At last. Seeing as rivals have been making hay with sporty 125cc machines for a decade or more, it makes sense that Suzuki have joined the party with the new GSX-R125.
The baby GSX-R is developed from the 150cc bike built and sold in the bike-mad Indonesia. The 150 is raced in the bonkers Suzuki Asian Challenge race series that pits uber-keen teens against each other.
The European version has been cut to 125cc to comply with our learner regs and adapted to meet Euro 4 emissions rules.
Suzuki launched the new GSX-R125 at Silverstone’s Stowe circuit, a one-mile layout that sits on the infield of the main GP track, and the new machine impressed with its light weight and easy handling on such a tight circuit.
The longest straight on the circuit was only 300 metres long so there was no opportunity to max out the high-revving DOHC engine, which makes its peak power at 10,000rpm. On that straight, I saw 60mph on the classy LCD speedo when tipping in for the right-left chicane named after local F1 hero Lewis Hamilton.
We got to test the GSX-S125 on the roads the next day and saw more than 80mph on the speedo. Seeing as that’s the same machine in less aerodynamic attire then we’ll take a punt that the GSX-R125 will do at least the same as its sibling.
It takes work to extract the maximum from the motor, which needs to stay above 8000rpm to remain in the sweet spot between peak torque and peak power.
But the need to stir the pot like this is all part of the fun on a small bike, and means newer riders learn to make the most of every ounce of momentum by getting their approach line right.
‘There’s not much room for bigger lads like me’
Suzuki’s boldest claim for the GSX-R is a class-leading power-to-weight ratio. In a class where licensing regulations keep tight reins on power figures, this matters. The GSX-R’s 11kW (14.6bhp) output and 134kg kerb weight (fuelled and ready to ride) means a power-to-weight of 0.082kW per kilo.
Suzuki has put lots of attention into the quest for lightness, including using a resin moulding technique developed for the latest GSX-R1000 to produce the 125’s bodywork.
But the main contributing factor is the GSX-R’s compact dimensions. It’s shorter in both directions than its main rivals, with a 785mm seat height and 1300mm wheelbase. The seat isn’t outlandishly low (it’s the same as Suzuki’s SV650, for example), but the dinky overall dimensions mean there’s not much room for bigger lads like me.
Trying to find speed-boosting shelter behind the small screen and fairing was a fruitless affair. I resorted to rolling into a ball like a podgy hedgehog and then trying to peel my eyes back towards the horizon to see where I was going.
The natural inclination for taller and wider riders is to slide back into the seat to create ducking room, but the raised pillion seat is so close to the rider’s seat there’s nowhere for us to go.
At 95kg I’m carrying a bit more timber than the average rider who will be considering a 125 like this, but at 5ft 10in I’m hardly a skyscraper, especially when compared to the modern generation of full-size teenagers.
Two guys at Sportsbikeshop HQ own Yamaha YZF-R125s, the current class leader in terms of sales at least. Both are over 6ft tall yet still have room to move around on the Yam, thanks to its taller and longer seat.
It’s the nature of motorcycles that some will suit different riders better than others, but if you’re much above 5ft 8in and want a GSX-R125 then I would be trying one for size to make sure you can get comfy.
‘Most 125s sink under a heavier rider. The GSX-R doesn’t’
One area where my extra weight didn’t present a major drama was the suspension, which supported me well even though there’s no adjustment available. Most 125s will sink when a heavier rider climbs aboard, but the GSX-R had the backbone to cope.
On track, I lacked the faith to lean much on the narrow Dunlop D102 tyres (80/90 x 17 up front and 130/70 x 17 at the back). A bump just after the apex of a left-hander at Stewart corner also unsettled the bike in one of my early sessions and wrecked my confidence through that turn for the rest of the day.
But track riding is not a natural environment for 125s like this. L-platers aren’t allowed on trackdays and no-one with a full licence and functional grey cells would take a road-going four-stroke 125 onto a full circuit. The Stowe session was about giving a 125 a thrashing and working out what it would be like on the road.
For those who fit on it, I’m convinced it would be a damned good laugh on the road. The naked GSX-S125 was excellent fun on its road launch, suggesting the sportier-looker would be just as enjoyable.
‘The GSX-R has gadgets and gizmos nailed’
When we shared details of the new machine on the Sportsbikeshop Facebook page, some were disappointed that the GSX-R runs conventional forks rather than upside-downers like its key rivals.
Suzuki insisted decisions like this were about keeping both the weight and the price down, with the GSX-R the cheapest of the branded 125s with a launch price of £3999 in ‘basic’ colours or £4099 in the attractive MotoGP replica scheme.
While some may find the spec a little lacking on the fork front, the GSX-R has gadgets and gizmos nailed. The LCD instrument cluster is excellent, crucially including a gear position indicator that will help novice riders no end.
The high-spec Bosch ABS works well, refusing to intrude even when deliberately taunted with a hamfist-full of front brake. It’s good to know that ABS is there if you need it, and not before.
Suzuki has also invested in a keyless ignition system – of the right kind. Some of these set-ups become pointless, but the GSX-R’s works well. The bike will only start when the transponder is within reach, so the rider keeps that in a pocket and the ignition can then be operated on a rotating switch.
Handily, at fuel stops, the switch can be pulled out and the base acts as a key to open the tank cap or get to the small compartment under the seat. It’s the sort of modern trickery that will appeal to a new generation of riders without unduly upsetting traditionalists either.
‘It’ll do 83mpg, even when thrashed’
The GSX-R is probably not aiming for riders who want the ultimate in fuel economy (a lower-revving air-cooled 125 like Suzuki’s Van Van or Yamaha’s YS125 should be better for that).
But the GSX-R125 displayed a creditable 71mpg despite spending a day being thrashed on track, and its sibling GSX-S managed 83mpg on the road, again at thrashing point. It might not be the ultimate in economy, but that’s still very frugal.
By now you should know whether the GSX-R125 is the sort of bike for you. If you’re a small to average-sized rider just embarking on life as a motorcyclist then the new Suzuki is such good fun it should definitely be on your radar.
£3999-£4099 (price correct September 2017)
Engine 124.4cc single-cylinder four-stroke, liquid-cooled DOHC
Bore x stroke 62.0mm x 41.2mm
Compression ratio 11.0:1
Power (claimed) 14.6bhp @ 10,000rpm
Torque 8.48 lb-ft at 8000rpm
Fuel system Fuel injection
Front suspension Telescopic, coil spring, oil damped
Rear suspension Link type, coil spring, oil damped
Tyres 90/80-17 (front), 130/70-17 (rear)
Seat height 785mm
Kerb weight 134kg
Fuel capacity 11 litres
Fuel economy 71mpg (tested)
Further info https://bikes.suzuki.co.uk/bikes/