you've entered your teens with a need for two-wheels,
lusting after Fireblades, R1s, GSXR1000s, ZX10s and the like,
then the start your eighteenth year on this planet is the
moment of liberation. From this point on, the "UK Powers
That Be" have said that you, yes you, are responsible
and mature enough to be 'trusted' with the operation of a
real motorbike with gears and a clutch. Are they sane or what?
But there's a catch
- there always is!
They say that it can't have an engine
capacity greater than 125cc and may not develop more than
Okay, it can still have style, cool, and most important of
all - credibility. Can't it?
So what can you get?
your buying criteria have ruled out all those "commuter-hacks"
so loved by the training schools; there's a couple of 2-stroke
race-reps, but you're never going to get Dad to cough up nearly
four grand for one of them, and all the used ones have been
de-restricted and thrashed senseless before you can say "second-hand".
That leaves what?
Well, you have to say that until recently the answer was
"not a lot". Now while globally the sales of sub-125cc
machines exceeds all other bikes added together, in the more
affluent European market these bikes are seen as very small
business. Let's face it, it's only because of our licensing
laws that 125's really exist here at all, and most of us can't
wait for our "two-year 125 probation" to be over
before we can go out and buy a "proper bike" and
scare ourselves witless with all that extra power and speed.
However, some manufacturers are now beginning to realise that
owning and riding a 125 is not a sentence that has to be served
before society will let you loose on a real set of wheels.
When I collected the MZ 125SM
from Jack Nice Motorcycles in Walthamstow, I have to
admit that I was not really relishing the 60 miles ride back
to the Thames Valley with only 125-power. But I was pleasantly
surprised. MZ quote a power output at the maximum allowed
of 15bhp, and I for one have no reason to doubt that number.
While those few horses are never going to see you burning
rubber at the traffic-light GP, they do give the bike a quite
surprising burst of acceleration and a comfortable cruising
speed of 60mph without resorting to slipstreaming white vans
and the backs of trucks. In fact, indicated speeds in excess
of 70mph can be attained without lying flat on the tank or
searching out 1 in 3 hills, but you do need a lot of road
with the throttle pinned to the stop.
engine is MZ designed and built, and it seems to be a good
one. While no 4-stroke is ever going to rev like a 2-stroke,
the 4-valve DOHC head allows the little engine to breathe
well, and it revs happily with no flat spots all the way up
to 10,200 when the limiter cuts in and brings everything to
a halt for the sake of mechanical preservation.
The other thing that was immediately noticeable was that
this is a full-sized proper bike. There are some 125's out
there that are more like scaled-down versions of the real
thing, a bit like mini-moto's on steroids! You know, spindly
forks, paper-thin plastics, frames that appear to be made
of welded water pipes and castings that would be more appropriate
on toys than on bikes. Not the MZ
125SM. The plastic body panels are thick and substantial,
with a good deep paint finish, decals are properly applied
and lacquered over - unlike some oriental offerings I won't
mention! - the 40mm fork tubes wouldn't be out of place on
a sports 400, the exhaust system is stainless throughout,
the brakes lines are braided stainless, and those black-anodised
wheel rims are well tasty. In fact this is one very well put
together machine, even the frame has been black epoxy coated
But the proof of the pudding is in the riding. Throwing a
leg over that 820mm saddle height seems a little daunting
at first, but the soft long travel suspension compresses a
long way, and most riders will have no problems with getting
both feet firmly on the ground. Up front, the wide bars have
all the usual controls in all the usual places and the switches
have a solid quality feel to them. The small headlamp shroud
hides a fairly basic instrument cluster with a central analogue
speedo and "idiot lights" for main beam, low oil
pressure, coolant over temperature, indicators and neutral.
There's even a trip.
A turn of the ignition key powers everything up, set the
manual choke if the engine's cold, and then a quick press
of the starter button fires up the engine on a steady tickover
that seems like it could go on until Hell freezes over. Given
that MZ quote an average fuel consumption of 88mpg and the
tank holds 12.5 litres, this is probably not too much of an
exaggeration. I make that 242 miles on a full tank before
you have to get off and push!
6-speed box has a light if slightly clunky action and
the lever is set well into the frame like some Ducatis. This
caused one or two lever/boot interaction failures in the first
couple of miles of riding, but this was soon overcome. More
interestingly there were some false neutrals, mostly between
fourth and fifth and once or twice the box failed to move
through neutral when trying to change from second to first
and first to second, requiring a second stab at the lever
to get it into gear. In its defence, the bike was almost brand-new
when I picked it up, and this may have been just a matter
of getting everything bedded in properly. Certainly the problem
diminished the more I used the box. On the plus side, the
ratios are well-spaced and clutchless upchanges are a doddle,
which is just as well as with only 15 bhp on tap you're constantly
going up and down the box if you want to maintain a decent
rate of progress. And lets face it, this is a bike for some
serious, if low-powered, looning about.
The suspension is well-damped
and just soaks up the bumps and potholes, so much so that
you may wonder why there's been all that fuss over speed bumps.
The down side is some serious dive on braking, but much of
this can be dialled out by balancing things up with the rear
brake. The brakes, which are Grimeca items, certainly do a
good job and are well-matched to the performance of the rest
of the bike, with a solid feel and a smooth progessive action.
The wide bars and the 17-inch wheels make the bike a quick
steerer, so much so that it quickly becomes impossible to
resist the temptation to throw the bike around corners with
gay abandon. And you should, because it's so good at it!
The handling of the MZ 125SM
is really excellent, but it can get a bit upset on mid-corner
bumps if you're getting a move on. However, it never gets
too unruly and all you get is a bit of a shaking as the long-travel
suspension compresses and rebounds. More importantly it stays
on the line.
The test bike was shod with tyres from a German company called
Heidenau, that I hadn't
heard of before. They were a soft-compound tyre with a narrow
block-pattern tread reminiscent of race intermediates, and
they certainly did the biz. Wet or dry roads seemed to make
little difference to the grip available, and inspired the
confidence to throw the bike around the twisty bits the way
it was designed for. Lean angles can get so crazy that if
you're not careful, pretty soon you'll be tempted to stick
the inside boot on the ground around corners in true supermoto
fact it's fair to say that this is a learner-legal 125
that has performance. MZ obviously think so too, as
in Germany they're promoting the Youngster
Cup for kids to race these
things. The engine is stock and all the lights and indicators
are removed, and they're allowed to change the front
springs and the rear monoshock, alter the chain sprockets
and fit handguards.
And that's about it to go racing.
The action is close, fast and furious, but at the moment
I haven't heard of any plans to bring the series to the UK.
It would be great to see this kind of racing on some of our
home circuits and it could provide many of our younger riders
with a good, low cost entrance into bike racing, as well as
developing some useful riding skills.
Now back to the road version. This is an excellent 125, and
just because it's learner-legal, Fireblade and R1 owners shouldn't
be put off. There's more to having fun on two-wheels than
just outright speed and racebike handling, and the MZ
125SM will soon have you grinning from ear to ear without
having to worry too much about racking up more penalty points
on your licence. And if you're 17, then your Dad will love
you for riding a bike that's been properly built from real
components, and doesn't look like it's been assembled from
spares in some far-eastern shed.
There are a few small niggles though.
the bar-mounted mirrors
give an excellent rearward view - you can almost read the
label on the back of your jacket - they do stick out an awfully
long way. This can make squeezing, what is after all quite
a narrow bike, through gaps in the traffic, a bit of a nightmare.
A couple of shorter-stemmed mirrors on those wide bars would
make slipping through the traffic a breeze and still give
you a good view of what's going on behind.
Another concern, for me at least, is that supermoto
seat. This is not a bike for travelling long distances,
so don't even think of going touring unless you take your
proctologist with you! And he wouldn't dream of travelling
pillion. About 30 miles is as far as you'd want to go without
taking a substantial break, and 50 miles will have you thinking
of seeking medical assistance.
Finally, in true supermoto fashion, the plastic fuel tank
has a screw-on filler cap.
There's obviously an issue with security in today's urban
environment, but more interestingly the tank vents through
the centre of this cap which means that every time you pull
up your nostrils tend to get assaulted with unleaded fumes.
A simple fix would be to replace the standard cap with one
from Ascerbis with a central vent pipe that can be led down
and secured to a lower part of the frame.
But these small problems aside, this is one very good bike.
The build quality is first class, the fun-factor is immense,
and I only wish there bikes like this around when I took my
test all those years ago.