2004 TransWorld Motocross 125cc Shootout: Dying Breed?

By The Testing Staff of TransWorld Motocross

Photos By Milan

We have to be honest about something right off the bat. In preparation for our 125cc Shootout this year, the staff at TransWorld Motocross seriously pondered the idea that not a single person in the world would care what we had to say about the 2004 fleet of 125 two-strokes. That's not because of a lack of effort on our part, either, as we constantly strive to deliver the most accurate representation of each bike in its class so that you're better prepared to make the bike buying decision that best suits you. The reason for the uncertainty surrounding this year's shootout is the simple fact that the stout new class of 250cc four-strokes is quickly overshadowing the old faithful 125 two-strokes. In fact, with all of the anticipation of three brand new tiddler-class four-stroke machines, we almost forgot about our 125cc shootout all together. When it was all said and done, however, the testing staff at TWMX acquired a new faith in the peppy two-stroke tiddlers, and are damn happy that we still have them as an option for our racing weaponry.

For any of you that may be in the same boat that we were in prior to our shootout, here's a little side note that may sway your opinion. On our final day of testing at the famous Glen Helen Raceway, we witnessed James “Bubba” Stewart, arguably the fastest motocross racer in the world, spin lap after lap aboard his KX125 two-stroke. Despite all of the hype and preseason talk about Bubba spending the entire '04 season aboard Kawasaki's new KX250F, it seems that the trusty 125 won over James' heart, proof in itself that the 125cc two-stroke still has what it takes to compete in a class now stacked full of four-stroke giants.

After two full days of grueling battle, here's the way our 125cc shootout went down…

FIFTH PLACE

2004 HONDA CR125

In a class where power is everything, the CR125 remains slightly off the pace. Don't be fooled, however; the Honda is a damn fine machine, it just lacks the same motor excitement that some of the other bikes in the class possess. Still among the best-handling bikes available, however, the CR125 has a ton of potential. The quality of the bike is still second to none, and they're among the easiest bikes to work on and maintain.

Honda made some noticeable improvements to the power plant over last year's bike, but our testers agree that it still comes up a little bit short. The immediate hit off the bottom is pretty good, but it doesn't take long before the red rider signs off. The powerband is smooth and doesn't do anything unpredictable; it's just slightly down on power all the way around. Have no fear, however, as there's no doubt that improvements can be made to spice up the lives of those who choose the CR125 because of its impeccable handling prowess. If you're among those that value handling above all else, look no further.

That's right, the CR125 proudly profiles what is possibly the best-handling chassis, and best-suspended bike in the class. So smooth and so predictable is the Honda that every test rider raved about the confidence boost they experienced while on the machine. The Showa suspension package is well-balanced and soaks up just about anything in its sight. Tracking is as predictable as you can get, and cornering on the CR is a blast. The bike's stability allows riders to enter corners with a ton of speed and aggression. “This thing corners like it's on rails,” said every test rider that's thrown a leg over it. Whether high-speed sweepers or wet, rutted corners, the CR turns like a champ!

All in all, the Honda CR125 is a very good bike; it's simply slower than the others in production form. Most 125cc pilots are concerned with the overall power output of theisteeds above all else, so when stacked up against the others, the Honda's power kept it from climbing any higher in our shootout.

FOURTH PLACE

2004 KTM 125SX

We know…we know. It's difficult to believe that the heir to the 2003 125cc Outdoor National Championship winning bike, as well as the 2003 TWMX shootout runner up, could possibly finish in fourth place in our 2004 shootout. But with the field of 125cc two-strokes being as competitive as ever, and with each manufacturer continuously striving to produce the best piece of machinery in the class, this is how things unfolded.

A fourth-place ranking by no means makes the KTM 125SX a bad bike, however. In fact, the 125SX has what is arguably the best motor in the class. It packs a gnarly punch right off the bottom, and pulls stronger and harder through the top than just about any other 125 we've ridden. Both of our testing locations are regarded as real horsepower tracks, so it didn't surprise anybody that the KTM shined in the motor department. The 125SX ripped around each circuit with ease, and even pulled a gear higher up most of the hills than the majority of the other 125s. Tricky obstacles directly out of corners, which generally require more clutching, are also no problem for the KTM.

Ergonomically, the 125SX still profiles a light nimble feel. The bike is very narrow and roomy between the legs, and allows riders to easily move around and change body position when needed. With its light, balanced feel it's no wonder that all of our testers raved about how jump-friendly the KTM is. Whether throwing down a phat whip or simply scrubbing speed, the KTM 125SX does whatever you want it to in the air.

In the overall handling of the KTM is where you'll find its only potential drawback. Although improved over last year's machine, thanks to a more rigid chassis the KTM was not the plushest handling bike in the class. Through rough, high-speed sections, riders complained of a loose feeling and a bit of headshake in the front end. In addition, a couple of our testers complained that it's a bit more difficult to guide the 125SX into rutted corners than some of the other steeds.

Have no fear if you're a KTM faithful, as the 125SX still offers an outstanding overall package. Any handling difficulties that were experienced may not apply to you and/or may be fine-tuned with little difficulty. In a class as competitive as this, however, we were forced to be nit picky for the sake of the shootout.

THIRD PLACE

2004 YAMAHA YZ125

The reigning TWMX 125cc shootout champion is back with another outstanding package for 2004. After our first impression test back in June, we knew that the YZ would again be in the hunt for shootout glory. Improvements were made to an already badass motor, and a set of 48mm front forks was added to improve an already great-handling bike. What we didn't know at that time, however, was how much the other manufacturers had stepped up their class offerings. When the dust settled and the smoke cleared from our 125cc shootout, the YZ, almost surprisingly, settled into the third position. So what went wrong for the YZ125? Nothing really… The competition simply stepped it up another notch.

The overall power production of the Yamaha engine is near-perfect. It offers a ton of hit off the bottom, pulls hard through the mid-range, and continues to power through the top and into the overrev. Although quick to respond and packed with ponies, the motor remains silky-smooth and easy to ride. The Yamaha power plant remains among the very best in its class, and just like last year's bike, the new YZ can be raced against most competition in stock form.

In the handling department, the YZ works very well for most riders in most conditions. It offers a predictable ride and is among the easiest bikes to dial in and fine-tune. Among the Yamaha's best handling characteristics is its ability to track straight and remain extremely steady and stable in ruts. Cornering is a pleasure on the YZ thanks to its stability. The only negative feedback received about the YZ125 was in its handling at speed. A couple of our testers noted a twitchy feeling in the front end, as well as a bit of a stiff, almost dead feeling in the rear end.

Ergonomically speaking, the YZ125 has a very comfortable riding compartment, and all of the controls feel solid and well-positioned. The only adverse reaction we received from one of our testers regarding the YZ's fit was that it had a bit of a high feeling, making it difficult to get aggressively low in corners. We're sure, however, that with the right suspension set-up, the Yamaha YZ125 is every bit as capable of topping the charts in the 125 class.

SECOND PLACE

2004 KAWASAKI KX125

Despite having adopted some major changes in 2003, the KX125 finished in the middle of the pack in our very competitive '03 shootout. For 2004, thanks to the emergence of Kawasaki's new 250cc four-stroke, many believed that the KX125 would take the backseat. Never fear, however, all ye Team Green faithful. The KX125 is back with plenty of upgrades, and ready to do battle.

The biggest downfall to last year's motor was in the low-end. The KX125's throttle response and initial hit wasn't the worst in the class, but it certainly begged for more. This year's motor rocks a healthy new bottom-end punch, and the engine continues to pull very well all the way through the powerband. The overall power is still not the strongest in the class, although not far off, but it is extremely smooth and controllable. Maintaining momentum on a 125 is the key to speed, and the KX does this possibly better than any other bike in the class.

Thanks largely in part to the addition of the new UNI-TRAK rear suspension system, the KX125 tracks superbly. Well-balanced and straight as an arrow, the Kawi soaks up breaking and acceleration chop like it's going out of style. High-speed cornering can be conquered with authority aboard the KX, and it likes low speed ruts equally as well. The Kayaba suspension is balanced well front and rear, and is perfectly suited for riders in the 150-165lbs. target range. The overall ride on the Kawasaki is plush and confidence-inspiring. Also improved over last year's steed is the KX's braking performance. Now utilizing Honda's direct line mounting system, both front and rear binders are powerful and full of control.

While not every rider chose the KX125 as their first choice, every rider did agree on the fact that the Kawi is very comfortable and easy to ride. Its light, easy to maneuver feel makes it among the easiest bikes to go fast on. The Kawasaki KX125 is as close to race ready as any other bike we've tested, and is no doubt competitive in all aspects of what makes up a top-notch motocrosser. Just ask Bubba!

TRANSWORLD MOTOCROSS 125cc MX BIKE OF THE YEAR

2004 SUZUKI RM125

The battle for the top prize and all the shootout glory came down to the very last laps during our final day of shootout testing. Like the RM250, we knew that the Suzuki RM125 was a special bike from the second we pulled it onto the track during our first impression bike test back in August. The RM125 has been a very good bike for the past several years, but really hasn't excelled unless in the hands of a very capable rider. The biggest complaint in '03 was that less aggressive riders found it a bit on the twitchy side. Put in the hands of an aggressive rider, however, and the RM was a great-handling bike.

For 2004, the Suzuki techs wanted to make their motorcycles “easier to ride faster,” which is exactly what they did. By making a few control changes at bikes to dial in and fine-tune. Among the Yamaha's best handling characteristics is its ability to track straight and remain extremely steady and stable in ruts. Cornering is a pleasure on the YZ thanks to its stability. The only negative feedback received about the YZ125 was in its handling at speed. A couple of our testers noted a twitchy feeling in the front end, as well as a bit of a stiff, almost dead feeling in the rear end.

Ergonomically speaking, the YZ125 has a very comfortable riding compartment, and all of the controls feel solid and well-positioned. The only adverse reaction we received from one of our testers regarding the YZ's fit was that it had a bit of a high feeling, making it difficult to get aggressively low in corners. We're sure, however, that with the right suspension set-up, the Yamaha YZ125 is every bit as capable of topping the charts in the 125 class.

SECOND PLACE

2004 KAWASAKI KX125

Despite having adopted some major changes in 2003, the KX125 finished in the middle of the pack in our very competitive '03 shootout. For 2004, thanks to the emergence of Kawasaki's new 250cc four-stroke, many believed that the KX125 would take the backseat. Never fear, however, all ye Team Green faithful. The KX125 is back with plenty of upgrades, and ready to do battle.

The biggest downfall to last year's motor was in the low-end. The KX125's throttle response and initial hit wasn't the worst in the class, but it certainly begged for more. This year's motor rocks a healthy new bottom-end punch, and the engine continues to pull very well all the way through the powerband. The overall power is still not the strongest in the class, although not far off, but it is extremely smooth and controllable. Maintaining momentum on a 125 is the key to speed, and the KX does this possibly better than any other bike in the class.

Thanks largely in part to the addition of the new UNI-TRAK rear suspension system, the KX125 tracks superbly. Well-balanced and straight as an arrow, the Kawi soaks up breaking and acceleration chop like it's going out of style. High-speed cornering can be conquered with authority aboard the KX, and it likes low speed ruts equally as well. The Kayaba suspension is balanced well front and rear, and is perfectly suited for riders in the 150-165lbs. target range. The overall ride on the Kawasaki is plush and confidence-inspiring. Also improved over last year's steed is the KX's braking performance. Now utilizing Honda's direct line mounting system, both front and rear binders are powerful and full of control.

While not every rider chose the KX125 as their first choice, every rider did agree on the fact that the Kawi is very comfortable and easy to ride. Its light, easy to maneuver feel makes it among the easiest bikes to go fast on. The Kawasaki KX125 is as close to race ready as any other bike we've tested, and is no doubt competitive in all aspects of what makes up a top-notch motocrosser. Just ask Bubba!

TRANSWORLD MOTOCROSS 125cc MX BIKE OF THE YEAR

2004 SUZUKI RM125

The battle for the top prize and all the shootout glory came down to the very last laps during our final day of shootout testing. Like the RM250, we knew that the Suzuki RM125 was a special bike from the second we pulled it onto the track during our first impression bike test back in August. The RM125 has been a very good bike for the past several years, but really hasn't excelled unless in the hands of a very capable rider. The biggest complaint in '03 was that less aggressive riders found it a bit on the twitchy side. Put in the hands of an aggressive rider, however, and the RM was a great-handling bike.

For 2004, the Suzuki techs wanted to make their motorcycles “easier to ride faster,” which is exactly what they did. By making a few control changes and lowering the seat by 10mm, the RM125 is now among the most comfortable bikes to hop on and spin fast laps. The most important improvement to the bike's new handling prowess, however, is a completely redesigned rear shock linkage system. The new linkage not only does an outstanding job of transferring power to the ground, but it has also vastly improved the bike's ability to track straight, steady, and smooth. With the new and improved rear-end action, the already plush handling front-end has also reaped great benefits. All in all, the RM125 is an awesome-handling bike!

Also in the handling category, the cornering ability of the RM125 is near flawless. Just like its big brother, the tiddler RM tracks through high-speed sweepers, deep loamy burms, and low-speed ruts like a champ. To round out the chassis package, the 2004 RM125 has been fitted with some outstanding brake improvements on both ends, making for well-balanced, powerful braking.

How about the motor you ask? The motor rips too! Although last year's ride had a solid motor package, Suzuki made some changes to the '04 power plant that have yielded significant improvements. How does it stack up to the likes of the YZ125 and KTM 125SX? We didn't add a drag race to our shootout this year, but we can tell you for sure that you will not be shortchanged on the RM. Power and torque are increased over last year's machine, particularly in the mid- to high-rpm range. Never fear, however, as the RM has a snappy hit off the bottom as well.

Lightweight, nimble and controllable, the Suzuki RM125 was simply easier to ride faster than any other bike. Although all of the bikes in the 2004 125cc shootout had individual characteristics that separated them from the rest, the 2004 RM125 did so in every department, making it our favorite overall 125cc package for 2004.

BRIAN MINTER

5'8″, 135 lbs., 15-years-old, Novice

Bikes recently raced/ridden: RM125 and RM250

Shootout Rankings:

1. Suzuki RM125 2. KTM 125SX 3. Kawasaki KX125 4. Yamaha YZ125 5. Honda CR125

JOSH “HATCHET” STICE

5'7″, 160lbs., 23-years-old, Intermediate

Bikes recently raced/ridden: CR125, CR250, and CRF450

Shootout Rankings:

1. Suzuki RM125 2. Kawasaki KX125 3. Yamaha YZ125 4. Honda CR125 5. KTM 125SX

SEAN O'CONNOR

5'11″, 165 lbs., 21-years-old, Professional

Bikes recently raced/ridden: CR250 and CRF450

Shootout Rankings:

1. Kawasaki KX125 2. Yamaha YZ125 3. Suzuki RM125 4. KTM 125SX 5. Honda CR125

RIDER IMPRESSIONS

BRIAN MINTER:

This was a pretty tough decision to make because all of these bikes work really well. I came to my final decision based on what bikes I felt offered the best overall package. This is exactly why I chose the RM125 first. In my eyes it shined in every category. The motor, although not the most powerful in the class, is solid and manageable. It's easy to use the entire powerband with little effort. It handles great, feels well-balanced, and turns awesome!

The KTM was a pretty close second, thanks mainly to its insane motor. Simply put, the motor kicks ass! It offers power all over the place and is easy to motor right out of any trouble. The ergos on this bike felt great and the overall handling is right in there. The only thing I experienced that kept the KTM from the top of my list was a bit of a loose feeling when at high speed. It felt a little bit loose in the front end at times. Overall though, the KTM is a really fun bike to ride and is more than capable of winning races.

In third came the Kawasaki KX125. The motor is not the most powerful in the class, but it is very smooth and easy to control. My favorite thing about the KX is how well it tracks straight and has a nice light feel to it. It stays in ruts really well and cuts through corners great. The ergonomics fit my body size awesome, which helped to make the KX very easy to maneuver.

The Yamaha is next on my list. The motor is extremely powerful, and is definitely its best asset. From the bottom to the top, the YZ motor is close to flawless. Overall, the suspension works pretty good, but I felt like the rear shock was too stiff for my weight, even after some adjustments. I had a hard time pinpointing the problem, but I never really felt that comfortable on the YZ. Perhaps it was simply a clash