I picked up Dirt Rider’s 2012 YZ125 this past weekend at Glen Helen and raced REM on the shiny brand-new little screamer. After a few years on 250Fs it felt great to be back on my favorite bike made.
The bad news is there are no real changes to the 2012 YZ125. Just new graphics. The good news is that Yamaha is still in the two-stroke game and likely will be for years to come. At least a few more years. My personal theory is that with the tightened economy, more riders are hanging on to their bikes longer than they used to. A lot of these riders bought their current four-stroke intending one or two seasons on them, without ever opening up the engine for routine maintenance. Now with three or more years, that “Tell-Tale” timebomb’s ticking is getting louder. I believe when the economy frees up enough to buy a new bike, a lot of those riders will come back to the two-stroke. And they should.
Two-strokes, 125 particularly, feel much lighter than their four-stroke counterparts, “surf” over the track more than plod across it, and accelerate with more excitement. Yes, the YZ125 is exciting. The YZ125 has a wide-for-a-125 powerband and a 6-speed transmission to keep the ratios close enough so even a novice racer has no trouble keeping it in the usable power range. Glen Helen’s Saturday-racing REM track has some serious hills and the YZ accelerated my 160 pound body up them, grabbing gears (yes, higher gears!) until I shut off the throttle. In a highly un-scientific and much-enjoyed test, I told Dirt Rider test rider Mike Barrett I was going to pass him on the steep uphill and yell as I flew past. Well, I forgot to yell, but I went right by Mike who was riding one of Dirt Rider’s 2012 250Fs fresh from our shootout and all dialed in perfectly.Okay, another rider may have interfered, but this goofy challenge is indicative of what happens when you jump onto a 125 – everything is suddenly flat-out brand new again, or at least a lot more fun.
If you haven’t ridden Yamaha’s Kayaba SSS suspension, you’re in for a treat if you jump on a YZ or YZ-F (2006 or newer). The forks rely more on speed-sensitive valving rather than fork-position-sensitive valving. This means if you slam an obstacle hard the forks “instinctively” stiffen, but if the obstacle affects the suspension more slowly, the boingers behave more plushly. It’s not about bike speed, it’s about how quickly the suspension is trying to move through the stroke. On the REM track (rough, elevation changes, no big or ‘peaky’ jumps) the ride was perfect. The bike smoothed out the chop, launched with ease and predictability, and remained light-feeling and maneuverable at all times. Remember what it was like to completely control a bike?… Time to come back to a YZ125.
If there’s a downside to the blue bike, I feel like the forks move too freely from rider weight transfer or turn g-force changes. For example, the forks can move too easily sharpening a turn mid-corner. It’s something I’m going to have a lot of fun trying to dial out the longer I get to ride this YZ, but it’s more likely just rider error that I don’t want to accept yet.
Here’s the bottom line. If you have a race team paying you a salary to ride, then ride what they want you to ride. If you ride and race for fun, and are near 160 pounds or less, get on a YZ125. If you are financially doing well, vote with you dollars to keep Yamaha in the 125 business. If you’re on a used-bike budget, a 2006 or newer YZ125 is, in most significant performance ways, the same bike as the new one. And if you have a kid on an 85 starting to rub knees to handlebar, do you and the kid a favor and get him on a 125 rather than a 250F… then steal a few rides yourself. Then, if you live in Southern California, check out the great track prep and fun atmosphere of REM Saturday racing at Glen Helen. They have a 125 Adult class and run 15 minute motos (20 for the pros). And if you spot me on the line, be sure to cover your inside on the corner before the big uphill.