Top 10s

Starting out in style… The Top 10 BEST 125cc Motorcycles of 2020

When did the choice of quality motorcycles in the broad 125cc class become so good? From sports to nakeds to minis to even ADV bikes... but which is best? 

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking all 125 geared bikes are the same – after all, by law, to adhere to the A1 learner classification they can be no bigger than 125cc and produce maximum power of 11kw (14.75bhp) – with a maximum power-to-weight ratio of 0.1kw per kg.

In reality, though, there’s arguably no more diverse category in motorcycling with myriad of mainstream-household name brands jostling for market share with numerous more specialist companies usually offering impressive bang for your buck.

Moreover, 125cc can mean all manner of machinery, from high spec, high price sports bikes to bargain economy commuters; from cruisers, stylish nakeds and trail bikes; and from mini monkey bikes to even full-size adventures, the 125cc category has it all. 

But which are best – and what’s right for you? To help you decide here’s our current pick of the Top 10 best 125cc geared motorcycles – in price ascending order…

10. Lexmoto LXR SE 125 (from £2499)

We’re perfectly familiar with Lexmoto’s bargain-priced, Chinese built, UK imported wares by now with its £1000 Echo 50cc scoot being a perennial UK best seller. However, much like its mobile phones, China’s motorcycles are beginning to gain some credibility here too and Lexmoto’s latest offering - the LXR - is probably its best yet.

As ever, it’s brilliant value swooping in under £2500 in a sector where there are plenty of equivalent bikes costing nearly double that. Don’t assume it’s budget ‘rubbish’ though because the LXR is smartly styled, has inverted forks, twin disc brakes and an alloy swing arm – more than enough, in fact, to impress the crowd outside McDonalds. 

Sure, its air-cooled engine is a little ‘old school’, it only produces 12bhp and it can’t keep up with the latest from, say, Yamaha, nor are its reliability, durability and residuals likely to be as good. 

But in the context of the 125cc class where you’re only likely to keep it for a year and at an age when money is extremely tight, it’s more than worth a look.

9. Sinnis Terrain 125 (from £2589)

Another offering from the Far East you’re possibly not familiar with. Sinnis are again Chinese built but often using designs licenced from the likes of Honda and Yamaha. 

Its range is also larger than most and includes retros, nakeds, cruisers and even supermotos, but uniquely, however, it also now offers the Terrain 125 which, as far as we know, is the first ‘full-size’ adventure bike available in the 125cc class. 

Sure, it inevitably has shortcomings: with just 11.2bhp from its air-cooled single you’re not going to be trekking up the Himalayas any time soon. But on the other hand it’s a proper, roomy adventure style bike with a fairing, roomy seat etc that will certainly suit larger learner riders. 

It’s also good looking, easy to ride and comes as standard with twin ‘metal-look’ panniers offering 30-litres of luggage capacity as standard – and what other learner bikes can say that? Besides, if you want more, a top box and bigger side cases are available as options. 

8. Honda MSX125 (from £3499)

From one extreme… to another. If the Sinnis Terrain 125 is the largest, roomiest 125 currently available, then Honda’s MSX125, as introduced in 2014 is both the littlest and loudest - at least in terms of attitude - offering in the 125 arena. 

Quickly developing a cult following, from which it is known as the Grom, it’s a modern day ‘monkey bike’ inspired by Honda’s mini-wheeled marvels which proved so iconic in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

The MSX 125 is a proper, 10bhp, air-cooled 125 that rides on dinky 12-inch wheels and has all-round three-quarter scale proportions making you look like an adult on a BMX… which may or may not be a good thing for you.

Still, being a Honda, it’s thoroughly developed, has brilliant ergonomics even for taller riders, is hilariously easy to ride (especially around town) and has become something of a cult sensation in its own right. Sure, we wouldn’t fancy negotiating a dual carriageway or bypass on one and its practicality is limited, but it’s also far classier and more fun than you might expect – especially for smaller or inexperienced riders. 

Plus it’s also cooler than an ice cube on the Polar ice cap and if you fancy a more retro version, Honda also introduced the retro-styled ‘Monkey’ version in 2018 for just £300 extra. 125s simply don’t get any cuter…

7. Kawasaki Ninja 125 (from £3899)

Here we could have opted for the sportsbike-angled Kawasaki Ninja 125 or the sister Kawasaki Z125 naked - both are sweet handling and sporty machines, but the hooligan youth in us can't help but be drawn to the lime green hues of the mini-ZX-10R.

The lightweight Ninja carves through the mountain roads with ease and predictability, with great mid-corner stability, even on the rough stuff.  Better still, in dense traffic through urban treks, its lightness and flickability help it to navigate static cars with ease. With its punchy motor, head-turning looks and handling to match, Kawasaki have created a fun and easy to ride learner legal motorcycle.

Interestingly, it's a sector Kawasaki hasn't had much involvement with until recently but with that lurid and as recognisable livery, coupled to Kawasaki's reputation for reliability, sporting dynamics and value, the Kawasaki Ninja 125 holds a lot of appeal for youngsters starting out or more experienced riders seeking a cool urban runaround.

6. Aprilia RX 125 (from £3499)

We love it’s powerful, honed flagship machines, so why wouldn’t we love that formula distilled into a smaller, more affordable but still very desirable package?

While you may have expected us to plump for the admittedly eye-catching RS 125 (spoiler alert, scroll down…), it is the oft-overlooked RX/SX duo we highlight here.  Introduced in 2018, the RX125 is a trail-style 125 and the SX is its supermoto-style brother, both being based around the same advanced liquid-cooled, DOHC, fuel-injected four-valve single as used in its more famous sibling, the sporty RS. 

Here the engine is held in a minimal, twin beam steel frame bracing decent cycle parts front and rear including 41mm inverted forks and monoshock rear with the RX having 21/18in wire wheels and semi-knobbly tyres and the SX 17in versions with more street-orientated rubber. 

There’s sharp, stylish bodywork, plenty of quality, they are both are easy to ride, as fast as any other four-stroke 125 and, chiming in just under £3500, not even that expensive. What’s not to like?

5. KTM Duke 125 (from £3799)

Austrian off-road experts KTM are the original kings when it comes to supermoto style conversions of MX or enduro style machines – after all it pretty much invented the breed when it came up with the first 620 Duke in 1995. 

Since then the Duke family, now in 1290, 890, 790, 690, 390, 200 and, here, 125cc form has become the backbone of their range while at the same time constantly evolving to stay ahead of the pack. 

The 125 was first introduced in 2012, characterised by its punchy, modern, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC four-valve four-stroke engine which, combined with a lightweight tubular steel trellis chassis, decent quality inverted WP forks and shock and sharp brakes and geometry became one of the most entertaining and nimble handling bikes in the class. 

And, with aggressive and garish styling it had the looks to match. This latest version is better yet by way of a new LED headlight and swish TFT dash and remains the benchmark naked 125.

4. Honda CB 125 R (from £4099)

Proof you don’t have to be the fastest, best equipped or even most expensive to be a brilliant 125. Honda’s offering in the fashionable, sporty, naked 125 class against bikes like the KTM Duke and Yamaha MT-125 was introduced in 2018 replacing its long-lived and popular, faired sports CBR125R – which in itself hinted at the faith Honda had in it. 

It was well placed, too because although the CB does no one thing better than any rival, it does excel at being a brilliant blend of performance, style, quality, novice-friendly riding and value. The liquid-cooled single is derived from that of the CBR and, although only two-valve and SOHC and 1.7bhp down on some as a result, compensates for that by being tractable, flexible and, in the real world, just as fast as all others. 

The chassis, too, is roomy, comfortable with typical Honda brilliant ergonomics and with more than a few classy touches such as inverted forks, radial front caliper and classy LCD dash. 

Styling is intended to fit in with Honda’s new ‘Neo Café’ style roadsters such as the CB650R and CB1000R, which it does successfully, seeming much more substantial than a 125 as a result, and the whole plot chimes in for just over £4K which, for a proper, quality Honda and with rival Yamahas significantly more, is surely some kind of steal. 

3. Yamaha MT-125 (from £4524)

Updated for 2020, Yamaha’s take on the stylish, naked, performance 125 roadster pretty much ticks all the boxes you could want of a bike of this type so, although quite pricey, it simply demands to be included here. 

First introduced in 2014, Yamaha’s junior ‘Master of Torque’ (it’s the little brother to the MT-07, MT-09 and MT-10) is basically a naked version of the all-conquering R-125 sportster (see below), itself updated in 2019. 

Like that bike it now benefits from the latest high tech ‘VVA’ 125cc engine producing both the maximum 14.7bhp allowed and a healthy dollop of midrange; has an improved, lighter six-speed gearchange; shortened more agile, Deltabox chassis complete with fatter, 140-section rear tyre; quality inverted KYB forks and rear shock and, most obviously of all, new styling including a revised, more comfortable and roomy riding position which gives more of a big bike feel than ever. 

In fact, it’s so good we actually struggle to find anything to criticise except, that is, the price. Though good, the new MT-125 is also now the priciest of this type of bike – even more so than Aprilia’s RS125-based Tuono – although it probably is worth the premium.

2. Aprilia RS 125 GP Replica (from £4599)

Aprilia’s perennially popular 125 sports bike, a bike so sexy its posters have been draped on teenage bedroom walls since the early 1990s, was bound to feature here somewhere and this latest GP replica is a worthy successor. 

Although no longer a screaming, smoky two-stroke (that finally changed in 2011), the RS, with its high tech, fully modern, liquid-cooled, four-valve, DOHC, fuel-injected four-stroke single still thrives on revs and also delivers as much power (14.7bhp) as any rival. 

Add to that: inimitable Italian sports styling, a mouth-watering spec including inverted forks and radial brakes; impeccably sharp and nimble styling yet decent novice manners and you’ve got a sports 125 any self-respecting 17-year-old would sell their granny for. 

Best of all, though, with the base version at £4499, this historically expensive ‘super 125’ now actually undercuts the latest from Yamaha. Scrub that, though, go for the ‘full monty’ GP replica version for £100 more. No other 125 has as much ‘drool factor’.

Best get them while they’re still here though as Aprilia is rumoured to be swinging the axe in favour of a Yamaha R3 and KTM RC390 rivalling 300cc+ successor. Can we just have both, pretty please?

1. Yamaha R125 (from £4599)

Yamaha’s sports R125 offering has been THE most desirable offering in the quarter-litre class ever since the launch of the original in 2008, looking every inch the R1 replica albeit without the extra inches.

That bike combined the prevailing king CBR125R’s novice manners with more full-sized style, spec and performance sufficiently to fulfil any 17-year-old’s ‘Rossi-replica’ fantasies while at the same time proving a solid, effective learner buy. 

This third generation version, introduced in 2019, raises the bar yet again with sharpened-up ‘mini R1’ styling, a new engine complete with a form of variable vale timing that maintains the maximum-permitted 14.7bhp peak yet boosts useful midrange, plus a revised Deltabox chassis with a new aluminium swingarm bracing a fatter 140-section rear tyre which manages to be both nimble, predictable and planted all at the same time. 

There’s also a smart new LCD dash, a variety of accessories including an Akrapovic can, an optional ‘Monster MotoGP replica’ paint scheme and more. 

It even has a new name – R 125 replacing the previous YZF-R125. Aside from us crinkling our nose at the price stage (though it is on a par with its main Aprilia rival),  the Yamaha R125 is pretty much a complete package.

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