The latest Honda CB125R roadster has the big bike looks – and all the fun of a 125!
One of the great ironies of humanity is that when you’re young, you can’t wait to get older. But when you get old, you’d give anything to be young again.
Teenagers are gagging to get into pubs and nightclubs as soon as they look vaguely 18, and the delights of driving a car, deciding how much mess is acceptable on your bedroom floor, and being able to surf as much internet grot as you fancy, all seems like a dream existence.
Of course, when you hit 35, and are besieged by woes about money, nasty bosses, creaking bones and keeping your dat ofspring in check, being 15 again seems like an awesome prospect. It’s a similar deal with bikes.
Small-bore novice machines try their hardest to look just like their big brothers, in order to bask in the undoubted coolness of a lagship model. The new Honda CB125R has certainly managed that.
If you have seen it at any of the recent bike shows, you may even have confused it with its 300 or even 1000cc big brothers. Honda’s come out with a whole new ‘design language’ on these three bikes – the Honda CB125R, CB300R and CB1000R.
Dubbed Neo Sports Café (NSC), it’s a look the big H has been toying with for a good few years now – with a number of concept bikes using the theme. A large, round LED headlight, high-quality brushed alloy bodywork sections, mature, classy colour schemes – all wrapped round a keep-it-simple engine and naked roadster chassis recipe.
We’re in Lisbon to ride the new Honda CB125R, with what should be lovely spring weather, but is turning out to be an Atlantic gutbuster of a storm. Lisbon is a great city, but it’s right on the edge of the ocean, and the wind’s passed over a few thousand miles of nothing but sea since it let the US coast.
Indeed, our irst evening ride is cancelled due to the lashing rain, but next morning, we get our waterproofs on, and just go for it.
The Honda CB125R’s big-bike looks catch me out in the hotel car park straight away – as I almost put my gloves down on one of the outriders’ CB650Fs, erk. I catch myself just in time, hop onto an ice-white 125, and get set.
The grown-up feel continues, with a decent seat height, high-quality handlebars and a neat LCD dashboard, with a clear layout. I’m sad not to find a span-adjustable front brake lever though – my stumpy digits always prefer a shorter reach.
No matter. The little engine coughs into life instantly, and the first chinks in the big-bike appearance start to show. The exhaust has been specially designed to encase the rider in an aural bubble of cool sound, and does that well.
But there’s no mistaking the low-power note of a 13bhp motor. Or the low-power, er, power, of a 13bhp motor. Of course, for old dufers like me, who are used to riding 150bhp+ monsters, it’s a bit of a shock to have a tenth of that.
I’m not that bothered to start with though. The slick cobbled streets of Lisbon, soaked in rain, are no place for 200bhp this morning, and neither is my sleepy mind. I’m adapting to the little bike quick-fast though, and the first impressions are good.
The motor feels like a proper mini-roadster lump, with a decent, natural-feeling torque curve all the way through. Some 125s from the past have been a real mess in terms of power delivery, with gaping holes in the midrange, or sudden sharp cut-ofs at the top end, but this feels like a normal middleweight motor (albeit 50-odd bhp lower down the scale.)
The fuelling is fine too, although I’m not spending much time at part-throttle while trying to keep up with the guide rider’s Africa Twin…
Firmly In Control
The chassis is even better. Round town, the good brakes, smart ABS, commanding riding position and direct front end feel combine to put you right in control. Negotiating a couple of soaked roundabouts for pics, my heart was in my mouth once or twice as the (quite decent) Dunlop rubber finally let go. Crashing a 125 wouldn’t earn me many cool points in front of my peers today.
But where a cheaper, less sophisticated chassis setup of yesteryear would leave you in the dark, I felt like I knew what was going on at the tyres here, and was in a position to take charge.
The balance is excellent, with weight carried low, and it’s easy to keep your feet up for ages when you stop at red lights. he poise at walking pace is tremendous too, and combined with the narrow proile that lets you whizz through really skinny gaps, it’s a proper urban champ.
Once we make it out of Lisbon city centre and head towards the tourist town of Cascais, the engine is less appealing, but the chassis takes over. On some faster sweeping A-roads, the CB feels more than up to an extra 30bhp, but the motor is feeling the pressure.
The dichotomy is even sharper when we get into the hills around Sintra – uphill, the Honda CB125R engine wheezes a little, but on the other side, you can charge downhill with gay abandon. The extra thrust imparted by gravity widens the grin under my Shark lid, and I have a real fun dice with a very nice Swiss journalist, eking out every last rev from the motor.
Frugal & Fun
We shouldn’t be too surprised at the strong chassis performance right enough – since the frame and forks are shared with the CB300R, which has more than twice the power of the Honda CB125R. Cunning design means Honda’s been able to it both the 125 and 300 engines into the same housing, without too much in the way of compromise.
That, together with good tyres (Dunlop GPR-300s) in good sizes (110/70 17 F and 150/60 17 R) has made the little Honda CB125R good fun in the bends.
After lunch, we hot-foot it back to Lisbon and the hotel. We take in some motorways along the route, and I discover that you’ll be able to keep up with traic on dual-carriageways. What’s even more impressive is the fuel consumption though. Despite almost constant thrashing all day, the little CB is showing over 100mpg on the dash. Good stuf.
The day’s over, and it’s time for a beer now. Luckily, I’ve got no problems getting served at the hotel bar. Would I like to be 17 again, struggling to get into pubs and clubs, and wishing I had my own place? For sure – especially if I could have one of these little Honda CB125R s to ride…
Honda CB125R Specification
Engine: Single cylinder, SOHC 2V, liquid cooled, 124.7cc
Power: 13.1bhp @ 10,000rpm
Torque: 7.4lb-ft @ 8,000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, chain drive
Frame: Steel tube trellis
Front suspension: 41mm Showa USD forks
Rear suspension: Monoshock
Brakes: Single 296mm wave disc, four-piston Nissin caliper (front), 220mm disc, single-piston Nissin caliper (rear), IMU-assisted ABS
Wheels/tyres: Aluminium/Dunlop GPR-300, 110/70 17 front, 150/60 17 rear
Seat height: 816mm
Wet weight: 126kg
Fuel capacity: 10.1 litres