sports to nakeds to minis to even ADV bikes, there's a bike for everyone, but which is best?
GIVEN the rules surrounding A1 class learner bikes, you’d be forgiven for thinking geared 125s are much of a muchness.
After all, they’re all capped at 125cc and can’t produce any more than 14.75bhp, nor can they exceed a power-to-weight ratio of 0.1kW per KG.
Thankfully for anyone 125 shopping, there’s an incredible amount of variety. From nobbly-tyre dirt bikes to fully-fared sports bikes and even adventure-spec motorcycles, there’s something to everyone.
But which is right for you? To help you decide, we’ve rounded up what we reckon are the 10 best options based on our experience testing the machines.
Given the popularity of adventure bikes these days, it’s a surprise there aren’t more 125 bikes in the style. Of the handful that are around, though, it’s clear which one you want - the Rieju Aventura 125.
Rieju isn’t exactly a household name, but it’s far from a newcomer - the Spanish brand has been around in one form or another since 1934. For a long time, 125s have been its speciality, particularly dirt bikes, so a 125 ADV seems like a natural step.
We were impressed when we first rode the bike in 2023. It’ll be a great option for taller riders who’ve just taken their CBT, who’ll feel plenty roomy on it, but the seat height is low enough to make it accessible for shorter folks too. It looks the part thanks to an angular half-fairing, wire wheels and chunky tyres, and it feels substantial for a 125.
At £4,199 it might look a little pricey compared to the £3,599 Sinnis T125, but we reckon it’s just about worth the extra.
We’re perfectly familiar with Lexmoto’s bargain-priced, Chinese-built, UK-imported wares by now with its £1,000 Echo 50cc scoot being a perennial UK best seller. However, much like its mobile phones, China’s motorcycles are beginning to gain some credibility here too and Lexmoto’s latest offering - the LXR 125 - is probably its best yet.
As ever, it’s brilliant value swooping at just £3,399 in a sector where there are plenty of equivalent bikes costing nearly two grand more. Don’t assume it’s budget ‘rubbish’ though because the LXR is smartly styled, has inverted forks, twin disc brakes and an alloy swing arm – more than enough, in fact, to impress the crowd outside McDonald’s.
Sure, its air-cooled engine is a little ‘old school’, it only produces 12bhp and it can’t keep up with the latest from, say, Yamaha, nor are its reliability, durability and residuals likely to be as good.
But in the context of the 125cc class where you’re only likely to keep it for a year and at an age when money is extremely tight, it’s more than worth a look.
The Honda MSX125, as introduced in 2014 is both the littlest and loudest - at least in terms of attitude - offering in the 125 arena.
Quickly developing a cult following, from which it is known as the Grom, it’s a modern-day ‘monkey bike’ inspired by Honda’s mini-wheeled marvels which proved so iconic in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
The MSX 125 is a proper, 10bhp, air-cooled 125 that rides on dinky 12-inch wheels and has all-round three-quarter scale proportions making you look like an adult on a BMX… which may or may not be a good thing for you.
Still, being a Honda, it’s thoroughly developed, has brilliant ergonomics even for taller riders, is hilariously easy to ride (especially around town) and has become something of a cult sensation in its own right. Sure, we wouldn’t fancy negotiating a dual carriageway or bypass on one and its practicality is limited, but it’s also far classier and more fun than you might expect – especially for smaller or less experienced riders.
Plus it’s also cooler than an ice cube on the Polar ice cap and if you fancy a more retro version, Honda also introduced the retro-styled ‘Monkey’ version in 2018 for just £300 extra. 125s simply don’t get any cuter…
We love Aprilia's powerful, honed flagship machines, so why wouldn’t we love that formula distilled into a smaller, more affordable but still very desirable package?
While you may have expected us to plump for the admittedly eye-catching RS 125 (spoiler alert, scroll down…), it is the oft-overlooked RX/SX duo we highlight here. Introduced in 2018, the RX125 is a trail-style 125 and the SX is its supermoto-style sibling, both being based around the same advanced liquid-cooled, DOHC, fuel-injected four-valve single as used in its better-known relative, the sporty RS.
Here the engine is held in a minimal, twin beam steel frame bracing decent cycle parts front and rear including 41mm inverted forks and monoshock rear with the RX having 21/18-inch wire wheels and semi-knobbly tyres and the SX 17-inch versions with more street-orientated rubber.
They both have stylish bodywork, plenty of quality, are easy to ride, as fast as any other four-stroke 125 and, chiming in at just under £4,000, not even that expensive. What’s not to like?
Proof you don’t have to be the fastest, best equipped or even most expensive to be a brilliant 125. Honda’s offering in the fashionable, sporty, naked 125 class against bikes like the KTM Duke and Yamaha MT-125 was introduced in 2018 replacing its long-lived and popular fared sports CBR125R – which in itself hinted at the faith Honda had in it.
It was well placed, too because although the CB does no one thing better than any rival, it does excel at being a brilliant blend of performance, style, quality, novice-friendly riding and value.
The chassis, too, is roomy, comfortable with typical Honda brilliant ergonomics and with more than a few classy touches such as inverted forks, radial front caliper and classy LCD dash.
Styling is intended to fit in with Honda’s new ‘Neo Café’ style roadsters such as the CB650R and CB1000R, which it does successfully, seeming much more substantial than a 125 as a result, and the whole plot chimes in for just over £4,500 which, for a proper, quality Honda and with rival Yamahas significantly more, is surely some kind of steal.
Austrian off-road experts KTM are the original kings when it comes to supermoto style conversions of MX or enduro style machines – after all it pretty much invented the breed when it came up with the first 620 Duke in 1995.
Since then the Duke family, now in 1290, 890, 790, 690, 390, 200 and, here, 125cc form has become the backbone of their range while at the same time constantly evolving to stay ahead of the pack.
The KTM 125 Duke was first introduced in 2012, characterised by its punchy, modern, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC four-valve four-stroke engine which, combined with a lightweight tubular steel trellis chassis, decent quality inverted WP forks and shock and sharp brakes and geometry became one of the most entertaining and nimble handling bikes in the class.
For 2024 the Duke 125 has been radically overhauled, now featuring a new frame and subframe, a lighter engine, and updated electronics among many other changes. The styling is as garish as ever, but if you’re not a fan, there’s always the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401, which uses the same engine and frame as the outgoing Duke 125 but with a more retro-inspired look.
Updated for 2020, Yamaha’s take on the stylish, naked, performance 125 roadster pretty much ticks all the boxes you could want of a bike of this type so, although quite pricey, it simply demands to be included here.
First introduced in 2014, Yamaha’s junior ‘Master of Torque’ (it’s the little brother to the MT-07, MT-09 and MT-10) is basically a naked version of the all-conquering R125 sportster (see below), itself updated for 2023.
Like that bike it now benefits from the latest high tech ‘VVA’ 125cc engine producing both the maximum 14.7bhp allowed and a healthy dollop of midrange; has an improved, lighter six-speed gearchange; shortened more agile, Deltabox chassis complete with fatter, 140-section rear tyre; quality inverted KYB forks and rear shock and, most obviously of all, new styling including a revised, more comfortable and roomy riding position which gives more of a big bike feel than ever.
In fact, it’s so good we actually struggle to find anything to criticise except, that is, the price. Though good, the new MT-125 is also now the priciest of this type of bike – even more so than Aprilia’s RS125-based Tuono – although it probably is worth the premium.
Aprilia’s perennially popular 125 sports bike, a bike so sexy its posters have been draped on teenage bedroom walls since the early 1990s, was bound to feature here somewhere and this latest GP replica is a worthy successor.
Although no longer a screaming, smoky two-stroke (that finally changed in 2011), the RS, with its high tech, fully modern, liquid-cooled, four-valve, DOHC, fuel-injected four-stroke single still thrives on revs and also delivers as much power (14.7bhp) as any rival.
Add to that: inimitable Italian sports styling, a mouth-watering spec including inverted forks and radial brakes, impeccably sharp and nimble styling yet decent novice manners, and you’ve got a sports 125 any self-respecting 17-year-old would sell their granny for.
Best of all, though, with the base version at £4499, this historically expensive ‘super 125’ now actually undercuts the latest from Yamaha. Scrub that, though, go for the ‘full monty’ GP replica version for £100 more. No other 125 has as much ‘drool factor’.
Best get them while they’re still here though as Aprilia is rumoured to be swinging the axe in favour of a Yamaha R3 and KTM RC390 rivalling 300cc+ successor. Can we just have both, pretty please?
Here we could have opted for the sportsbike-angled Kawasaki Ninja 125 or the sister Kawasaki Z125 naked - both are sweet handling and sporty machines, but the hooligan youth in us can't help but be drawn to the lime green hues of the mini-ZX-10R.
The lightweight Ninja carves through the mountain roads with ease and predictability, with great mid-corner stability, even on the rough stuff. Better still, in dense traffic through urban treks, its lightness and flickability help it to navigate static cars with ease. With its punchy motor, head-turning looks and handling to match, Kawasaki has created a fun and easy to ride learner legal motorcycle.
Interestingly, it's a sector Kawasaki hasn't had much involvement with until recently but with that lurid and as recognisable livery, coupled with Kawasaki's reputation for reliability, sporting dynamics and value, the Kawasaki Ninja 125 holds a lot of appeal for youngsters starting out or more experienced riders seeking a cool urban runaround.
Yamaha’s sports R125 offering has been THE most desirable offering in the quarter-litre class ever since the launch of the original in 2008, looking every inch the R1 replica albeit without the extra inches.
That bike combined the prevailing king CBR125R’s novice manners with more full-sized style, spec and performance sufficiently to fulfil any 17-year-old’s ‘Rossi-replica’ fantasies while at the same time proving a solid, effective learner buy.
The third-generation version was introduced in 2019, bringing with it variable valve timing and a revised Deltabox chassis. The R125 was tweaked further for 2023, gaining R7-like styling, a better TFT dashboard, traction control and pre-wiring for a quickshifter from Yamaha’s accessories catalogue.
We rode the bike at the launch in Barcelona both on the road and track, and it was a riot. The Yamaha really is the ultimate 125.9. Lexmoto LXR SE 125 (£3,399)