Honda CB125F Review
Updated: Sep 16
Close your eyes and think of a legendary motorcycle. What springs to mind? I bet it looks nothing like the bike in the photo. You may not think the term legend would apply to a basic, learner friendly, simple commuter motorcycle, but in the case of the Honda CB125F, or GLR125 as it's known in some markets, the superlative is well placed and thoroughly deserved.
To me the term "legendary" applies to something, or someone without equal who has managed to maintain that status regardless of trend, fashion, or time itself. The Roman Empire, The Spanish Tercios, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix. So how does this basic bike fit?
It fits because it is pretty much the perfect motorcycle. It does everything in its skillset efficiently, quietly and without fuss. it doesn't scream "look at me, aren't I great?", it just gets on with it choosing to exude and demonstrate greatness without having to shout about it. I shudder to think how many motorcyclists on the road today owe their motorcycling life to this uttery brilliant little motorcycle. When Honda made this little gem they hit the nail squarely on the head. Admittedly it's not great to look at, but looks aren't everything are they?
Honda released the CB125 in 1970. A lightweight frame with a simple single cylinder engine that produced just about enough power to make it interesting in its class. It became an instant seller in its home market and introduced to Europe and the US in 1972. The CB line has been ever present in one form or another ever since. Changes were gradual over the life of the model with steady and constant revisions to the design in order to keep up with fashion trends.
The CB125F, a direct descendant of the original, first appeared in 2015 replacing the CBF125 with which it shouldn't be confused. It is easy to confuse the two model names but the bikes are quite different, at least in terms of style. The CBF appeared in 2008, replacing the unbelievably successful CG125 which had carved a niche all of its own in the hall of fame of motorcycles.
The CG's replacement now had a cockpit fairing, a belly pan and some added plastic bits here and there. It sold handsomely around the world and in the UK was actually the best selling motorcycle for years. Testament to its success is the fact that there are still lots of these to be seen running around all over the place. The bike kept its simple, rugged, and reliable single cylinder engine producing 11bhp at 8000rpm resulting in an achieveble realistic top speed of around 65mph. It was still lightweight and accelerated nicely to keep up with, and actually ahead of, the flow of modern urban traffic.
If one were to remove the plastics of the CBF125 and the CB125F they would look remarkably similar. In essence it's the same bike however with an efficient fuel injection system and by de-tuning the engine slightly performance changed. The CB125F now produced around 10hp. Less than it's predecessor. There were raised eyebrows at the time but Honda's response was to highlight the fuel economy figure as opposed to the performance output.
Honda had re-engineered the bike to be an efficient, sturdy, forgiving and frugal commuter. The factory claimed an astounding 145 mpg which had the motorcycling press scrambling to check the validity of that figure. Having ridden this bike extensively however I can claim with hand firmly placed on heart that I would generally see mileages of 350 miles between fill ups. This is an incredible feat of engineering even by today's standards and I have to say that I did not hang around on the bike either. A trainee of mine once told me that by riding carefully he could see more than 400 miles from the 13 litre tank and, knowing the bike as I do, I have no reason to disbelieve him.
Frugality however isn't the only trick up it's sleeve. It performs really well too. It's as happy enough plodding along as it is when you rev the hell out of it to get it moving on a dual carriageway. The engine is lively and willing. The five speed gearbox is smooth, simple and free from fuss. The clutch is super light. The throttle is smooth and progressive. Brakes are simple but effective enough to stop the machine when required and consiste of a disc at the front with a drum at the rear. The same as in the CBF125 version in actual fact.
Suspension is again basic with telescopic forks fore and springs aft. There's nothing to write home about here, they just do the job they need to do well enough. The riding position is relaxed and comfortable enough for a lummox like me to spend long periods of time in the saddle without complaint You all know me, I', not a small weedy little thing am I? The seat height is under less than 800mm which means that it is accessible to many and it only weighs around 120kg which makes it easy to move about. Handling is terrific for a bike with such skinny tyres. You can really get this little bike down and throw it around with complete abandon and total confidence!
The slight downside for me in this great little package is the instrumentation which, for me, was much better on the CBF125 which had a large round speedo which was easy to read and a secondary rev counter with an inset fuel gauge. The clocks on the CB125F however are small and not that easy to read, especially on a miserably rainy day in the middle of November. Backlighting is, well, feeble. It does however have a central gear indicator. This was something that many Chinese motorcycles were sporting and became a popular feature so Honda decided to jump on that bandwagon too.
What would have been better would have been to dispense with the needless rpm counter and nonsensical gear indicator and just have a more prominent, larger speedometer. Who needs a rev counter on a bike that produces 10hp for goodness sake? If you've trained with me you know I don't like gear indicators. You don't need them and they make you look down at the console when you should be looking ahead, where the danger is likely to be!
Poor instruments aside, the performance, rideability and efficiency of this motorcycle made it a firm favourite for riding schools. It just made sense. It was easy to ride and learn on and easy to teach on. Whilst working at an inferior school, I liked it so much that when they were selling some of their older ones I bought one. I used it as my working bike for around a year. I used to commute on it to work and do the two hour CBT road rides without complaint. The other instructors, on their BMW GS1200s would laugh at my choice of bike but "Betty" as we named her, would cost peanuts to run and maintain, not so with their Beemers!
The fantastic reliability of this bike mean that servicing costs are minimal. A set of brake pads costs around £9. A tyre around £40. A full tank of happiness juice at today's prices is around £17 but for that you can look forward to more than 300 miles before you visit a petrol station again. By comparison, our car would cost £70 for the same mileage!
The final ace up it's sleeve is the fact that you will simply not lose any money on this bike. When new it was priced at around £2700. This was £200 cheaper than the model it took over from, the CBF125. Chinese brand bikes (The CB125F was manufactured in China by Honda) at the time (2015) were retailing for around £1700 brand new for an equivalent machine so it was a bit of a stretch to the little Honda from the Chinese alternative however those early Chinese bikes were considerably cheaper for a reason.
Re-sale values for this bike are truly staggering. Even though the model was again revised in 2021, an older CB125F will still command a very healthy re-sale price. I regularly see these on ebay for around £2000. Not bad for a basic eight year old commuter. There are not many bikes out there that hold their value as well as this.
Our "Betty" has now covered more than 30,000 miles without hiccup. Bearing in mind it has been a training school bike for the greater part of her bike, the only major component we had to replace was the ECU, and that only cost £30! Just change the oil regularly, check the brakes and tyres on a regular basis, keep an eye on your tyres and this remarkable little machine with a heritage going back to 1970, when I was just one year old, will not ever let you down.
Any new rider looking for a bike to gain experience and confidence on can have total faith on the CB125F. It is one of the best first bikes you can have, easy to ride, maintain and live with, what more can you ask for? And then, when you sell up you'll probably get back what you paid for! What's not to like?
Just to cool your jets a little though and stop you running off like a demon to your nearest Honda dealer, a word of caution. The model was "revised" in 2021. In this case, revised does not mean improved because, sadly, they have made a total pig's ear of it.
Build quality is not as good as previously. This is very clearly and interim end of the line version designed to fill the gap before the CB125R model was ready. Styling is attrocious. This was never a strong point with the CB125F but thisis an attempt to release something that would attract sales away from Chinese bikes. Why would anyone spend £2700 on this when a Mutt Mongrell, or a Herald or a Lexmoto Valiant, or any number of others are just much more stylish for around the same price?
It feels cheap, and it is. The alloy foot rest hangers have been replaced by cheap tubular steel versions. Why should this make a difference? Because if you were to drop the bike, the older version was more sturdy and if it broke one side was replaceable independent of the other. On the new version the left and right are one unit so the while damned lot will need to be replaced.
The exuberance of plastic means that a slight drop can result in an expensive repair. Plastics are expensive and in this version are clearly there to hide the spartan basicness (if that's a word) of the bike This was the downside with the CBF125 so Honda seemed to have regressed. The engine sounds and feels strangled and more laboured than previously. They have added an LED headlight and a digital speedo to this bike to make it more up to date. It also has an irritating "eco" light.
Basically above the speedo is a green light. If the light is lit you are riding economically. Who needs this crap? Simply accelerate and brake gently and change gear smoothly to achieve the same result, remember the 350 mile range?. The idiotic green light has no effect other than t be a useless distraction causing riders to look down at the dash. Ignore the damned light a keep your vision on the road! These "gadgets" do not warrant the price. Seriously, ignore this version and buy an older second hand version instead you will be buying a much better motorcycle!
In summary, this is probably the perfect first bike for someone who has just begun riding and completed their CBT. Easy to ride, economical, comfortable, capable, easy to insure, great re-sale value and, dare I say it? ...fun! What's not to like?
Many trainees ask me whether it's worth buying a 125 bike and ride that for a while before taking on DAS or whether they should just dive straight in to the big bike training. There's no substitute for experience and the CB125F, with all its superb qualities is a great way to achieve that. And, with the high re-sale value, it's a no brainer!
Honda CB125F specifications:
Engine: Single cyinder 125cc air cooled.
Fuel capacity: 13 litres
Seat height: 770mm
Front brake: Hydraulic disc
Rear brake: Drum
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