Best 125cc motorbikes of 2020
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 red 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:
- Motorcycle theory test and hazard perception exam
- Pass module 1 riding test
- Pass module 2 riding test
- Enjoy your full motorcycle licence and move on to your first big bikes
Never mind all the facts and figures for now, though; let’s stir your soul with the highlights of what’s out there. Today there are more learner-legal 125s than ever to choose from, ranging from nakeds to sportsbikes and more, with both new and used examples from almost all of the mainstream manufacturers to suit all styles, budgets and riders.
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, 125cc twist-and-go scooter reviews can be found here.
Best 125s for learners and young riders in 2020
- Aprilia RS4 125
- Aprilia SX125
- Honda CB125R
- Honda CBR125R
- Kawasaki Ninja 125
- KTM 125 Duke
- KTM RC125
- Suzuki GSX-R125
- Yamaha MT-125
- Yamaha YZF-R125
Price: £2600 (used) - £4499 (new)
Spec: 124cc / 15bhp / 134kg / 820mm seat height
Aprilia’s two-stroke RS125 was once the last word in 125s, with a top speed of over 100mph. Sadly, those days are long gone, but it hasn’t stopped Aprilia making the highest-spec four-stroke 125 they can: DOHC, upside-down forks, radial brakes, braced swingarm, max speed function, braided brake hoses and even a quickshifter... There’s a lot to recommend this Italian take on the teenage dream. It handles brilliantly, but drinks much more fuel than the other bikes here. And yes, it’s harder to find than a YZF-R125, but your search will certainly be rewarded.
Well built, but avoid anything that the seller claims has been ‘tuned’. Exposed frame looks stunning but is prone to getting scuffed.
Price: £3000 (used) - £3499 (new)
Spec: 124cc / 14.8bhp / 120kg / 880mm seat height
Essentially a supermoto-styled version of the RS4 125 sportster but built down to a more basic spec (and thus more affordable price), the SX, only introduced in 2018, has a lot going for it: Easy, upright ergonomics (although the tall seat, while narrow, will be intimidating to some), great looks and performance plus a surprisingly affordable (for an Aprilia) price. It’s a little raw and exposed, but very tempting.
The RS4 mechanicals are good and build quality is decent, but inspect closely for neglect and wear and tear – it’s likely to have been hammered.
Price: £2500 (used) - £3989 (new)
Spec: 124cc / 13.1bhp / 126kg / 816mm seat height
The CB125R replaces Honda’s full-faired CBR125R and brings big bike looks from the rest of Honda’s new CB ‘neo-sports café’ range, which has been updated again for 2019 with the introduction of the CB650R. With cool styling, an LCD dash, inverted Showa forks and a peppy liquid-cooled motor, the CB125R is great value for money, offering big bike feel in an L-plate-friendly package.
Still a relatively new model, so more of an unknown than others here, but the Honda badge is more reassuring than most and the bulk of the mechanicals are proven.
Price: £1600 (used) - £3999 (new)
Spec: 124cc / 13bhp / 136kg / 793mm seat height (2011 figures)
Launched in 2004, the CBR was the definitive sports 125 until usurped by Yamaha’s YZF, and was finally killed off by Euro 4 emissions regulations and replaced with a naked. The original model was pint-sized and, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit slower than the opposition. But from 2011 the styling got racier and was larger, too. Still not as sporty as the Yam, but cheaper, rugged and useable.
It’s bulletproof. But look for signs of a ham-fisted owner. High-mileage examples should have valve clearances checked (a simple job). The electricals develop problems, particularly the voltage regulator.
Price: £4000 (used) - £4399 (new)
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.
Too new to be many used examples around yet. Reliability shouldn’t be a problem as the motor is loosely based on the old Ninja 250SL, as are many of the suspension and chassis parts.
Price: £2400 (used) - £4100 (new)
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.
Although Indian-built, the Austrian-designed Duke boasts a decent spec including WP suspension, and is fairly well built, too – as long as you watch out for the usual neglect and abuse.
Price: £2500 (used) - £4500 (new)
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.
Built in India and quality control is variable. Electrical woes widely reported (but fixed under warranty). Known to cough, splutter and cut out when cold and the gearbox is a bit on the weak side.
Price: £2800 (used) - £4299 (new)
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.
Recalled for potential loose frame bolts: check it’s had the recall work done. If you fancy a naked version of the same bike, check out the Suzuki GSX-S125 instead.
Price: £2400 (used) - £4349 (new)
Spec: 124cc / 14.8bhp / 138kg / 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.
The liquid-cooled Minarelli engine has been used in the YZF-R125 since 2008 and has proved reliable in that time. The baby MT is put together incredibly well so problems should be minimal.
Price: £2400 (new) - £4499 (new)
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.
It’s a learner 125, so will have been abused. Check the condition of brakes, chain and sprockets, as well as tyres. Finish isn’t top-notch and the paint has been known to bubble. But it is otherwise solid.
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