A few years ago, the fate of two-stroke motorcycles seemed to be doomed. First Honda dropped their premix lineup, then Kawasaki and Suzuki followed suit (aside from their mini bikes). The era of the whining race bikes appeared destined for the history books and pre-HD video.
But then something happened. While Yamaha kept manufacturing their tried and true blue machines, KTM stepped up their game, by not only continuing to develop the orange bikes, but significantly dropping their weight as well. Then people discovered craigslist.org: a two-stroke lover’s paradise where one can find an old machine for $1000, pump some money into it, and have a viable race bike, or at least a cool play bike, for a fraction of the cost of a new motorcycle.
So, now that the second coming of the two-stroke fascination appears to be in full swing we decided to go the extra step by trying out one of the rarest two-smokers out there: the 2012 TM MX 125. And why not? We love two-strokes and we know you forum addicts do too.
The Italian motorcycle manufacturer has existed since 1977, but the bikes did not become available in the United States with any regularity until the late ‘90s. That’s when entrepreneur, Pete Vetrano stepped in to take over U.S. distribution, and he is the man we called in order to get our hands on one of these pieces of Italian craftsmanship. He was happy to help us out.
With plans to import only six of the handcrafted 125s this year, lending out a brand new machine for a test ride would not make much business sense. Instead, Pete had us try out his own personal race bike, which was fine by us since it has a few extra goodies (namely the works-style Scalvini cone pipe and carbon fiber silencer, and a TM works shock).
For 2012, TM did not rest on its laurels, and designed an all-new motor for the little machine, which features an electronically controlled power valve that is intended to maximize performance throughout the RPM range. The bike also comes with an ignition switch mounted to the handlebars that allows the rider to adjust the mapping for better bottom-end power delivery, or more top-end. It all depends on riding style.
Several years ago, TM switched to the aluminum perimeter frame that normally comes mounted with an Ohlins shock. However, as we already mentioned Pete opted to go for the works shock. TM recently moved into a high enough production scale to offer the shock as an option on their machines.
The TM MX125 is unmistakably a modern machine. From the narrow, form fitting frame, to the plastics and flatter profile seat, this is not a machine with a 10 year old design. It is also not a machine that takes much to become accustomed to. Unlike some European bikes, the TM is laid out in a similar manner to today’s Japanese machines, and as such, has similar handling characteristics.
In terms of power, the TM MX 125 feels on par with a Yamaha YZ125. But where the YZ has a broad power range, the TM is quite narrow. In order to get the most out of the motor, your best bet is to keep the revs up at all times.
At first, I found using the ignition mapping set to increase torque was favorable, especially since I weigh about 190lbs. But as I got comfortable, the motor seemed to wind out too quickly and would lose significant power up top. Once I switched to the top-end setting, I found, as with just about any 125, that keeping the revs high through corners helped compensate for the mapping change that made the higher RPMs more effective.
In the handling department, the TM seems to shine on the long sweeping turns and bumps of a track like Cahuilla Creek MX. The bike is very stable at speed, almost surprisingly so. Even under heavy breaking, there was never any mention of headshake.
Since this bike was Pete’s own race bike, we did not want to mess around too much with his settings. While turning was not quite as sharp as on a YZ125 or KTM 125SX, with more personalized shock and fork settings, the TM could come within striking distance of those two handling legends.
Overall, this is one of those machines that you will never forget. Not only is the TM 125 one of the rarest production bikes on the market, it also performs incredibly well, especially when you consider the small scale of production and development compared to the major OEMs. Of course, there are only six of these bikes available in the United States this year, but if you show the interest, maybe Pete will be sure to bring in a few more for 2013.
For more information on how to get your hands on a TM or a Scalvini pipe (which are available for most modern two-strokes), check out www.tmmotorcyclesusa.com.