The unforgettable most beautiful and powerful 125 motorcycles of the 80s-90s

Today’s 125s have the function of filling a segment that some brands leave uncovered or have never even calculated, while the small eighth of a liter at the turn of the 80s and 90s they were real motorcycles, important for the market and for the young motorcyclists to whom they were intended.

We live in a period where technology, markets, fashion are getting closer to each other in ever faster transformations. News, growth and a law that came into force in 1996 that prescribes no more than 15 HP of maximum power for 125 cc, has led the most important motorcycle manufacturers to shift the attention of motorcyclists to medium and large displacement models, abandoning in part of the smaller means destined for the majority to adolescents in transition towards something more consistent.

Thus ended the golden age of the 125 two-stroke which in the previous decade reached an enviable climax, bringing technology and culture where until the seventies it was nothing more than an economic way to move, the latest son of the mass motorization of all social classes. Among the bikes to open that course, the Laverda LZ with Zündapp engine, Gilera TG1, Aspes Yuma, twin-cylinder Malanca and below Moto Morini, Garelli, Fantic Motor and Zündapp itself. Good attempts, but less convincing than what would come later to mark an era forever. It is in fact the nuance of transition from one decade to another, which leads us straight to the first real sports of the genre.

Long live Italy

Gilera, after the modern reinterpretation of its old models, called RV, churns out what will be the backbone of its production such as KK, KZ, MX1, MXR. From this base we will then arrive at the first historic Race Replicas such as the SP01 and SP02 of the 90s.

Aprilia also participates in this success, owing much of its fortune to the production of those years in which it will become the two-stroke master company and leader in small displacements. With the AF1 Project 108 model, begins the series of which the AF1 Sintesi and Futura belong, which throughout the 1980s proved to be reliable and more captivating than their rivals. The pinnacle will come with the RS series, an evolution of the previous models and a photocopy of the Grand Prix motorbike of the early 90s. black-Chesterfield coloring, replica of the bikes used by Biaggi, Ruggia, Jean Michel Bayle and Reggiani.

But if we really had to think of an iconic 125 in style and name, the mind of the most knowledgeable on the subject would go to 1990, the year of presentation of the Cagiva Mito. Before this, the Castiglioni brothers’ factory had produced the SST 125, but the real leap had been made with the enduro Aletta Rossa, great rival of the Moto Morini KJ Kanguro, the Aletta Oro and the Freccia designed by Massimo Drummers. The latter resembled the Ducati Paso, giving off a great motorcycle charm. The arrival of the Mito made it clear the concept that the 125 two-stroke motorcycle had infinite development possibilities and that it could have been the real alternative to mid-sized models. Modern, cyclistically valid, it looked like the Grand Prix bike of the premier class. In full Castiglioni style, it came out in the Lucky Explorer colors celebrating Edi Orioli’s success in the Dakar and Lawson replica, with the number seven printed on the tail, in honor of the first driver to lead the Varese home to victory in 500. Other racing colors and one restyling at the end of the nineties will lead the Mito to follow the lines of the Ducati sports cars, another important family brand of that period.

The Japanese arrive

At the same time as the turmoil that saw models of our companies popping up like mushrooms with updated versions practically every six months, the Japanese could not stand by and watch. The executives of the rising sun wanted to participate in this festival made of 30 HP single-cylinder, with expansion exhaust and mixture scent. The first models destined for our market came out of their Italian offices which, in the wake of the success of their brands already in the 70s, met with good reception.

By dividing this category into two sectors, Honda released the road CB125 and the XL125 enduro at the same time. The second had an initial success identified as the counterpart of the higher displacements of the wing house that participated in African raids with good results, then followed by the MTX-R model which was even more reminiscent of the major Transalp, Africa Twin and Dominator. The road pass they did with the NS-F, real naked as we still understand it today and the NS-R, which proposed the faired version with the same engine. 1988 was the turn of the NSR which could boast 31 declared HP and an unmistakable style that brought it very close to the big CB and VFR.

Paradoxically, Honda was the first and the only one to put 125 on the road that could compete with the excessive power of our companies. In Yamaha, with the TZR125 model produced in the 80s they had no luck, but basically at Iwata they committed themselves to this issue and did not make the appropriate decisions to be competitive on the market. Aesthetically inferior to its competitors and with a style already obsolete at the time of launch, the results had to wait until 1991. Lagging behind the others, the TZR125 R was another bike compared to the previous one, modern and finally captivating. This model reached its apex with the Marlboro replica version that reproduced the livery of Wayne Rainey’s 500 GP, complete with the number 1 imprinted, celebrating the three world titles won by the Californian.

Even Suzuki, which already had a good tradition with the 500 and 250 two-stroke engines, decided to align with its compatriots by producing the RG Gamma 125. Beautiful, modern, equal to the RGV Gamma 250, much appreciated by expert motorcyclists, it was just an attempt to complete their catalog and as in the case of Yamaha ten years earlier, the leaders of Hamamatsu did not really believe in the category and with the regulations on the way, they took the opportunity not to follow up on the project.

The arrival of the third millennium

The third millennium has definitively reduced the thickness of that period and of that concept of motion which, according to the current trend, it is practically impossible that it can come back into vogue. Unfortunately it seems normal, obvious and above all that technology has brought such benefits as to make us believe that it would no longer be worth getting dirty with oil to be mixed with petrol, with the risk of seizing. To deal with noisy and steaming exhausts of all colors and engines that heat up a lot at crazy speeds.

Yet Jan Vitteven, undisputed master of the two-stroke, for years at the court of Noale and in charge of racing engines that have won titles in the 125 and 250 classes with the best drivers in circulation, has repeatedly reiterated that the obligation to reduce power of registered vehicles and Honda’s choice primarily to kill that category by virtue of opening other markets, concluded the story of a concept that would have had so many opportunities for development and innovation that we can only imagine. And think about it, today it wouldn’t pollute as we think.

Source: Virgilio Motori by

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