Yamaha MT-125 (2020) – Launch Review

Simon Hargreaves
By Simon Hargreaves
SimonHbikes Simon rides motorbikes, and then writes about them. He also co-presents the Front End Chatter podcast and plays bass guitar rather well.

 

Yamaha’s MT-125 is an important machine. In 2018 it was the second best-selling 125 in Europe, shifting 6400 bikes – 16% of sales of the entire MT range – and since its 2014 launch sales have totalled over 36,000 against the backdrop of a booming naked 125 market.

At least that’s what the slide Yamaha have popped up on the screen says. But this beer tastes good.

Anyway, there’s plenty of potential for growth, which is good news not just for Yamaha; it’s good news for all of us on two wheels – because 125s are bought by 17-25 year-olds, mostly new to motorcycling. If you’re reading this and you’re under 25, stick with it mate. You’re the future.

But in the present, being at cutting edge of fashion and technology is crucial to young riders (and old ones too, come to think of it) – so a 125 first built in 2014 is, by 2020, pretty much obsolete. And this wine is really, really good too.

Enter the 2020 MT-125. It’s almost completely new over the previous model: new engine, frame, styling, suspension, brakes, wheels, tyres and clocks. About the only thing left is the name on the tank. However, the 2020 MT-125 isn’t completely new – anyone familiar with 2019’s YZF-R125 will recognise much of the 2020 MT-125, because it’s no surprise that’s where most of the MT’s variably-valve timed mechanicals and chassis spec comes from.

But given the R125’s small-bore success (and, it must be said, premium price), the 2020 MT-125 should be a well-rounded package. Another bottle? Don’t mind if I do.

Oh, and more importantly than all that bobbins – does it wheelie? Hic.

Bennetts BikeSocial contributor and resident 51 year-old teenager Simon Hargreaves drinks himself into a coma at the launch in Malaga, Spain, to find out.

 

Video review of the 2020 Yamaha MT-125
All new vs the last MT-125 but not all new compared to the YZF-R125, these are Simon's initial thoughts on the 2020 125cc naked Yamaha

 

2020 Yamaha MT-125 price and availability

The MT-125 comes in at a salty £4524 (OTR), a hike of £100 over the 2019 model. It’s available in dealers right this minute. Colours all cost the same: Icon blue (blue/black), Tech black (black) or Ice Fluo (grey/red), but black is the coolest and the grey/red combo looks the best. But what do I know?

 

2020 Yamaha MT-125 PCP example

Model

Price (OTR)

Deposit

Credit

36x

Final Payment

Total

APR

MT-125

£4524.00

£1000.00

£3524.00

£67.37

£1636.25

£5061.57

6.9%

Here’s how the MT-125 compares with its rivals, in price order* (look away now if you’re squeamish): 

Yamaha YZF-R125

£4674 (2020)

Yamaha MT-125

£4524 (2020)

Aprilia RS125

£4499 (2020)

Suzuki GSX-R125

£4474 (2019)

Aprilia Tuono 125

£4399 (2020)

Honda CB125R

£3989 (2019)

Kawasaki Ninja 125

£3974 (2020)

Kawasaki Z125

£3674 (2020)

Suzuki GSX-S125

£3674 (2019)

Aprilia SX125

£3499 (2020)

KTM 125 Duke

£3249 (2019, discounted)

Yamaha YS125

£3074 (2020)

KTM RC125 Z125

£2999 (2019, discounted)

Honda CB125F

£2829 (2019)

*OTR prices 

So there’s no escaping it; the MT-125 is definitely not cheap. But, as we’ll find out, there are several things about the Yam that elevate it above the competition – at least in terms of specification, and possibly on performance as well.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

Power and torque (claimed)

14.8bhp @ 10,000rpm (was 14.8bhp @ 9000rpm)

8.5 lb.ft @ 8000rpm (was 9.1 lb.ft @ 8000rpm)

The MT-125 is A1 licence compliant, so 14.8bhp is the class upper limit. However, it matters where in the revs that power – and the engine’s torque – is made, and the shape of the curves. And this is where Yamaha say they have a trick up their wizzardy sleeves...

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

Engine, gearbox and exhaust

The 2020 MT has the same over-square four stroke single with the same 52.0mm x 58.6mm bore and stroke as the 2019 MT-125, making a grand total of 124.45 of your ccs. But for 2020, out goes the old motor’s single overhead cam valve gear and in comes VVA – variable valve actuation – borrowed off last year’s YZF-R125 (which was itself lifted from the Indian-market 19bhp, 155cc YZF-R15 – sort of like a mechanical hand-me-down).

Variable valve timing sounds a bit OTT high-tech on a power-restricted 125, but there’s no obvious reason why it should be significantly more expensive than conventional valve gear (and, given it’s already on the R125 and the Indian R15, it’s cost-effective for production). And, in keeping with the variable valve timing appearing on bigger bikes recently (such as BMW’s R1250 Shiftcam Boxer twins), the system claims two benefits:

1) it allows a cleaner-running, more efficient engine, which gets it through Euro5 regs, and

2) it gives engineers the option to have two states of engine tune according to how the motor is being used at the time: ensuring optimal efficiency at both low revs and top end.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

Normally, with variable valve timing, you’d hear phrases like ‘torque-rich bottom end’ and ‘power-rich top end’ to describe the two halves of the tuning compromise. But with power limited to 14.8bhp, instead Yamaha say they’ve reshaped and optimised the torque curve, adding 1000rpm to the rev range in the process but still maintaining a 14.8bhp top end.

So although the 2020 engine claims slightly less actual peak torque than its predecessor, Yamaha say the new motor has a twin torque profile – almost two stages of torque curve – which has more area under the line on the dyno graph. Simply, they say it makes more torque more of the time. This wider revving, more evenly distributed torque should give the 2020 MT-125, if nothing else, more flexibility to maintain speed on the road.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

Mechanically, the system works like this: when the engine is running below 7400rpm with lower gas speeds in the combustion chamber, the main inlet cam has a relatively mild profile with low lift, less overlap and shorter duration to achieve a more complete burn and better combustion chamber scavenging. When revs rise above 7400rpm, a solenoid activates a dowel that slides through the valve’s rocker arm and hooks it up to a different cam with a more aggressive profile – more lift, more overlap and longer duration. This means the engine can breathe harder, shifting more gas, and burn fuel more completely and efficiently. When revs drop again, the dowel retracts and the rocker arm returns to following the mild cam profile.

Variable valve timing isn’t the only engine change for 2020: those extra 1000rpms come from better breathing – throttle body diameter is up from 28mm to 30mm and the airbox goes from 2.9 litres to 5.5 litres – a big change which has a knock-on effect for tank size (we’ll come to that). Intake ports are widened, and intake valve diameters go up 1mm.

There are differences inside the motor too – the new valvetrain is more compact, and the forged piston is coated in low-friction material to reduce, er, friction losses – good advice for life, as it happens. The extra revs means a gearing change; as per the YZF-R125, the MT now runs a 52T rear sprocket to give better acceleration and match the new power characteristics of the motor.

With more air going into the engine, more gas needs to come out the other end: the exhaust is reshaped and internally restructured for 2020 which, Yamaha say, has given them the chance, like many other manufacturers, to take advantage of softening exhaust noise regs to beef up the 125’s exhaust note. And, speaking of emissions regs; at cold start, a coolant bypass circuit lets the motor heat up quickly to get the catalyst up to working temperature, then opens to employ a smaller, lighter radiator.

The final addition to the engine and drivetrain is a welcome slipper/assist clutch, as fitted to almost all other bikes in the MT range. It means a lighter action at the lever, and less chance of the rear tyre locking up and chattering under braking; now the bike should just skate gently without a fuss under extreme downshifting. So that’s a lot of clever inside a 125 motor; for pub props it’s up there with the 2019 BMW R1250GS and its Shiftcam system.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

The riding reality isn’t quite as revelatory – ultimately, the MT’s got what it’s got at the top end; around spacious Malaga industrial estates the MT’s motor is a vibrant, nippy thing, eventually razzing up to 75mph or so with a tailwind, on an even keel. Hills and/or backing off for traffic knocks it back a bit, and sometimes it’s hard to recover the pace – in exactly the same way as every other 125. But engine vibes are minimal and progress feels chipper at town speeds. It zings along, rarely losing pace with the surrounding vehicles in most environments and usually blatting happily between vans and cars. Say what you want about power limits, but they’re good at teaching us how to preserve momentum.

Up in the mountains the MT is brilliant fun on the right tarmac – throw it a wide open trunk road and it’s a tucked-in, slipstream race to the top (which is a good gas in itself)... but feed the MT a few winding hairpins and tight corners and it comes into its own, bouncing into the rev limiter (sorry), eking out every last drop of performance.   

Whether variable valve timing is more useful in cleaning the motor up to pass emissions tests or at actually generating extra usable performance – or, indeed, both – is hard to tell in isolation: I rode the old MT-125 two years ago and was impressed by its youthful vigour. But at the same time, the new MT doesn’t feel significantly quicker compared to the Kawasaki Ninja 125 I rode around these same Malaga hills 12 months ago. I can say it’s impossible to detect the difference between the cam profiles; the transition is seamless. A sign flashes up on the new LCD dash to let you know the system is activated, which is nice. But there’s no power step, no hesitation, just a constant, unbroken stream of whizz.

As a fan of the old two-stroke RD125LCs and TZRs back in the day (shut up grandad), it might have been more fun to actually engineer in a power step. It’s a bit like fitting a loud exhaust – it probably doesn’t make the bike faster, but it sounds and feels faster. Ask a teenager if he or she wants a flat, homogenous torque curve or nothing-then-everything-at-once, and they’d take the latter. And they’d be right.

Speaking of loud exhausts, the revamped can is slightly less muffled than before – but it’s not ear-splitting and the MT won’t be tripping any future traffic noise cameras. Yamaha describe it as ‘more emotional’. I am indeed moved, but it might be more because of last night’s excesses. Or the sushi. Blame the sushi.

Back at the MT-125, things I am able to notice include a super-light slipper clutch that lets the Yamaha be backed into roundabouts with the rear Michelin howling, by banging down the box into first gear and dumping the lever. Always fun. And at the other end, the MT will pull wheelies – I can say this for sure because I witnessed it. However, the required brutality – big revs, clutch dump, sit back, pull the bars like you want them to come off – is beyond my hangover. Sorry, I mean ‘skills’. If you want to make it easier (and who wouldn’t?), take the already geared-down 52T rear sprocket off and fit something like a 54 or 55T.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

Handling: frame, suspension and weight

Like its YZF-R125-derived motor, the MT-125 also get the R125’s chassis: steel Deltabox frame (remember the name?) with more rigidity at the swingarm pivot and a shorter aluminium swingarm. The MT gets its own steering geometry (less rake and more trail for more stable steering, shorter wheelbase to maintain agility) but runs on the same KYB 41mm non-adjustable usd forks and preload only KYB shock as the YZF-R125, with a lower spring rate for a more balanced, naked-bike ride.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

The front brake retains a four-pot radial caliper as per the R125 and previous MT-125, but the rear tyre goes from 130/70 to 140/70 for... extra cool.

And if it’s hard to tell if the motor’s much improved over the old bike it’s certainly true to say the chassis is. A potential problem with light bikes (weight is up a couple of kilos over the previous bike) is getting the chassis balance right – optimising the triangle between suspension quality, agility and stability. The lighter the bike, the more sophisticated its suspension should feel to avoid being skittery and harsh – which, when added to extreme agility, becomes unnerving. So generating some steering stability is important to help make the bike feel solid and planted.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

The MT-125 has a good basic set-up, aided by retaining the fitment of Michelin Pilot Street tyres from last year’s bike. Half-decent rubber is vital for breeding confidence in the bike’s general level of grip, and frankly it’s a disgrace so many ‘budget’ bikes built in the far east – from all manufacturers – come on compromised rubber. The last thing a motorcycling newcomer needs is their confidence shredding by having a moment on a gripless tube of Thai teak. Yes, I’m looking at you, Dunlop, Kawasaki, Honda etc. You want strapping to a 125 and firing down a moist Spanish mountain road, see how you like it.

On its Michelins the MT-125 feels confident, calm and collected; it soaks up my fat arse without complaint, it’s plenty nimble enough to turn on a euro and scoot between cars, manhole covers don’t need dodging and the brakes will stop a charging rhino, let alone a 125 with steamboat fatty on board. For a 125, this is awesome stuff.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

2020 Yamaha MT-125 Economy

Remember that thing about the airbox growing in size from 2.9 litres to 5.5 litres? That extra space has to come from somewhere, and part of it is by eating into the fuel tank, bringing capacity down from last year’s 11.5 litres to the 2020 MT-125’s 10 litre volume. The fuel load has also faced pressure by the moving of the ignition barrel from in front of the steering head to behind it, set into the tank. To compensate, the reshaped tank has got higher – it’s more scrunched up so some extra volume is found there – and it’s also wider, with flared sides above the rider’s knees. This actually helps make the new MT feel more substantial – you can dig your legs in and grip under the tank sides – but nonetheless, it’s down in volume by 13%.

But onboard fuel consumption shows 2.6 litres per 100km – 109mpg – after a hectic trash which didn’t see much change from anything below 6000rpm... which means you’ll still get well over 200 miles between fill-ups riding like a complete loon. Which, of course, you will.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

Equipment

From a rider’s eye view, what you spend most time looking at as you ride is important. The out-going MT’s dash was an old-style Perspex-covered LCD with three ‘windows’ and black on white numbers. It had a fuel gauge and basic trip functions, but no gear position indicator. The new bike gets a rectangular LCD dash with inverted colours – white on black – and a more modern layout, with a gear indicator. It’s visible in low, back-lit sun, and bright enough to see clearly at midday. The select and reset buttons are way too small for my clumsy digits to push.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

Styling, ergonomics and comfort

This is, perhaps, the most important change to the 2020 MT-125 – not saying young people are all vanity and superficial looks... because we all are, really. For 2020 the MT-125 steps much more closely into line with the rest of the MT range – it copies their tall, slender riding position, dropping you over the front end of the bike into an almost supermoto riding style with 60mm wider, higher bars, same 810mm seat height but sitting the rider’s bum further forward, knees close together tucked into the tank, feet on forward-positioned footpegs. When you first sit on the bike it’s a bit odd for a split second, then once the thing starts moving it all feels okay again.

 

Yamaha MT-125 (2020) | REVIEW

 

The back end has changed too, shortening up and switching from a two-piece seat to a single seat, moving the rear light to the back of the unit. It brings the pillion lower and closer to the rider, which should be more reassuring for both, if not romantically intimate.

At the other end of the MT-125, headlights are now LED with a single, central Cyclops bulb flanked by a pair of running lights to give the bike more of a ‘face’ than the old bulb and reflector light. We didn’t ride the bike at night, so can’t comment on its functionality.

 

2020 Yamaha MT-125 Verdict

The MT-125’s update wasn’t hard to predict – after the YZF-R125’s update a year ago – but the result is better than expected; it’s a proper freshen-up of the bike, giving it a much more solid, grown-up feel than previously, with a better-executed styling make-over. It looks and feels more premium, not least because Yamaha have paid attention to details like the clocks, filler cap, footpegs and even ignition barrel. This is the stuff you touch and look at when you ride, so if it looks and feels good, you feel good.

The actual riding is improved too – the riding position is more engaged and active, the suspension, tyres, frame and steering all work with a bit more fluidity and quality than before. There’s no question they can handle a lot more performance. The engine is what it is – hard to tell in isolation if the variable valves and extra revs make it better than before. But it’s certainly no worse. Can’t help wondering how hard it would now be to fit a few parts from the Indian R15 to pep it up a little.

But the big issue is the price. I don’t know if, as with full-size flagship bikes, there’ll always be a market for the top-dollar machine, or whether a 125 is such a stepping stone buyers will happily trade in a bit of premium kudos for something more short-term affordable. Especially as, at the end of year, manufacturers like KTM are almost giving their 125s away as Christmas cracker gifts and they all make the same power anyway.

Of course, what would really seal the deal would be an outstanding feature – something like a built-in sat nav, quickshifter, cruise control, heated grips or smartphone connectivity. I dunno. Kids, eh?

 

Three Four things I love about Yamaha’s 2020 MT-125

• riding position – feels like a slimmed-down MT-09; a proper bike, not a ‘mere’ 125

• looks – especially the grey/red version

• engine – not sure how much more spunky it is than previously, but it’s a decent, tractable, civilised and free-revving unit

• tyres – Michelin Pilot Streets are so much better than most of the 125 rivals’ rubber

 

One thing I don’t...

• price – ouch

 

2020 Yamaha MT-125 Spec

Capacity

124.5cc

Bore x Stroke

52.0mm x 58.6mm

Engine layout

single

Engine details

4v dohc, l/c with variable valve timing

Power

14.8bhp @ 10,000rpm

Torque

8.5 lb.ft @ 8000rpm

Top speed

80mph (est, ish)

Average fuel consumption

109mpg

Tank size

10 litres

Max range to empty

200 - 250 miles

Rider aids

absolutely none. Ok, ABS

Frame

steel twin spar

Front suspension

41mm KYB usd forks

Front suspension adjustment

non-adjustable

Rear suspension

KYB monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

adj. preload

Front brake

292mm disc, four-pot radial caliper, ABS

Rear brake

220mm disc, one-pot caliper, ABS

Front tyre

110/80-17

Rear tyre

140/70-17

Rake/Trail

26°/95mm

Wheelbase

1325mm

Seat height

810mm

Kerb weight

140kg

Warranty

unlimited miles/2 years

Website

www.yamaha-motor.eu/gb

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