Sherco is one of those sneaky companies that quietly stays just ahead of the curve. The 125SE has been around for years with a mix of old-school tradition and cutting-edge technology. Electric start? Got it. Electronic power valve? Got it. Multiple maps available on the fly? Hydraulic clutch? Got it, got it. On the other hand, the 125SE still has a carburetor and burns premix.
So, where exactly should a 125cc two-stroke off-road bike sit in the hierarchy of technology? This is a class where you expect simplicity and tradition to top the priority list. It’s a balancing act, and Sherco is a company that knows all about balance.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
To back up a little, Sherco started off as a Spanish maker of trials bikes, then built a fancy new factory in Nimes, France, to expand into the off-road world. They had immediate success in extreme enduro, and most Americans perked up when Cody Webb signed up with the Sherco FactoryONE team. The 125SE is very similar to the 300 two-stroke that Cody Webb rides in extreme enduros. It has a steel frame, KYB suspension and Brembo brakes. The motor has had an electronic power valve from the start. There’s no kick-starter and no place to put one. The battery is mounted so low in the chassis, it’s hard to find; check under the air filter. The carb is a 36mm Keihin PWK.
This isn’t our first experience with this bike, but it is the first time we have had a chance to ride one on U.S. soil. When the bike was first introduced in late 2017, Sherco invited us to test it in Italy. We loved it, but in the wildly unfamiliar environment over there, we had no idea how it would stack up to other 125s off-road bikes. Actually, “other” 125 off-road bikes were rare at the time. Beta and TM had them, but the KTM 125XC and Yamaha YZ125X were still years away. When they would appear, they would be decidedly more old-fashioned than the Sherco, with kick-starters and ball-ramp power valves. It took until last year for KTM to go more high-tech with its 125, while Yamaha still hasn’t.
Truthfully, you have to understand 125 off-road bikes in general before you have any hope of understanding the Sherco. Most riders see them as transition bikes; something to fill the gap for a young trader after he’s outgrown a Supermini. That’s a legit purpose for a 125, but the window is brief; in less than a year, most kids are ready to move on. Older riders can get much more use out of one. Here’s the profile: vets, seniors and other riders who might be “over it.” You get to a point where you don’t need a 60-horsepower reminder that you aren’t as strong and sharp as you once were. For experienced riders, a 125cc off-road bike is just the opposite of a big 450. It’s proof that you can ride a modern bike to its limit, that you can still ride hard and long, and that you might have a few years left on the clock.
SPIN IT UP
The first mental adjustment you have to make aboard the 125SE is to learn to relax a little. It’s okay to just have fun, and the Sherco is preposterously easy to ride. It starts with the push of a button and runs sweet and clean. You don’t have to deal with the demands of a big four-stroke; you don’t have to be in peak condition, you don’t get arm pump, and you don’t get scared. On top, the Sherco has just enough power to be entertaining and make you feel like you’re going somewhere. It’s not as fast as a full-fledged 125 motocross bike, but it has far more low-end torque and is much more forgiving.
We have a brand-new Yamaha YZ125X off-road bike for comparison, and the Sherco can hold its own against it. It has more low-end, a smoother transition and similar peak power. One area where the Yamaha has an advantage is weight. The Sherco weighs 226 pounds on our scale without fuel, which is about 20 pounds more than the Yamaha. Why such a difference? Most of it is in the electric starter. Beyond that, the Sherco is a very substantial-feeling bike. It feels long and tall. Until you start the motor, you could easily think it’s a Sherco 300. It uses the same bodywork, and the frame itself is barely different, primarily in the engine cradle area. Once the motor is running, the 125 takes on its own character. As we have pointed out many times, engine characteristics have as much to do with handling as anything in the chassis. The Sherco has such a mellow, benign power delivery that you feel like you can toss it around like a BMX bike. At speed, it’s just stable enough. It’s a great overall package in the handling department.
A few years back, only the premium edition of the Sherco 125SE came with KYB suspension. Now, all the models that make their way to the U.S. are in the “Factory” configuration, meaning they come with a closed-cartridge KYB fork and a few other extras. The suspension settings are proof that Sherco thinks of this bike as a product for older riders. It’s decidedly stiff. If a 120-pound kid were to ride it in stock form, he would barely get the suspension to move. Even a 180-pound vet will have to ride hard to get full travel. The good news is that KYB suspension components are like blades of grass in the off-road world—they’re everywhere. Finding a suspension tuner that can dial in the 125SE will be easy; it doesn’t have to be a Sherco specialist.
BITS AND PIECES
Beyond personal setup, this is a bike that needs very little else in the shopping cart. It comes with Polisport handguards, frame guards, a skid plate and an odometer. As delivered, the bike was a little rich, but we dropped the needle one position, and that was all it took. It does have an appetite for good gasoline; perhaps a 50/50 mix of pump gas and race fuel. We know that there are some riders who will be scared away by the prospect of ordering parts online from who knows where, but in truth, there’s nothing that exotic here. The U.S. aftermarket has already embraced Sherco. It comes stock with a Moto Tassinari reed, and companies like Wiseco have piston kits in stock. It even turns out that the same clutch plates will fit several earlier KTMs, Hondas and Husabergs. Premium-level parts come with the territory here—and you’re expected to pay a premium price. The Sherco sells for about $10,000. Is it worth it? That’s up to you. All we can say is, when given a choice between the 125SE and bikes that make twice as much power, most test riders who have ridden the Sherco will choose the Sherco.