The “small bike” segment is easy to love. Until this spring, only Honda was selling one of these motorcycles that look like a scaled down sport bike called the Grom. But, as of this month, the popular Grom has competition: the Kawasaki Z125 Pro.
Although it’s great for beginners, the little 125cc bike attracts attention from most motorcyclists, regardless of skill level. My girlfriend, who until recently owned the quintessential beginner’s bike — the Honda Rebel — put more miles on the Z125 Pro in a few weeks than she did on the Rebel in months. A buddy who has been riding for decades and has serious racing chops swears by his small bike because he can push it to the limit without putting himself at crazy risk. And thanks to great MPG — somewhere in the 80s and even higher if you’re not pinning it the whole time — as well as lots of aftermarket parts, these bikes are popular with both commuters as well as riders who race them on weekends.
Kawasaki did its research before releasing the Z125 Pro and found that the sub-400cc street bike market has grown 127 percent over the past five years. The No. 1 selling bike is the Kawasaki Ninja 300, and the Honda Grom was No. 2. Although the tiny streetfighter looks small, the 31.7-inch seat height is comparable to full-sized sport bikes. Most smaller riders will easily be able to put their feet flat on the ground. Taller riders will bang their knees on the bars on tighter turns. With a svelte 225-pound curb weight, it feels light, which is a bonus for new riders. Kawasaki claims the bike can accommodate a 353-pound load, something we tested cruising around Highland Park in L.A. At 6’2”, I felt like a bear on a bicycle on the Z125, and riding with a passenger, we turned some heads, but the bike did well until we got into some hills. They were slow going and included plenty of downshifting.
The 30mm inverted fork provided an adequate job in absorbing the abuse provided by the so-so L.A. roads, as did the rear shock that has four positions of preload adjustment, which can provide even a stiffer ride for larger riders who want to get it more aggressively.
At $2,999 the Z125 Pro is $300 less than the Grom, which underwent a redesign for 2017. Other differences? The Z125 Pro’s seat height is 1.7” taller, gas tank is bigger (two gallons instead of 1.45 gallons,) and the Kawasaki’s single-cylinder air-cooled engine has a slightly shorter stroke than the Honda’s, so the motor spins about 500 rpm faster at the top of the range and power comes on slightly later in the rev range. The Z125 Pro also has taller and more narrow tires that make it feel bigger than the Grom.
The Z125 Pro also features an LCD dash that includes a gear indicator, dual tripmeters, digital speedometer, and fuel gauge. All that data is great to have, and most beginning riders appreciate the inclusion of the gear indicator.
Although it’s illegal to ride on the highway, for strictly testing purposes, we hopped on a short section of Highway 2, and it did better than we thought it would — getting to the mid-60s. For fun, I also headed to Angeles Crest — a fast section of twisting turnies, which would have been okay for a new rider because speeds of about 50 mph are easy to maintain but slow for more advanced riders. However, banging around tighter serpentine roads, like those above The Rose Bowl in Pasadena was a blast, proving that you have fistfuls of fun without totally disregarding the speed limit.
The Z125 Pro is a good choice for new riders who want a small bike to get some experience under their helmets or advanced riders who want a fun bike to add to the stable that’s capable of parking-lot races and inexpensive commuting. [$2,999; kawasaki.com]