Sales of 50cc to 125cc bikes make up roughly 70% of all motorcycles purchases in the UK.
With motorcycle tests at some of the highest levels ever recorded, the market for learner-ready bikes is vibrant. Manufacturers have responded with a wide variety of models and styles, from those celebrating great designs of the past to the latest fashions.
There’s never been a better time to become a biker, and just because you’re riding a bike with a small engine, it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Here, in the first part of our look at the options available to would-be 125cc bikers, we take a look at the best some of the big manufacturers have to offer.
Yamaha has a long history of building great 125cc bikes. Their first product back in 1955, the YA-1, swept the podium with first, second and third place in the All Japan Autobike Endurance Road Race. Since then Yamaha has become one of the world’s most successful motorcycle manufacturers.
The current roster of Yamaha 125cc bikes is pretty comprehensive, ranging from the sleek, modern lines of the YBR125 to the retro stylings of the YBR125 custom. The MT-125 ABS is an agile street-fighter, able to hit 85mph at full whack, with a futuristically-styled naked chassis.
Similarly, the YZF-R125 incorporates much of the technology used in the world championship-winning R6 series. At over £4,000 it can’t exactly be called cheap, but if you’re after a small capacity bike with a big heart and money is no object this will doubtless be close to the top of your wish list. The good news is that the popularity of this bike means it’s relatively simple to find a second-hand one, with a bit of patience.
Honda has been the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer since 1959, but has been Japan’s biggest since it began making motorcycles in 1955. It was also the first Japanese manufacturer to export to the US, and Honda’s early 1960s advertising campaign for the Super Cub is often credited with both inventing lifestyle marketing and helping to change public perceptions of bikers.
The MSX125 – known as the Grom in Japan and the US, because why not – is marketed as the spiritual successor to the monkey bikes of the 1970s, except without making you look like you should be chasing after James Bond as he tries to escape from your secret volcano lair. Probably not the most practical bike if you’re anything other than fairly short, but if you’re more used to mopeds or scooters it could be a fun alternative.
The CB125F is designed to be an ideal machine for newbies and commuters alike. Incorporating new fuel injection tech it offers excellent fuel economy, while the rest of the engine has been newly redesigned for maximum performance. While it’s a little basic, it’s one of the UK’s best-selling bikes so it must be doing something right.
The CBR125R is designed to be a starter sportsbike for someone looking to get into racing. It has a carefully tuned engine that squeezes out a close approximation to the handling of riding a “real” sportsbike, without making sacrifices for fuel economy. At three and a half grand this is another hefty investment but if you’re interested in racing then this makes the ideal starter bike.
Suzuki is another Japanese manufacturer which has a strong reputation for its motorcycles, regularly topping grand prix leader boards through the decades. Looking over its current roster of 125cc bikes, your eye is likely to be drawn to the VanVan125. A beautiful retro sandbike, its distinctively fat wheels and low slung seat make it a comfortable city cruiser with bags of character.
Suzuki’s other current 125 is equally as distinctive, the Burgman 125. A classy maxi-scooter, it’s designed as a city runner and includes a generous amount of under-seat storage. At £3,500 it’s one of the cheaper executive scooters and it’s an ideal urban runabout.
Suzuki has slimmed down its offering of 125cc bikes recently, but you should be able to find plenty of recently discontinued models available second hand. The DR125SM is a robust supermoto, with enough poke in its 4-stroke fuel-injected engine to allow it to get up to 70mph. Eventually. On the flat.
The GZ125 Marauder is a sleek cruiser, with a classic silhouette and great fuel efficiency. It’s an extremely funky bike with bags of style. The VL125 Intruder is another cruiser, with strong Harley and Triumph influences in its design. All three of these discontinued models can be found for under £2,000.
Aprilia is one of the marques of Piaggio, the Italian company also responsible for Vespa, Moto Guzzi, and Gilera to name but a few of the iconic brands it owns. The Aprilia RS4 125 is the small-capacity version of the championship winning RSV4, and has the same ultra-modern look as its big brother for a fraction of the price. The RS4 is the four-stroke version of the original replica, the two-stroke RS125, and carries a price premium as a result.
While Aprilia mainly focuses on more powerful bikes, it has generally had a smaller capacity version too. If you absolutely must have an Aprilia, keep an eye peeled for a second-hand bargain.
While mainly known as manufacturers of sporting bikes and purpose-built race bikes, KTM has a couple of cracking road-ready 125cc bikes too. The Duke 125’s sporting heritage is clearly visible in its design, which looks like a supermoto with hints of a road racer in there too. It’s also the first 125 bike with ABS brakes as standard. The RC125 is a race replica designed to meet Yamaha’s YZF-R1 and Aprilia’s RS4 125 head-on, and according to Visordown’s review, it hits the spot. At £4,549 though, it should…
Synonymous with Italian style, the Vespa has been a cult favourite for decades since it stepped on to the global stage in the 1953 Audrey Hepburn film Roman Holiday. In the sixties it became the must-have run-around for mods. The iconic silhouette is instantly recognisable and it remains for many people the scooter. The current Vespa range has a number of 125cc versions, fusing modern technology with classic styling.
The Primavera is the main model of the range, an updated design based on the 1968 original, and is an ideal city runabout. The GTS is, as the name suggests, a sportier model, while the GTS Super takes its cues from earlier Supersport models. While there may be cheaper scooters, there is really only one option if you want a Vespa.
Next week, we’ll look at what the growing Chinese market has to offer.