Learner-friendly fun: it's the best 125cc motorbikes in 2023

MCN tests all kind of machines, but you could argue 125s are the most important. They offer an affordable and practical means of transport for the masses, but for many they’re also a gateway to a lifetime on bigger bikes.

The latter is true for 22-year-old Joseph Wright, MCN’s new videographer (and the reason the quality of our YouTube videos has stepped up a gear). He’s at the beginning of his biking journey and closer to the world of 125s than crusty old road testers like me.

He says: “Before working at MCN bikes hadn’t crossed my mind and I never knew anybody with a bike. But being surrounded by them I got the bug, so went off and did my CBT. It was surprisingly easy and took just four hours. I scanned the classifieds for a couple of weeks, until I found a lovely 2012 Yamaha YBR125 with 17,000 miles on the clock.

Fantic Caballero 125 front

“I chose it because it was cheap and reliable. I was looking at a few Chinese bikes that looked nice, but a lot of people warned me against them, saying I’d have problems; so I took their advice and went for a bigger named brand. The Yamaha was a good starting point: low, light, manageable and easy. 

“I’ve loved riding it for the last year. There’s a massive stigma that comes with L-plates. People don’t want to be labelled as not as good as someone else, but if you can get past that it’s fine. My longest ride was around eight hours and the bike did 70mph, which is the speed limit, anyway.

I think it’s good to learn to ride in stages. If you jump straight to a big capacity bike it’ll be a massive shock. The 125 was a surprise because it was still fast and as I hadn’t experienced a bigger bike at that point, it was brilliant. It was cheaper to run than my car, better on fuel, accelerated faster, was quicker from A to B, and a lot more interesting. I used it every day for commuting and did 4000 miles, before recently taking my full test and buying a Kawasaki ZXR400.”

Honda CB125R rear

So, who better then Joseph to put a bunch of new 125s to the test? We asked him to choose the three bikes he’d buy if we gave him a budget of up to four, five or six grand. We gave him the keys for two weeks and told him to go off and do what he wanted with them, which turned out to be around 150-200 miles on each, commuting and doing whatever 22-year-olds get up to…

Interestingly, the 125s he chose are retro/scrambler, style, as he explains: “As I move up through, I’ll enjoy sportsbikes, but I think things bikes the Yamaha R125, are trying to be something they’re never going to be with sub-15bhp. That’s why these appeal. They’re not super focused, just comfortable, manageable and could do anything from a little light off road to touring. They’re Jack of all Trades, and I like the trendy looks.”

Zontes G1 Scrambler 125

Price: £3499 +OTR

Zontes G1 Scrambler right side

Spec: 125cc / 14bhp / 160kg / 795mm seat height

Before: “I want to try a budget Chinese bike, just to see what one is actually like. The Zontes looks really good and I wish I could have tested it when I bought my YBR.”

After: “It’s been mechanically flawless and the biggest surprise of the test. It’s super-easy to ride and performance is on par with the others, although you’re stuck at 60mph until the engine really warms up, then it gets to 70mph. The gearbox is slightly lazy and not as accurate as the others.

“I like its low seat, which is what you want when you’re learning and it’s easy to both feet flat on the floor at the lights. The riding position is relaxed, neutral and it’s heavier than the others, but it’s a 125, so still light and it’s the most fun in the corners. The bars are narrow and you’re low to the ground, so you can lean it over more and feel like a hero.

“The Zontes would’ve been my first choice when I took my CBT, but now I’ve got more experience it feels soft and not as rewarding as the others when you push it hard. But nothing about the fact it’s Chinese puts me off and it feels very much like my old Yamaha YBR125. I haven’t ridden it for long enough to test its reliability, but you get a lot for your money: crash protection, adjustable levers and a 20-litre tank that gives it the feel of a big bike.”

Read our full Zontes G1 Scrambler review here.

Honda CB125R

Price: £4599

Honda CB125R front

Spec: 125cc / 13bhp / 126kg (dry) / 816mm seat height

Before: “I really like the Honda CB range and this has big bike proportions and a lot of presence. Those were my two biggest things when I chose my 125. I think scooters and delivery riders get pushed around and no one really cares about them. Being upright with wide flat handlebars appeals to me and I’d hope I’d be treated the same as I would on a bigger bike.”

After: “I wasn’t blown away by the Honda at first and thought it was very middle-of-the-road, but by the end it grew on me and became my favourite. It’s the bike I had the most compliments on, which surprised me – I thought the Fantic would attract more attention.

“Although it is a naked, the riding position is sporty, which I like and it’s super-accurate going through the gears. The suspension is brilliant, the brakes are the best here and with road tyres instead of knobblies, you can go a lot faster through the corners.

“But the throttle and steering are very light, which I know should be a good thing, but I like having a bit of resistance to push against. It’s very comfortable and quite tall, but about right for me. If you were less than 5ft 6in and a new rider you might struggle.”

Read our full Honda CB125R review here.

Fantic Caballero Scrambler 125

Price: £5569

Fantic Caballero 125 left side

Spec: 125cc / 15bhp / 130kg (dry) / 820mm seat height

Before: “This is the holy grail for me – really cool, but ridiculously priced. The performance shouldn’t be different to the others, so it’ll be interesting to see if it’s worth it for the styling and all the extra bits”

After: “It feels bigger than a 125, which surprised me and isn’t new rider-friendly or forgiving as the others. It’s immediate and accurate on the throttle, sounds great and has the best acceleration, although top speed is around the same.

“It’s by far the lightest bike I’ve ever ridden and one of the biggest, too. The bars are high and wide and the seat is tall. I’m 5ft 8in and can’t get my feet flat on the floor, just a toe on one side. If you were smaller than me that would make your decision for you. It’s not great for turning in the road, either, but the grab handles make it easy to manoeuvre around the garage.

Fantic Caballero 125 cornering

“I like the styling, apart from the yellow number board, which looks a bit childish. The switchgear buttons have a nice firm action too, unlike those on the Zontes, which feel loose and the Honda’s horn switch sticks out too much and is too easy to press by mistake.

“It looks stunning, sounds the best and, money-no-object, would be a lovely thing to have. Fantic have spared no expense by taking the 500 version and just replacing the engine with a 125cc, which you could view as a good thing, or lazy.

“But it’s not pitched at someone like me. It’s too much of a nice thing to drop, especially off-road, which would make me enjoy it less. I’d be gutted if it went over. It’s hard to place, as it’s just so nice to look at.”

Fantic Caballero 125 on the road

Best 125cc motorbikes for 2023

Today there are more learner-legal 125s than ever to choose from, ranging from nakeds to sportsbikes, adventurers to cruisers and everything in between – not to mention 125-equivalent electrics motorbikes!

To help you narrow it down, here is a list of 125 motorbikes that MCN have given 4 stars or above in our reviews. If a new bike is currently out of reach, head to MCN Bikes for Sale to find thousands of used 125 options, too.

In this article we’ve only chosen geared bikes, which are ideal to get your ready for life on two wheels. If you’re looking for a scooter, check out our 125cc twist-and-go scooter reviews.

Jump to:

Husqvarna Svartpilen 125

Price: £4799

Husqvarna Svartpilen 125

Spec: 125cc / 15bhp / 146kg / 835mm seat height

Based on the KTM Duke 125, the Husqvarna Svartpilen 125 is a grown-up take on the naked learner-legal category. The new baby Svartpilen sits below the 401 and 701 versions and has the same distinctive styling.

Unlike the KTM, the Husqvarna forgoes a flash TFT dash in lieu of a more modest, round LCD unit more inkeeping with the style of the bike.

Aprilia Tuono 125

Price: £4650

Aprilia Tuono 125

Spec: 124cc / 14.8bhp / 120kg / 810mm seat height

How’s this for a sporty-looking 125? It’s styled to look just like its bigger brother, the Tuono V4 1100 and features lots of modern kit to back up the looks. Big bike cred is backed up by peppy performance and some of the hottest handling in the sector.

Read full Aprilia Tuono 125 review here

Kawasaki Ninja 125

Price: £4299

Kawasaki Ninja 125

Spec: 125cc / 14.7bhp / 148kg / 785mm seat height

All-new for 2019, Kawasaki have returned to the 125cc A1 class for the first time in 25 years with not just one, but two new learner lightweights. There’s the Z125 naked roadster and this, a fully-faired, sports-styled machine based on the same engine and chassis. The result is eye-catching, attractive, sporty and instantly identifiable as being part of the Ninja family. Performance is on par with the competition.

Read full Kawasaki Ninja 125 review here.

KTM 125 Duke

Price: £4799

KTM 125 Duke

Spec: 124cc / 14.8bhp / 128kg / 785mm seat height

Classy, simple and fun supermoto-style single delivers the double act of being an easy to ride learner bike with bags of street cred. It was updated in 2017 when it received a new TFT dash plus a revised frame and styling, and now even has the option of integrating a smartphone with the dash, allowing the rider to access incoming calls and listen to music via a Bluetooth headset. Smaller learner roadsters don’t get any cooler than this naked Austrian headbanger-in-the-making.

Read full KTM 125 Duke review here.


Price: £5199


Spec: 124cc / 15bhp / 135kg / 820mm seat height

This faired, sports version of the 125 Duke (left) features a lovely free-revving engine, handles well and boasts some neat touches like the side-mounted exhaust and bellypan combo. Sadly, the 2017 model wasn’t updated in the same way as the Duke, so if you plump for this sportier option you’ll have to make do without the full-colour TFT dash. Plus, the WP suspension isn’t properly sorted, so it does tend to protest and chatter a little when used hard.

Read full KTM RC125 review here.

Suzuki GSX-R125

Price: £4999

Suzuki GSX-R125

Spec: 124cc / 14.8bhp / 134kg / 785mm seat height

With a very sporty riding position (as you’d expect from a GSX-R) and, in true Suzuki tradition, it’s priced very attractively, too. The GSX-R125 is another bike that’s built in the Far East (Jakarta, this time), to keep costs down but, unlike other Far Eastern 125s, its aimed more at the European market so has an excellent power-to-weight ratio and is very economical. It looks super, especially in the slightly pricier MotoGP colours and has remote keyless ignition, as well.

From 2023 onwards and with the demise of the Suzuki GSX-R1000, the GSX-R125 stands alone as the only sportsbike in Suzuki’s range, too.

Read full Suzuki GSX-R125 review here.

Yamaha MT-125

Price: £5100

Yamaha MT-125

Spec: 125cc / 14.8bhp / 140kg / 810mm seat height

Essentially a naked, roadster version of Yamaha’s all-conquering YZF-R125, the MT-125’s ‘Dark Side’ styling, taking its cues from Yamaha’s MT-07 and MT-09, won’t appeal to everyone but its engine has a surprising amount of grunt for a 125, making it more useable on faster roads. It’s also light and agile in traffic and, while not being very high-tech, is a solid 125 with proven mechanicals and decent features.

Read full Yamaha MT-125 review here.

Yamaha YZF-R125

Price: £5300

Yamaha YZF-R125

Spec: 124cc / 14.6bhp / 127kg / 818mm seat height

Introduced in 2008, the R125 took over as the sports 125 to appeal to every red-blooded teenager thanks to its full-size proportions, full-quota performance and R6 looks.

Yamaha saved cash by employing a steel frame and basic non-adjustable suspension, but its digital dash, underslung exhaust and Brembo brakes made up for that. For 2017, it got a new fuel injection system, revised engine internals, updated styling and new instruments, and for 2019 it’s had yet another makeover that’s sure to keep it at the top of the tree in this sector. Yamaha have a rich history of building great 125s, like the YBR 125 from 2005, which was on sale until 2016.

Read full Yamaha YZF-R125 review here.

Sinnis Akuma

Price: £1899 +OTR

The handling of the Sinnis Akuma 125 is more akin to a proper bike than a Monkey

Spec: 124cc / 10bhp / 125kg / 820mm seat height

Striking appearance has always set the Sinnis Akuma 125 apart from other modern-monkey rivals. Bikes like the more retro Honda Grom and the (now discontinued) WK Colt 125 look soft compared to its aggressive angles, and for 2022 the Akuma goes a little further with new blacked-out finishes and classier bodywork colours. There are significant chassis updates too, with new larger wheels, plus it has a sprinkling of entertaining new tech.

Read our Sinnis Akuma 125 review here.

Honda Monkey 125

Price: £4049

Honda Monkey on the road

Spec: 124cc / 9bhp / 104kg / 775mm seat height

As intrinsically linked to the 1970s as flares, the Honda Monkey first appeared as a child’s plaything in a Tokyo amusement park in 1961 before being made road legal and exported to Europe in 1963. If you are in the market for a mini retro that has a bit of heritage behind it, your choices are basically limited to the Monkey or the new Honda DAX 125. Or you could go all modern and opt for the MSX125 Grom.

Read our full Honda Monkey 125 review here.

Honda C125 Super Cub

Price: £3749

Honda Super Cub 125 review on MCN

Spec: 125cc / 10bhp / 109kg / 780mm seat height

The charming Honda Super Cub 125 is a digitally remastered version of the much-loved classic, fit for the 21st century (and despite the original having carried on in production, its late 2018 launch marked the first time a Cub had been imported to the UK for years). Visually it’s modelled on the very first 49cc C100 Super Cub from 1958; it’s great to look at, fine quality and very well detailed, though might strike more of a chord with UK buyers if it looked like the versions we all remember from the 1970s.

Read our full Honda C125 Super Cub review here.

Yamaha XSR125

Price: £4800

Yamaha XSR125 on the road right side

Spec: 124cc / 15bhp / 140kg / 815mm seat height

Yamaha have spotted the growing demand for small capacity retros and introduced the XSR125. New for 2021, it shares much of its underpinnings with the firm’s pre-existing YZF-R125 sportsbike and MT-125 naked roadster and is draped in smooth, minimalist bodywork oozing ‘70s charm with more than a hint of RD250 about it.

Read our full Yamaha XSR125 review here.

Kawasaki Z125

Price: £3999

Kawasaki Z125

Spec: 125cc / 15bhp / 146kg / 815mm seat height

The Kawasaki Z125 naked roadster was launched alongside its also all-new faired Ninja 125 sportster in 2019 and marked a return to the 125cc A1 licence class for Japanese firm after a 25-year absence, apparently after an ‘extensive’ market research program by its R&D team revealed a hunger for bikes in this segment.

Read our full Kawasaki Z125 review here.

FB Mondial Pagani 1948

Price: £4299

FB Mondial Pagani 1948 on the road

Spec: 124cc / 13bhp / 133kg / 785mm seat height

The F.B Mondial Pagani 1948 is a breath of fresh air in the broadly utilitarian 125 sector. It looks even better in the metal than it does in the pictures and brings stylish swagger and grown-up looks to the learner-legal sportsbike market.

Read our full FB Mondial Sport Classic 125 review here.

Who can ride a 125 motorbike in the UK?

If you’re learning to ride and aged 17 or older, after passing your CBT certificate (Compulsory Basic Training) you can gain your provisional A1 bike licence, which allows you to ride up to 125cc motorcycle on the road, producing a maximum of 11kW (15bhp) power output with a power-to-weight ratio of not more than 0.1kW per kg.

You’ll have to wear L-plates, avoid motorways and won’t be allowed a pillion, but it’s a great gateway into bigger bikes and the joy of road riding.

Next steps in learning to ride a motorcycle:

Watch 125cc video reviews on MCN

There are some incredibly popular used 125cc motorbikes including the Yamaha DT 125 X supermoto and the Gilera Runner 125.

In terms of new models, the Honda PCX125 is among the most popular bikes currently on sale in the UK.