1. Lexmoto LXR125, £2199
Although you can get on the road legally for the first time at the age of 16, being restricted to AM category machines, ie sub 50cc mopeds that have a maximum speed of 30mph, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. At 17 though, you’re eligible for A1 category machines which opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
The strict definition of A1 category machines is of motorcycles or scooters up to 125cc and with a maximum power of 11 KW or 15bhp. Once you’ve got your provisional licence you must complete CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) before heading out on the road with L-plates. But with such a huge range of eligible machinery available, which should you go for? Here’s our pick of the best in price order beginning with least expensive:
The British/Chinese firm’s successor to its hugely popular XTR125 came out in 2018 and has a helluva lot going for it, enough in fact to make it a UK best seller in the class. ‘Proper’ sports styling, roomy proportions (due to it sharing its chassis with a 300cc version), OK handling and performance from its 11bhp, liquid-cooled, SOHC, fuel-injected single and adequate spec tick most of the boxes but its biggest ace card by far is its £2200 price – under half that of the YZF-R125. No, it can’t quite match the Yamaha for performance, spec (the clocks and cycle parts in particular suffer by comparison) while reliability and residual values aren’t as reassuring, either. But at this price, complete with a warranty and the sheer sheen of ‘newness’, especially when money is tight for most prospective buyers and, considering its use, the performance differences matter little, it’s very hard to argue against.
Italian exotica experts Aprilia have a proud heritage of sporty small-capacity bikes and its RS 125 sportster remains one of the most desirable of its type. But it has a similar tradition for tiddler trailies and supermotos, often sharing many of the mechanicals of their sports siblings and the RX/SX125s, introduced in 2018, are the latest examples. The RX is the trail version complete with larger, 21in front wheel, dual purpose tyres and longer travel suspension but otherwise the two share the same liquid-cooled, four-valve, four-stroke single, beefy twin spar frame, decent cycle parts including inverted forks and swish Italian styling. They’re great to ride, too, being upright, light and novice-friendly, yet also nimble, sharp and reasonably lively. But best of all, they’re also pretty impressive value, too, at around £3500 when their sportster RS brother is a full £1000 more.
New in 2018, the CB125R is the junior member of Honda’s new ‘Neo Sports’ roadster family (the others being the CB300R and CB1000R) and with features such as LED lights, colour TFT screen, fat inverted forks and wavy disc brakes on top of a decent liquid-cooled, DOHC single-cylinder engine and sporty chassis it has a lot going for it. Great ergonomics and typical, easy Honda ‘usability’ combine with funky looks and a decent price to give the Duke and MT125 a real run for their money.
It had been a long wait for Suzuki’s first four-stroke, 125cc learner sportster but the GSX-R125, introduced in 2017, was worth it. With an all-new, liquid-cooled, DOHC single-cylinder engine, box-section frame and MotoGP inspired styling it certainly looks the part. Being light and perky, it’s among the briskest offerings in the class (although there’s not much between them) and it’s well priced, too. In fact, the only real criticism is its slightly basic spec compared to the likes of the Aprilia and Yamaha, with spindly, conventional forks and the like. But, at this price, what do you expect?
Historically the most desirable of all 125 sportsters and the closest the category gets to true Italian exotica. And although the days of the RS being a GP-style screaming two-stroke are long gone, the latest four-stroke incarnation remains the most-lusted after and sportiest of all learner category machines. Styling-wise it’s a mini-RSV4 superbike while in terms of specification the little Aprilia has the best of everything (especially in £100 pricier ‘Replica’ trim which even has racer livery), from its USD forks to aluminium beam frame. Though learner legal and still easy to ride, RS is about as thrilling as a machine of this size can be – with the price to match.
The biggest news for 2020 in the 125 category was the arrival of Yamaha’s significantly updated MT-125 – the naked, roadster version of its hugely successful YZF-R125. Though less celebrated, the MT has been a big success, too, since its original launch in 2014 with over 36,000 sold Europe-wide. Naturally it shares much of the YZF’s updates, namely new variable valve-timing which makes the liquid-cooled single even more flexible and novice-friendly, new steel Deltabox frame with slower steering geometry than the YZF for added stability, improved suspension set-up, new Michelin Pilot Street tyres, stylish new ‘reversed’ LCD dash and, most obviously of all, new styling that’s more in line with its MT-07 and MT-09 brothers that combines with a more upright, supermoto-style riding position that gives great control and manouvrability. The result is one of the classiest, nicest riding 125s out there, the only downer is the fairly steep price.
Yamaha’s take on the supersports 125 may date all the way back to 2008 (it was updated in 2014) but with great Rossi-alike looks, good proportions, spec and build quality and sweet details such as a multi-function LCD display it still pretty much has it all and it’s not hard to see why it’s been one of the most popular learner bikes of all time, with almost 50,000 sold in the UK. Both unintimidating and rewarding to ride it’s just as popular today, new and used, although with new prices now approaching £4800 it’s now one of the priciest options out there.