2006 HONDA CR125 TEST
The fate of the 125cc two-stroke has everyone in the motorcycle industry in a conundrum. While they are committed to continue producing 250 two-strokes, largely because unit sales are larger and the machines are still competitive in the AMA 250 Supercross series, the 125 two-stroke isn’t so secure. The ax fell on the Kawasaki KX125 this year, and the nervous Nellies are anxiously looking around to see who might be next on the chopping block.
So who is sitting under Damocles’ sword? We aren’t telling tales out of school to say that the Honda CR125 is a prime suspect. What makes us jump to this supposition? Three things: (1) According to industry reports, CR125 sales have dropped 40 percent since 2003. There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to producing poorly selling motorcycles. (2) The CR125 is no longer being promoted by Honda’s in-house race team or any of its satellite teams. (3) The 2006 Honda CR125 is unchanged from the 2005 CR125.
It’s no secret that it is a four-stroke world right now. The four-stroke faithful will forgive Honda for saving up their R&D dollars to use on the CRF250that bike is their bread and butter. Additionally, Honda made a healthy enough list of changes to the 2005 CR125 that the bike wouldn’t really be in line for another round of mods for a couple more seasons.
Which leads the MXA wrecking crew to the test of the 2006 Honda CR125.
Q: WHAT IS NEW ABOUT THE NEW CR125?
A: The tank decal.
Q: IS THE 2006 CR125 FASTER THAN THE 2005 CR125?
A: No. Why not? The 2006 CR125 engine is a carbon copy of the 2005 CR125 engine.
Q: IS THE 2006 CR125 ENGINE COMPETITIVE?
A: Yes and no. Thanks to last year’s improvements, which included an all-new cylinder, revised porting, keystone ring-equipped piston, rotary flap power valve, six-petal reed cage, lower compression ratio (8.6:1) and reconfigured exhaust system, the 2006 CR125 is competitivewith a caveat.
Q: WHAT IS THE CAVEAT?
A: The CR125 powerband is not easy to use. It is short and punchy. It requires the rider to use the five-speed transmission for all it’s worth (we preferred the old six-speed tranny). To be successful against other 125 two-strokes, you have to slam the bike from gear to gear to take advantage of the relatively short mid-and-up powerband. You’ll work for every iota of speed.
Is it competitive? Yes, but only against other 125 two-strokes (and you get that competitiveness through hard work). No, it is not competitive against 250 four-strokes, because the powerband is too short, too punchy and too hard to utilize in the places where a four-stroke is just cruising.
Q: WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP THE POWERBAND?
A: Gear it down. With the stock gearing, the 2006 CR125 struggles to make the jump from second to third. If you flub it, you fall off the pipe. What’s the quick fix? Replace the 52-tooth rear sprocket with a 53. Test riders who hated the 2006 CR125 with the 52 loved it with the 53.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE STOCK JETTING?
A: CR125 jetting has been a mystery to us for a decade. The 2006 is no different. It is very confused. We went to a 440 mainjet, a 27-67 needle (in the third position) and a 50 pilot. As a final step, carefully adjust the air screw whenever the temperature changes. We normally set the airscrew at 1.75 turns out. These settings are baseline for our sea-level SoCal race tracks.
Q: HOW GOOD IS THE KAYABA SUSPENSION?
A: Very good, but very old. The 2006 CR125 uses the same suspension components as the 2005 model, which coincidentally was unchanged from the 2004 version. Normally, trying to skate by with three-year-old suspension specs would be the kiss of death to a new motorcycle. Not so with the 2006 CR125.
The MXA wrecking crew loved the CR125 suspension in 2004, and we still love it today. Don’t get us wrong; there are better suspension components on the market (in the same span of time, the Yamaha YZ125 has gone from 46mm to 48mm tubes and from bumper forks to AOSS forks to SSS forks). Honda is losing ground, but they aren’t to the critical point by any means.
Forks: We left them alone. They come standard with 0.44 kg/mm fork springs and good valving. Set the compression on 14 out and the rebound on ten out.
Shock: Just like with the forks, Honda didn’t mess with a good thing. The spring rate is 4.7 kg/mm. Our best setting was with the low-speed compression on ten out, the high-speed compression at two turns out, and the rebound on 12 out. We set the sag at 100mm, although you could run it as low as 105mm if you feel the bike is riding high in the rear.
Q:HOW DOES THE CR125 HANDLE?
A: Write this down for posterity: If the 2006 Honda CR125 had a broad, easy-to-use and powerful engine, it would win every 125 shootout. This is a sweet machine. It feels light, goes where you aim it and doesn’t exhibit a single bad habit.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Confidence: One of the problems with a company sitting pat on a product is that it doesn’t engender consumer confidence. When Kawasaki dropped the KX125 for the 2006 model year, they also lost the support of any 125 two-stroke rider who might have bought a Kawasaki. Honda, to its credit, didn’t desert its customers, but they didn’t entice them either.
(2) Grips: Honda’s grips last forever. They will shred your hands before they wear out.
(3) Gearing: Gear it down or be prepared to burn up clutch plates.
(4) Tires: We commend Honda for mounting a Dunlop 742/756 tire combination, but we’d like to see the 742 replaced with a 739 or 756 front tire.
(6) Powerband: It makes competitive power, but not over a wide enough range.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Ergonomics: You just feel good sitting in the CR125. The Renthal handlebars are in the right spot, as are the footpegs.
(2) Components: The frame is great, the clutch flawless, the front brake awe-inspiring, the swingarm a piece of art and the hubs light beyond belief.
(3) Reliability: The CR125 is built Honda tough. Good parts, excellent quality control and no shortcuts.
(4) Suspension: It’s an oldie but a goodie.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: Unrequited love! This is a love affair that will never be. There is so much promise surrounding the CR125 that we will always wonder what could have been if only the engine had been better.