You don’t often see learner legal 125cc bikes outside cities, and certainly not on green lanes. But the Rieju Marathon 125 Pro has such an authentic enduro spec we wanted to see if it could take on the same green lanes as bigger machines, and give us the same sense of adventure as bikes twice its capacity.
The setting for our test ride was perfect: it was rainy and grim. With no chance of feeling unduly elated by the beauty of the world around me, it was a perfect chance to judge the bike on its merits and not the idyllic conditions we rode in.
And this was the test: to see if the Rieju Marathon 125 Pro can match its enduro looks with a spirited performance on the trails.
To make sure the little Rieju didn’t feel too lonely, I was joined on the trails by Lucia Aucott, a riding an equally modestly powered UM DSR 125 enduro bike.
After a short road ride, just enough to establish that no amount of offroad-cool can make a 125 feel any more of a weapon on the open road, we hit the trails. Lucia is a hugely experienced off-road rider and she knows the area well. Being unfamiliar with the bikes, she leads the way, starting with a couple of easy green roads to get us acquainted with how the bikes felt, and how we felt about them.
The first impressions were overwhelmingly, and surprisingly, positive. When you move off the asphalt, there’s less need for speed and horsepower. Unless you’re a proper Dakar-hero, and happy to annoy every dog walker in the county, you tend to take it steady, and the lack of power from the 125cc single engine was not a problem in the slightest. What I could have done with though, was a little extra torque – just enough to help lift the front wheel off the ground a bit easier when there was an obstacle in the way. But aside from that, the start of the ride was strong. The bike handled beautifully, and being rather light, it was easy to skip along the trails. Suspension was pretty good too, certainly good enough for my level of trail riding, and you got a good feel of the grip levels of the Michelin knobbly tyres. All was good.
After the easy start Lucia took a right turn towards what looked like an overgrown hedge. She was adamant that a passable green road ran through it and, not wanting to look like a wimp, I followed her into the greenery. The lane got narrower and narrower, with brambles running across it, and very soon we were mobile hedge trimmers more than trail riders. It was slow progress, but we made it through with all manner of vegetation stuck on the bikes. Riding here made me wish that Rieju had put hand guards on the Marathon as my thin trail gloves were no match to the scratching brambles, and every now and again a branch would pull a brake or clutch lever and make progress even more difficult. But we made it, and to be fair, the fact that we were on 125s had not made the job any more difficult.
From the jungle we emerged to a nice gravel road, leading to a welcome coffee and cake break. I asked Lucia, who had planned the route, if she had made any concessions for the size of our bikes, but no, these were the lanes she would ride bigger bikes on too. Impressive, I thought – there seems to be so much less of a gap between a learner-legal bike and a ‘standard’ trail bike than there is between an A1 bike and a full-licence road bike. And you still get the satisfaction of squashing any criticism about your riding with the ‘it’s only a 125’ argument. Perfect!
Caffeine levels restored, it was time to hit a few more lanes. This time we had some muddy ruts to deal with. It’s not my favourite kind of riding, but I must admit that the Rieju made easy work of it. Well, I say easy, there were a couple of whoopsies, but there always are when I’m riding. Overall, the Marathon was great in ruts, being light and nimble to make it easy to correct your lines quickly, and the suspension working well enough to keep everything steady through bigger bumps.
The riding position, and the general feel of the bike is no different to bigger enduro bikes, so the only thing you’re missing is the outright power and torque. And on trails, you only really miss the torque. Having said that, we had one sketchy hill to climb on our route, and the 125 went up the loose ground with no complaints.
We finished the day with some nice hard-packed gravel roads, to give the bikes one last enjoyable stretch of legs before returning to Tarmac. And the truth is, I really didn’t want to get back on blacktop. It’s a learner legal bike at the end of the day, and it’s not really at home on the A1. Not with its lack of meaningful power. Not with the proper knobbly tyres, which are excellent off-road but a little compromised on it. And not with the lack of weather protection (it was still raining) either. I recently tested the Rieju Aventura 125, which would have been a much preferable 125 bike for the roads, but that was not an option. I was stuck with the Marathon Pro, and all I wanted to do was to stay on the green lanes, but unfortunately the network of green roads is so scarce that the only option was to bite the bullet and hit the roads on the last leg towards home.
I think it’s safe to say that both Lucia and I were impressed with how well the 125s managed on the trails. Yes, there were moments when just a little more grunt would have been preferable, and if I had a choice I would go for a 250 instead, but that’s not to say that the Rieju is not up to the job. I had a great day out on the bike, and it did everything I asked of it – sometimes I just had to work a bit harder to achieve the desired result.
For anyone who’s new to either motorcycling in general, or just trail riding, the Rieju Marathon 125 Pro is a great option as an introduction to greenlaning. It will allow you to have all the fun of trail riding without terrifying you with more power than you can handle. I just wish they were around when I was a much younger man.