This year the Yamaha YZ125 is 45 years old. It’s a fairly safe bet that it ranks as the most popular motocross bike on earth over the course of its entire production run. Admittedly, today’s YZ125 has little in common with the 1974 model, but if any dirt bike has earned its place in motocross legend, this is it. Today, it’s the only Japanese 125 still in production. Why has it lasted so long? We need it!
Today’s YZ125 has gone basically unchanged since it got new bodywork and updated suspension in 2015. It got black rims and a few cosmetic licks since then, but the frame and motor go all the way back to 2005. The frame has an aluminum center-backbone just like all the Yamaha MX bikes did in 2005. The motor is a case-reed, six-speed, which is still pretty much state of the art as far as 125cc two-strokes are concerned. It doesn’t have an electronic power valve or fuel injection, but that technology still hasn’t proven to be any great advantage at this point.
Several factors make the YZ125 a vital part of today’s motocross scene. First, it’s been called (by us, at least) the best-handling motocross bike in the world. We stand by that. Handling, in this case, is the product of excellent suspension, light weight and modest power output. The brutal truth is that the YZ125 isn’t especially fast by today’s standards. The motor has good low-end power and excellent manners by 125 standards. Its peak output, though, is around 10 percent less than some of the European 125s. That makes it tough to pull a holeshot against other 125s, but the good news is that mere mortals feel like superheroes on the YZ. The KYB SSS coil-spring fork is still the best on the market, and the bike weighs only 200 pounds without fuel. When you add up those factors, you have the ultimate transition motorcycle for young riders transitioning from minis to full-size bikes. With an MSRP of $6499, the YZ sells for a little less than the Euro bikes and still has excellent resale value.
In our 125 two-stroke shootout last year, the YZ officially finished in third behind the KTM and Husqvarna 125s strictly on its merits as a race bike. On the basis of value, reliability and accessibility, it might still be the best in the class. Heck, when it comes to the sheer joy of riding, it might be the best in all of motocross. Click on the images below for more on the Yamaha YZ125, including our 2018 125 shootout, projects bikes and more.