GOODBYE, OLD FRIEND

GOODBYE, OLD FRIEND

Kawasaki Sends the KX125 Out to Pasture

By Donn Maeda

It was bound to happen, sooner or later. With the age of lightweight, super-fast 250cc four-strokes upon us, the days are numbered for the true 125cc-class machine. Though they are lighter and in some instances more maneuverable than their heavier valve-and-cam equipped rivals, 125cc two-strokes simply do not stack up in a class where power reigns supreme. Starting lines everywhere are filled with the thundering four-strokes, and even at the local level, 125s are becoming a rare site to see on a motocross track.

In 2006, Kawasaki will no longer offer its KX125 motocross bike for sale, bringing to an end the rich history of the machine that earned 19 Supercross and National Championships since being introduced in 1974. Throughout its lifetime, the KX125 enjoyed many ups and downs. Initially introduced with a rotary-valve motor, the KX125 was not highly competitive in its early years, but as the years progressed, so did the mean green machine. In the hands of a talented tuner like Dave Miller of DMC fame, the bike became a lethal weapon in the 80s. Mitch Payton and Pro Circuit took over as the KX125 wizards in the early 90s, racking up 11 of the bike’s championship titles.

Though the list of riders who won championships on the KX125 is impressive, so is the list of superstars who piloted the bikes at one point in their careers before going on to accomplish great things. Mike LaRocco, Kevin Windham, Damon Huffman, Jeff Emig and Jeremy McGrath are among the KX125 alumni…

After two years of shared technology with Suzuki on the KX250F/RM-Z250, the 2006 KX250F will feature an all-new aluminum chassis and motor updates proprietary to the Kawasaki model, and stand alone as the manufacturer’s sole entry in the 125cc race class. “Based on consumer, dealer and market demands and trends, Kawasaki will focus its efforts on producing the best possible four-stroke motorcycle for the 125cc class,” said Kawasaki’s Greg Lasiewski. “Efforts to build upon the racing success that the KX125 has attained will be our goal with the KX250F. This will allow our dealers and Team Green amateur-racing program to focus their efforts on the growing 250cc four-stroke motocross segment and provide our customers motorcycles with best-in-class performance.”

AH, THE MEMORIES

In remembrance of the KX125, we solicited comments from those who knew it best. Let’s start at the top. Ricky Carmichael piloted his KX125s to the only perfect 125cc Supercross Series in 1998 and three 125cc National Championships, which included 26 125cc National wins. “I was riding for Mitch Payton and Pro Circuit the whole time I was on 125s, so those bikes were really, really good,” remembers Carmichael. “In ’97 and ’98 they were especially good. My ’98 bike was amazing; that was the year I had a perfect season in East Coast Supercross. It was a great bike, but I do remember that the frame would always stretch really badly as it got older. The top engine hanger was mounted from the frame to the top of the cylinder head, so it would pull the studs out of the cylinder heads and all the radiator coolant would blow out of the motor. It would always do that in a big G-out with a big load or on the face of the triple. I got to a point where I could tell that it was fixing to go. Once we learned what was happening, we put some stronger studs in, and then that was kind of a band-aid, so then we just had to keep replacing the frames quite often. I remember my old mechanic Chad Watts used to tear that thing down between motos all the time. Cylinder off-the whole bit-just to make sure, you know?”

If there is anyone who knows how to make a Kawasaki KX125 scream, it’s Mitch Payton. After switching from Hondas to Kawasakis in 1993, the team went on to win six 125cc Supercross Championships and four 125cc National titles. “I think the KX125 is the winningest 125cc ever,” said Payton. “But now, Kawasaki is tting their efforts into the KX250F four-stroke and moving forward with that technology. We’re doing great things with the KX250F, too, but man, the KX125 was a great bike. We’ve had some great riders race that thing over the years, and it was always fun to see how much power we could squeeze out of it. Think about all of the top guys who rode that bike at one point in their careers! Kevin Windham, Jeremy McGrath, Jeff Emig…the list goes on and on. Probably the only top guy to never ride a KX125 was Jeff Stanton. Hell, even Sebastien Tortelli won a World Championship on a KX125.”

As the current leader of this year’s 125cc National Championship, Jim’s Cycles rider Mike Brown has made a successful switch to four-strokes, but he misses the hard-charging, high-revving riding style required to win on a 125cc two-stroke. “The KX125 was definitely the fastest 125cc that I ever rode,” said Brown with a big, fat smile on his face. “Mitch knew exactly how to build those things, and that’s who I rode for when I was on the Kawi. I am sure it was the best bike on the track at the time. If they’re not selling them anymore because of the four-stroke KX250F, than I guess it would just be a waste of money for the factory to keep making it. If you’re not on a four-stoke these days, you’re just going backwards.”

Kawasaki’s Race Team Manager Bruce Stjernstrom is sad to see the bike go, especially since James Stewart handily beat a field full of thumpers to win last year’s 125cc National Championship. “It was an awesome bike, and even the version that we have now is still a great bike, but people want four-strokes right now,” said Stjernstrom. “I think my fondest memory of the bike, though, is back in ’97 at Troy, OH. Mitch won’t like this one, but it was a great day for us. Damon Huffman was riding the bike for us, and RC was riding the bike for Mitch and Pro Circuit. Ricky was even leading the series and ended up winning the championship that year, but that day at Troy, Huffman passed Ricky in both motos and won the race. Damon was really going well that day, and it was a big surprise to everybody; even Damon, I think. Ricky got second and Emig won the 250cc class, so it was a good day for Kawasaki. Back in 1984, the KX125 was unreal. It didn’t have a powervalve that year-I think that came the next year in 1985-but that thing was so fast. It was like riding a 250cc in the 125cc class that year, and everybody had one. You’d go to the amateur races and 60% of the riders were on KXs. That was the year that Jeff Ward won the 125cc National championship, too.”

As the rider who brought Kawasaki its first 125cc National Championship in 1984, Jeff Ward agreed. “That bike was so fast that year,” he said. “I had some great battles that season with Johnny O’Mara, but I used to roll up to the starting line and know that I had the fastest bike out there. In the 125cc class power is everything, and my bike always had plenty.”

Until the perimiter frame was introduced in ’90, the liquid-cooled KX125s had a unique look with its single left-side-mounted radiator. Jeff “Chicken” Matiasevich was the last rider to earn a title on the single-radiator KX125, winning the Western Region 125cc Supercross title in ’89. “My bike was always badass,” said Chicken. “I think the KX125 was always one of the fastest 125s back then, in the 80s. So Kawasaki isn’t gonna sell that bike anymore? Dude, I think I am gonna need a tissue…”

Mike Kiedrowski won the 1991 125cc National Championship, dethroning Suzuki’s Guy Cooper, who did the same to him the year before. “Jim Felt was our motor man that year, and my bike was super trick with a lot of motor work done to it; special coatings on the cylinder and stuffed cranks and all that,” remembered Kiedrowski. “I always thought my bike ran great and I liked it, but I can remember that year after practice at Budds Creek, Mitch Payton rolled up to me and said, ‘Hey Mike, your bike is the slowest 125 on the track! You can see it plain as day!’ Oh well, I won a lot of races that year on it and ended up winning the National Championship, so it couldn’t have been that slow!”

James Stewart will be remembered for many things-his flamboyant riding style, the Bubba Scrub, his dominance of the 125cc class or even his dancing displays during the ’04 Supercross season-but he will likely go down in history as the last two-stroke 125cc-mounted 125cc National Champion. “My KX125 was always badass, and I never felt that I was at a disadvantage,” said Bubba. “But after I rode that KX250F at the last race at Glen Helen, I could see what the big deal about the four-strokes is. Every time I went to Red Bud on my KX125, Bruce Stjernstrom would always bring three or four extra frames because I used to case LaRocco’s Leap every time I tried to jump it (laughs). It was a good bike, though, and I won a lot of races on it. It’s funny, when I raced it I didn’t think I liked it as much, but now that it’s gone I actually miss it. It was a fun bike to throw around. I could put that thing anywhere.”

They say that all good things must come to an end, and for the Kawasaki KX125, 2006 spells the end of the road as far as the United States market is concerned. Though the bike will still be available in Canada, Europe and Japan for the time being, the day that the little green machine ceases to roll off Kawasaki’s production line in Akashi, Japan, is inevitable.

SIDEBAR

THE KAWASAKI KX125’s CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

2004 125cc National Championship James Stewart

2004 Eastern Region 125cc SX Championship James Stewart

2003 Western Region 125cc SX Championship James Stewart

2002 125cc National Championship James Stewart

2001 125cc National Championship Mike Brown

2000 Western Region 125cc SX Championship Shae Bentley

1999 125cc National Championship Ricky Carmichael

1999 Western Region 125cc SX Championship Nathan Ramsey

1998 125cc National Championship Ricky Carmichael

1998 Eastern Region 125cc SX Championship Ricky Carmichael

1997 125cc National Championship Ricky Carmichael

1996 125cc World Championship Sebsatien Tortelli

1996 Eastern Region 125cc SX Championship Mickael Pichon

1995 Eastern Region 125cc SX Championship Mickael Pichon

1993 Western Region 125cc SX Championship Jimmy Gaddis

1991 125cc National Championship Mike Kiedrowski

1989 Western Region 125cc SX Championship Jeff Matiasevich

1986 Western Region 125cc SX Championship Donny Schmit

1985 Eastern Region 125cc SX Championship Eddie Warren

1984 125cc National Championship Jeff Ward

an see it plain as day!’ Oh well, I won a lot of races that year on it and ended up winning the National Championship, so it couldn’t have been that slow!”

James Stewart will be remembered for many things-his flamboyant riding style, the Bubba Scrub, his dominance of the 125cc class or even his dancing displays during the ’04 Supercross season-but he will likely go down in history as the last two-stroke 125cc-mounted 125cc National Champion. “My KX125 was always badass, and I never felt that I was at a disadvantage,” said Bubba. “But after I rode that KX250F at the last race at Glen Helen, I could see what the big deal about the four-strokes is. Every time I went to Red Bud on my KX125, Bruce Stjernstrom would always bring three or four extra frames because I used to case LaRocco’s Leap every time I tried to jump it (laughs). It was a good bike, though, and I won a lot of races on it. It’s funny, when I raced it I didn’t think I liked it as much, but now that it’s gone I actually miss it. It was a fun bike to throw around. I could put that thing anywhere.”

They say that all good things must come to an end, and for the Kawasaki KX125, 2006 spells the end of the road as far as the United States market is concerned. Though the bike will still be available in Canada, Europe and Japan for the time being, the day that the little green machine ceases to roll off Kawasaki’s production line in Akashi, Japan, is inevitable.

SIDEBAR

THE KAWASAKI KX125’s CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

2004 125cc National Championship James Stewart

2004 Eastern Region 125cc SX Championship James Stewart

2003 Western Region 125cc SX Championship James Stewart

2002 125cc National Championship James Stewart

2001 125cc National Championship Mike Brown

2000 Western Region 125cc SX Championship Shae Bentley

1999 125cc National Championship Ricky Carmichael

1999 Western Region 125cc SX Championship Nathan Ramsey

1998 125cc National Championship Ricky Carmichael

1998 Eastern Region 125cc SX Championship Ricky Carmichael

1997 125cc National Championship Ricky Carmichael

1996 125cc World Championship Sebsatien Tortelli

1996 Eastern Region 125cc SX Championship Mickael Pichon

1995 Eastern Region 125cc SX Championship Mickael Pichon

1993 Western Region 125cc SX Championship Jimmy Gaddis

1991 125cc National Championship Mike Kiedrowski

1989 Western Region 125cc SX Championship Jeff Matiasevich

1986 Western Region 125cc SX Championship Donny Schmit

1985 Eastern Region 125cc SX Championship Eddie Warren

1984 125cc National Championship Jeff Ward