There are lots of reasons you may be looking for a 125cc engine dirt bike – you’re inexperienced or just haven’t ridden for a while and are looking for a more mild-powered restart, you’re a young adult moving up the classes, or you’re just on the shorter and lighter side and looking for a new bike. Either way, if you’re set on a 125, you’re certainly going to want to consider two major players: the Yamaha YZ125 and the Honda CR125.
The Yamaha YZ125:
The YZ, the ‘Yamaha Zinger’, is a bike you can trust. It’s been in production since the ’70s, so Yamaha has had around 50 years of regular tweaks and updates to create a very finely-tuned instrument. It’s no surprise the YZ125 holds legendary status – it’s won five National AMA Motocross Championships, many Regional AMA Supercross Championships, and it’s been the bike-of-choice for many X-Games and AMA Champs and medalists over the decades.
It has a single-cylinder, reed valve inducted, two-stroke engine. The reed valve technology makes for a superb bottom-end response. Since the 80s it has used a liquid-cooled system, and it produces 34 horsepower. With its dry weight of 94kg, you could get up to a top speed of around 70mph.
Most 125s will do 0-60, in dirt, in around 5 seconds – but the specifics of the acceleration of each bike isn’t a crucial factor for comparing them.
In terms of brakes, it has a large 270mm front-disc coupled with high-tech pad material and a 245mm hydraulic rear-disc for decent stopping power and control.
Brand new, you can get your hands around the grips of a 2021 YZ125 for $6,599 from Yamaha directly. A second-hand mid-2000s model will go for around $4,600.
The Honda CR125:
Whilst the Zinger continues to stay in production, the Honda CR125 (Close Ratio – referring to its gearbox), was the last two-stroke engine Honda produced. The final model was made in 2007, supposedly due to poor sales of the previous models – but this doesn’t tell the whole story: the second-hand bikes are still very much in demand and this speaks for itself.
The engine is, again, a two-stroke single cylinder. It is very lightweight, with a dry weight of 89.4kg, but slightly more horsepower than the YZ – at 34.9. The brakes are single discs, equally sized at 240mm in the front and back, making them very powerful. Overall though, a pretty similar bike to the Yamaha.
Many riders love this bike for its well-designed Delta-Box frame, smooth clutch, and general attention to the ergonomics. It looks and feels good, and the handling is excellent.
There are still some CR125s that haven’t yet touched the dirt. If you look around, you can find a still-in-crate bike for around $7,000. A second-hand 2007 model tends to go for about $2000 – $4000 depending on the condition. The fact that they are no longer being manufactured may be driving up their price regardless of their quality.
Both are pretty good for beginners, given that they are classic bikes in the 125 class range, but advanced riders would certainly be at home riding either of these bikes. Both bikes are definitely worth their market price for their quality. A few final questions will help us decide between them:
What are the best features of YZ125 and CR125?
The Honda: The suspension and handling. Its turning is very accurate and it feels light and easy to move.
The Yamaha: You won’t find a tougher bike on the market. It can really take a beating. Maybe this makes it best for a beginner who might take spend a lot of time ‘packing’. You also won’t have to spend a lot of time fixing and touching it up.
One more thing to note:
The powerband of the CR125 is not so user-friendly. It is pretty short and abrupt, so you have to be quick to change gear and stay at optimum RPM. On the other hand, with the wider powerband of YZ125, it’s much easier to keep your speed up. Here, the Yamaha has a clear advantage in terms of ride-ability. A beginner rider may have difficulty staying in that powerband without working hard and focussing.
I hate to be inconclusive, but it’s a very personal decision. If you can get out and see how you feel on both bikes, then that’s the best way to know what’s right for you. Failing that, and if money is less of an issue, I’d go with a newer YZ125, especially if you’re a beginner or don’t have the experience.