Whether you’re a 17-year-old-yoof or a 47-year-old-dad the dilemma’s the same: which learner sports 125 should you go for when on a budget?
Sports 125s are the most popular choice for learners for their mix of image, fun and manageability, but few are lucky enough to have £4000 or more to buy the latest and greatest examples new.
So what do you go for if you’ve just a far more typical £1500 to spend? For that money you’re restricted to ropey and tired used examples of, say, Aprilia’s two-stroke RS125R. So should you go for a more sensible, newer and more robust used Honda CBR125R four-stroke instead?
Or will even that be so worn and tired you’d be better off looking elsewhere – maybe a new Lexmoto, which, supposedly, is effectively a CBR125R copy and comes with a warranty.
To find out, we set ourselves a challenge. To buy three ‘sports 125s’ of each type for no more than £1500 each, prep them (in the case of the used examples) to make sure they were roadworthy and then set off on a rideout to a trackday to find out how good they are as both road and sports machines.
Executive Editor Phil West, Chief Road Tester Trevor Franklin and Senior Road Tester Adam Child buy, prepare and ride three sports 125s to find out whether it’s best to go for tired and used exotica, second-hand but proven Japanese or brand new Chinese machines.
- Strict budget of £1500 for bike purchase and preparation. Any surplus after buying the bike can be spent on modifications/preparation.
- Bikes must be road legal and learner legal when they take part.
- The challenge will include three elements: value, reliability and performance.
Case 1: Phil West, Executive Editor, 2011 (brand new) Lexmoto XTR S 125, Price paid: £1365
Why a Lexmoto?
No, I’m not mad. At least, I don’t think I am. Yes, we’ve all heard about the supposedly dodgy reputations of Chinese bikes, about them “being made out of cheese”, about them “falling apart in a slight breeze”. And yes, rivals Child and Franklin have been ribbing me mercilessly while trying to extol the virtues of their worn-out death traps.
But to me it’s quite simple – a no-brainer, in fact. The latest breed of Chinese 125s are now adequate and stylish enough, have reassuring warranties and dealer back-up and are so cheap they’re impossible to ignore. At least, I don’t think they are.
The Lexmoto XTR S 125 stands out like a beacon among those currently out there. At just £1365 it’s effectively a brand new old model CBR125R (the same as Chad’s rust bucket) but with all the privileges, advantages and peace of mind of a brand new bike. What’s more Lexmoto themselves say the XTR S is a “sports-styled commuter that wouldn’t look out of place on a track day.” Time to find out then.
What I’ve learnt so far
- The latest Chinese bikes have moved on more than a bit - at least that's the first impression. The proof, of course, will be in the pudding.
- Buying a Chinese bike no longer means blindly buying something off a dodgy lookig website. There are credible dealers, proper warranties, servicing facilities and more.
- People still sneer at Chinese bikes though. But after looking over the machines, they'll quickly admit that for the money you can't really go wrong if you're wanting a learner bike that you'll probably only own for a year or so before moving on to something bigger.
Case 2: Adam Child, Senior Road Tester, 2006 Honda CBR125R (Repsol replica), Price paid: £1350
Why a CBR125R?
I’ve stayed away from two-strokes in this challenge and gone for reliability. Don’t get me wrong, I love strokers – but on such a tight budget you’re risking problems and it’s always going to be hard to find a mint, reliable, quick one that’s not been thrashed to death.
And when it comes to four-strokes, there are really only two sane options – Yamaha’s YZF125R or Honda’s CBR125R. On this budget, the newer, sportier-looking Yamaha is just out of reach – there was a crash-damaged one at £1600 but otherwise they’re only just sneaking under £2000. So CBR125 it was.
The little Honda may be aging slightly (hence its comprehensive update this year) but is known as a good, solid bike with a bulletproof engine – hence its massive popularity since the original’s launch in 2004. It’s also a decent introduction to sports bikes.
What I've learnt so far
- It's tiny! I'd forgotten how compact CBRs are. I'm only 5'7" but it's small with even me on board. On the positive side, it's light (only 115kg) and I might even remove some parts to make it lighter still for quick lap times.
- Yes, it may read 80mph-plus on the clock, downhill with a backwind but it takes forever to get there! I might play around with the gearing on track.
- The rear pads look a little worn and it needs a good clean, but cleaner bikes don't go any quicker than dirty ones. Finding quality rubber is also going to be tricky because the sizes are tiny: 80/90x17 front and 100/80x17 rear.
Case 3: Trevor Franklin, Chief Road Tester, 2003 Aprilia RS125R, Price paid: £1300
Why an RS125R?
Way before the 125cc learner law was introduced in 1983, I was tazzing around on a Yamaha DT175MX - a two-stroke trail bike. The other lads of the village also rode two-strokes ranging from a Yamaha RD250DX to a Suzuki TS185/250. The only four-strokes in the bunch were a Kawasaki Z250 and a Yamaha XS250 Custom. I quickly learned two-strokes were a damn sight more exhilarating to ride. But then I discovered speed and improved reliability with middleweight four-strokes. So why choose a two-stroke now?
My defence is it suits a purpose. I need speed with reliability and, over the past few years, there's only been one bike with those credentials to satisfy every budding Rossi's wish list, Aprilia's RS125R. After scouring classified ads in MCN and www.mcnbikesforsale.com it became clear that for £1500 A) there are plenty of second-hand RS125s for sale, B) they are soon sold, C) most RS125Rs have had seven owners, and D) most have covered 11,000 miles and must be close to engine refresh time for continued reliability. I wasn't put off...
Every new Aprilia RS125R I've ridden over the years has left me thinking what a great little tool. And a half-decent £1500 snotter today will stuff it up any £1500 four-stroke, new or otherwise.
What I've learnt so far
- The speed is in kph and is not something to worry about - I've only ever seen one in mph and that might have been an Aprilia RS250! And there is a lap-timer built into the digital display - I'm not ashamed to admit I didn't know this.
- Chad is jealous of the RS125. He's said at least 23 times he wants to ride it at Cadwell.
- It won't take a lot of work to make the RS125 feel less of a used machine. Shims on the gear shift and rear brake lever linkages will reduce the slop and make it all feel something like new. Maybe.