Two-Stroke Off-Road Comparison | YZ125X vs 150 XC-W vs 125RR Race Edition 1

Which small bore two-stroke off-road machine for which purpose? Cross country, trail, or enduro?

 

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What a time to be alive as an off-road motorcycle enthusiast. The bikes just keep getting better and better, and there's been a recent push of niche manufacturers rolling out new products to compete with the established big guns of our sport. Small-bore two-stroke off-road machines, such as 125s and 150s, aren't the most popular machines, but they are an option and one that some riders really appreciate. So which should you choose and for what usage? We're here to dive into that a bit in this latest comparison.

The Cross Country Choice | Yamaha YZ125X

The YZ125X might be the most familiar machine on this list as it's just the ever so slightly tweaked brother of the YZ125 motocross model. How tweaked? Well, the standouts include the 18-inch rear wheel, kickstand, and slightly softer suspension setting. The less obvious changes are on the engine side, with a slightly lowered compression ratio, revised power valve settings, and a different tune in the CDI box to give it a little smoother transition in power and push that power downstream a little. At least when compared to the motocross model.

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  • Design: 125cc liquid-cooled 2-stroke; reed-valve inducted
  • Stroke: 54.5mm
  • Bore: 54mm
  • Displacement: 124.99 cm³
  • Compression Ratio: 7.8-10.2:1
  • Fuel System: Hitachi Astemo® Keihin PWK38S
  • Transmission: 6-speed; multiplate wet clutch
  • Front Brake: Hydraulic disc / 270mm
  • Rear Brake Disc Size: Hydraulic disc / 240mm
  • Front Suspension: KYB® Speed-Sensitive System inverted fork; fully adjustable, 11.8-in travel
  • Rear Suspension: KYB® single shock; fully adjustable, 12.4-in travel
  • Wheelbase: 57.3 in
  • Seat Height: 38.2 in
  • Ground Clearance: 14.0 in
  • Steering Head Angle: 63.9°
  • Claimed weight without fuel: 212 lbs
  • Fuel capacity: 1.8 gallons
  • MSRP: $7,199 (Freight/Destination): $550

So, with all the tweaks and changes, how different is the YZ125X to the YZ125? Does it feel like a true off-road bike or just a slightly tweaked motocross machine? If you guessed the latter, then you're on the money. While it is different, it's also somewhat the same. The power is a little more user friendly, but it's still a motocross 125 at heart. Pipey and harder to keep in the meat of the power, but so exciting when you're on point. 

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The YZ125X is playful, exciting and equally frustrating. So who is it meant for? The most obvious is the youth incoming to the bike size and class. The skills from an 85 carry well into this machine, and youthful exuberance allows for a more mindless approach to keeping the RPMs up and being aggressive the way this machine wants to be ridden. It's also an excellent choice for the weekend warrior who wants a 125 two-stroke for both local moto and off-road, as it dips between the two the best, especially being the most moto-capable out of the box. It leans the least towards a technical trail ride and long days doing hill climbs, lugging up trails, and bouncing off rocks and roots (it's a bit deflective in these conditions). It still can work there, but it's the least at home in this test when going for a trail or straight enduro ride. Lastly, the price is quite nice, especially when compared to the next bike in this conversation.


The Trail Choice | KTM 150 XC-W

KTM's 150 XC-W is the only non-true 125 in the test, with an extra 19ccs added to the engine. It's also the only one with a wide-ratio transmission, the only one that doesn't need pre-mix fuel, has an electric start (no kickstarter), no linkage, and more unique items.

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  • Design: 1-cylinder, 2-stroke engine
  • Stroke: 54.5mm
  • Bore: 58mm
  • Displacement: 143.99 cm³
  • Engine Management System: Vitesco Technologies EMS
  • Fuel System: Keihin EFI, throttle body 39 mm
  • Transmission: 6-speed; multiplate wet clutch
  • Wheelbase: 58.6 in
  • Front Brake: Hydraulic disc / 260mm
  • Rear Brake: Hydraulic disc / 240mm
  • Front Suspension: WP XACT cartridge 48mm
  • Rear Suspension: WP Xplor PDS shock absorber
  • Steering Head Angle: 63.9°
  • Claimed weight without fuel: 216 lbs
  • MSRP: $10,099 (Freight/Destination): $650

On the trail, the KTM, with its wide-ratio transmission, and smooth EFI power shines. It's not the most exciting, it's not the lightest or playful, but it gets the job done...easy. Yes, it's not a 125, and it's also not a 150; it's actually a 144, and all that adds up to a bike that has surprising creeping ability. Pop it in first gear, lug it, and you can creep up and over almost anything in your path. Considering a small-bore two-stroke isn't the easiest bike to ride off-road on, especially when it comes to power output in certain times of need, this machine made me rethink that. On top of that, it's plush. Very, very plush. The new cartridge fork is miles better than the old 4CS fork, actually offering up some level of holdup deep in the stroke and reminding you that trail suspension doesn't have to snap your wrists when you hit a G-out. It's a bit squishy, of course, and isn't meant to hammer sand whoops or a light motocross track, but it sure shines when you see a rock, root, or rain rut that in your mind is going to kick and jar you...and then it doesn't. It just keeps going while you're trying to figure out if you actually hit anything or not.

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On the downside, it's the least playful in the class due to the weight and very calm power nature. You can push it hard, but it's just not that exciting at times. But sometimes, feeling like you're getting the most out of the bike is exciting. Leaving me with a total conundrum. This bike is perfect for someone wanting the small-bore two-stroke experience and sound but without the drawbacks of needing perfect technique or clutch usage. I wouldn't take it on a moto track much or any off-road racing like GNCC...but in its' home trail system, it shines in ways the others can't touch. On top of that, the lack of a linkage and having an electric start just makes certain things easier. There is less of a chance of hanging up on obstacles or debris, it is easy to start when down on a hillside after a failed attempt, and just overall, a long day on the bike is easier with this machine. Oh, did we also mention you can just ride up to a gas pump in the middle of nowhere, fill up (as long as your oil tank was topped off), and ride off? It's a nice touch. Lastly, while it's quite expensive compared to the competition, it also offers some technology the others don't have and can't be added.


The Enduro Choice | Beta 125RR Race Edition

The most unique or unknown machine in this comparison is the Beta. What is it exactly? It's the race edition of their 125 Enduro bike. It's not quite as aggressive as a Cross-Country machine, and it's not quite as soft and plush as a trail bike. So, is it the perfect in between?

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  • Design: Beta Built single cylinder, 2-stroke, liquid-cooled, with BPV power valve system
  • Stroke: 54.5mm
  • Bore: 54mm
  • Displacement: 124.8cc
  • Compression Ratio: 15.2:1
  • Fuel System: Kelhin PWK 36mm
  • Ignition: AC-CDI Kokusan
  • Transmission: 6-speed; multiplate wet clutch
  • Front Brake: Hydraulic disc / 260mm
  • Rear Brake Disc Size: Hydraulic disc / 240mm
  • Front Suspension: 48mm KYB AOS Closed Cartridge / 11.6-in travel
  • Rear Suspension: KYB 48 single shock; fully adjustable / 11.4-in travel
  • Wheelbase: 58.1 in
  • Seat Height: 36.6 in
  • Ground Clearance: 12.8 in
  • Steering Head Angle: 63.9°
  • Claimed weight without fuel: 207 lbs
  • Fuel capacity: 2.5 gallons
  • MSRP: $8,999 (Freight/Destination): $489

Sorta and sorta not. It fits a need the other two fall short of, but it also falls short of the other two's strengths. The engine is more 125-like, and unlike the KTM, it's pipey and exciting. However, it's mellower than the Yamaha. It doesn't have the creep of the trail bike, but it's way more forgiving than the moto-derived cross country machine. It doesn't light the tire as easily; it doesn't bounce around while accelerating, it puts the power to the ground, and it feels racey. It can take on a solid trail and Enduro ride but could be thrown into more off-road race conditions quite easily. I'd even love to tweak on one a bit more and try a little moto.

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It's fairly comfortable in terms of touch feel. It's not too deflective on rock, roots, rain ruts, etc. It absorbs well but also has some hold-up when needed. It doesn't feel like a big Cadillac like the trail bike. It does respond to the surface it hits a bit, but it manages to continue forward without too much energy or drive lost. On top of that, it's extremely playful to ride and has a very confidence-inspiring feel. At least for me, it does, due to the low weight, slightly shorter suspension, and overall height. My stubby little legs were happy as it was just a bit easier to touch in the more extreme situations.

While it's a bit more coin than the YZ, especially in this "race edition" trim, the price feels well worth it when you look at the extra goodies, protection items, and more that come on the bike. The KYBs front and rear are very appreciated on this model. Overall, the Beta offers solid value that some of the other bikes can't touch for the price. 


Conclusion

Is there a perfect choice in the group? In my opinion, nope. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and that's why they all exist. For certain riders in certain conditions, there will be a standout amongst the group, but that's why we have options!

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The KTM is the Cadillac, plain and simple. It has the most gadgets, the smoothest ride, the smoothest power, and it feels like it should be taken out for a nice Sunday cruise. It's the heaviest, longest, and overall a little plain feeling. In the same breath, though, it's also extremely easy to push because everything about the bike is so forgiving. It seems to be the easiest to get the most out of the machine, but in the same breath it feels the most restrictive. It's not a "race bike," but if you're not racing a GNCC, WORCS, or something of that nature, then why do you need a "race bike?" The KTM will do just fine. It's definitely the most modern take in the group when it comes to how a small-bore 125/150 off-road machine should feel. It may not have the nostalgic character of a 125 that the YZ and Beta have, but at times, I enjoyed the EFI KTM the most, surprisingly.

The Yamaha is a race bike at heart, and even more than that, it's basically a motocross bike! It's fun, playful, and exciting, but it takes effort to ride and push on. It rewards on-point shifting, on-point clutch engagement, and the ability to keep the throttle turned. It's the least forgiving but can put the biggest smile on your face...it also can leave you the most frustrated. Have a kid coming through the ranks in off-road racing? This could be the choice. A vet guy wanting a 125 for both moto and off-road? This is the ticket. Be prepared to work, though.

Beta, beta, beta... The Beta was probably the most rounded of the bikes in this comparison. A little racey, a little comfort, a little everything. The Beta is labeled as an "enduro" model, and as such, certainly has a softer character initially in the suspension and chassis in general, but it also had a bit more holdup and can take a bigger jolt or hit than a full-on trail bike. The engine is also a bit in between, and Betas ultimately continue to interest and impress me. Just another great choice in the modern day of dirt bikes.

Take your time, make an informed and thought-out decision, then go ride!

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