Motorcycling is a lot like any other sport: to stay sharp with your skills, you actually have to go out there and practice. However, unlike many other sports, keeping your skills sharp on two wheels isn’t as easy as simply grabbing a stick or a ball and heading to the nearest court or field. In the case of track riding, taking your sportbike to the track presents a whole host of challenges.
First, there’s the money: a typical trackday will easily set you back a C-note or two (or three) – and that’s just to register; don’t forget about the costs for tires, fuel (for both your bike and your transport vehicle), food, and potentially hotels if you’re riding far away. Then, of course, there’s time. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who lives near a racetrack, the rest of us have to travel several hours to get to the track. Of course, this list of costs is assuming nothing happens to you or your bike during your trackday. The damage to your wallet goes up exponentially at that point.
There’s an alternative for those who want to keep their skills sharp without the big hit on the wallet or their calendar: minibikes. In this case, the Kayo MR125. To address the money issue, the MR125’s base price is $2,795. Factor in tires that will last an entire season (and then some), 2.6 gallons of fuel that will take forever to consume, and the entry fees for kart tracks that are often one-quarter (or less) of the cost of a big-bike trackday, and minis like the Kayo start to make more sense. For those of us in Southern California at least, kart tracks are much closer than the big tracks – often requiring minutes, not hours, to reach.
If you haven’t heard of Kayo, don’t feel bad. It’s hard for Chinese motorcycle makers to get a foothold in the U.S. and the company is clearly not well known. Established in 2002, after 14 years of existence Kayo’s portfolio of motorcycles is 22 bikes deep, with the largest engine being 250cc. That line boasts five different motocross models, eight different ATVs, five child-size motocrossers, two enduro bikes, one supermoto, and this, the MR125 MiniGP – the only Kayo available in the U.S. At least for now.
From the outset, the MR125’s steel frame and swingarm was designed for knee down, not foot out, action, but in a package a fraction the size of a standard sportbike. For instance, it’s got clip-on bars and roadrace-style rearsets instead of handlebars and foldable pegs typically seen on MX bikes.
As for its engine and transmission, Blair Layton, proprietor of SVRacingParts.com, the exclusive U.S. importer and distributor for Kayo, admits the air-cooled, SOHC, 124cc Single is largely a copy of the Thumper seen in the Yamaha TTR125 off-roader. In fact, the MR125 owner’s manual blatantly features a single-cylinder engine in its diagrams with the word “YAMAHA” seen clear as day on the case covers of the illustrations. This isn’t necessarily a demerit, however, as the Yamaha engine is simple and bulletproof, making it easy to maintain, and hopefully those qualities hold true for this facsimile. A notable difference between the TTR and MR Thumpers is the Kayo’s 9.0:1 compression ratio, compared to the Yamaha’s 10.0:1. Power is rated at 9.5 (crankshaft) hp at 8,000 rpm and 7 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm.
A Mikuni carburettor meters fuel and air to the cylinder, and like the TTR125, the Kayo has five forward gears. The rest of the components include 12-inch wheels, a telescopic fork, and single shock, neither of which are adjustable. Besides that, though, the MR125 has some slick features, including attractively styled, RC211V-inspired bodywork, slick – yes, slick – tires, disc brakes at both ends and steel-braided lines.
A minibike like the MR125 is clearly intended for youth racers, and its dimensions illustrate as much. The standard Kayo measures 61.3 inches long, 23.4 inches wide, and 35.9 inches high. Wheelbase is 42.3 inches, seat height 26.3.
So, yes, the MR125 is a small bike all around. But if you look at the top levels of motorcycle roadracing, you’ll notice there’s a dearth of Americans, with Nicky Hayden the notable Yank in World Superbike. Conversely, you’ll also notice the grids in the World Superbike and MotoGP paddocks are filled with Spaniards and Italians.
The reason for this is simple: minibike racing abroad is booming. Children are learning to ride a motorcycle soon after they learn how to walk. They’re learning on a wide variety of motorcycles – generally kid-size motocrossers converted for supermoto use – but companies like Kayo (and others) are recognizing this trend and building dedicated mini sportbikes for tikes to learn the ropes. In fact, Google “Kayo MiniGP” and you’ll see there are dedicated series for the MR125 throughout Asia and Europe.
Layton hopes that boom makes its way to America, as the Washington-based SVRacingParts.com outfit has been hocking the MR125 all around the country since the start of the year. Layton’s goal here is two-fold: primarily he’d like to build a Kayo MiniGP series among the several organizations around the country racing minis, the focus on reinvigorating the sport by bringing more kids into it, potentially discovering world champions of the future. To help bring more awareness to the bikes, the MR125s are currently on tour and display with MotoAmerica. Ateach round, select kids with MRs put on a showcase to display their skills. So far the MR has proven to be popular on both coasts, with more customers coming on board from the middle of the country.
Personally, I’ve been looking for a motorcycle to help keep my skills sharp in between bouts on the big bikes we test here at MO. The Kayo seemed perfect except for the size issue. Never to fear, as Layton and his team developed the Racer Package to help the MR fit adults, add some crash damage protection, make maintenance easier, and boost power a smidge in the process. The pertinent components to the Racer Package for big kids and adults include:
When it’s all added up (including the many items not listed here; go to the SV Racing Parts site for the full list), the individual components of the Racer Package totals $1,155, and power gets a modest bump of about two horses, says Layton. Purchase the Racer Package as a set and the total cost comes to $3,595, including shipping. At the time of this writing there’s an additional MotoAmerica Instant Rebate of $500 for MR125s ordered with the Racer Package.
As the sole importer and distributor for Kayo, Layton and his SV Racing Parts shop is happy to talk shop and answer any questions. And if you’re wary about the quality and reliability of a Chinese motorcycle, Layton hopes to put your fears to rest, noting that he has a warehouse full of stock and performance parts for the Kayo should any maintenance, repairs, or modifications be needed.
Wanting to try the MR125 for myself, Layton set me up with one of his Southern California customers, Marcos Munoz. Munoz regularly rides a Kawasaki ZX-6R but was getting tired of the cost and time commitment associated with trackdays. He still wanted to ride on the track and keep his skills sharp though, so he turned to the Kayo as his avenue to achieve his wishes. Munoz bought his MR125 complete with the Racer Package, mainly for the larger seat and ergos compared to the stocker, and was kind enough to let me spin as many laps as I wanted at Adams Motorsport Park in Riverside, CA.
Each Kayo comes to the customer in a crate, partially disassembled. That’s partially why the price of the bikes is relatively small, but each motorcycle comes with a very detailed and thorough owner’s manual and assembly instructions. Though Munoz is an HVAC technician by trade, he claims, “Working on air conditioners and putting together a motorcycle are not even close to being the same thing.” Still, he says the process is relatively easy for anyone that can spin a wrench, and with the help of his brother he says it took a solid weekend to complete. “It could have been faster, but we took our time since we’d never done something like this before,” he said.
With the carb’s petcock turned on and the choke lever on the left bar pulled, a hefty whack of the kickstarter brings the Single to life. Of course you could also bump start it, but don’t even think about reaching for an electric starter button – there isn’t one.
Getting acclimated to the MR125 is a funny thing. At 5-foot, 8-inches, I’m not a big guy, but it took me a lap or two to adjust to how small the Kayo is. The larger, adult-size seat helps, giving enough space to scoot backwards, but roominess is not synonymous with the MR125. Every little body movement affects the bike, meaning the rider needs to be smooth and deliberate any time they decide to adjust. Do that and the MR is a fun learning tool.
The MR125 is similar to other 125 minis out there, primarily the Honda Grom and Kawasaki Z125, in that power is understandably lackluster. From the seat of my pants the MR125 appears to rev marginally quicker than the Honda or Kawasaki, but its chassis is much better suited to track duty, giving more confidence to carry corner speed. Because of this extra corner speed, having the extra transmission gear to play with is a much welcomed feature. An annoyance, however, is a throttle with excessive turn to reach full stick. A quarter-turn unit would be welcomed, but otherwise there’s good connection from throttle hand to rear tire.
The treadless CST tires (110/80-12 front, 120/80-12 rear) take a lap to warm up, after which grip isn’t an issue. But while grip isn’t in question, the front tire’s odd profile can be off-putting at first. It’s shape is linear from the middle until the three-quarter mark, where it tapers sharply to the edge. Initial lean feels smooth, with an abrupt transition on your way to max lean angle. Adapt to this odd sensation, or lean the bike quickly and pass through the transition point, and you can rail through corners, confident the tires are going to stick.
With little horsepower and sticky tires, maximizing momentum is key. Learning to do so will also help on bigger bikes as well, as evidenced by the efficient riding style of reigning MotoGP champ Jorge Lorenzo (his current form the past few races notwithstanding). Maximizing momentum also means minimizing your use of the brakes. Here the Kayo also makes a great learning tool, but not for the right reasons. Lever feel is solid thanks to the steel-braided lines, but actual braking power feels soft. Usually this is the point where mentioning a different brake pad would solve the problem. But looking at the front brake disc, one can see it’s filled with large holes. Holes may be a trick employed to shave weight, but it seems extreme in this case and drastically reduces the surface area the pads have to create speed-scrubbing friction. Different riders may take this observation, well, differently, but in riding the Kayo, I was forced to efficiently use the brakes instead of relying on them to make a pass while killing corner speed. A good lesson that can be carried over to bigger bikes.
Ultimately, my time on the MR125 was cut short due to my bad joints. A knee surgery as a teenager has limited the amount my right knee can bend, and even though the larger seat offers more space, the knee bend from the pegs to the seat was too much for me. After a few sessions the pain couldn’t be ignored. That’s a word of caution to other adults with knee issues.
Otherwise, if your joints are bending properly the Kayo makes a great training tool. Despite my short time with it, remembering to be deliberate with my movements and efficient with my braking are lessons easily transferable to the duties of testing bikes here at MO.
Whether or not the MR125 is right for you is a personal decision, but if you are in the market for a minibike to use as a trainer, consider the time and money it will take to convert a mini motocrosser for tarmac duty. Its suspension will need to be modified, wheels and hubs sourced, and brakes need to be changed as well. With the Kayo, the parts are already there. Only final assembly is necessary, and you’re guided with the help of a detailed manual. However, the converted motocrosser will provide a more upright (and comfortable) riding position if joint pain is a concern.
Not since the NSR50 from Honda has there been such a promising platform for youth racers around the country, and if the Kayo MiniGP series catches on in America as it has in other parts of the world, we hope it’ll help bring a return to prominence of Americans on the Grand Prix scene.