SUZUKI RV125 VAN VAN (2003 - 2016) Review
- Funky, distinctive styling
- Cheap to buy and run
- Can be ridden on a CBT
At a glance
|Owners' reliability rating:|
|Annual servicing cost:||£400|
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
The Suzuki RV125 VanVan is an enigmatic motorcycle that’s for sure. Introduced in 2003 it’s a revived version of the original RV125 monkey bike-cum-beach bike made by Suzuki between 1972 and 1982.
As such, although fully road legal and, in this 125cc form, A1 class learner legal, too, it’s a retro-styled, two-wheeled beach buggy – a cute, leisure bike that is distinguished by its fat, squishy, balloon tyres, simple, affordable mechanicals including a fairly soft air-cooled, 125cc engine and low, light and manageable proportions.
All of that gives the VanVan a unique appeal as a manageable, cute, affordable and yet cool first bike for learners, as a utility machine for farm workers, as a pit or paddock bike for racers or even as a fun, fashion statement for surf dudes.
And although the VanVan’s appeal is fairly ‘Marmite’, it has a devoted following. There's a 'scene' for the VanVan in the same way as there is for Honda's loveable Monkey Bike.
There’s also more to the VanVan than just quirky style. Being quite small and light, along with a low, comfy seat, wide handlebars that help give it great manoeuvrability and a soft power delivery, all make it a very gentle, novice machine – and one that’s particularly accessible to shorter or female riders.
While, finally, the VanVan’s robust simplicity – it has a simple, air-cooled engine, rugged, agricultural bodywork and just a single dial – helps make it durable and affordable, too.
There are slight downsides to this, of course. Being a mere 12bhp single with fat, balloon tyres means the VanVan’s certainly not quick – reckon on 60mph flat out. A faster, 200cc version was also built that unfortunately didn’t come to the UK. The gearchange is also fairly crude and its spec quite basic.
It also went out of production in 2016 meaning it’s now becoming quite old. Find a good used one, though, and the VanVan can be cheap, stylish, unintimidating and fun – and isn’t that what a good learner bike should be?
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
With its distinctive ‘balloon’ tyres, ultra low 770mm seat and light (120kg dry) weight there’s nothing quite like Suzuki’s VanVan 125 – Honda’s MSX125 ‘Grom’ is more of a monkey bike with its mini 12inch wheels. By comparison the VanVan is a two-wheeled beach buggy.
As a result the VanVan’s very low and easy to ride – and very comfy. Owners report that the plump seat is so comfy you could ride for hours on it... and, considering its meagre performance, you might have to.
Although the spindly conventional, unadjustable telescopic forks and preload-adjustable monoshock are a little basic and old fashioned, thanks to the fat, soft tyres – the front’s a fat 130/80 x 18 hoop with an even more balloon-like 180/80 x 14 at the rear – they deliver a smooth, reasonably stable ride.
And although the tyres are fat – so much so first impressions are that the VanVan’s quite bouncy and imprecise – with smooth, steady input through the wide bars it rewards with surprisingly accurate lines. Its turning circle is tiny, too. All that means the little Suzuki is easy and unintimidating for novices and is great fun around town or at slower speeds where nimble handling is at a premium. It even handles off road reasonably well.
The brakes, meanwhile, comprising a fairly basic, old school single 220mm disc at the front with a 110mm drum at the rear, neither featuring ABS, may also be decidedly basic but considering the VanVan 125’s performance, are up to the job and nothing to complain about.
However, the flip-side of all that is, although the VanVan’s nimble, fun and easy at lower speeds and around town, it’s really not best suited to more open, fast roads where its limited 50-60mph performance and exposed riding position will make riders feel vulnerable. Stick to short hops and smaller roads, though, and it copes fine.
EngineNext up: Reliability
As a basic ‘beach bike’ derived from an older 1970s design you may expect the VanVan 125’s engine to be nothing to write home about – and you’d be correct. But within the context of what it was designed to do it’s mostly up to the job – although most owners do state that they’d prefer a bit more than its 60mph max speed.
Only ever sold in the UK in learner legal 125cc form (in the rest of Europe it was also available with 200cc and 16bhp, which we can imagine gave it the extra bit of power some owners desired) it was powered by a fairly basic and old fashioned air-cooled, SOHC, two-valve four-stroke single with carburettor induction.
Peak power is an unexciting 12bhp at 9500rpm with peak torque of 7ftlb at 8600rpm. From 2007 it switched to fuel injection, which sharpened throttle response slightly but was otherwise unchanged.
The tiny, air-cooled four stroke Suzuki RV125 VanVan pulls acceptably in lower gears but, overall, lacks any really useful power. There’s no top end and it struggles to reach, let alone break, the national speed limit. What power there is, however, is smoothly delivered and the VanVan cruises happily at 50mph.
Transmission is via a conventional six-speed gearbox and chain final drive. Disappointingly, considering most Suzukis have immaculate, slick gearchanges, the VanVan’s is disappointingly clunk and agricultural but you get used to it.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
The Suzuki RV125 VanVan's build quality, gearbox, paintwork, power, tank size and mirrors all come in for some criticism, which isn’t that surprising, really, considering the age of the design and its basic spec – but in a oddball, utilitarian way that’s also part of its appeal.
There’s definitely something of the off-roader, farm vehicle or kit-car beach buggy about the VanVan and that helps it be more than capable of working for its living on rougher terrain: farms, beaches etc.
Being a very simple, understressed design, and also one that was in production for a long time, giving plenty of opportunity to iron out any glitches, means the Van Van is very reliable, too.
And even though it has limited performance with a ‘fun bike’ nature meaning it’s sometimes liable to be thrashed by unsympathetic owners, generally the little Suzuki weathers all that well, with owners commenting that it’s a relatively reliable bike with no major mechanical issues reported.
That said, the VanVan’s old fashioned, agricultural nature also means that its paint is a bit thin in places and owners recommend that you really must try to keep that rear mono-shocker greased because it'll catch the worst of the weather where it is, leading to seizure and/or corrosion.
Being a novice-orientated machine that’s particularly popular with shorter, very inexperienced types also means its vulnerable to tipples and associated crash damage, especially to vulnerable, exposed areas, so be sure to examine levers, bars, indicators, pegs, exhaust and so on closely.
That appeal to novices and even farming types also means the Van Van is more likely than most to be suffering from neglect – either cosmetically or mechanically. Some owners are inexperienced in looking after bikes allowing corrosion, poor servicing and a lack of lubrication and/or adjustment to occur. Others may treat the VanVan as a ‘farm tool’ with similar problems arising as a result.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
Although the Suzuki RV125 VanVan was actually quite pricey for what it was when it was sold new between 2003 and 2016 and today its unique appeal means that used values remain higher than less fashionable but mechanically very similar 125 commuters, the little Suzuki is, on the whole, very cheap to run.
That fairly basic spec and its old school mechanicals means that parts and servicing are both cheap and straightforward. Maintaining Suzuki’s small, air-cooled, single cylinder ‘thumper’ engine is a simple affair – oil changes, chain adjustment and various other regular jobs are a breeze – and ‘first time fettlers’ will be in their element as everything is easily accessible. And if you don’t want to service it yourself, garage charges should be fairly low, too.
At the same time the VanVan’s fairly meagre performance (its 60mph top speed is among the lowest of learner-legal 125 machines due to a combination of its menial power output and the high rolling resistance created by its fat tyres) means that both insurance costs and its fuel consumption rate are quite low as well.
Plenty of owners report mpg figures in the high 90s which, even considering the VanVan’s ridiculously small 7.5 litre tank (including 1.8litre reserve) means the reserve light won’t come on until after you’ve ridden 140 miles.
In addition, plenty of VanVans are still used as commuters by those whose ride to work entirely within speed restricted, urban areas and have been attracted by the little Suzuki’s comfort and ease of use and its affordability.
Newcomers and novices, meanwhile, are usually drawn more by the VanVan’s trendy, unusual style and easy, unintimidating proportions. And although in all honesty both types of owner would probably be better off buying something like a Honda CG125 instead, which costs considerably less than the Suzuki RV125 VanVan both to buy and run, the little Suzuki is cheap enough to satisfy.
Such is the VanVan's popularity in the used market good examples will set you back almost as much as a new Yamaha YS125 or Honda CB125F. While neither of these bikes can match the style of the VanVan they would be more economical and reliable than the Suzuki as a city commuter.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Suzuki RV125 VanVan is a decidedly old design with simple mechanicals and a fairly basic spec so don’t expect much by way of luxury or the slick modern features of the sort found on a more high-end, modern machines.
That said, the little Suzuki does have most of the basics you actually need – not to mention a few more besides. Its plumply-padded saddle is long, low and has plenty of room for two; there’s a luggage rack at the rear along with a grabrail, both of which are welcome; the chunky tyres and upswept exhaust look funky and give it bling appeal and there’s a small, removable side panel which contains a basic tool kit. But that is pretty much your lot.
Instrumentation comprises merely a single, analogue speedo dial, which lives in a chrome housing and is accompanied by bank of basic warning lights. There’s no revcounter, no fuel gauge, no gear indicator and not even a low fuel warning light. The mirrors are OK but the switchgear is a little basic, too, with the original, carburetted version also having a manual rather than automatic choke. Nor is there a mainstand, which would help when it comes to adjusting the chain.
In that sense, many owners consider the VanVan 125 a little overpriced considering the minimal equipment you get for your money. That said, however, few complain. It’s all part of the VanVan’s rugged, unique appeal and that more than makes up the difference.
|Engine type||2v single cylinder, 6 gears|
|Frame type||Steel cradle|
|Fuel capacity||7.5 litres|
|Front brake||220mm disc|
|Rear brake||110mm disc|
|Front tyre size||130/80 x 18|
|Rear tyre size||180/80 x 14|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||90 mpg|
|Annual road tax||£21|
|Annual service cost||£400|
5 of 17
How much to insure?
|Warranty term||Two year unlimited mileage|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||12 bhp|
|Max torque||7 ft-lb|
|Top speed||60 mph|
|1/4 mile acceleration||23 secs|
|Tank range||150 miles|
Model history & versions
2003: Suzuki RV125 VanVan launched. No changes since.
Owners' reviews for the SUZUKI RV125 VAN VAN (2003 - 2016)
8 owners have reviewed their SUZUKI RV125 VAN VAN (2003 - 2016) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.
Summary of owners' reviews
|Ride quality & brakes:|
|Reliability & build quality:|
|Value vs rivals:|
|Annual servicing cost:||£400|
Version: van van 125
ideal for a bit of fun
comfy ride due to big seat, brakes well up to stop this little bike.
good reliable engine but does run out of breath when it comes to go up hills
really reliable and if need be simple to work on
very cheap to service, parts cheap and really cheap to run
not a great deal of equipment pretty poor to be honest
Buying experience: bought private as a project. all done now and looks good
Annual servicing cost: £200
Worst things are clunky agricultural gearbox and slow speed. Best bits are, Very very reliable. Fuel efficient, very comfy seat. You could ride for hours on it...and you might have to. 7.5 litre tank, including 1.8litre reserve. Reserve light comes on at around 145 miles, and i've done just under 204 on a single fuelling, with a 2:1 ratio rural:town riding.
they stop. Nuff said.
Would like it if this bike could do 75mph. Maybe a bigger tank too. Otherwise, 123 mpg does come with performance costs.
Had 2 minor smidsy's in winter, o major damage...at all. Been very reliable and not a single issue.
Costs to do annual service, fill the tank, lube the chain, change the oil. Apart from that, nothing extra. Easy peasy.
Needs a slihtly bigger tank and engine option.
Buying experience: Bought from a dealer. Didn't need a warranty, as it seems. £3500 asking price, with 165 on the clock.
Annual servicing cost: £600
overall, this is an amazing bike. It does lack certain features you would expect in a more expensive bike, but this is a very robust, and kind of stylish bike. I have one and its my first bike, and im glad i chose it
its good for both roads and light tracks. the suspension could be a little better
slight amount of rust on the front fork when i bought, but it cleaning up easily enough. nothing has ever died on it
The rv125 only comes with 1 dial (for speed) and no rev meter. Also, its tyres are wider than other bikes of the same category, which feels different to other bikes
Look it's a 125 that's not quick, but it's not meant to be quick with that tyre and riding position. If you'd be aiming at a fast motorcycle you wouldn't be looking for a 125, would you? If you are you're only fooling yourself. What will get you about this bike is that it is honest. It does not pretend to do anything it can't do. After trying several 125s you realize that all that 'sports look' for a +5mph speed becomes a bit ludicrous. A sports looking bike that isn't sporty is a poor choice. The van van whizzes along and is easy to handle, it comes with 'street cred' from the days when 'cred' actually meant something. I suggest if you're looking to buy one go see it in the flesh. I wasn't very attracted to it originally but for commuting purposes it is IT, comfy seat, never less than 97 mpg after a year. I'd say it is a bit overpriced for the equipment it offers but it feels sturdy enough to last.
Surely one of - if not *the* - most comfy 125s on the market, the VanVan is a very sturdy looking effort. Both tyres are oversized, but the rear hilariously so (same as the Yamaha TW125). Marmite retro styling, is how it tends to be described. Its looks will either click instantly with you or not - they're an odd admix of enemy dispatch rider, winebago bike and '70s off-roader. Personally I love it. To my mind it's one of the few bikes being manufactured today that doesn't look like it's made mostly of Lego, or else been modelled on a kid's Transformer toy. In some ways it's not much more than a two-wheeled quad bike - one bloke asked me if I rounded up livestock on it. I grinned - sheepishly. Arf. It does love to bimble through the mud of the back lanes, and it'll inspire learners' confidence in a trice. But it also has an insatiable taste for narrow streets and urban settings – the big tyres and broad seat soak up those neglected road surfaces like no other. Please note too that the shorter rider will have no trouble reaching the ground on the VanVan. As mentioned above there's also a very informative website that encourages owners to undertake maintenance – youtube uploads and step-by-step photographed guides are numerous, all provided by professional and very seasoned riders and mechanics. Suffice to say the bike's small thumper engine is a simple affair – oil changes, chain adjustment and various other regular jobs are a breeze. First time fettlers will be in their element. True, it has little to offer in the way of speed – but it enjoys trying, and will whisk you up to 50 in a way that'll soon have you smiling. And don't be surprised if, when you pop out for a paper and packet of Cutter's Choice, you find yourself taking an hour or more on the way back. You don't get a rev counter, and you don't even get a petrol light on the older carb models (but there's an old fashioned tripometer that makes it easy to keep track of how many miles you've done since filling the tank). Nor does it have a centre stand – which makes chain oiling a bit hard if you don't have a drive to wheel it back and forth on. So yes, it's a very basic affair, the VanVan – making for really trad motorbiking. Also, the paint is a bit thin in places, and you really must try to keep that rear mono-shocker greased because it'll catch the worst of the weather where it is. There's a really simple way to extend the rear mudguard, however – a common mod that all owners should get on with. Ditto a 'fender extender' for the front too – where once again crap gets flung into the frame. But with these easy tasks done, and if owners take a little time to regularly spritz the VanVan w/ WD40 type products, and maybe dab on some Wax Oyl and/or grease around the frame and beneath (where the sump plug is), the VanVan will probably run forever with regular oil changes. Price-wise you'll need to spy your chance – I dropped on an '04 plate earlier this year with just 96 (!) miles on the clock, and it cos me just under £1500. Yeah – the bike had been laid up for 8 years (no idea what the story was, because the bike had clearly not been ridden, dropped or even run in). They come up on eBay every week – and similar bikes can go for over two grand one week, and 1500 the next. Took me a few weeks to get a CBT, then I needed an MOT and one or two other things (carbs cleaned), but in the last couple of months I've put 1500 miles on it. Most of that at half throttle. But the bike's run in perfectly now, and is always really eager to please. I'll never sell it. I couldn't – it's far too good.
My first geared bike was the oddly (and cutely) named van ...... van. questionable why the design team choose that name, but what i know is that its a corker of a bike very few people know! big tyres are the most exotic thing a 125 can sprout without it having to be a performance issue, and at £1799 new, was a bargan i wanted to have in my life!!! equipment was poor at best, but the feel, the enjoyment and fun i had on it was astounding, and when everyone went for ghastly YBR125's, i was so much cooler on the Van. all day comfort when chugging to whitby and back the long (185 mile) way from hull was bliss. i know its a non sporty 125 so giving it more credit than it deserves may be a sly personal chose but for us image concious youths, something crazy and sweet like this is just what i longed for when i was 18. i wish i could of had it in those retro colours though ..... gahhhh
Having been into the monkeybike scene for several years me and four other friends have now bought Suzuki Vanvans Check out suzukivanvan.co.uk for pictures,modifications,accesories and ride reports including an Alps trip of over 800 miles to France,Italy & Switzerland!!
I bought an RV125 because I was looking for a lightweight, nimble urban hack as a second bike – but I’ll admit that I ended up choosing it over other more sensible alternatives because of its cute, cool, retro styling. Yes, it lacks top-end, but what meagre power it has is well geared to shuttle you briskly enough up to 50mph. The engine seems to thrive on being thrashed; full throttle take-offs from the traffic lights, keeping it pinned while upshifting into second with some deft clutch slipping, and it’s just about quick enough to stay ahead of the cars. You do need to develop a feel for the RV’s handling; first impressions are that it’s quite bouncy and imprecise, but what it needs is a smooth, steady input, which it rewards with surprisingly accurate lines, even on those agricultural balloon tyres. On the move the stance has a touch of supermoto about it, and you find yourself putting a lot of weight over the front while counter-steering it with the wide bars, always trying to hold as much speed as you can. It’s actually a real hoot to ride in the city, and I continue to be charmed by it. The biggest shame is that the Van Van is only sold in the UK in learner-legal 12bhp form – in the rest of Europe it’s available with 200cc and 16 bhp, which I can imagine gives it that extra bit of power it needs.