We're looking at our top ten 125cc motorcycles and scooters aimed at beginners, as well as taking a look at some brand-new options for 2021.
Most 125cc machines are suitable for beginners due to their smaller engine size and relative affordability and so it becomes more a case of what you are looking for. If your aim is to eventually ride the superbike of your dreams, then a sportier offering like Yamaha's YZF-R125 with its full-size R6 chassis is a great introduction to that style of motorcycle. If you’re looking to find an economical and effective commuter perhaps with a bit of style factor, then a scooter like Piaggio's Medley 125 could be a great option.
I've tried to include a wide range of styles and models in no particular order - any of these offerings are hard to fault so, it comes down to your preference and your circumstances.
So, with that said let’s get into the list!
KTM Duke 125
The first thing that instantly leaps out about the Duke 125 is its styling. As with a lot of modern 125cc motorcycles, the manufacturers are moving them closer and closer to their larger counterparts in build quality and looks. This bike could easily be mistaken for a larger machine at a glance and a very attractive one at that. The aggressive street bike design, and its slightly forward-leaning ride position, gives it an almost supermoto feel. It now meets EURO5 approval and also comes in a brand new dark metallic paint scheme that looks better than ever!
The Duke 125 is nippy, responsive, and able to easily manoeuvre in busy traffic which makes it a great all-rounder. It comes with a 15hp 4-stroke single-cylinder engine with fuel injection system and responsive 6-speed transmission. It also sports ABS brakes, an LED headlight similar to its big brother the Superduke, and uniquely, a multicolour TFT screen.
When it comes to 125cc motorcycles, the KTM 125 Duke ticks every box and remains a top contender but, as a result, it is one of the pricier models on the list starting at £4,299.
Yamaha YZF R125
The smallest of Yamaha's R series has become hugely popular since its 2008 arrival. More than a decade later the current iteration is still a best seller and as head-turning as ever.
The YZF R125 was already one of the best 125cc motorcycles on the market but after its new update last year, Yamaha have somehow managed to make it even better. For starters, a brand new EURO5 compliant engine, utilising Variable Valve Actuation (VVA) for smoother and more consistent acceleration through the rev ranges, makes this 125 more responsive than ever. Limited to 15bhp (the maximum allowed for a CBT holder) the YZF-R125 offers class-leading performance and features like an assist and slipper clutch, upside-down front forks, and an aluminum swingarm, as well as ABS and LCD instrument panel, all add to the feeling of big-bike quality.
As you may expect from a motorbike of this quality, it won't come cheap. Starting at £4,799, it is definitely one of the most expensive on the list but, when you factor in that this sport-themed bike still does roughly 100mpg and comes with Yamaha's famous reliability and build quality, it may not be so expensive in the long run.
The Honda CB125F has been a huge seller in the 125cc market for years now and has just been given a brand-new update for 2021 to make it even more competitive!
The CB125F is not the flashiest motorcycle on the list but still has some nice street bike styling and this latest version has been given the full-size treatment to make it feel more like a big bike. Despite this, Honda have actually managed to reduce the weight by 11kg compared to the previous model, so you can expect even better performance than before.
Where the CB125F has always excelled is as an economical commuter and the 2021 edition has only strengthened this further. On top of the weight reduction, the bike is now powered by a brand-new single-cylinder, 2-valve eSP engine (enhanced Smart Power) which, according to Honda, retains all of its famous reliability while delivering enhanced acceleration and fuel efficiency. In fact, they reckon it has the potential to cover up to 800km between fill-ups.
As before there aren't many cutting-edge features beyond the fuel-saving engine and LCD dash. At 10.7hp it isn't quite as zippy as some of the sport models but it’s no slouch either. With a starting price of just £2,799, and a claimed 188.4mpg, this is one of the most economic and reliable commuters you will find anywhere.
Aprilia RS 125
The RS 125 could be called a legend in its class. The original was released in 1993 and it redefined what a 125cc motorcycle could be, with its sporty big-bike looks and impressive 34bhp output, it was in a class of its own. The RS has had many iterations over the following decades and the current version, although now more in line with other 125s at 15bhp due to Euro regulations, still retains an iconic sense of style and a host of class-leading features.
Firstly, the RS 125 is perhaps the motorcycle that most resembles its larger counterpart with a design that perfectly imitates the 1000cc RSV4 RR and looks gorgeous. The RS 125 also matches its peers with modern features like its single cylinder 4 stroke engine with fuel injection, led lights, and ABS, with extra details like adjustable upside-down forks, aluminum frame, and a quick shift gear system. Expect to pay around £4,700 on the road but that's a whole lot of bike you’re getting and a great introduction to sports motorcycles.
Want to find out more about the RS 125? Check out the full review on the Aprilia RS 125 GP replica.
First released in 2014 as a sporty street naked alternative to the YZF125R, in 2020 it was the MT-125's turn to get a fresh update.
Sharing most of the same components and features that make the YZF such a hit, including the full-size frame and brand-new Variable Valve Actuation (VVA) engine, the MT also benefits from a host of cutting-edge features like ABS, LED lights, LCD display, USD forks, and even a slipper clutch! If you are unsure what a slipper clutch actually does, it basically smooths out the revs on a downshift, making gear changing easier and more efficient.
Like the other bikes in Yamaha's range, the new MT-125 moves more in line with its larger MT counterparts with the same split headlight design as the 2020 MT-09 and even the same selection of colours - all of which look incredible!
What we end up with is one of the most powerful 125cc motorcycles on the market, loaded with cutting edge features and oozing big bike style. The starting price isn't cheap at £4,649 but with all this has going for it, I expect the MT-125 to remain a top seller for years to come.
The Honda PCX125 was considered the king of the commuter scooters for a long time and, although its status on top has been challenged in recent years, it remains a fantastic option and best seller in the UK.
The PCX125 first arrived in 2010 and was the first two-wheel machine to feature a fuel-saving idle-stop system, add to that it's Honda build quality, competitive price, sophisticated styling, excellent handling and performance and you have a recipe for success.
The latest version has just been updated for 2021 and retains all the things that made it great while refining them with the latest ideas and technology. Similar to the CB125F, the PCX125 gets Honda's new eSP engine providing faster acceleration and performance while actually improving fuel economy. The idle stop-start system contributes further here, shutting off the engine at a standstill and seamlessly restarting it with a twist of the throttle.
The PCX also boasts an impressive amount of carry space with a large under-seat storage area and separate glove box. Scooters can make great beginner-friendly bikes as their lack of manual gear changes can allow you to focus on mastering the basics of riding. Add to that the generally lower purchase prices, in this case just £3,169 for a machine designed from the ground up to offer an effective and economical commute, and it could be just what you're looking for. The latest 2021 Honda PCX125 arrives in showrooms this February.
Peugeot Speedfight 125
Similar to the RS125, Peugeot's Speedfight is another fondly remembered classic, having first made its debut more than 20 years ago now. One of the few sports styled scooters left on the market, the current iteration the Speedfight 125 Sportline, retains its defining characteristics but brings it into the modern age.
The Speedfight 125 was fully updated for the introduction of Euro 4 with a new 4-stroke water-cooled Smartmotion engine that was actually more powerful than the previous version, with an output of 11bhp. Alongside this, the scooter was re-tuned for more torque at lower rpm ranges while the new ACG (Alternative Current Generator) improved fuel economy.
One of the Speedfight's main selling points has always been its style and the latest version is no different. With its sharp and aggressive design, Peugeot have done a great job of holding on to that classic sporty vibe, whilst creating a beautiful and striking modern look. The Speedfight 125 is the perfect option for anyone who wants a bit of sporty style and, with its improved performance, iconic status, and low price point of £2,699, it fully deserves a place on this list.
Lexmoto Venom 125 EFI
The Lexmoto Venom 125 is a surprisingly good budget option from China. Chinese bikes have come a long way and are becoming increasingly competitive in the UK market as their build quality and feel have steadily improved.
The Venom has been around for a few years now and the latest Euro 4 version is better than ever. The Venom may not have some of the advanced features or the performance of some of the highest-priced motorcycles here, but it is still a very competent machine that can't be overlooked, especially when you bear in mind its price of just £1,799. For that small cost you get an awful lot of bike, a single-cylinder 4-stroke engine with an 11.5bhp output, led lights, digital display, and uniquely, an in-built MP3 player with speakers placed in the side panels.
The Venom handles and performs nicely, especially in an urban commute environment. A decent fuel economy combined with a low cost and insurance rates makes it highly affordable, while its excellent street bike styling means that it certainly doesn't look like a budget machine, despite the price tag.
Piaggio Medley 125
In 2020 the Medley 125 received its first major update and continues to be a force to be reckoned with.
Despite the scooter's Vietnamese production, it still retains the Piaggio build quality and Italian sense of style with its flowing curves and unique 16" front wheel. The Medley's real selling point, like any utility scooter, is not just its looks but its economy, boasting an impressive 41.5 km/l fuel consumption and a 7L tank. Also featuring Piaggio's Start & Stop system reduces fuel consumption even further.
One of the main updates the Medley received last year was Piaggio's i-get engine, now putting out an impressive 14.75 hp, while somehow actually improving fuel efficiency. With a dry weight of 136kilos, this is now one of the most powerful 125cc scooters on the market.
On top of the i-get engine, the Medley also has all the competitive modern features of its class leaders like LED lights, ABS and even adjustable rear suspension. Another great feature is the highly spacious under-seat storage, large enough to fit 2 full-faced helmets.
The current price of Piaggio's Medley 125 is £3,800, combined with its economical features and utility, this is a fantastic commuter scooter well worth considering.
Yamaha NMAX 125
Next up is Yamaha's freshly updated NMAX 125. This is another fantastic choice, not just for beginners, but anyone looking for an effective and affordable commuter for 2021.
This year the visuals have been tweaked slightly for a sleeker and more refined look which, according to Yamaha, also improves the scooter's aerodynamics and weather protection. Either way it’s a beautiful looking 125 and there are plenty more changes below the surface too.
The NMAX now receives the brand new EURO5 Blue Core engine which not only offers improved performance and acceleration but also lower fuel consumption. On top of this, the fuel tank has been expanded to 7L allowing for a claimed 300km between refills.
There is also the new Communication Control Unit (CCU), the first time Yamaha have put this in a scooter. It offers Bluetooth connectivity and provides in-depth information about your scooter, your ride performance and even a parking locator. On top of that there's also ABS, traction control, Start & Stop system and a smart key ignition.
The 2021 Yamaha NMAX 125 is on sale for £3,399 which considering how much technology is packed into this scooter, makes for a very attractive package.
The CB125R is a relative newcomer, first arriving in 2018 and offering a big-bike styled naked alternative from Honda. In 2021 it's getting updated with a brand-new engine and suspension that will make it an absolute top contender in its class.
The new DOHC 4V engine is quite a big upgrade from the previous model, boosting its 125cc power up to 15bhp, as well as increasing acceleration and improving throttle response thanks to the PGM-FI fuel injection. Honda promises the bike will be more fuel-efficient too with full EURO5 approval.
The other main upgrade is the new Showa Separate Function Big Piston upside-down forks. This is the first-time forks of this caliber have been used on a 125cc machine, with these being lifted directly from the CB650R, the goal is to take the big bike feel even further with a smoother ride and superior bump absorption.
All of this sounds very promising, combined with the lovely 'Neo Sports Café' styling and a reasonable starting price of £4,299, I expect the updated Honda CB125R to be one to watch when it arrives in February.
Bonus look - Husqvarna Svartpilen 125
I know we've already covered 11 bikes in this 'top ten' list, but I thought we would look at one last model. This is a brand-new motorcycle due to arrive in dealerships for the first time this February, we don't yet have a price on it, but the early signs show this is a 125cc motorcycle with a lot of promise.
For starters, the Svartpilen 125 shares the KTM Duke's latest EURO5 DOHC four-valve single-cylinder motor and trellis frame, and we already know that is one of the best 125's on the market. Combine that with the beautiful retro-futuristic styling, this bike really looks exactly like its larger counterparts, and we have a new 125cc option for beginners worth being excited about.
What is immediately clear from this list is the sheer variety on offer in today's 125cc market, pretty much every beginner regardless of their individual preferences and needs should be able to find something to suit. This list represents some of the best options currently available, but if you’re looking for something a little more specific why not check our top 10 125cc cafe racers or top 10 125cc sports bikes.
Lexham Insurance is a specialist in two-wheel insurance with highly competitive rates in the 125cc category so if there is a bike, you're interested in whether on this list or not, be sure to get an insurance quote direct, either online or by calling our dedicated UK call centre for the best prices possible.