2008 Yamaha YZF-R125 first ride review

After an ASBO and a concealed weapon could Yamaha’s new learner-legal 125 be the new must-have teenage accessory?

Click to read: Yamaha YZF-R125 owner reviews, Yamaha YZF-R125 specs and to see Yamaha YZF-R125 image gallery.

There are at least 1,843 good reasons why Yamaha have taken the trouble to develop the YZF-R125. That’s the number of CBR125Rs that Honda sold in the UK last year. Add to that all the CBRs flogged in Europe and in the two previous years, and it adds up to a convincing reason to build a serious challenger.

And the YZF-R125 is exactly that. At a glance this four-stroke single looks amazingly like its big brother the R6, and even like Valentino Rossi’s YZR-M1. If ever there was a bike on which to act out youthful  fantasies of MotoGP stardom, this is it.

The R125’s size keeps the illusion going. Dry weight is 126.5kg but its 1355mm wheelbase means it’s only 25mm shorter than the R6. Unlike most 125s the Yam is aimed at a typical European rider weighing 11 stones. It’s very much a European product: designed, developed and produced in Italy.

That design is all new, centred on a liquid-cooled, SOHC four-valve motor that kicks out a learner-legal max of 15bhp at 9000rpm. Chassis design is based on a typical R-series Deltabox frame layout, made from steel rather than aluminium. The swingarm is aluminium, working a monoshock adjustable only for preload. Up front are non-adjustable 33mm forks.

After I’d thrown a leg over its fairly high seat on the launch in Valencia, the R125 felt reasonably roomy even for my 6ft 4in. The white-faced analogue tacho and digital speedo enhanced the big-bike feel but the narrow fork-tops, skinny clip-ons, cable-operated clutch and non-adjustable levers confirmed that this was no superbike. So did pressing the starter button to send the engine into life with a dull, lawnmower-like wheeze. You expect it to roar, but it doesn’t.

Inevitably, straight-line performance was more Briggs & Stratton than YZR-M1, though that didn’t prevent the R125 from being fun. In town the racy looking Yam proved at home. Its riding position isn’t extreme with high clip-ons and low footrests making it comfortable.

Click next to continue

The engine is rider-friendly in traffic, too: flexible enough to let the bike pull away effortlessly when I let out its light-action clutch, even with the revs at 3,000rpm or below. Midrange torque was fairly strong for a small-bore single, with a snatch-free response from the injection system. Then at about 7,000rpm the Yam surged, even managing a mild exhaust growl as it pulled harder towards the 10,000rpm redline.

The tall top gear means the bike requires an occasional shift down into fifth to prevent the revs dropping on uphill sections. At other times it pulls past 70mph, heading for a top speed of about 80mph. The balancer shaft allowed just a mild tingle through the footrests at close to the redline, so gave every encouragement to keep the tacho needle in that 7000rpm-plus sweet zone.

The chassis plays its part, too, when the launch route headed for the Valencia racetrack via rain-soaked backroads. The suspension was firm enough for my 14-odd stone, even when the ride turned into a scrap with a trio of Italians on identical bikes.

The Yam’s big-bike dimensions help its stability, and the Pirelli Sport Demon tyres find plenty of grip, despite being skinny. The front and rear single disc brakes work fine. Brembo’s twin-piston front caliper provides good feel plus all the bite that this bike’s typically inexperienced riders will want.

There’s no doubting the Yamaha’s ability to keep novices happy by delivering entertainment, if not outright performance. At £2,999 on the road the YZF-R125 is £300 more than the CBR125R, but it has the looks and big-bike feel to leave teenagers hassling parents or plotting armed robbery to find the dosh.


Price: £2,999
Engine: 124cc, liquid-cooled, SOHC, 4-valve single
Power: 15bhp @ 9,000rpm
Torque: 9lb.ft @ 8,000rpm
Front suspension: 33mm telescopic, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adjustable preload
Front brake: 292mm disc, two-piston Brembo caliper
Rear brake: 230mm disc, one-piston caliper
Dry weight: 126.5kg (claimed)
Seat height:  818mm
Fuel capacity: 13.8l
Top speed: 80mph (est)
Colours: Red/white, silver/black, yellow/black, blue/black