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Top five…learner bikes for 2024

Honda DAX

Learner legal motorbikes come in all shapes and styles, not to mention the different names they can sometimes be known as. You might hear them referred to as 125s (for that is the maximum internal combustion engine capacity allowed for learners), A1 bikes (A1 being the category of driving licence needed) or even ‘CBT’ bikes (after the Compulsory Basic Training course you’ll have to complete before being able to ride) which all adds to what can already be a quite complicated journey for new riders looking to set out on their motorcycling journey.

Some riders choose to buy a cheap second-hand bike and, while there’s some merit in that, buying new also has its advantages. Learner bikes often lead a hard life, especially as they are typically ridden by riders with very little experience. Knowing you’re riding a bike which has never been abused and is in tip-top condition can be very valuable, especially if you plan to keep your bike for a long time or are relying on it as your sole form of transport.

You can legally ride an A1 bike on the road at the age of 17 but won’t be able to get anything bigger until the age of 19, so for younger riders the bike will have to last at least a few years. Even for older riders, ‘125s’ provide a great way to get around cheaply. You don’t need to pass a full test to ride an A1 category machine unsupervised so, if you’re happy to ride around on L plates and have a top speed of around 60mph, running a new learner-legal motorcycle may be just what you need when it comes to reliable and inexpensive transport. If you are happy with just having a run around, you can take an A1 driving test. Pass that and you will be able to use motorways and take a passenger. You also won’t need to display L plates, or redo the CBT after two years.

Sound good? But which learner legal motorcycle should you buy?

Well, the choice is plenty. We could give you dozens of great 125s on sale today, but these five in particular have caught our eye.

Suzuki GSXR-125

Not a new model for 2024, but definitely a significant one in our eyes.

 

Suzuki GSX-R125

 

The GSX-R125 is the last model remaining in Suzuki’s once iconic GSX-R line-up.

Introduced in the mid-1980s, the first GSX-Rs (or Gixxers, as they would become affectionately known) were cutting edge superbikes which formed the basis of Suzuki’s very successful racing programme and soon became the most desirable race replica machines of their time.

The GSX-R brand expanded, with the GSX-R1000 of the early 2000s being the pinnacle. It won the world superbike title and numerous world endurance championships but, with tastes changing, Suzuki has moved out of the race replica scene – leaving this as the last GSX-R standing.

And we love it. The GSX-R125 might not be quite as well equipped as some (more expensive) bikes in the class but you still get a lot, and what you get is very good. The engine is responsive and right on the power limit allowed under learner bike rules, it looks great and is simple to ride.

Fuel consumption is typically very good on all 125s, but the modern Suzuki engine delivers an especially pleasing 117mpg – while spec like LED lights, keyless ignition and a pretty comprehensive LED dashboard all give an upmarket feel.

It costs £5,199 at the time of writing, and if you prefer a naked style, the unfaired GSX-S125 provides the same basic package, sans bodywork, for £200 less.

Zero S

 

2024_zero_s_2

 

American company Zero Motorcycles has been building all-electric motorcycles for the best part of two decades now and while the ‘Tesla of the motorcycle world’ hasn’t quite made the same impact on the two-wheeled world that Elon Musk’s business has had on the car industry, they are definitely regarded as the leaders in their sector.

The new-for-2024 Zero is an interesting motorcycle which is something of an outlier in this selection in many ways. With an electric motor, rather than an internal combustion engine, at its heart this is not technically a 125cc motorcycle. In fact, Zero have exploited a loophole to give their CBT compliant range more than the 11kw maximum allowed for petrol bikes, albeit in shorter bursts. Because rules mean the 11kw limit is measured continuously over a 30 minute test cycle, the Zero qualifies as an A1 category bike despite having a peak power of 60bhp, four times more than a 125.

What’s more the huge torque output (132Nm, which is more than most superbikes) and the instant power delivery characteristics of an electric motor mean that the Zero is incomparable to any petrol-powered learner bike. It’s hard to make a comparison between petrol and electric, but in terms of performance it’s much closer to something like a Ducati Monster or Triumph Street Triple than it is a petrol powered 125. Top speed is capped at 86mph (again in short bursts), but it gets up there very rapidly indeed.

The rest of the bike is also high tech, with the sort of electronics and chassis components you’d expect to find on a mid-to-premium naked middleweight. Of course, electric bikes have their detractors, who will criticise things like range and charging time, and the S is not immune to this. Range is claimed at 100 miles on the motorway, which having toured on a Zero DSR/X last summer we think should be achievable, and over 150 miles around town. Recharging is around four hours but can be reduced to less than half by fitting the optional quickcharger.

The elephant in the room is the price, which at £15,300 is three times the cost of a highly specced 125. That said, there’s no direct comparison and it’s not really a bike designed for novices. Indeed we can see the appeal for riders who are perhaps looking for something easy to ride (there’s no clutch or gearbox) and distinctive, while offering the looks and performance of a mid-sized motorcycle.

Adventure styled Zero DS is also available with similar specs and price.

Honda ST125 DAX

From one extreme to the other, the Honda ST125 DAX is about as far away from a Zero as you can get.

Honda has always been expert in building small ‘monkey’ bikes. Originally developed in the 1960s, these motorcycles were designed to be thrown into the back of a camper van – giving the owner a small but still usable machine to get around on at their destination.

They rebooted the idea 10 years ago with the first Grom, a three-quarters size 125 that was small in stature but big on personality. It was joined by the more retro Monkey in 2018 and this, the DAX, a couple of years ago.

The DAX moniker comes from the bike’s apparent likeness to a dachshund dog. It is quirky, relatively inexpensive and amazing fun on short runs. These fun sized Hondas have a real cult following, as likely to be owned as second or third bikes by seasoned bikers as they are by 17-year-olds getting their first set of wheels, and this broad appeal and community is a big part of the charm. There’s also a huge custom scene with these bikes, with modifications being commonplace among the community.

The spec is nothing to write home about but there’s enough contemporary tech to make them suitable for modern riding, for example you get LED lights, ABS braking and an LCD dashboard. It costs £3,799 and will put a smile on your face every time you ride it. We reviewed one recently and you can read what we had to say here.

Yamaha RayZR

 

Yamaha RayZR

 

New to Yamaha’s already huge range of learner legal machines for 2024 is the RayZR.

It’s not a new design, having been available in India (where it is made) since 2016, but it gives Yamaha a low cost product that could well give a bloody nose to the likes of Lexmoto and Sinnis. At £2,300, it offers big brand reassurance and dealer network at the kind of price expected from the Chinese manufacturers.

Like Suzuki’s Indian built 125s, the spec is low. The air-cooled motor makes 9bhp and there’s very little tech to speak of. The key thing, in addition to the price, is the low weight of just 99kg. Combined with its small wheels, the RayZR promises to be super agile in the city while having (just about) enough go for occasional forays out on the open road.

Its practical, with enough onboard storage for two helmets, and should be cheap to run, with a claimed 150mpg. 

Kawasaki Z125

 

kawasaki z125

 

Just like Suzuki and Yamaha, Kawasaki do good business making 125s in the style of their flagship superbikes and supernakeds.

The faired Ninja 125 and naked Z125 have been staples of the Kawasaki range for a good while now. They look great and undercut offerings from the other Japanese manufacturers in terms of price with this, the Z125, starting from £4,299.

While the spec isn’t quite at the level of some competitors, it delivers the full 11kw allowed under licence laws and is absolutely on point when it comes to the styling. Like most 125s it has a low seat height and manageable weight, however the Z125 also has a low seat option to reduce saddle height by 25mm to 790mm. Add in a narrow waistline, standard ABS brakes and you have a very easy to ride machine which has more presence than a typical 125.

None of these five take your fancy? Here’s five more you might want to think about…

KTM Duke 125: No matter the category of the bike, KTM are renowned for making some of the highest specced and most aggressively styled machines around. The 125 range is no exception, and the streetfighter styled Duke is among the very best 125s you can buy today. You could also consider the sportier, faired, RC 125 and the Husqvarna Svartpilen and Vitpilen, which all share the same high-tech platform.

Yamaha YZF-R125: Like KTM, Yamaha make a whole range of bikes around their sporty 125cc platform. Also, like KTM, it’s at the highest end of the market. The ever-popular YZF-R125 is the race replica style machine, but if that isn’t to your tastes the naked MT-125 and retro XSR125 all share the same excellent variable valve timing engine.

Honda PCX125: Honda’s 125cc range is huge, with something for almost everyone. This covers really basic stuff like the Vision 110 and CB125F, two staples of the rider training industry, through to the high end CB125R and Forza 125 scooter. But don’t forget the best-selling PCX125, which along with the Yamaha NMAX regularly shares top spot in the UK sales chart. You can read a full review here.

Lexmoto LS-N: Devon based Lexmoto has been making some waves in the marketplace for the past decade or so. Initially importing Chinese machines and backing them up with good spares and service back-up, the company has evolved. Although they still import Chinese machines, the range is far more comprehensive. There are still some cheap and cheerful run arounds but bikes like this range topping LS-N have the kind of spec and styling you’d expect from an established brand, for a fraction of the price.

Herald Brat 125: There are quite a few niche motorcycle manufacturers selling cool retros at bargain prices. Much like competitors Mutt and Mash (among others) Herald take Chinese build motorcycles as their base, before giving them a new ‘factory custom’ look. The engines are well proven designs, based on Japanese bikes from decades ago. They look cool, go well and the Brat is currently retailing at £2,795. What’s not to like?

 

 

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