Honda’s line of junior-sized dirt bikes has nurtured young riders for decades. And Big Red is poised to carry the newbie torch for years to come with its freshly released Honda CRF125F (starting at $2799). Available in standard and Big Wheel variations, Honda’s latest trail bike replaces the CRF80F and 100F models and offers owners more bang for their buck than ever before.
A fun ride and easy operation were the main goals for Honda’s latest trail bike. To achieve these, engineers fitted a larger displacement engine. Still air-cooled for simplicity sake, the 125cc four-stroke Single employs a longer piston stroke compared to the 80 and 100 CRFs boosting torque and making it more adept at tackling inclines or hills. The engine is still fueled through a carburetor and 1.1-gallon gas tank. Additionally, the motor can run on regular 87-octane gasoline instead of the more expensive premium blend.
Electric start was added and the engine lights with a simple push of the button. A kickstart lever remains as a backup in case the battery runs out of juice. Either method performed flawlessly and we were especially pleased by how little muscle the kickstart lever demanded.
“It’s smooth,” says our lady tester and novice-level rider, Mayra Tinajero, when asked to describe the CRF’s motor performance. “When you go to give it throttle, the way it takes off is so easy. It’s never jerky and I always felt in control.”
Power is transferred to the back knobby tire through a four-speed transmission and manual, cable-actuated clutch. Lever pull is light yet has a positive and responsive actuation akin to a premium, full-sized motorcycle. Paired with the engine’s low-end grunt this CRF is easy to get moving forward from a standstill. Although the gearbox no longer offers fifth gear you won’t miss it due to the 125’s broader powerband.
“It’s really easy to shift,” shares Tinajero. “So for anybody new to riding that is stressed about controlling the throttle, the brake, your feet, just know that it’s really easy with the 125. That’s something that definitely alleviates the mind when you’re starting out.”
As she points out it is an easy-shifting bike that delivers precise feel at the shift lever along with an audible and reassuring thud when the next gear is engaged. Finding neutral position (between first and second gears) at a stop was equally simple.
The standard CRF125F rolls on 17-inch front and 14-inch rear spoked wheels with a seat height at 28.9 inches (identical to the outgoing CRF80F). Taller riders will appreciate the $400 more expensive Big Wheel which makes use of a larger 19/16-inch combo boosting saddle height by two inches and ground clearance by 2.1 inches (the same seat measurement as the ’13 CRF100F). It also uses a larger 49-tooth rear sprocket compared to the standard model’s 46-tooth piece (due to the larger diameter of the wheel).
Suspension and brakes are the same on both options, with a non-adjustable fork soaking up bumps at the front and a spring preload-adjustable shock providing rear damping. Front suspension travel is rated at 5.5 inches with the back measurement coming in at 4.5 inches for the standard model. The Big Wheel CRF gets added travel with nearly six inches fore and aft.
“The suspension was awesome,” said 110-pound Tinajero who spent most of the afternoon riding the standard model. “Going over any rough spots or jumps, and around turns it was great. It was smooth riding all the time.”
Braking components consist of a 220mm front cross-drilled disc clamped by a twin-piston caliper actuated hydraulically with a simple and more cost-oriented lever-operated drum brake keeping rear wheel speed in check. Both brakes provided effective stopping power and were easy to operate. Another plus is how grippy the OE tires are even on silty hard-pack.
While our 5’5” tester got along with the smaller wheeled version, she still felt the larger wheeled version would be the right one for someone her size.
“I felt a little big on the small one,” she said. “It was still comfortable and really fun to ride, but I think I would outgrow it kind of fast. If I had to choose, I’d probably go with the bigger one.”
Much to my surprise the larger wheeled CRF was adequate for my six-foot tall frame, too. Obviously I was a little cramped but not enough to keep me from blasting across berms all the while grinning like a Slurpee-drunk schoolboy beneath my helmet.
And that in essence is the coolest thing about the CRF125F—it’s friendly and non-intimidating for a novice yet still delivers adequate performance for more seasoned riders.
“I would completely recommend this bike for someone that is looking to start out riding and hasn’t necessarily had a whole lot of experience,” sums up Tinajero. “It’s definitely an excellent bike to start out on.”
Link to original article
Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Motorcycle USA.