So you want to get into dirt biking? Or you just want to learn to ride a motorcycle for the first time and are wondering whether the Yamaha YZ 125 is a good beginner bike. Right of the bat, I’d say ‘it depends’.
The Yamaha YZ 125 is not a good motorcycle for complete beginners as it is very tall and the power delivery is abrupt. The Yamaha YZ 125 is, however, a good bike to learn proper riding technique, as the narrow power band requires the rider to slip the clutch in corners and shift gears often to keep the revs up.
The Yamaha YZ 125 is a bit of an interesting animal when it comes to beginner riders. In the rest of the post we’ll look at reasons for and against the Yamaha YZ 125 as your first motorcycle.
Before we continue, I believe a good beginner motorcycle should be easy to handle, forgiving, and comfortable for new riders. Check out my post on what makes a good beginner bike. The Yamaha YZ 125 is neither of these. But if you are planning on getting into motocross, hard enduro, or any type of dirt bike racing, the YZ 125 might actually be a good idea.
Yamaha YZ 125 Engine Size and Power
It is not just about the figures and don’t let the small 125 cc displacement fool you. It is true that the YZ 125 lacks the power and torque of the bigger 250 cc motors, especially at lower RPMs. In the right hands, however, an experienced rider on a YZ 125 will smoke any average rider (me!) on a YZ 250.
Being a two-stroke, the YZ 125 delivers maximum punch high up in the rev range in what is known as the power band. All two-stroke engines have a power band, but on the small YZ 125 this power band is very narrow compared to a 250 cc two-stroke.
This makes the bike quite slow and lacklustre at low speeds. You might even think the YZ125 is too slow and whack open the throttle. Many riders have flipped over backward doing this… so beware! When the power of the YZ 125 kicks in, you will notice. So is this a good thing for a new rider or not?
Well… if you just want to learn to ride, this could be very frustrating and even dangerous. If, on the other hand, you want to learn to ride fast and race, and learn the correct throttle and clutch techniques, the YZ 125’s involved riding style is perfect to make you a better rider sooner.
You’ll have to ride the clutch in corners or change gears more frequently to keep the revs in the power band. This in turn, which will teach you to ride aggressively and with good form. On a torquey 250, you can get moving much easier due to the low end power, which can result in lazy habits.
I know this is a mouthful, but just search on Youtube and you’ll see lots of comparisons between 125 cc and 250 cc dirt bikes.
Yamaha YZ 125 is Lightweight
At only 209 lbs (95 kg), the Yamaha YZ 125 is very light.
Dirt bikes in general are much lighter than street bikes as they don’t have lights, heavy steel frames, large seats, and lights. 2-stroke dirt bikes like the YZ 125 also don’t have valve trains. Compared to other dirt bikes, the YZ 125 is still on the light side. Even thought it shares most components with the YZ 250, it is 18 lbs lighter than its sibling due to its smaller engine.
A lightweight motorcycle is easier to keep upright, balance and control, especially at lower speeds. It is also easier to pick up a light bike if you drop it. And you’ll drop it when you begin to ride. We all do.
When you learn to ride, especially in the early stages of getting used to clutch and throttle control when pulling away, a light bike really gives a new rider confidence. It is not impossible to learn to ride on a heavy bike, but any lean angle other than straight upright may freak you out on a heavy machine.
If you are interested in the weights of other dirt bikes, check out my comprehensive resources on dirt bike weights.
Yamaha YZ 125 has a Tall Seat height
Motorcycle seat height is always a problem for all but the tallest of riders. While it is not an issue if you are already comfortable riding a bike, trying to learn to ride on a tall motorcycle can be very intimidating for beginner riders.
Unfortunately, this is where the Yamaha YZ 125 falls short (so to speak) as a beginner bike (haha, Francois – ed) The Yamaha YZ125 is one of the tallest (if not the tallest) motorcycles on the market. With a seat height of 38.6 inches (980 mm) I could not find another motorcycle on the internet with a taller seat. The YZ 125 is a competition bike after all, designed to land massive jumps.
If you are worried about a bike that’s too tall, this post compares the seat heights of different types of motorcycles. If you are set on a dirt bike, check out the seat heights of all dirt bikes here.
A lower seat height, like my Yamaha AG200 or a Yamaha TW200 (possibly THE perfect beginner bike), allows the rider to comfortably put both feet on the ground when stationary. This is important for stability and confidence.
That said, if you are set on a YZ 125 and you’re tall, the light weight does compensate for the fact that you might not be able to flatfoot it.
Yamaha YZ 125 Riding Position
An upright, neutral riding position is a good idea for beginner riders. Like all dirt bikes, dual sports and adventure bikes, the YZ 125 has a neutral riding position. You sit upright and the handlebars are easy to reach.
Wide handlebars, like on the YZ 125, make it easy to turn the bike al low speeds. With the tall seat, neutral position of the foot pegs and high handlebars, your body is also in a comfortable seating position. This is not something that can be said of a street bike (way too forward-leaning with narrow handlebars) or a cruiser (sitting backward and feet out in front).
The biggest concern with the riding position is the fact that shorter riders won’t be able to reach the ground – with both feet dangling in the air.
Yamaha YZ 125 Clutch Control
One of the biggest challenges for a new rider is to learn clutch and throttle control. If you are still learning to pull away, the YZ 125 is a great bike to start since it does not have much torque low in the rev range. That means it won’t be too aggressive unless you really whack open the throttle and rev it very high.
There is a risk, however, that you get frustrated because it feels too slow, and then get tempted to rev it a bit more to get into the power band. Be warned, this can easily land an inexperienced rider into trouble, or at the very least, on his or her backside!
This narrow, but violent power band can be avoided if you keep the revs low.
This characteristic of the Yamaha YZ 125 can actually be very advantageous as you progress. If your aim is to become a faster dirt bike rider, the YZ 125 will help you learn how to ride with proper technique as you try to maintain the revs in the power band by slipping the clutch and gearing down in each turn.
Yamaha YZ 125 Suspension
The long-travel suspension that enables the Yamaha YZ 125 to soak up huge jumps is both a pro and a con when it comes to learning to ride. On the upside, the soft suspension will soak up any bumps in case you are learning to ride on grass (where it is soft in case you crash).
On the other hand, it is this long-travel suspension that makes the Yamaha YZ 125 one of the tallest bikes around, and possibly literally out of reach of most riders of average and below length.
Yamaha YZ 125 Cost
Beginner motorcycles should be relatively affordable, taking into account the purchase price, insurance, maintenance, and fuel costs. The Yamaha YZ 125 is a legit competition machine used by professional riders in competitive events. That’s why a new one is far from cheap (about $7 000 in 2023).
Luckily, there are plenty of good second YZ 125s on the market. They are reliable and cheap to maintain, so a good second-hand machine is not a bad idea. No worries if you ding a bike that’s already dinged…
They’re also super popular, so you should be able to sell it at the same price (or sometimes more) a year from now if you want to upgrade to a different bike.
If you do decide to buy a second-hand YZ 125, make sure to ask a knowledgable friend to check the bike out with you. Two-stroke machines need regular maintenance and frequent (more frequent than 4-strokes anyways) engine rebuilds. It is not a super expensive job, but it could hurt your budget if you didn’t plan for it.
Yamaha YZ 125 Reliability
Two-stroke motorcycles are generally cheaper to maintain than 4-strokes. They have fewer moving parts and they don’t have valves that need to be adjusted. As long as a YZ 125 has spark and fuel, it should run. Japanese bikes also have a reputation for being bullet proof, and Yamaha is arguably at the top in terms of reliability.
If you are looking at a second-hand YZ 125, pay attention to the general presentation of the bike. Is the seat torn? Are the plastics broken or missing? Does it struggle to start when cold? Is the clutch making funny grinding noises when pulled in? Does the wheels move side-to-side if you tug on it?
If not, and it runs good, you should be okay.
Yamaha YZ 125 Style
This is totally subjective and some might argue not important at all. I disagree. You need to feel good about your bike. If you don’t smile when you look at it, you will probably not spend the time learning to ride it properly.
I personally love the Yamaha YZ range. It feels like the ultimate dirt bike (to me anyways). If you are a KTM guy, go for a 125 SX instead. Like green bikes? Get a KX 125. In the end, you need to follow your heart. And your bank balance.
Yamaha YZ 125 Aftermarket Support
Yamaha has been manufacturing the YZ 125 in some or other form since 1974. There are few bikes that has such a long history and it is one of the last remaining two-strokes in a market moving toward cleaner 4-stroke, fuel-injected designs.
There is some peace of mind in knowing that thousands of other riders out there are riding the same machine as you. It also means that forums and social media groups are full of riders with similar issues as you. It will make it so much easier to find technical support, tips and aftermarket performance parts when you need them. That’s partly why I bought a Honda XR 650 L (born in 1993).
The YZ 125 is a tricky one. If you are a new rider that has never sat on a motorcycle before, my honest opinion is that a Yamaha YZ 125 is not a great first bike. It is tall and the narrow, aggressive power band could land you in serious trouble.
If you have some riding experience and you’re new to dirt biking, then the Yamaha YZ 125 may actually be the perfect first dirt bike. It will force you to learn the right habits as you constantly shift gears and clutch it to keep the revs in the engine’s happy place.
You need to decide for yourself and I hope you find the right bike!