The latest low-capacity offering from Yamaha looks set to become one of the leaders of its class. With beautiful retro styling and exceptional performance in almost every area, this is a grown-up and sophisticated 125cc motorcycle any rider can be proud of.

The XSR125 fits into Yamaha's Sport Heritage range alongside the much larger XSR700 and XSR900 and features the same winning mixture of vintage visuals with cutting-edge performance. We're starting with the bike's looks because I think that is going to be one of the first main selling points here. If you are a fan of the current 'neo-retro' trend, then there really aren't too many options when it comes to the lower capacity models. Fortunately, Yamaha has recognised this and produced something pretty special.

There's a lot of attention to detail in making sure this little 125 matches its larger siblings in the range, with its big circular LED headlight and retro-looking rolled seat. Even the modern LCD dash is made in the shape of a classic circular dial. The XSR125 comes in red, black or yellow paint schemes and every one of them looks fantastic. If it wasn't for the 125 badge, it would be difficult to tell if this was a 125cc or a 300cc!

Despite the vintage looks, this is still a thoroughly modern machine. Powered by the same Euro 5 liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine as the R125, the XSR puts out 14.8 bhp, which is the absolute maximum allowed for CBT riders. Combined with a wet weight of just 140 kilos (4 kilos lighter than the R125) this is one of the most rapid bikes in the category. With that said, it is still a 125cc motorcycle, so it isn't exactly going to pull your arms off but keeping up with traffic in town, overtaking on long stretches of road and thrashing along the B-roads for a bit of fun at the weekend are all on the cards.

The star of the show here is Yamaha's Variable Valve Actuation (VVA) technology. Basically, we have two different valve timings, one set up for optimum performance in the low revs and one set up for high revs. The engine will automatically switch over at 7,400rpm and the idea is that it will provide constant acceleration all the way through – and it works a treat.

For the suspension, we have a 37mm upside-down telescopic forks up front and a KYB shock on the rear. It's non-adjustable but that's absolutely fine – it does a fantastic job as it is. It feels relatively firm but with enough give to handle the lumps and bumps of B-road riding with ease.

Now for perhaps the only real negative I could find on this bike – the brakes. While many 125ccs these days are using the cheaper combined braking system, the XSR has full ABS as standard which is a plus but the brakes themselves are just a little bit less responsive than I would have liked. It uses a 267mm single disc brake on the front and a 220mm on the rear and I found myself often needing to use both because the front brake alone didn't feel quite enough. Don't get me wrong, the brakes do get the job done, they are perfectly adequate but when everything else on the bike is excellent, simply 'adequate' is a bit of a let-down.

On the road, the XSR125 is a joy to ride. Despite its extremely lightweight, it still feels like a substantial bike. It's light as a feather and easy to manoeuvre but the full-size frame, wide bars and large chunky wheels all come together to give it a real 'big bike' feel. Something that is further enhanced by the VVA's excellent pulling power.

As soon as you twist the throttle, the XSR starts pulling and it doesn't stop all the way through its generously long gears. It makes the bike something of an all-rounder – you can push it to its limit and squeeze every bit of performance out of it, or you can have a relaxing lazy ride and use the extra pull in the higher gears to take care of everything.

I already mentioned the chunky 17" wheels which have extra thick tyres for a 125cc, something I really like! There's a 140/70 tyre on the rear – that's the same size as the MT-03 and it adds so much to that big bike look and feel. You're also getting more contact with the road which means better balance, more grip and an overall smoother experience.

The 6-speed gearbox feels polished and precise, changing gears is smooth with no problems finding neutral. The clutch is light and effortless too, so combined with the comfy upright riding position, there is very little fatigue when riding this bike for long periods of time. I will say that after a few hours in the saddle, the seat starts to feel a little bit hard for me, but I've experienced much worse.

Thanks to the XSR's great agility and relatively swift acceleration (for a 125cc), moving through traffic is easy and the bike operates very well at low speeds. If you want to take on some B-roads, it can reach the national speed limit pretty quickly there too and the excellent suspension handled everything I wanted to throw at it.

The fastest speed I managed to get out of this bike was an indicated 73 mph. That was full tuck on an A-road, and it didn't seem to want to go any faster. The good news is that again, thanks to the VVA, it can get there relatively quickly, so A-road riding is perfectly possible even if it is a little uncomfortable. It's also very smooth, I experienced no buzzing or vibrations in the handles and pegs even thrashing it at the upper revs, which can sometimes be an issue with low capacity motorcycles.

As standard, there is no front screen at all, so when you start hitting the bike's top speeds you can feel a bit of wind buffeting. Honestly, it isn't as bad as I was expecting but I think if I were to ride one of these long-term, I would invest in a front screen. Fortunately, this is Yamaha so there is a bunch of accessories on offer, including the street and race packs which do add a screen or a cool blacked-out front cowl respectively.

The LCD display has plenty of info for you, although as a minor complaint, I would have liked it to be perhaps a bit larger or more prominent. I want to be able to just glance down and get all the information I need. With this one, it feels like you have to go out of your way a bit to look down and focus on it. 

The speedo itself is a decent size but the revs are a little small and details like the odometer, trip and various mpg settings can all be difficult to spot whilst riding. There is a gear indicator which is always nice on a bike aimed at beginners, as well as a fuel gauge.

Going back to the mpg meter, you can set it to show your overall average performance or the 'in the moment' mpg based on how you are currently riding. The fuel efficiency of this bike is fantastic, our average mpg was showing at 107 and that is without even attempting to ride economically. That means combined with the nicely sized 11L tank, we were looking at around 250 miles between fill-ups. I'm sure with a bit more careful cruising that could be pushed out even further. A bike that offers this much fun while still being this economical is a pretty rare thing.

The price of a brand new XSR125 is £4,450, which puts it right at the upper edges of the category. Rivals like the Honda CB125R, Aprilia Tuono 125 and KTM 125 Duke are all in the same price range, so it doesn't stand alone here and as far as performance goes, for a 125cc motorcycle, the XSR125 is going to be hard to beat.

What it really comes down to is how much money you are willing to spend on a 125. We live in the age of the credit agreement, so with a grand as a deposit you are looking at around £50 a month, which really isn't too bad for one of the best 125ccs money can buy. But with that said, it is still a fair wedge of cash, especially when you think that Yamaha's MT-03 is less than £1k more expensive with almost 3 times the power.

Overall though, if you have the budget, I do think this bike is worth the money. This is a 125cc you can be proud of. It looks amazing, feels polished and high quality, can eat up your urban commutes and still go out for some fun at the weekends. You could ride this bike and have an absolute blast and after a couple of years be well set up for something larger.

The brand new 2021 Yamaha XSR125 is a great bike, there's no doubt about it. Any 17 year old with a CBT could consider themselves very lucky to own one of these, and the excellent fuel economy and high-quality riding experience mean even older riders can think about an XSR125 as a (relatively) cheap run around and commuter. If you are considering a low-capacity motorcycle and like the vintage neo-retro style, it doesn't get much better than this!

Engine 124cc, 14.7 hp, liquid-cooled, SOHC, Single cylinder, 4-stroke
Fuel tank 11L
Brakes Front and rear disc
Weight 140kg (wet)
Seat height 815mm
Price £4,450

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