Since its introduction to the Canadian market in 2007, Honda’s CBR125R has proven popular, both as a first ride among novice riders and as a second runabout machine among those with more experience. It was a machine that was long overdue, as market trends showed that aging baby boomers – a sector of society that had been heavily solicited by the motorcycle industry – began an exodus from the sport in recent years in pursuit of other, perhaps less exciting interests.
The industry needed newer, younger blood, and the inexpensive, approachable CBR125R succeeded in drawing the attention of people who would not otherwise have considered a motorcycle. It even introduced a new generation of young racers through the CBR125R Challenge, a spec road racing series open to riders aged 13 and up.
Aside from different color variations between model years, the bike has done relatively well in the showroom without any changes. But with CBR125R sales flattening, it was time to rejuvenate the tiny sport bike, so for 2011 it got an important facelift.
The most obvious change is in the bodywork, which now closely resembles the new CBR250R (itself taking styling cues from the VFR1200F). Although its bodywork looks identical to the 250’s, it is in fact unique to the 125. This is mostly because beneath the plastic is a steel, pentagonal-section twin-spar frame, as opposed to the tubular-steel twin-spar frame on the 250.
Also new is a one-piece exhaust with an angular, CBR1000RR-replica muffler, which incorporates a catalytic converter. Like on the CBR250R, the 125’s muffler features a protective cover that’s much cheaper to replace in a tip-over than the entire system.
Although the frame is unchanged, a number of other significant tweaks were made to the chassis. These include a lengthened swingarm that stretches wheelbase from 50.9 to 51.7 inches, and a move to wider 17-inch wheels, up from 1.85 and 2.15 inches front and rear to 2.5 and 3.5 inches, respectively. The wider wheels mount wider tires, going from an 80/90-17 and 100/80-17 front and rear to 100/80-17 and 130/70-17 rubber. Suspension travel has also increased from 4.3 and 4.7 inches front and rear to 4.7 and 5 inches, respectively.
The above-mentioned changes have transformed the littlest CBR from a toy-like novelty to a real-bike-like riding tool. The longer wheelbase allows for more roomy ergonomics, and the wider tires have eliminated the previous bike’s tendency to fall into turns, while increasing stability and grip.
We had the opportunity to ride the bike at Georgia’s Roebling Road raceway, and it did indeed feel much more like a real motorcycle than its predecessor. Handling was much more neutral and planted, and it was easier to move around on the bike thanks to the improved ergos. The bike still feels smallish, even when compared to the CBR250R, but it exudes a much more substantial presence than before.
Part of the bike’s more substantial feel derives from its increased weight. Somehow, it has gained 21 lbs, now tipping the scales at 302 lbs wet, though about 5 pounds can be attributed to the extra fuel the 2011 model carries, as its gas tank has grown from 2.6 to 3.4 gallons. Another change that may appeal to those who perform their own maintenance is that the fuel filter has been moved from inside the fuel tank to outside.
Its 125cc liquid-cooled, two-valve Single is unchanged, though EFI mapping has been revised for improved bottom-end response. Two teeth have also been added to the rear sprocket to shorten the overall gearing for better acceleration, though the shorter gearing is countered by a 21mm taller rear tire.
Despite these changes, a CBR125R rider will still hit the throttle-stop more often than not, as its claimed 13 horsepower at 10,000 rpm is just enough to keep the machine flowing with city traffic. Doing my best to tuck every inch of my winter-plumped body out of the windblast, I did see 74 mph on Roebling’s front straight.
The changes to the bike have been deemed by CBR125R Challenge organizers to provide an unfair advantage at the racetrack over the previous model and it will not be eligible to compete in the series this coming season.
On the positive side for street riders, fuel consumption is claimed to have improved by seven to eight percent, which when combined with the larger fuel tank, provides a theoretical cruising range of about 335 miles.
The good news for our northern neighbors is that despite all the changes, the 2011 Honda CBR125R lists for $3,499 (CDN), $100 less than the previous model. The bad news is that it will probably compete with Honda’s own CBR250R, which lists for $4,499 without ABS and is a much more versatile motorcycle.
It might be a 125, but it has big-bike levels of fit and finish. Too bad it doesn’t have a beginner-friendly gear-position indicator.
Of course, when considering that most riders that are interested in the CBR125R are probably just out of high school and working a summer job to pay for further studies, $1,000 dollars can go a long way, not to mention the money saved insuring the bike, which falls into the least expensive premium bracket.
One curious observation made by Honda Canada’s staff during a special presentation they hosted to introduce the CBR250R to current 125R owners was that they were more interested in the updated 125R than the 250R. This was attributed to the 125R attaining a kind of cult following among owners who had a passing interest in motorcycles before it came along, and were nudged into making the two-wheeled leap by the bike’s simplicity, low cost, ease of operation and unintimidating presence. It’s believed that these riders are not likely to trade up to something bigger or faster, but they might trade up to a flashier 125R.
How well the new CBR125R does is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain, it has carved its niche in the motorcycling world, or at least the one north of the border.