As soon as I cracked open the door of the van, the shrill sounds of screaming motorcycles slammed into my eardrums. As a group of 125cc 2-strokes flew over a step-up in a flash, I couldn’t help but smile at the sweet sights and sounds. Soon after, a pack of 4-strokes raged by like an impending comet, pounding the earth into powdery submission.
And then it hit me. If there were such a thing as Motorcycle Protection Agency, the 125cc motocrossers we were testing would be on its list of endangered species.
Plain and simple, 2-stokes have a limited time left here on this planet, probably no more than five years if we’re lucky. I started to think about their allure and why so many riders still can not even ponder the thought of giving up their 2-stroke pre-mix for 4-stroke valve springs. Their instantaneous power delivery, incredibly high power-to-weight ratios, and ease of maintenance have made 2-strokes the choice of champions for nearly three decades. And you certainly can’t forget that incredible smell of race gas and good bean oil in the morning.
As a single tear nearly welled up in my eye, I looked to the left and saw something that brought my smile back a quintet of manufacturer’s box vans and their latest 125cc motocrossers ready to be wrung-out and tested. Not one to waste time or dwell on the negative, I glanced over at our crew of young, drooling test riders, gave them the “suit up” signal, and MCUSA’s 2003 125cc MX Shootout was on.
Testing would take place at two Southern California tracks: Lake Elsinore Motocross Park, which is a fairly jump-filled, hard-packed track; and at Racetown 395, which has a slightly longer, loamier track that also has its fair share of jumps. Our test crew consisted of 125cc Intermediates Sean Borkenhagen and Dennis Ewing, Pro rider Justin Mace, and the author, a Vet Novice.
The combatants in the test were the usual suspects in the 125cc wars the Honda CR125, Kawasaki KX125, KTM 125SX, Suzuki RM125, and the Yamaha YZ125. Each bike was tested in stock condition, although the Suzuki and Honda were fitted with aluminum handlebars. The Suzuki, Yamaha, and Kawasaki come stock with Dunlop’s D739 intermediate tires front and rear, the Honda is fitted with venerable K490/695IT Dunlop set-up, and the KTM has Bridgestone’s M401/M402 intermediate combination.
Light weight is critical for a 125cc MXer, so we rolled each of them (minus fuel) onto our new Intercomp digital scales we acquired from our friends at White Brothers. The Kawasaki KX125 is actually the lightest bike at an even 200 pounds, which surprised a few of the factory technicians on hand who had seen a KX weigh in at a few more pounds at another shootout. However, a few dismissed the oddity and blamed it on the production tolerances in the tires and tubes. The aluminum-framed Honda came next at 202 pounds, while the YZ125 measured out at 205. The KTM and Suzuki, both at 207 pounds, shared the distinction of weighing the most.
Everyone would agree that time on the track is preferable to time in the pits, so we limited the amount of adjustments the factory technicians could make to the bikes. Riders were allowed to make suspension damping and rear sag adjustments, but no spring changes were made at the track. Riders over 165 pounds and/or faster riders would, of course, benefit from stiffer front and rear springs in some cases. Carburetor jetting was changed as needed and noted later in the text.