Yamaha’s new MT-125 looks great and has a heavily revised engine with even more poke, while the ride and handling have also been updated. It is also the most expensive ‘naked’ 125 on the market. We flew to Malaga in Spain to see if the ‘dark side of Japan’ has been able to reach Yamaha’s entry level MT?
Due to an increase in demand in the 125 market across Europe, Yamaha has now, six years on, introduced the all-new and far more aggressive MT-125. Yamaha claims they’ve improved the design, making radical steps forward over the old model with the introduction of the VVA (Variable Valve Actuation) engine from the YZF-R125 and better handling with a new frame and riding position. Make no mistake, this isn’t the old bike in new clothes, this is a new Euro5 MT-125 for 2020.
The new MT is aimed squarely at a young, 17-20 audience. It’s aggressive and distinctive, the ‘face-like’ headlights are immediately identifiable as the MT range and a big transformation from the previous model. The more compact riding position (there’s a smaller fuel tank) and exhaust, the classy looking 10-spoke wheels, new switchgear, and clocks combine to make it a big step forward over the old bike.
Behind the dramatic eye-catching styling is an all-new chassis that has been adopted from Yamaha’s own YZF-R125 sports bike. The result is a Deltabox frame with modified geometry, the rake and trail having been lengthened. They’ve increased rigidity around the swing-arm pivot and a shortened the swing-arm. Quality KYB inverted 41mm forks remain along with a single KYB rear shock with a reduced spring rate to accommodate for the rider now sitting further forward. (The rider’s weight and position significantly affect the handling of a bike that only weighs 140kg, full of fuel).
The new MT weighs in a claimed 2kg heavier than the previous model, and that is with a smaller fuel tank, while, interestingly, the rear tyre has increased in size, and is now a 140-section, up from a 130. Thankfully it’s still rolling on good quality Michelin Pilot Street rubber.
Like the chassis, the engine has been stolen from Yamaha’s R125, which was updated in 2019, with an all-new VVA engine. Simply put, at 7400rpm the intake valve timing changes from a low-lift cam to a high-lift cam. It’s a relatively simple system, and at all times acts at 7400rpm. Yamaha has adopted this clever but simple system that keeps peak power within limits but equally improves torque at the same time. This is not the only engine modification: the air-box has increased in size too, as have the intake ports and valves.
Throwing a leg over the MT-125 for the first time you instantly notice the differences. You’re sat closer to the headstock, it feels sharper, with your nose over the front. The fuel tank has decreased in size by 1.5 litres to accommodate this change and the bars are now wider, out from 680mm to 740mm. The new clocks are a vast improvement over the old bike’s, and there is even new high-quality switchgear.
On the move, you immediately try to feel or sense the VVA system working. A small icon on the dash illuminates at just over 7000rpm when the system is active, but even with surgical throttle control I couldn’t feel or sense the system cutting in. Just because this is an entry-level ‘budget’ bike doesn’t mean they’ve cut costs on engine quality.
The suspension is on the firm, sporty side, as is the new seat, but the damping is controlled and sportive. Even when you ride outside the bike’s easy access design window, jumping over speedbumps or close to knee down levels of lean, the suspension remains controlled.
I’ve ridden naked 125s that have made me question the quality of the suspension on the limit or the capability of their OE fitment rubber, but this certainly wasn’t the case with Yamaha’s 2020 MT-125. Even the radial brakes are impressive.
Yamaha have tweaked the handling, too. Rake and trail are more relaxed and, along with that wider rear wheel is wider and extra weight, should slow down the steering. But on the flip side the wheelbase is significantly shorter, as is the swing-arm, which does the opposite and in theory makes it more responsive.
On the road, the new handling allows you to safely and confidently attack apexes, carry corner speed around busy roundabouts or dart in-between traffic for fun. The radial brakes are ABS-assisted of course and therefore idiot-proof, and the ABS only intervenes once the rear wheel starts to depart from the road under seriously hard braking. Yamaha has even added a slipper clutch for 2020 which works in partnership with the excellent radial stoppers.
The little four-stroke single-cylinder engine is comparatively impressive in A1 form. Yamaha has shortened the gearing to make it livelier. It’s nippy and thanks to a relatively smooth gearbox more than capable of keeping up with busy city traffic. However, should you be brutal with the clutch and revs, it can fire from the lights, ideal for outraging unsuspecting car drivers and nipping in front before the next set of lights. 60mph cruising is comfortable and the engine copes no matter what the conditions or gradient, with just noticeable vibrations as expected.
Yamaha quote fuel consumption at 132mpg, which give a theoretical range of 292 miles, however with such a firm seat I wouldn’t want to ride that far in one hit. Still, 70mph is do-able, but 75mph is around the limit. After that, it’s time to tuck in, slipstream a friend or wait for a downhill section for anything more. I’m sure a 17-year-old whippet will be able to witness an indicated 80mph, even possibly more.
But before we get too carried away, we do have to remember this entry-level ‘budget’ 125 is £4449, which makes it the most expensive bike in this 125 ‘naked’ category, and significantly more expensive than the competition. The competition from Honda, the CB125R, is a tad under £4000 and Kawasaki’s naked Z125 only £3499. KTM’s funky 125 Duke is also £3499 and £39 a month on PCP. But at 17 do you care so much about money? Every 17-year-old I know has the latest iPhone and smartwatch – not a cheaper alternative.
Yamaha has significantly improved on what was an already good bike. The new MT-125 has a real big-bike feel, a sense of quality and an impressive tech sheet. Styling and appeal have been drastically improved, there’s a new chassis that is still light, nimble and predictable, plus a punchier engine with even more performance and improved efficiency. The new MT-125 is a quality ‘budget’ A1 entry-level naked bike, possibly the best on the market – albeit for a price.