The 2008 Midsize Playbike Comparison - Dirt Rider Magazine

If off-road motorcycles were an amusement park, midsize playbikes would be the teacup ride. Low in cost, even lower in risk and effectively high in straightforward fun, the so-called fun bike category is rarely taken too seriously by anyone, including the manufacturers. Yet just like the most basic of carnival attractions, these small-bore four-strokes have the ability to elicit streams of high-pitched giggles from even the hardest roller-coaster regulars, regardless of rider size, weight, age, gender or ability. In a world of constant modifications and performance innovations, these basic platforms of no-nonsense enjoyment remind us all, even if just for a moment, what it's like to be a kid on a dirt bike.When the idea came about to stage a midsize playbike comparison, we found the notion so sardonically funny that we decided to take it one step further by putting superstar pros on each of the test bikes. And so, once all of our "real" testing was completed and compiled, we chased down five podium-level National riders to see what they thought of the playbikes. Although this test isn't designed for them, the pros in our shootout helped prove that you're never too fast or experienced to have fun on these machines. Whether you're a total newbie, a blossoming youth rider, a supportive significant other, a hard-core weekend warrior or the reigning AMA Lites Class Motocross Champion, you're kidding yourself if you claim that these bikes don't provide a bucketful of fun that almost anyone can enjoy. Read on to see which teacup is for you.Yamaha TT-R125
When ridden back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, it's clear that the midsize playbikes are on a very equal playing field. Seeing that every machine in this class is undersuspended, too heavy, somewhat slow and a bit dated, you really have to delve into personal preference to pick a clear winner. Some dig the bigger stance and consistently average performance of the CRF150F and DR-Z125, while others may be inclined to go for the more-recent KLX140L or smaller-styled CRF100F. But for many of our testers, the Yamaha TT-R125 is the way to go.The Facts
* This very well could be the best all-around bike in its class when you compare weight, power and handling. Some of our testers felt that the TT-R was a tad "flimsier" than the others, but a lot of that's probably due to the bike's light feel and overall quick handling.* The power sits in a very practical portion of the spread on the Yamaha, and the bike revs second best next to the CRF100. Some youth riders may feel held back in racing skills aboard a small-bore four-stroke, but we'd contend that a bike like the TT-R is one of the best stepping stones to a two-stroke or a four-stroke race bike that a rider could find.* The electric starter on the TT-R is great, and the bike, like all of the others in this segment, is virtually indestructible. Although the plastic gets white creases with every hard tumble, the durability of the Yamaha is more than commendable-we've put TT-Rs through paces that many big bikes wouldn't survive.* The handling of this machine was greatly improved with the new seat/gas tank combo, which brought a big-bike feel to the little machine by way of sleeker, narrower styling. But don't think that this revision was purely functional; it looks cool, too!The Factory Verdict
"The TT-R is a good bike to get started on if you haven't ridden or are the right size for an 85 but think that a two-stroke racer might be too much. It's a great playbike. I ride playbikes when I have the time. I have a TT-R50 now, but I want to get a 125 like this and build it up!" -Josh Hill

Honda CRF100F
Our second favorite playbike in the pack, the CRF100F is like The Little Engine That Could. Don't expect to get on it and have your socks knocked off (you shouldn't be expecting that from any bike in this segment, for that matter), but do expect the CRF to wow you in terms of ridability and outright persistence. Like the XR100s of yesteryear, this solid little bike is a perfect machine for young riders to cut their teeth on, though it's also arguably one of the best stock backyard race platforms that an adult with $2500 can buy.The Facts
* This motor screams. Not so much in a battle axe-wielding Viking kind of way, but more like a knock-the-tee-ball-out-of-the-park-like shriek. Nevertheless, the CRF100 has more than enough guts to pull around its own weight, and can even run with bigger bikes with the right pilot behind the bar using rpm.* The Honda 100's cockpit and stance are a little small for most riders, but the bike handles just as well-if not better-than all the others in this class. The entire setup produces the characteristics of a little bike without the wildly steering, super-erratic handling woes that often accompany small wheels.* The CRF's suspension is soft by most standards, but it gets the job done. Kids will find that the springs settle well and thus help the bike corner with consistency, while bigger riders will use every bit of the stroke, front and rear.* Surprisingly enough, the brakes on this mini are actually pretty decent. Yes, they're drum setups front and rear, but in true Honda style both ends work reliably in bringing the red shrieker to a halt.* Can you say, "bulletproof"? If you have a kid who breaks everything he touches, this is the bike to get him. Outstanding durability combined with good parts availability makes this ride an excellent hand-me-down or yearlong backyard loaner.The Factory Verdict**
"This is the best minibike, ever. It's great for the little guys who want to go out and be miniature Davies with No. 118 on their bikes! Then, they can go out and have some real fun. It doesn't have much power, but that doesn't stop me from having fun!" -Davi MillsapsHonda CRF150F
In terms of size and delivery, you could say that the CRF150F is the porker of the bunch. In fact, it's so close to almost being a big bike that it doesn't actually feel like a mini to most riders. Although this is a common bike among younger off-roaders (and for good reason, given the grunt the powerplant is capable of delivering), there's no reason why a seasoned adult couldn't take the 150F out to the trails and have a genuinely good time.The Facts
* Beginners will love the personality of this motor. In short, it's a torquey monster. Rolling on the throttle brings a smooth handful of hill-tackling power that's both strong and manageable, though when the revs climb and the meat flattens out, the bike makes it clear that you really need to upshift.* In addition to the user-friendly power, the 150F brings a background of stability to the table that's incredibly well suited to learning riders. Likely attributed to its larger platform, this machine's solid feel comes as a relief to those who shy away from playbikes on the false notion that they aren't planted enough to really jam on.* This Honda's suspension is damped so heavily that it's almost harsh, but the bright side of this is that it can take harder hits much better than its smaller counterparts. The stiff initial stroke does give the bike a slightly dead feel, but it's definitely livelier than the original CRF150F that wasn't electric-start.* The ground clearance on this CRF isn't too far off from other bikes in the class, but for some reason the footpegs seem much more prone to clobbering rocks. Make that every rock you see.The Factory Verdict
"I'd like to have a CRF150 on my farm to chase the cows and cruise around on. I had a Z50 a long time ago, and it's cool that kids get to have bikes like these today!"
-Andrew Short

Kawasaki KLX140L
A new entrant to the midsize playbike market, the recently introduced KLX140L brings a fresher style to the class than any of the other colored bikes. With an adjustable shock, frame-mounted footpegs and KX-style chain adjusters, the KLX represents the new era of higher-tech play machines and should get a solid pat on the back for pushing the boundaries of the segment. However, it could still be considered a "budget" machine and isn't without faults like cheesy components, a dull motor and questionable styling. But that's not to say that we don't still like it.The Facts
* This bike seemed to have the best suspension of the bunch, but that's really a push since suspension is the weak point of all of these bikes. They are fine for trail use but jumping them, especially for adults, is a little much. The Kawasaki fork is OK at best, but the adjustable shock brings a whole new feel to the bike. Just be sure to teach junior not to tighten those little flat-blade screws when he works on the bike!* The KLX motor is very bland and about as lean as could be. Additionally, the five-speed transmission offers a wide range of speeds and actually allows the bike a fairly fast clip on wide-open terrain, though it seems to be geared too tall for newbies and slower riders.* The stock kickstand, spark arrestor and electric starting on the 140L are awesome. The steel bar, weak fork and weird plastic tank cover are not.* We hate to be sticklers about style, but does anyone else think that Kawasaki may have designed this bike from the rear-wheel forward, running out of money just past the footpegs?The Factory Verdict
"This bike is fun to mess around on. It's good to ride on anything. I have a small-wheeled KLX because I think that it's faster with the smaller wheels, and I try to get every advantage I can get out of the bike."
-Ryan VillopotoSuzuki DR-Z125L
Aside from newly styled plastics and several bold new price increases, Suzuki hasn't updated its DR-Z125L in some time. But why should it? After all, the DR-Z is reliable, usable and brings a noticeably yellow tint to the midsize corner of the thumper market. Fans of Suzuki shouldn't hold their breath for a revised model DR-Z, as much of Suzuki's playbike development resources went to the recently introduced DR-Z70. But for a bike that has been generally neglected and vastly overlooked in the past few years, this 125cc isn't half bad.The Facts
* This bike is a very middle-of-the road machine in nearly every aspect. The power is average, the suspension is sufficient and the handling is nothing to write home about. Maybe no news is good news, right?* If you want more details on delivery, it looks something like this: The bulk of the 125L's power is strung in the middle of the curve, yet good torque and average top-end pull bookend the practical midrange. Off-idle hit is mellow and almost disappointing, though this translates to friendliness for tentative spouses or kids.* The Suzuki has a disc brake up front that provides average-not excellent-stopping power. You could say that the DR-Z is a solid stopper because of this, but don't expect it to win any nose-wheelie contests.* The DR-Z's basic suspension package feels slightly springy and obviously soft, but the fork doesn't blow through on super-hard hits like you'd expect it to.* If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The DR-Z125L isn't going to win any shootouts, but Suzuki knows this. In fact, it is OK with this. While the bike isn't a showstopper by any means, it's certainly a sufficient and worthy peer of the other machines in this class.The Factory Verdict
"This bike is a great way for kids to go out and have a good time with a bike that's easy to handle and fun to ride, even for guys at my level. I have a DR-Z110, but it's for my girlfriend. If kids go out and run the 800 on their DR-Zs, that would be a huge compliment to me!"
-Mike Alessi