If you're re-entering the sport of motorcycling, or getting your feet wet for the first time, it's hard to know where to start. Should you jump in with both feet and get yourself a powerful sport bike or pony up for a laid-back cruiser? How about a scooter? Should you buy used? How much should you pay? What about riding gear? In an attempt to address some of these questions, Honda introduced its "Go" program last year. Buyers could plunk down about $3400 for a ready-to-go CBR 125 and, if they came up with another $700 or so, would get a riding jacket, boots, and gloves to go with it. The Go program was an instant success, according to Mike Bruce, manager of Carter Motorsports, in Vancouver, BC, and Honda sold out its entire allotment of CBR 125s almost as soon as they arrived. "We've carried the program on into 2008," adds Bruce, "and we expect to get at least 300 bikes this year."
It's an interesting little squid, the CBR 125. Power is provided by a liquid-cooled, 125 cc single cylinder engine with one overhead camshaft and a pair of valves. It also has fuel injection and is mated to a six-speed transmission with chain final drive. Power output is about 13.5 hp, and the engine redlines at 11,000 rpm, although the tach does display up to 14,000 rpm, and the speedometer actually reads a top end of 200 km/h. I can't see this bike reaching that speed even if you dropped it out of an airplane. I managed to get up 140 km/h fairly easily, but past that, it's all noise and no action. You might touch 160 km/h in a tailwind, downhill, but this is not a fast motorcycle, by any stretch of the imagination, and although it will reach highway speed, isn't well suited to the hurly-burly of high-speed traffic. I can't, for example, see taking it on the freeway, unless you have a death wish of some kind.
If you want to get the most out of the CBR 125, you have to pretty much wring its neck, and it doesn't like shifting below 8000 rpm. Although it starts to buzz like an enraged mosquito in the higher rpms, it's actually quite happy at engine speeds above 8000 rpm, and it's kind of fun to ride a bike that you can run the daylights out of without worrying about breaking the speed limits or attracting the long arm of the law. Below, oh, 4000 rpm, there isn't a lot of urge at your fingertips, but like all small displacement Honda engines, this one thrives on abuse. I'm not saying it forced me off the seat, but even my 90-kilogram plus weight didn't seem to slow it down, and for novices, it might be just about right. Having said that, you'll probably outgrow this bike fairly quickly
One good thing about having an engine this small is that it returns about 2.5 litres per 100 kilometres, and its 10 litre tank will take you around 300 km before it runs dry. That's scooter territory, and the CBR 125 can match many larger displacement scooters when it comes to thrift, while providing modest riding kicks into the bargain. It may be small and lightweight, but the CBR 125 is fun to ride….in its own way. You can lean it over, to a point, and it has excellent brakes….a dual-piston disc up front and single disc in the back. You can also get aftermarket go-fast bits for it….exhaust, tires, and so on that will give you just a little bit more snap.
Elsewhere, the CBR 125 has a seat height of 776 mm, but the bike is so narrow, even the most vertically-challenged riders should be able to get both feet flat on the ground. There is also a little storage compartment under the passenger pillion….enough room for a cell phone or small camera, and the CBR 125 has a fairly comprehensive set of gauges: speedometer, rev counter, fuel gauge, and temperature gauge. Not many other bikes in this market can say the same. A frame-mounted fairing and small windscreen provide some shelter from the wind, but not a lot, and the clutch action is the lightest I've ever experienced on any motorcycle….of any kind. I thought it was broken at first, but it's just sprung like an expensive watch….very light to the touch.
At 127 kilograms, the CBR 125 is light enough for even the smallest riders to manhandle. Honda is aiming the Go campaign at women, in particular, and I can think of no better way of getting the sport-bike riding experience, without breaking the bank in the process, or getting in over your head.