Yamaha UK Ambassador event winner: Yamaha YZF-R125 review

Robert Barker, our winner for Yamaha's ambassador event competition, gives his thoughts on the revised 2014 YZF-R125

YAMAHA'S latest incarnation of the YZF-R125 is just about as slick, nimble and quick as a four-stroke 125cc motorcycle is ever likely to get. But does it make sense to spend £4,349 on one when you could spend £500 to pass your test and get a bike with triple the horsepower?

For a large demographic of bikers, that is; the older generation, the R125 is unlikely to appeal. Anyone whose ridden the old two-strokes will tell you, continuously, how amazing they were; although I suspect much of this is nostalgia, as most of them seem to have either been crashed or died a death due to poor maintenance.

These days learners are limited to a mere 11kw, which converts to just under 15 bhp. Where other manufacturer's “sport” 125s don’t quite make the limit (Honda’s CBR125 makes 13 bhp, for example), the R125 makes the full-fat 14.6hp. That’s 12% more power from the Yamaha, which is hardly unsubstantial considering that the R125 is also 12kg lighter than the CBR. The R is more expensive, but you get what you pay for - it’s the premium sports 125, expensive, but it’s one of the best out there.

In Barcelona we went out on a route though twisty mountain roads before taking the bikes on track, the R125 handled both with ease. The ride is stable, the bike is very flickable, and it does go, but you really, really have to rev it. For someone used to the grunt and low down torque of a 650 V-twin, the amount of revving needed to get the R125 to go took a bit of getting used to. This is no bad thing though, for the young riders and learners the bike is aimed towards, the rev hungry nature of the bike only adds to the race-orientated feel and excitement.

The brakes are stunning, confidence-inspiring and do a very good job at bringing the R to a halt. Yamaha aimed to make the rider feel like they’re a racer, and from where I was sitting they succeeded. The aggressive seating position combined with the revvy engine and excellent handling could easily fool the average 17-year-old into thinking they’re a future Lorenzo. Add the Akrapovic exhaust and the bike will sound like it too. The R125's primary purpose is to make you grin; add in the the claimed figure of 112mpg and you have another reason to smile.

The R125 genuinely surprised me, it’s not a commuter with fairings. It really does feel like a mini supersport thanks to the excellent USD forks, well-sprung suspension, brakes and its light weight. It’s also worth adding that I’m 6’6” and found the ride comfortable for the time we were riding, although the bike is obviously not suited for touring.

It's also been specifically designed to look and feel like an R6. When we were testing the MT-125 on the second day I did a double take when someone rode past on one of the R125s, thinking an R6 had just ridden past. Yamaha considered putting in a larger rear tyre in order to mimic the R6 further, but upon testing found that the smaller tyre offered better performance for the R125 - so it’s not all about mimicry.

The dash has been updated for 2014 to match the one found on the MT-125, it's digital and “inspired by smartphones”. I like the look of them, but they may not be to everyone’s taste. A white LED lets you know when you’re hitting the rev limiter, but it was difficult to see in bright sunlight, which leaves you wondering why you’ve suddenly lost power when you hit the limiter. Why Yamaha didn’t put a coloured LED in there is a mystery.

I'll admit, when I took my test back in November 2012, I was of the opinion that the R was a little bit silly. Having a sports 125 didn’t make much sense to me when I could pass my test in a week and be riding a 650. However, the game changed somewhat when the 2013 licence law changes came in. In short, since 2013 the only way to get a full power bike licence before you’re 24 is to take two bike tests, one when you’re 19 to get the A2, and then another two years later when you’re 21. What’s more, you can’t just turn up on your own 125 anymore, take the test, and go home. You have to take the test on a bike with sufficient power for the licence category, which obviously you can’t do if you don’t have a licence.

So you end up being forced to hire a bike from a training school at the very least. This leaves two groups which are essentially left with no other option but to buy a 125 and stay on Ls: 17 year olds and 22 year olds with no previous training. The 17-year-olds can only take the A1 test, which is basically a waste of time as it doesn’t let you ride anything more than you can on a CBT, and 22 year olds will be paying out for the privilege of riding a more expensive bike with a restrictor for two years before having to take their test again.  Add this to the fact that restrictors for big bikes are a pain to find (46.6 bhp restrictors are practically non-existent for older bikes), are a pain to install, insurers charge you for having them whilst fussing about installation certificates, and that bigger bikes are significantly more fuel thirsty, then suddenly the R125 doesn't look so silly after all.

It's easy to see why the R regularly tops the 'supersport' sales charts. It's more than capable enough for the average 17-year-old, makes you grin, and is a genuinely sporty machine. Admittedly the R125 is not a sensible or practical machine, but if we all wanted those things then we’d all be buying Suzuki Burgmans. The point of the R is to get young people excited about motorcycling, and as such remains an icon for teenage motorcyclists everywhere.

Model tested: 2014 Yamaha YZF-R125

Price: £4,349

Power: 15hp

Wet weight: 140kg

Seat height: 825mm

Availability: in UK dealers now

Colours: Matt red, matt grey, gloss racing blue