When you’re starting out in motorcycling and are eligible for an A1 licence what are the best A1 category bikes available in 2023 that you can buy?
Although you can get on the road legally for the first time at the age of 16, being restricted to AM category machines, i.e. 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 bikes is of motorcycles or scooters up to 125cc 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 in 2023, which should you go for? Here’s our pick of the 10 best available in price ascending order:
British/Chinese firm Lexmoto specializes in affordable 125 or A1 class machines and currently offers 13 different bikes in this category ranging in price from £1869.99 to £3499.99. The LXR125 is its successor to its previously hugely popular XTR125, came out in 2018, was significantly updated with a new, liquid-cooled, DOHC single-cylinder engine to meet Euro5 in 2021 and has a helluva lot going for it, too – enough in fact to make it one of the most affordable sports 125s and a UK best seller. ‘Proper’ sports styling, roomy proportions (due to it sharing its chassis with a 300cc version), OK handling and performance from its 11bhp, liquid-cooled, single plus adequate spec tick most of the boxes but its biggest ace card by far is its price – getting on for half that of Yamaha’s 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 quite as impressive, either. But at this price, complete with a two-year 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 and it’s very hard to argue against.
The MSX – or ‘Grom’, as it’s called Stateside – has proved one of motorcycling’s mini sensations since its introduction in 2013. This ¾-sized, 125cc minibike has become a cult machine in much the same way as its inspiration, Honda’s original DAX monkey bike, did in the ‘70s. With its emphasis on fun, dinky, 12-inch wheels and cute styling, the MSX isn’t really intended to be serious transport and, indeed, could be terrifying over any sort of distance on dual carriageways. But as a town or toy bike it’s great fun. What’s more, being a Honda, it’s well made, a doddle to ride and has developed a huge following. For 2021 it received a significant makeover with a more powerful, Euro5-compliant engine, extra gear and updated styling while it’s overall success and popularity has spawned an extended family of Honda mini bikes all based on the same design. Along with the MSX there’s also now to retro-styled Monkey 125 for £4049 plus there’s now also the Dax 125, which recreates the look of the 1960s original.
Italian exotica experts Aprilia have a proud heritage of sporty, small-capacity bikes and its RS 125 sportster featured elsewhere remains one of the most desirable of its type. But Aprilia 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-cylinder engine, 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 under £4000 when their sportster RS brother is a full £1000 more.
The CB125R is, quite simply, one of the classiest and easiest to ride 125cc A1 class road machines you can buy. New in 2018, it was the junior member of Honda’s new ‘Neo Sports’ roadster family (the others being the CB300R and CB1000R), replaced the old CBR125R sportster and, with features such as LED lights, colour TFT screen, and wavy disc brakes it had a lot going for it. That original version was only criticized for its slightly underpowered 10bhp engine but was updated with a new, Euro5-compliant, liquid-cooled, DOHC single in 2021 when it also gained fat, Showa Big Piston forks, a first in this category. The result, with a sporty chassis, great ergonomics and typical, easy Honda ‘usability’ combines with funky looks and a decent price to give KTM’s 125 Duke and Yamaha’s MT125 a real run for their money.
Kawasaki’s current offerings in the A1 125cc learner class comprise the sports-styled Ninja 125 and its ‘naked’ roadster brother, the £4299 Z125, based on the same engine and running gear. Both, in many ways, are closer to Suzuki’s similar, slightly budget GSX-R and GSX-S125s than Yamaha’s more sophisticated R125 or Honda’s classy CB125R, and are also conspicuously smaller and less substantial, but as accessible, affordable and stylish Japanese learner bikes they’ve got a lot going for them. The fully faired Ninja is our pick and it’s easy to see proud owners riding around on one as if they’re Jonathan Rea. A new Euro5-compliant engine came in 2021, paint and quality are good, but it can’t quite match the R125 but then it’s nearly £800 cheaper, too.
‘Naked’, upright, roadster versions of sports 125s have a lot of appeal as a learner bike as they have virtually all of the style and pizazz of their sports siblings but in a more manageable, novice-friendly, upright package and, shorn of their fairings, usually at a more affordable price – and the 125 Duke remains the definitive example of the breed. First launched in 2013, it’s nimble, punchy, stylish and great fun to ride. 2017 updates, including TFT display and LED headlight, kept it ahead of the pack while for 2021 it was revised further to make it Euro5-compliant. The KTM 125 Duke may not be the cheapest, but if you want your street 125 to have bags of street cred, it’s certainly among the best. There’s now an even more street-styled alternative, too: Husqvarna (which is owned by KTM) brought out its scrambler Svartpilen and café racer Vitpilen 125s in 2021 based on the Duke engine and chassis but with different styling and have all the performance of the Duke in an even funkier package.
Launched in 2021 to great success the XSR is an A1 125cc class retro-styled roadster based on Yamaha’s slick, proven MT125 platform. As such it has, arguably, the best of both worlds – bang ‘on-trend’ retro/scrambler styling which even evokes memories of Yamaha’s classic 1980s LCs but also much of the performance of its latest naked and sports 125s. It’s not quite as well equipped as those bikes, of course, the suspension is noticeably less sophisticated, for example, but that’s compensated for by its cheaper price. The cherry on top, meanwhile, is that all that retro roadster upright style also makes for an easily manageable, natural riding position that is also great for novices.
It had been a long wait for Suzuki’s first four-stroke, 125cc A1 class 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 looked the part. Being light and perky, it’s among the briskest offerings in the class (although there’s not much between them) and the GSX-R is 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? What’s more, if you don’t fancy a sportster and would prefer a naked, roadster version, Suzuki supplies that, too, with the unfaired £4699 GSX-S125.
Aprilia’s RS125 is historically the most desirable of all 125 sportsters and remains 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 A1 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 race livery), from its USD forks to its 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. What’s more, as with other bikes from other manufacturers, the RS now comes in upright, ‘super naked’ guise, in the form of the £4650 Tuono 125 as introduced in 2017.
Yamaha’s take on the supersports 125 may date all the way back to 2008 (it was updated in 2014, again in 2019 and most recently this year) but with great MotoGP-style looks (updated this year akin to the R7 with a new central headlight), good proportions, impressive spec now including traction control (yes, really) and a new five-inch colour TFT dash not to mention classy build quality and sweet detailing it 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 well over 50,000 sold in the UK. Both unintimidating and rewarding to ride, the R125 is just as popular today, new and used, although with new prices now approaching £5500 it’s now one of the priciest options out there, too. Again, if you don’t fancy the faired, sports look, Yamaha also does an unfaired, roadster version, the equally impressive £5102 MT-125.
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