Photos by Adam Booth
It’s scientific law: matter cannot be created or destroyed. The same law applies to dirt bikes…sort of. There is no arguing that four-strokes dominate two-wheeled off-road recreation, yet for decades it was all about two-strokes and those bikes have to be out there somewhere. Like a scavenger sifting through the ruins of a dirt bike graveyard, Jay Clark of Jay Clark Enterprises found a 2000 Honda CR125 on craigslist.org for $275 and turned it into the perfect beginner bike.
The World Wide Web is brimming with two-strokes in varying degrees of decrepitude and a wide variety of prices. And, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Clark’s starting point was a complete bike with a good frame, old-but-refreshable suspension and a blown-up motor. When looking for a dirt-cheap bike to fix up, make sure you find one with undamaged cases because, at around $1,200, their replacement costs would defeat the purpose. Fortunately, this Honda’s cases were sound.
Starting with the motor, Clark used a Hot Rods Bottom End Kit to fully rebuild the lower-end. After that, Millennium Technologies repaired the cylinder and head and dropped in a Vertex cast piston. With radiator straightening from ICW Bike Stands, all of this came in just under $800. After cleaning the carb and spending some time on the suspension, this machine would be ready to ride just like this. But Clark went ahead and spruced up the rest of the bike anyway.
To mod out the rest of the CR, the suspension was rebuilt using Pivot Works fork and shock rebuild kits and a steering stem bearing kit, the clutch was freshened up with Hinson fibers, steels and springs and the intake system got a Uni Two-Stage Air Filter and a Moto Tassinari V-Force Reed Cage. Of course the bike got some finishing bling ¬–though not necessary, cool nonetheless– including Works Connection controls, anodized hubs, MX Plastics’ plastic kit with DeCal Works semi-custom graphics and a custom seat cover.
Here’s what we thought of the refurbished Buck 25 out on the track:
Engine: After becoming accustomed to four-strokes (450s at that) and all of the torque they have, the Honda’s motor seemed down right insipid. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a hoot. Hopping on the track, riding a 125 two-stroke slaps you out of lazy line choices, poor clutch technique, bad braking practices and forces you to be an active and thoughtful rider. The exciting part of the revs is right in the middle of the power and if you are too low or high in the RPM you get nothing. This is great for a beginner because not only to you have to think ahead to the next corner, jump or straightaway, the bike doesn’t have the power to rip out of your hands or shoot you wildly off the track if you make a mistake. Once I found that groove, grabbing a handful of throttle sent even my girth around the track with speed (beginner speed, but speed nevertheless).
Handling: I’ve ridden a late model YZ125 and remember it’s bmx-like flickability, yet this CR125 seemed a bit more solid, which is another great trait for a beginner’s bike. Where the YZ seemed twitchy and unsettled, the CR125, though it tucked into corners with ease, seemed more substantial. And, with less torque on tap, I had to carry my speed through the outside of most turns and the bike settled well with no bucking or standing me up. In the air, the Honda felt much lighter than any other bikes I’ve ridden lately.
Suspension: Since the main mods were in the engine department, the fork and shock were built for stability and durability rather than a full-tilt racing set up. The fork was a bit soft and undersprung for me, but didn’t blow through the stroke or dive uncontrollably when entering a turn or hard braking. In the rear, the shock held me up well and, though also soft, allowed the back tire to hook up and make great traction.
Fit and Finish: For being an older bike, I wasn’t expecting the CR125 to feel as solid as it did, which is confidence inspiring—especially for a new riders. The controls felt fresh and the jetting was spot on, creating clean, subdued power. Style wise, it is obvious that it is an older bike, but one that time traveled to 2013 rather than being ridden and abused for 13 years.
Overall: This bike demonstrates that with a little more than a grand and some elbow grease you can have a track worthy starter bike that will not only save you money but hone your moto-skills. Personally, I had a great time riding this bike, and though it wouldn’t be my first choice for a daily steed, I wouldn’t mind hopping on from time to time to make me a more proficient rider.
You'd be hard pressed to find a better learning tool than a 125cc two-stroke. Buck 25s tend to make new riders feel safe while also preventing better riders from becoming lazy. On this Honda, I was surprised with how lacking the power was, but at the same time I had fun challenging myself to carry as much speed as possible around the tight Milestone track that we tested on. The engine did next to nothing without excessive RPM, but once it got on the pipe the little Honda came to life with a nice mid-range hit that transitioned into a flat yet cleanly-jetted top end. The clutch was tiptop, a good thing considering how much you use it on a bike that must be shifted several times between and through each and every corner. With a soft character, the suspension was forgiving, allowed the bike to settle in turns and withstood hard hits and chop better than I expected. You have to look at this bike for what it is: a cost-effective, beginner friendly platform that is super fun despite its well-used condition. I'd encourage anyone out there looking for a cheap way to get into the sport to follow this same route and consider refurbishing a used 125. You'll learn some mechanical skills in the process, and the end result will be well worth it. —Chris Denison/ 5'10"/ 155 lb/ Intermediate
Millennium Tech www.mt-llc.com 920-893-5595
Strip, re-pair damage and re-plate to stock size $229.95
Cylinder head repair $52.45
Hot Rods www.hotrodsproducts.com 515-402-8100
Complete Bottom end kit $309.95
Vertex Pistons www.vertexpistons.com 515-270-2302
Pro Replica Piston kit (ring, pin and clips) $117.33
ICW www.icwbikestands.com 919-795-8084
Radiator straightening $40 each
Uni Filter www.unifilter.com 714-535-6933
Two-Stage air filter
Hinson Clutch Components www.hinsonracing.com 909-946-2942
Fibers, steels and springs clutch kit
FMF Racing www.fmfracing.com 310-631-4363
Fatty exhaust (chrome)
MotoTassinari www.mototassinari.com 603.298.6646
V-Force Reed Cage
TMR www.morganracingengines.com 949-421-7112
Pivot Works www.pivotworks.com 515-402-8000
Steering stem bearing kit
Fork Rebuild kit
Shock rebuild kit
Renthal www.renthal.com 877-736-8425
997 Twin Walls
Dual compound grips
Dunlop Tire www.dunlopmotorcycle.com 800-845-8378
MX 51 front 80/100-21
MX 51 rear 100/90-19
MX Plastics www.mxplastic.com 800-843-8244
All new Plastic kit
DeCal Works www.decalmx.com 815-784-4000
Semi-Custom Graphics kit
Pre printed number plates backgrounds
Moto Seat www.motoseat.com 951-258-5229
Custom Cool seat cover
Works Connection www.worksconnection.com 1-800-349-1475
Elite Clutch Perch
TCR Wheels www.wheellacing.com 209 368-9800
Custom turned and anodized stock hubs