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Memorable Motorcycle Honda XL 125

Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Memorable Motorcycles - Honda XL 125
Cranking out 13 hp, the Honda XL 125 was a reliable mountain mount for Afghan fighters.
I was discussing this article with my Collie bitch, Meg. I should explain that Meg is not so much a dog - a term she vehemently resents - but more of a furry person. To be fair, she is very knowledgeable about motorcycles in general and classic bikes in particular. But, as will be seen, even a Collie with a brain the size of a small planet can mis-understand an iconic motorcycle.

Meg’s point of view was, in some ways, justified. What, she argued, was particularly memorable about a low powered, low specification and quite unexciting 125cc trail bike with limited off-road performance and none too sparkling on road skills either.

This just goes to show how little Collie bitches integrate the history of motorcycling into the seismic shift which the geo-political paradigm underwent following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Mujahideen Fighter
"The boys with the beards wanted to cover 90 miles in a day carrying a bag of flour, an AK-47 and, if you were a lucky little fighter, 28 lbs of Raytheon Stinger missile provided by your friendly local CIA agent. What you wanted was the XL 125."
Those readers with a keen interest in the rise of Muslim militancy will, I feel absolutely sure, remember that the Russians moved troops into Afghanistan in 1979. This was not so much an invasion but rather a military support of the unpopular, and ineffective, puppet regime of President Taraki. In fact, it was an exact clone of America’s disastrous foray into Vietnam for a series of identically hubristic aims.

The Russian invasion pitted a poorly armed, and apparently badly led, Mujahideen militia against a spankingly well organized, highly sophisticated and ultra high-tech Soviet army. Suddenly, running round a mountain side with a Second World War Lee-Enfield .303 rifle and shouting obscene threats did not seem to be the smartest thing in the world when your adversary was flying a state-of-the-art helicopter gunship armed with a rather impressive array of missiles and cannon.

The odds were evened somewhat thanks to the outstandingly naive efforts of the CIA who thoughtfully provided tens of millions of dollars in cash support - plus several very large warehouses full of nice, shiny things which went bang - to the Mujahideen in the hope that they would drive the pesky Russians out of Afghanistan, return the unused weaponry to the CIA, and then settle down to a nice, peaceful existence as goat herders.

Memorable Motorcycles - Honda XL 125
The durability of the Honda XL 125 ensured its long use even under rigid punishment.
So far so good. Our good friends the Mujahideen - later to be re-branded the Taliban and presently the sworn enemy of all us nice, peace loving folk in the West - now had the hardware to do severe damage to the Soviets but lacked a method of getting around Afghanistan’s mountains and deserts. What the boys with the beards needed was a light, simple, stone-axe reliable, all terrain vehicle which used virtually no fuel - there being a slight shortage of 24-hour gas stations in the Hindu Kush. What they needed was the Honda XL125!

The power plant of the XL 125 is part of the bloodline of one of Honda's greatest ever designs. The forefather of all the XLs was a 100cc powerplant, which first saw the light of day in 1970. It is a thing of intense mechanical beauty in that it does its job so wonderfully well. The air-cooled, SOHC, two-valve engine makes the Rocky Mountains look like a temporary fixture in terms of its utter, total and complete reliability. Change the oil regularly, and the beautiful powerplant will run to the end of time - and then some.

Maintenance in the mountains could be done by any mechanically adept Mujahideen using a handy rock and a spent cartridge case: demanding the XL was not.

Although the bike is no 600cc super slogger when it comes to pulling power, the tiny motor knocks out a very respectable 13 hp and will buzz up the side of a cliff - even in the rarefied atmosphere of Afghanistan.

Memorable Motorcycles - Honda XL 125
The small XL 125 motor was the indestructible heart of a sturdy design.
Put anything vaguely combustible in the XL’s fuel tank and it will run - no Hi-Test exotica for this workhorse. Drop it down a ravine, drown it, bury it under an avalanche and two kicks later it will be purring as sweet as a kitten.

The transmission is built in the same planetary scales of reliability as the engine. It is completely and utterly impossible to break an XL transmission, or clutch, and both will take the most horrendous punishment without a murmur of discontent.

Moving on to the chassis and there is another Golden Gate bridge construction. If you break an XL frame in an accident then for sure you, and St. Peter, will be sharing the same bit of heaven looking down at the crash which killed you.

In fact, everything works just fine on the XL, from the suspension to the brakes and on to the incredibly frugal 80 mpg fuel consumption. And thereby lays the problem.

By 1980, we fussy Westerners wanted more than a bike which was reliable, started easily and could be ridden by anyone after three minutes tuition. What we wanted was a motorcycle which would pull wheelies in third gear. What we wanted was an off-road machine which gave three times the power of the XL and weighed the same. We wanted trick suspension and the ability to hang the back-end out just balancing the slide on the throttle. We wanted a KTM or Maico or, best of all, a works replica SWM. We were the Arai wearing dudes and we wanted off-road bling.
Memorable Motorcycles - Honda XL 125
"By 1980, we fussy Westerners wanted more than a bike which was reliable, started easily and could be ridden by anyone after three minutes tuition."

By contrast, on the other side of the world, customers wanted to cover 90 miles in a day carrying a bag of flour, an AK-47 and, if you were a lucky little fighter, 28 lbs of Raytheon Stinger missile provided by your friendly local CIA agent. What you wanted was the XL 125.

Sadly, if you watch the news bulletins as closely as I do, you will not find XLs much in use today. They have been replaced by Toyota Hi-Lux pickups for the heavy duty military duties, and I hope that the Taliban are deeply ashamed of this, cheap Chinese copies of the XL for day work in the mountains. Guerrilla fighters these days simply have no style!

Memorable Motorcycles - Honda XL 125
The venerable Honda XL 125 was as capable on the road as off.
Today, the little XLs are one of the great classic bike bargains. Even assuming that you do not want to nip out to the woods on a Sunday with a ground to air missile strapped to your back - and that’s no criticism of readers in Montana - the XL is still a wonderfully willing little workhorse which is surprisingly competent off-road, providing the gearing is lowered slightly. It is also a wonderfully inoffensive motorcycle, making less noise than a well-muted lawnmower, so you can creep along in near silence simply enjoying the ride.

On the tarmac, the XL is equally delightful. At 50 mph, it makes virtually no more noise than an electric scooter and, at these modest speeds, the handling and brakes are fine.

The last piece of good news is that, at present, even nice early XLs can be bought for two balloons and half a box of candy. Just ask around your neighborhood and they will be there. However, as the delights of the XLs are being discovered, the prices are starting to stiffen so buy cheap now - or spend considerably more in the coming years.
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BonefishB   October 8, 2014 10:22 AM
I bought a 1974 Honda XL out of a shed, I took it to a shop for it to be gone over new tires and brakes if needed. They tell me it must have a battery to run, is that true. I would have thought it would have had a simpe magnito ignition, they tell me is is a high end coil ignition. Am I getting straight scoop??
Isabel   March 3, 2013 07:45 AM
Hi, I am looking to buy a Honda XL 125 in excellent condition (latest model,series) in South Africa or East Africa.
johnjohn   November 13, 2012 10:19 AM
I had a Honda XL125S from 1983 to 1985. It had 6 Volt electrics which meant the lights dimmed and the indicators stopped on tick-over! It also had a gearbox which jammed when changing down to 2nd or 1st. I hated it! I px'd it for a Suzuki DR125S, a bike which I loved. It had 12 Volt electrics and a delightful gearbox. The only downside was going down from 16bhp to 12bhp as the law had been changed limiting 125cc bikes to 12bhp. I drove the Suzuki DR125S from 1985 to 1992.
jose leonardo chirino -honda xl 125  January 8, 2011 02:07 PM
saludos desde venezuela tengo una moto honda xl 125 me interesaria si tine repuestos
Humberto -XL 125  November 8, 2010 05:44 AM
Hola Frank, te cuento que tengo un Xl 125S modelo 85 caja 6ta, las nuevas generaciones me preguntan que si es un modelo nuevo de la honda, personas que tienen menos de 25 años me preguntan el modelo, y se sorprenden al ver que tiene 25 años y esta en perfectas condiciones, realmente esta es una de las mejores motos de la honda si no es la mejor en su estilo no la cambio por una moto nueva, un vecino me comento yo tube una de las suyas y cometi el error de vendarla y compre una brasilera por que era un modelo mas nuevo pero no estoy arrepentido, no vende la suya? no señor no la vendo
Marc -Honda xl125  August 9, 2010 05:35 PM
I have a 1979 honda xl125 WHITE its in pretty good shape.I am wondering what years or what model are compatable so ican buy one for parts can anyone help me with that please ??? love the bike start right up first crank.Pay 500$ worth every $ i payed love it
Shane D -XL125  May 20, 2010 12:10 AM
Great little bike, im on my second XL125, to use as a commuter, ive had another 125, with a 185 motor in it, also its big brother the XL500S, and i now i have a 1979 XR500 wich is just an animal, but i still use the 1987 xl 125 for work, it now has 16000km on and still going strong,
this artical is brilliant, just makes me want to keep mine more.
Rolete -The enthusiast  May 5, 2010 03:18 AM
I need help on how to rewind my Stator for XL 125, like what wire to use, what resistance or turns is the standard? and a wiring diagram for XL 125.. if you know a solution please share it with me 'cause I need it badly.. tanx in advance...
fabio -my first my last  March 22, 2010 02:11 PM
it was my first bike 25 years ago now it's time for me to buy back... in a few days she will be mine fabio milano italia
Jobie Inooya -XL 125 1976 Arctic Nunavut  January 7, 2010 03:09 AM
I had an XL 125 in 1976 up in the high Arctic and I took it everywhere, it could handle the very cold and knee high water very durable bike.
Dave -My XL's  January 6, 2010 08:22 AM
I started out on a 1974 XL100 - orange. My next bike was a brand new 1980 XL125S - red. I got that licensed at 16 years old and road it for 3-years and 12,000 miles before selling. I had to replace the stator that vibrated loose inside the case, and yes I also had a cracked frame which had to be welded a couple times.

It was a very good bike and would do 65 mph. I put regular auto motor oil in it but never thought about the mileage.
Majid Shali -it's the best or the Beast  January 5, 2010 02:50 PM
I'd a Honda XL 125, model 1983
I had good events with that...
dee in tennessee -iron horse maiden  December 21, 2009 09:16 PM
enlightning article as it unfolds a previously unknown 'personality' of my new baby-I already had come to find she, as did I ,liked it rough.
as to the bike - nice engine, will run forever. 35 years ago I was 12 and had a 72 cl125 and now after all this time just last week got a 84 xl125s-25 yrs old, original motor, trans, etc. and it'll eat rug while the front's getting a better look at your face and that's with a confederate flag skull cap on-have yet to try hopped up with turbin on-have to get back on that -at 50ish, the youngest I've felt in awhile was the other day when the front was up a bit too much and thought for a moment I was going to lose it and there for a brief bit I was young again (maybe just because I was being stupid) and it was good for the soul-
merry Christmas & keep on rockin' in a free world
if anybody knows where to find a side cover or an ever popular 6v headlamp or anything I'd appreciate a holler

Gary -XL100s  October 20, 2009 09:02 AM
I bought a brand new one in 1979 in white, what a bike, i was only 14 and learned to ride on it. In august 1980 i had to sell the XL to make way for a TS50ER so i could get on the road at 16.
I have triad to find the bike i bought but no luck.
Last weekend (18th Oct 2009) i found a complete xl100s (but in red not white) and bought it. the bike is completely original down to the keys and has all its mots and sevice history.
I can wait to get her home and get the bike running
Mixermack -1977 CT 125 Trail  September 20, 2009 06:12 PM
I just bought a ct 125 trial for $500. Same as XL but has a rack & one big seat. Was imported one year to the usa. Marketed to Australia & New Zealand. Has the TL transmission also.
callum -howsmutch  September 4, 2009 08:29 AM
the Honda xl 125 how mutch would it cost to buy one in good condition if you know could yo eamail me callummatt@hotmail.co.uk

thanks x

Tim -XL 125  August 10, 2009 03:05 PM
Great article! Brings back memories! My first bike was a 1977 XL 125 purchased used at the school lunch table for $125. Bought with a broken clutch cable that I am sorry to say was never fixed. Of course all of the signals were supplied in a plastic milk crate as the weight reduction would help our top speed! My buddies and I rode that bike constantly, just rev it up a little and hit the shifter and your off, no clutch needed. Absolutely bullet proof!
unclewill -CRF230L  July 22, 2009 09:21 AM
Honda makes a modern version of this bike - the CRF230L.
mike gifford -biker fan  July 15, 2009 03:27 PM
these bikes are freaking sick especially the yellow atv
Robb -XL 125S  July 15, 2009 01:33 AM
Great article, first bike I owned was a fantastic XL 125. Had 20,000 kilometers of fun on it learning to ride. My dream bike at the time was another Honda an XR 200R. To keep up with my riding buddies that had the 200's I really had to push the XL along. It withstood the Saturday & Sunday Thrashings really well. In between off road riding it double up as my weekly commuter. Great bike, great fun.
Jim -In China  July 12, 2009 09:50 PM
Millions of motorcycles with copies of that engine are still produced in China. I can't cross a street here without nearly being hit by one.
Nick -xl 125  July 8, 2009 01:30 AM
Interesting and well-written. The very first bike I rode was a friend's XL 100. Now I want an XL 125.
Buckaroo -Honda singles  July 7, 2009 09:23 AM
I grew up on an SL100. I rode it to school, strafed the local twisties, rode fireroads into the backcounty, and raced MX and desert on it (putting the lights back on to ride it to school the next day). Indestructible is an understatement for Honda's little singles. $416 out the door in 1970. The green was were the quickest.