Honda CBR125R – Test Ride (The CMG Six)

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In 2007 Honda Canada gambled big that Canadian riders were ready for a small, unintimidating, but sporty motorcycle. The decision was taken after a lot of research into who was taking the riding schools (lots of people, many of them female), and who was going on through to get their final riding licence (disappointingly, not that many).

Honda’s Gamble

In 2007 Honda Canada gambled big that Canadian riders were ready for a small, unintimidating, but sporty motorcycle. The decision was taken after a lot of research into who was taking the riding schools (lots of people, many of them female), and who was going on through to get their final riding licence (disappointingly, not that many).

The obvious question was then posed: Could the machinery available in the market be the reason for this gap? Honda certainly thought so and so took the rather extreme course (for the bigger-is-better North American market anyway) and opted to bring in the CBR125R. The next question is – in the real world – what exactly can you do with a CBR125R?


 What is it?

track_grandstand_bg.jpg
‘arris in Florida.
Photo: Rob O’ Brien

Styled like the CBR600RR and CBR1000RR – but left much longer in the dryer – the CBR125R uses a single-cylinder 125 cc four-stroke with all the mod cons (fuel injection, etc.) in a small modern package. The bike had been in production for a couple of years before its introduction into Canada for 2007, but just got treated to a revamp.

CMG had the opportunity to thoroughly wring the little devil’s neck at its introductory press launch in early 2007 (you can find what ‘is Editorship thought about it all – including how it crashes – and get some technical info, here).

But race-track shenanigans (fun as they are) don’t necessarily translate into something that’ll be a great street bike. We figured
that the best way to a consensus about how well the little bike works in real life and where it might best fit, was to try it out with as many riders as we could find (and trust!).

So we asked a bunch of devout CMG fans and experienced riders, whose bike ownership ranges from off-road to a faithful EX250 to a big Harley tourer, to try the CBR125R long-termer and see what they thought of it.


The six horsemen of CMG

Wes
Garland
Lee
Mallette
Glen
Marchand
Matt
McGarvey
Patrick
Shelston
Richard
Perrin
Wes.jpg
Lee.jpg
30-ish, married,
one daughter, computer geek by trade in Kingston.
38, married with
three kids, works in tech support for RCMP in Ottawa.
39, married,
no kids. Firefighter for City of Ottawa.
42, criminal
defence lawyer in Ottawa
30, married,
father of one, computer techie, downtown Toronto.
34, married
with two kids. Software designer in Ottawa.
Riding seven
years, first and current bike a Kawasaki EX250F – which he uses for an 11-mile
commute, every day (even in winter – weather permitting).
Bought as an alternative to walking 12 miles to go visit Shelly
(GF, now wife).
Riding since 16,
currently on a 1995 Harley FLHT after a plethora of dirt bikes,
sport bikes, dual purpose, and standards. Ideal ride is a solo
500-600 km day with no particular place to go.
Started on mopeds
at 15, first bike at 17 (1979 Honda Twinstar 185 – still has it!). Others on the trail include a Ninja 900, CBR 600,
KLR 650, V-Strom 650, and presently a pristine Triumph
Bonneville
Rides an FJ1200
and generally likes sport touring; one big ride (or sometimes two) each year, plus a bunch of afternoons here and there mostly, not
a commuter
Started riding
on a Honda CM200T and until recently a
lardy 1977 GS750 Harris Special (that’d be Editor H, not the
famous and talented frame people). Currently
has a VFR750 and looking to dump the GS …
Races old Suzukis
in vintage when he can get away, rides same to work … when he gets them working, that is.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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The CMG village bicycle …
Photo: Mark Saunders

So given that Editor ‘Arris’ fun and games in Florida had little relation to reality (true of much of his life, actually …) he had the sense to let the individuals described above take one of the little buggers and ride it for a week or two.

Wes and Glen commuted on it, Matt took a couple of short jaunts and pottered around town, Lee commuted and did a bunch of highway riding, Richard commuted on it, and Patrick did a bit of everything, including getting the highest top speed (so he claims, anyway).

Following is a conglomeration of their comments.

Everyone was knocked out by the looks, fit, and finish, and said that reactions from bystanders ranged from bemusement to wild enthusiasm. A lot of that is no doubt due to the crisp lines and superb finish allied with its size – the thing is tiny, something that every one of the testers (none of them giants, other than Mr. Perrin [6-4, 238 lb], although a couple of others are six foot in height) commented on.

cbr125r_town_ride.jpg

Ultra flickability makes it
ideal around town.

Photo: Mark Saunders

No question that the size makes it look unintimidating to the non-riding plebs out there .

The size has another effect, in that although it’s not scary, the handling is very quick and light, almost darty. Patrick commented that the bike was “so tossable it’s hard to go straight,” and everyone was delighted by how nimble the little devil felt, how far it leaned, and what a giggle it was to ride in corners (Richard was less than “delighted,” but agreed that the handling was “quick, light and fun”).

Matt said, “I would get one as a track bike in a blink if I were inclined to go racing … the nice handling just begs for tight, twisty fun – add some stronger springs or preload and you’re off,” while Glen added, “The bike is so light and flickable that far-off roundabouts and ramps were included on my way to work.”

While several of the riders did some highway riding, other than Wes (who’s tall and gangly and is used to touring two-up on his EX250) they all said the bike should be kept off the bigger highways. Even Wes said that although he considered the bike “capable of being ridden at speeds prudent for Ontario’s 400-highway series,” it was probably best to avoid such roads.

A comfortable top speed of about 100 km/h up to an indicated 120 or so if you crawl under the paint (130 if you believe Patrick found a hill that long) just won’t cut it on the slab. Richard alone found it dangerously slow on his normal commute:

highway_tucked.jpg

Glen tries to keep up with
highway traffic.
Photo: Mark Saunders

“Merging into four lanes of expressway at a snail’s pace … I was stuck behind a Buick as it merged into the 110km/h traffic at about 60 km/h. I just didn’t have enough power to accelerate around, so as I watched a semi’s headlights get bigger in my rear-view mirror, I crept further and further to the right-hand side of the lane. All ended well as the truck driver changed lanes to clear us, but it didn’t leave me with a great sense of comfort on the bike.”

On the other hand, most found that on 80-90 km/h country roads it’s perfectly acceptable. Lee noted that hills were a bit of a problem: “The slightest incline makes [the speed] plummet faster than Britney Spears’ career.” Revs are the answer, as Wes put it: “[it’s fine as long as you] remember to downshift until the tach points at 11 o’clock.”

Handling, and even power, surprisingly, earned praise from the group. This bike loves to lean, and then lean some more, and while it needs to rev in order to make horsepower, it does that happily – but it’s also reasonably responsive even at 6,000 rpm, a sign of an excellent fuel injection system.

cbr125r_rhs.jpg

Definitely not ugly.
Photo: Mark Saunders

And while Wes thought the transmission was “fantastic,” others complained about occasional missed shifts and difficulty engaging first gear.

Around-town comfort received mixed reviews. Suspension was deemed to be “okay” for what it is, but not up to the rigours of abused pavement. All felt the seat was comfortable, but half our testers thought the bars were too low for stop-and-go city riding.

Fuel economy from the little 125 was excellent, of course, with the 10-litre tank giving a theoretical range of 250 km or more.

There were a couple of unanimous nits: the windscreen rattled, and didn’t provide sufficient coverage (Matt called it “mostly ornamental, as it directs air into … the torso”). And the lack of a centre stand, on a chain-driven bike, irritated those who like to do their own maintenance.

As for the ugly … we’ll have none of that. The CBR125 looks fabulous.


What’s its place?

Having said all that, what’s to be done with a CBR125R? Over to the CMG horsemen …

Wes Wes – This is a GREAT city motorcycle, and it will happily perform rural
highway scenic riding.
Lee Lee – I’d like a little more horsepower but that’s my only
gripe. It’s a package that’s fun, lightweight, sporty,
and confidence-inspiring. While aimed squarely at the novice rider,
the CBR can help seasoned riders hone their skills as well.
Glen Glen – I believe it to be the perfect beginner bike and a great, affordable
commuter bike for the experienced rider wishing to live green.
Matt Matt – For a trip more than 10 minutes I’d prefer my FJ for most purposes
except sheer giggles with the little thing. It was great for hopping
across town, up to the market, etc.
Pat Patrick – A very well-built bike, but I’m not sure who it’s
for. I would recommend this for my wife, but I think she’d
rather have a trendy scooter instead.
Richard Richard – Someone more adventurous would want a bike they can comfortably
take on the highway, or maybe carry a passenger. Go places other
than city streets at flow-of-traffic speed, maybe. Someone more
resourceful would look to a used EX250, EX500, GS500 or SV650.
They might pay a bit more, but they’d end up with a much more capable
bike.

The Next Step …

And a final note … we understand that Honda tried to get 3,000 CBR125Rs last year but the factory could only deliver half that, and as anyone who tried to get one knows, they were practically sold out as soon as the dealers got them.

This year Honda has promised that there will be more coming in, with 3,000 units already on their way and an option to bring in an additional 2,000 if they wish, so demand should be met. Pricing is going up $100 to $3,499.00, although the monthly rate for the starter package remains at $149.00, with the extra $100 being added to the down payment.

There’s also going to be a spec racing series using the bikes with minimal modifications (loud-ish mufflers, spec Pirelli tires, minor suspension upgrades, and that’s about it) intended as a development class for 15-22 year-old racers (sorry, Matt; you don’t qualify). To date, the initial subscription for this series is way over and above anything that was anticipated.

But as a street bike, unless you’re a dedicated inner-city commuter, it’s probably a one-year wonder for most folks who’ll enjoy
the experience but then go looking for a bit more of everything. Even Honda seem to agree with that as they are currently looking for the next step-up bike to import – likely a sporty single in the 250-400cc range for under $5k.

All in all, it looks like Honda’s gamble is paying off, whether you’re a budding road racer or a rookie who just wants something easy to get to the coffee shop. Although you may want to consider something a little bigger when hitting the highway …

1 COMMENT

  1. Bought a CBR125r a few days ago. Most of the motorcycles I’ve owned have been in the 400-650 range, so I wasn’t sure if I’d like a little 125.

    I am finding it to be surprisingly fun. It does scoot up to about 90 KPH reasonably quickly – it’s nowhere as fast as a bigger bike, but it outruns most cars up to that point. I wouldn’t want to do a cross-country trip on it, but for riding in town or on the backroads of Vancouver Island it is fine.

  2. OK, so here we go AGAIN. Why can’t we get a decent smaller bike in the US. The only thing going, less than 500cc is the 250R. And it’s a great bike. So HONDA I want a RVF400, six speed, full fairing, 55 HP, 60-70 mpg that’ll do 100 mph when pushed. Buy the way I’m 48, learned on a 500 triple Kaw, and owned a CB750F for years. When are you going to listen to the Market. Would love to see Yamaha or Kawasaki come up with something as well.

  3. :grin
    I just bought this bike two days ago and today is day three.
    I can’t sleep in anymore because this bike is so much fun.
    I’m a noobie rider, Asian, 5’10, 155lbs. This bike can do anything but highway speeds over 100 safely or even comfortably.
    First impression, it was like taming a big German sheppard, no an African lion. It was preety predictible and I never even took a riding course. The internet does wonders for the mind :p
    I plan on taking it local and not reving it near to red line all the time for better fuel economy.
    Girls or boys beginners alike would love this, it’s not a toy!

  4. nice motor.i like it..
    nice design,suspension,translation….

    but,why just can availability to Australia and Canada only???

  5. I have a 1982 cb125 and I’m thrilled Honda revived its smallest road bike. Without a 125 or 200 road bike purchasers are stuck with scooters or 50cc mopeds. Honda has filled a gap that needed filling.

  6. Long time rider here. Although I’ve rode maybe 20 different bikes over the years, I currently own and love riding a Ninja 250r.

    I’m a big fan of small motorcycles; if you’re not doing a lot of long distance touring a 250 to 400cc bike should be plenty big enough for most riders.

    These CR125s are cute, and I bet they are a lot of fun on a curvy road… but a 125 is just a wee bit too small. If Honda ever brings in a similar bike with at least a 200cc engine I would definitely be interested.

  7. I’ve got one. 5’6, 130. Bop along the backroads and through the city no problem. Total Newb.

    Love it. Feel like I’m in control of the bike, not the other way around.

    And it’s nice to be riding rather than workign three jobs to pay insurance and bike loans.

    I’d highly recommend it. But get your own, mine’s not for sale! ;o)

  8. Dear Editor ‘arris,

    Why was there not an opinion on the Honda 125 from a female perspective? I’d be curious to know how a woman (preferably one who is not 6’ tall) feels on this bike. I’m taking my course now, and will be looking around for a bike of my own shortly, and can’t really compare myself to a strapping 6’4″ lad, so would like to know how someone of my size feels on this (and other) bikes, so I can narrow my options to something suitable.
    Thanks!

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