It wasn't too long ago that beginners, pre-teens, women, and/or shorter riders (or any combination of these traits) didn't have a whole lot of options when it came to off-road motorcycles. Let's face it, two-stroke 80s or 125s didn't fit the criteria due to their taller seat heights (especially 125s) and hard-hitting, non-beginner-friendly power deliveries. These types of riders want and demand bikes with lower seat heights, light weight, user-friendly 4-stroke power, supple suspension and easy starting manners. For a long while there, the only options were Honda's XR100 or 200, or perhaps Yamaha's now-discontinued RT100 or 180 2-strokes.
My, how things have changed for the better. For 2003, each of the Japanese manufactures now has a bike or two to fit right into this popular niche in the market.
A few years ago Yamaha not only saw the popularity of Honda's XR100 with beginners and smaller women, but also noticed the huge following the bikes had with backyard motoheads who were hopping them up with frame, suspension and motor modifications and racing the daylights out of them. That's when they upped the ante in the market by introducing the TT-R125 and TT-R125L. The TT-R125 was introduced as direct competition for the Honda XR100 with the same low seat height of 30.5 inches and a 14/16-inch wheel combination. The TT-R125L is designed for slightly larger riders (and backyard, adult motoheads) and features a front disc brake, a larger 17/19-inch wheel combination and, consequently a taller seat height of nearly 32 inches. For 2003, Yamaha has added the TT-R125LE, which has electric start and a few other goodies. We decided to test out the newest incarnation, the electric-start TT-R125LE.
Suzuki and Kawasaki, who now share many models with differently colored bodywork and graphics, couldn't just sit there and let the other manufactures have all the fun (and money) so they released the DR-Z125/DR-Z125L and the KLX125/KLX125L, respectively. Like the Yamahas, the standard DR-Z and KLX 125s come stock with 14/16-inch wheels and a 30.5-inch seat height, while the DR-Z and KLX 125Ls come with the 17/19-inch wheels and a 32-inch seat height. Since they are the same bikes in different colors and Kawasaki had a KLX125L ready at the warehouse, we utilized the Kawi for the comparison.
Leave it to Honda to take it all one step further in the class with the introduction of the CRF150F. Borrowing the namesake and styling from its older brother the CRF450, the CRF150 now fills the void between the XR100 and the newly-designed CRF230 (which replaced the venerable XR200). The 156.8cc 4-stroke comes with the 17/19-inch wheel combo, a front disc brake and a 32.5-inch seat height.
This trio of bikes were tested in numerous riding areas including Hungry Valley SVRA, trails near Barstow, California, and the Lake Elsinore Motocross Park. The main test riders included the author (195-pound gorilla, intermediate MX), Kim Fong (shorter woman, intermediate), Marck Bailey (13-years-old, intermediate MX), Andee Hill (woman, beginner), and several other riders of different ability levels and weights.