Honda's CBR 125 one of the most rider-friendly sport bikes out there
If you’re reentering the sport of motorcycling, or getting your feet wet for the first time, it’s hard to know where to start. Should you jump in with both feet and get yourself a powerful sport bike or pony up for a laid-back cruiser? How about a scooter? Should you buy used? How much should you pay? What about performance versus fuel economy?
Honda may have the answer for you in the form of its entry-level CBR 125. Revamped for 2011, it may qualify as one of the most rider-friendly sport bikes out there, but thanks to its phenomenal fuel economy, it can double as a commuter bike.
Made in Thailand, the CBR 125 is powered by a liquid-cooled, 125 cc single-cylinder engine with one overhead camshaft and two valves. It also has fuel injection and is mated to a six-speed transmission with chain final drive. Power output is about 13 horsepower, and it has a purported top end of some 200 kilometres per hour. In all honesty, this bike is unlikely to reach that speed unless you drop it out of an airplane. Past 140 kilometres per hour, it’s all noise and no action. You might touch 160 kilometres per hour in a tail wind going downhill, but this is not a high-speed motorcycle by any stretch of the imagination. Although it will reach 100 kilometres per hour and up, it isn’t well suited to the hurly-burly of freeway traffic. I can’t see taking it on the highway for any length of time, unless you have a death wish of some kind.
But what it may lack in performance, the CBR 125 makes up for in toughness. The engine is almost masochistic in its appetite for abuse, and you can blithely run the bejesus out of it 24/7. Indeed, if you want to get the most out of it, you have to pretty much wring its neck, and it doesn’t like shifting below 8,000 rpm. Although it starts to buzz like an enraged gnat in the higher rpms, it’s actually quite happy at engine speeds above 8,000 rpm, and it’s kind of fun to ride a bike that you can thrash without worrying about breaking speed limits, blowing up the engine, or attracting the long arm of the law. Below, oh, 4,000 rpm, there isn’t a lot of get up and go at your fingertips, but like all small-displacement Honda engines, this one takes a licking and keeps on ticking. And it requires almost no maintenance. Even those of us who are packing a little extra weight won’t slow it down, and for novices it might be just about right.
Another good thing about having an engine this small is that it returns about 2.5 litres per 100 kilometres. Take it easy, using the throttle sparingly, and its 13-litre tank will take you about 500 kilometres before it runs dry. That’s scooter territory, and the CBR 125 can match many larger-displacement scooters when it comes to thrift, while providing modest riding kicks. It may be small and lightweight, but the CBR 125 is fun to ride—in its own way. You can lean it over to a point, and it has excellent brakes: a dual-piston disc up front and a single disc in the back. You can also get after-market go-fast bits for it—exhaust, tires, and so on—that will give you just a little more snap. Unfortunately, for all its thrift and accessibility, this is also a bike that you outgrow fairly quickly.
The CBR 125 has a seat height of 793 millimetres, but the bike is so narrow that even the most inseam-challenged riders should be able to get both feet flat on the ground. There’s also a little storage compartment under the passenger pillion, with enough room for a cellphone or a small camera, and the CBR 125 has a fairly comprehensive set of gauges: speedometer, rev counter, fuel gauge, and temperature gauge. Not many bikes in this market can say the same. A frame-mounted fairing and small windscreen provide some shelter from the wind, but not a lot, and the clutch action is the lightest I’ve experienced on a motorcycle of any kind. I thought it was broken at first, but it’s just sprung like an expensive watch: very light to the touch.
At 137 kilograms, the CBR 125 is light enough for even the smallest riders to manhandle. Honda is aiming this bike at women as well as novices, and you’ll look long and hard to find a better way of getting the sport-bike riding experience without breaking the bank or getting in over your head.