Does the new Yamaha YZ125 have what it takes to go against the KTM 125 SX?
Damn, it feels like an eternity since I was last a part of an ADB test! And boy was I excited that my first bike to get myself back into the swing of things was the 2022 Yamaha YZ125. I was fortunate to grow up racing 125s in an era before kids would jump from 85s to 250Fs and I believe that having that 125 time in a kids life is crucial in both MX and enduro to growing as a rider.
The biggest thing is that you learn what corner speed is and how to get the most out of yourself and the bike in order to be competitive out on the track. Once I moved on from 125s and started my racing career, I sort of forgot about the feeling of being on a 125. Four strokes are obviously easier to ride and you have so much useable power on tap it all becomes so easy.
However, for some reason, it’s all changed. Now my fulltime racing days are way behind me and it appears more than ever that I’ve gone back to my roots and I’m right back on the small bore two stroke wagon.
Over the past two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time on our YZ125X project bike. A few years before that, I had both KTM and Husky 125s. So it’s no secret that I am a bit of a small bore moto nut. Something about the power to weight ratio, the all-out aggression required to ride them and let’s not forget the sound, just makes them so much fun to ride.
Sure, you obviously have to ride a 125 a lot harder than you would a 250 or 450F bike, but the fun factor there on offer from the little bikes is what it’s all about. I’m not sure if I mentioned it already, but no one is unhappy about the sound of a 125 on song!
There has been a big resurgence in the want and need for two strokes amongst the moto world over the last five or so years. Thankfully, we still have manufacturers like Yamaha and KTM striving to develop and improve their two stroke technology.
I remember when the first pictures of the new YZ125 weapon were released back in July. The internet went nuts and we’ve been wanting to get on board the bike since then. Unfortunately, thanks to Covid and all the supply craziness of the bike world, it’s been a long and drawn out wait but here we are. I still find its crazy that this new 2022 model is the first complete model overhaul of the YZ125 in over 15 years!
Weather almost canned the whole deal
The plan was to take the new 125 up to Briggsy’s little slice of heaven on the NSW central coast. However, we have had a really wet summer and the weather gods had other ideas for our test days. The night before we had planned to ride this bike, we had a ton of rain and it did not let up all night and long into the next day.
We had to change our plans and find a track that wasn’t underwater, which was a big task. Fortunately, I have a sand track that was wet but still manageable in sections and we did the best we could for that day. Day one was pretty much a photo day only.
Luckily, day two was much, much better and I got to give the bike a proper shakedown on a pristine piece of MX heaven up in Dungog. Some of the loamiest dirt you could find with decent jumps and some nice flowing sections in and out of the river bank. What could have been disaster turned into triumph and there were smiles all round.
Before the ride
At first glance, you can see that the whole shape of the bike has changed and it now has a super sleek, modern look. The new cockpit has been built with the primary focus of allowing the rider to move around on the bike easier for increased control. The seat is flatter, the fuel tank is narrower and the shrouds are slimmer as well.
All that slimming down means the bike is now a whopping 36mm slimmer than the 2021 model! They’ve also designed the shrouds and the side plates to neatly integrate into each other and I, for one, am pretty happy that they’ve done away with the old school graphics on the tank design.
No more bubbling graphics! Overall, I’m a fan of the new look. It only took them 15 years, but I think they’ve nailed it.
Obviously, the biggest change for the new bike is the introduction of a totally new, more powerful motor. According to Yamaha, every functional part of the 2022 YZ125 engine is new. The cylinder body, cylinder head, piston, piston pin, connecting rod, crankcase and expansion chamber. They have switched out the 38mm Mikuni Carb for a new high-precision Hitachi Astemo Keihin PWK38S carburettor with throttle position sensor and 3D-map-controlled CDI unit.
Another upgrade from the ’21 model is that the ’22 model now comes stock with a VForce4 carbon reed valve. The rear subframe is redesigned for a more efficient airbox intake design with air filter access improved via one-bolt t through the back of the seat. The silencer is also 50mm shorter than in previous years.
There have also been upgrades to the KYB suspension to cater for the faster power plant. The YZ125 now shares suspension components with the four strokes. The 48mm KYB SSS forks are an awesome set of forks that breed confidence in the rider.
For 2022 Yamaha have boosted the spring rates up one rate and given the bike some firmer internals as well. The shock also went up one spring rate as well as getting some new internals. You can see when the bike is off the stand that it sits much taller than last year’s bike and because of that, it now appeals to a wider variety of riders.
Yamaha have also done some major updates to the front and rear brake systems to keep up with the faster motor. The 125 now uses the same brakes that pull up the heavier four strokes so you can imagine the thing stops quick! Up front, piston size has increased from 22.7mm to 25.4mm as well as new pads and a beefy 270mm disc. At the rear, there is new lighter calliper and the rear disc has been reduced 5mm to a 240mm disc.
Priced at $10,799 incl GST, the 2022 YZ125 is around $1000 cheaper than the KTM125SX.
Out on the track
First thing I noticed once I swung a leg over the bike was the seat. Not only is it flatter than before but it’s also a lot firmer so you don’t really sink into it like you did with the older design. I could feel the suspension was firmer initially in the stroke, yet despite the firmer overall feeling, the bike is still comfortable to sit on.
The seat, bars, peg relationship is pretty spot on. It now feels like a modern bike, where you feel much more on top of it. And wow, is it slim between the knees.
I almost forgot how easy it is to kickstart a 125. A simple drop of the leg and she came alive. Right away, I noticed the exhaust note is throatier than in the past. I liked where this was going. Once the bike warmed up and I did some slow laps to get everything settled, it was time to rip in and ride the 2022 YZ125 the only way it knows how to be ridden. Wide open.
I clicked my brain into 125 mode, told myself I have to accelerate hard out of every corner, grab a few gears up the straights, then let go of those gears into the corner, rail the corner and repeat the process over and over. Sure, it sounds like a lot of work, but it’s actually a fun way to live.
The new 2022 YZ125 power plant is strong. Compared to my 125X from last year that we did a host of mods to, this new bike is already faster in stock form which is awesome. Once I figured out all the soft spots and had a chance to get some fast laps under my belt, I was smiling from ear to ear. The new shorter muffler sounds amazing and the stronger bottom end and mid-range hit that the ’22 model has was perfect for getting my Christmas pudding out of the corners and on top of the sloppy sandy whoops.
The updated 6 speed gearbox shifts like a dream which is awesome considering how much you swing off the gear lever. The throttle response is clean and crisp and I reckon we can thank the switch from Mikuni to Keihen for that one. In the past, I’ve found that Keihen carbs seem to offer a little more grunt off the bottom which is great news for a 125.
Day one went as good as it could have with the conditions and when it came time to ride on day two, I was chomping at the bit. Away from the slop and onto a faster, primetime track, I found myself smiling even more. The traction was perfect and with that extra bottom end grunt, it seemed like it was easier to keep momentum up around the track.
The new motor revs faster but still gets the power to the ground and I found myself gaining more confidence with every lap and carrying really good corner speed. When I would crack the throttle open, the new powerplant sprung into life and I was away. It has pretty decent top end for a 125 as well, although it was quite rich up the top of the rev range.
We had instructions from Yamaha Australia to run the fuel mixture at 32:1 which is pretty rich but I totally understand why. Better to be safe than sorry with the new bike. I did run my 125X at 45-50:1 last year and never had any issues.
On to the suspension now. If there is one thing that impressed me, and the rest of the moto world has said this before too, is just how good the Yamaha 2 strokes handle in stock trim. The KYB SSS forks and KYB shock have a very confidence inspiring feel. I absolutely loved the stock suspension on my 125X, and with the firmer changes made for 2022, I was eager to see how it felt.
As I said earlier, the bike sits higher and the entire feel of the bike is firmer and more racey. Despite the new feel of the bike, the new 125 still has the planted, confidence inspiring ride that the KYB suspension has been known to give for many years.
The SSS forks are brilliant, they hold up on big hits, yet are subtle enough that they swallow up the small stuff. I believe that is super important on a 125 because in order to go fast, you have to brake so much later than bigger bikes and enter the corners with much more pace. It needs to be planted through the braking bumps and not skip around, and the 2022 YZ125 is awesome into the corners.
Another thing that I find great about 125 two stroke bikes is that they are so light underneath you. You can move around on the track, pick lines that would be hard to get to on a bigger bike and in situations where the track is soft and sloppy, the 125 stays on top and kind of glides over it. Even with the firmer setting, the bike rarely deflects and on the rare occasion that it does deflect, it’s easy to man handle the bike back into a straight line and keep on powering through.
After seeing all the reviews and ride impressions around the world of the 2022 YZ125, I had high hopes for this bike before I rode it and I’m pretty happy to say that Yamaha have done an awesome job with this new YZ125. The new modern, sleek look of the bike is eye catching and I think it looks awesome. The complete, ground up rebuild of the motor is also a big jump forward.
The gap between the 2022 YZ125 and the super-fast KTM125SX motor is closer than ever. The power is very useable and once you channel that inner aggression and get your head around how to ride a 125, you will have a ton of fun.
While I feel that the Austrian group may still have the YZ125 covered in the motor department, there’s no question that Yamaha have the win in the handling department. The standout for me with this bike is the handling. The KYB SSS fork and shock are an awesome bit of kit and the proven design and characteristics of the frame really just makes the bike a pleasure to ride. The planted, confidence inspiring feel that the KYB gear gives is something that will appeal to such a wide variety of riders.
I had a blast riding the 2022 YZ125 and sure, 125 life isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you ever are feeling a little stale, or feel like moto riding has become a little stale, then I suggest you get yourself onto a 125. Find yourself a flowing MX track and I promise you that you will have a smile on your face before the day is out.
Something about the sound of a bike WFO underneath you and the feeling of going back to your roots on a 125 makes you appreciate how easy we have it now with the modern day 4 strokes. If you don’t have that great of a time on the 125, which is impossible, you can be sure that someone around you is. Because that’s what 125’s do, make it fun and that’s what riding dirtbikes is all about. They are Fun25’s for a reason!
Type: 2-stroke, reed-valve
Bore & Stroke: 54.0 x 54.5
Fuel metering: Keihen PWK38S
Tank capacity: 7.0
Transmission: Constant mesh 6-speed
Clutch: Wet multi-plate
Seat height: 975mm
Ground clearance: 365mm
Claimed Weight: 95kg wet
Front:Telescopic forks, 300mm travel
Rear: Swingarm (link suspension), 315mm travel
Front: Hydraulic single disc, 270mm
Rear: Hydraulic single disc, 240mm
Front tyre: 80/100-21 Bridgestone Battlecross
Rear tyre: 100/90-19 Bridgestone® Battlecross X20
PRICE & CONTACTS
RRP: $11,149.00 INC GST
Phone: (02) 9827 7500
Warranty: Three months, parts only