If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Honda should feel pretty special. According to Kawasaki’s sales data, collected from data provided by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), the Grom is number two on the list of best-selling motorcycles in the category Kawasaki calls “Small Street,” which includes dual-purpose motorcycles up to 350cc, scooters between 50cc – 400cc, and street motorcycles below 400cc. Number one is Kawasaki’s own Ninja 300, but there’s no ignoring the meteoric success the Honda Grom has become, which has spurred the creation of this: the 2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro.
At the Z125 Pro’s launch in San Francisco, California, Team Green staff readily admit that the smallest Z is a response to the Grom, but are also hailing the bike as a continuation of the Z line of motorcycles that include the Z800 and Z1000 (and yes, Kawasaki is aware there’s a huge gap between the 125 and 800…) But if imitation is considered flattery, then it’s also said that competition improves the breed, and here Kevin Allen, Kawasaki’s head PR man, didn’t mince his words: “We do believe it’s a Grom killer.”
On paper, the Z125 Pro (not to be confused with the non-Pro Z125, which has an automatic transmission and is sold in Asian markets) and the Grom are closely matched. Both have 125cc air-cooled, fuel-injected, two-valve single-cylinder engines, the baby Z’s bore and stroke measuring 56.0mm x 50.6mm, versus the Honda’s undersquare 52.4mm x 57.9mm. The Kawi’s compression is slightly higher at 9.8:1 compared to 9.3:1 for the Grom.
Rake and trail numbers measure 26.0º and 2.7 inches for the Z, while the Grom features slightly less rake at 25º but more trail at 3.2 inches. Kawasaki bills the 125 Pro as the nimblest handling model in Team Green’s lineup and even more so than its red competition. Geometry plays a part in this claim, as do the tire sizes chosen for the bike. As opposed to the Grom’s 120/70-12 front, the Z125 uses a skinnier 100/90-12. The Grom’s 130/70-12 rear rubber is just slightly wider than the Z’s 120/70-12. At 46.3 inches, the Z’s wheelbase is 0.9-inch shorter than the Honda’s, further aiding its superior agility claim.
Of course weight has an effect (or at least the perceived effect) on agility, and the Kawi slightly edges the Honda here, too (at least according to manufacturer claimed numbers): 224.8 lbs. vs 225.0 lbs., both with full tanks of fuel, ready-to-ride. Those numbers are basically negligible considering how close they are to each other, but the impressive bit here is that the Kawasaki holds more fuel at 2.0 gallons compared to the Honda’s 1.45. Considering Honda and Kawasaki rate their models at 134 mpg and 135.5 mpg, respectively, that the baby Z has a bigger tank, can go longer on a gallon of fuel, and still weighs just a tick less than the Grom is a big achievement for Kawasaki.
Apart from those many differences, the duo both have four-speed manual transmissions (bonus points for the gear indicator on the Z125 Pro!), a non-adjustable telescopic fork with 3.9 inches travel, and a single, preload-adjustable shock with 4.1 inches of travel (though it’s mounted offset on the Kawi).
As closely matched as the Grom and Z125 Pro are, it’s no surprise the two are also closely aligned on price, with the Kawi’s $2,999 MSRP beating the Honda’s by $200. Like the Grom, Kawi is aiming the Z125 Pro at both novice riders looking to get into the sport in the least intimidating way possible, and veterans looking for an inexpensive play bike to let out their inner hooligan.
It’s the obvious question on everyone’s mind, so let’s just get right to it. While I didn’t have a Grom to ride for immediate side-by-side impressions, my butt dyno tells me that the Kawasaki, and its oversquare Single, feels like it has more bottom-end grunt compared to the Honda. There’s good pull once the light turns green to evade the cars around you, which came in handy during our press ride day around the choked and busy streets of downtown San Francisco.
Once you get used to the clutch lever traveling quite a way before reaching the engagement point (Kawi says this is a result of fitting a standard transmission to the engine used on the non-Pro Z125), the little Z is the ideal city runabout, especially for those who wouldn’t want to be caught dead on a scooter. Its slim profile can slip into the tiniest of spaces, and its unassuming nature won’t scare away new riders.
It’s highly maneuverable, too, and this is the area I felt the biggest difference between the Grom. The bars, while a bit too low and narrow for my taste, do provide good leverage. It’s not like you need much either considering the Z’s featherlight 225 pounds. While hooning about in the parking-lot course Team Green staff set up for us on Treasure Island – a manmade island built in the 1930s, originally for the 1939 World’s Fair, later used as a naval base – we really got to explore the limits of the baby Z’s handling abilities. Since I weigh about three-quarters of the bike with my gear on, simply tugging on the bars and shifting my bodyweight on the bike darts the little Z into corners with lightning-fast agility, requiring the need to rethink turn-in points – especially if you’re used to big bikes – as you’re otherwise turning too soon.
At 125cc, the baby Z falls short of the 150cc needed to hop on the highway. Top speed is somewhere in the lower 60s, so we’re told, but you’ll need ample room to get there, something San Francisco didn’t provide us, even with its many hills.
When you don’t have much power to hoon about on public roads, you get your kicks by hitting the brakes as late as possible, and this is another advantage the Z has over its Honda rival. Lever feel is nice and firm, though actual braking power felt mediocre at first. I originally thought this was on purpose to keep newer riders from flipping over the bars in a panic stop (there is no ABS), but braking power improved as the pads started to bed themselves to the 200mm petal-type disc (which is actually smaller than the 220mm disc on the Honda).
Seat height is 31.7 inches, but don’t let that discourage you if you’re a shorty. The narrow seat, light weight, and compact dimensions succeed in conveying that you control this motorcycle, not the other way around. A female journo who stands 5-feet, 2-inches and could be lifted away by a birthday party balloon had no problem getting her feet on the ground and moving the bike around. For my 5-foot, 8-inch frame, my legs fit perfectly between the contours of the fuel tank, though taller riders on the launch said they felt cramped.
For $2,999, it’s easy to forgive Kawasaki for skimping in a few non-essential areas. However, the Z125 Pro really wins me over with its attention to detail, especially for such an inexpensive machine. I’m a fan of the angular Z-inspired headlight, the underbelly chin fairing, the petal-type brake discs, and especially the handy gear-position indicator that sits front and center in the gauge cluster.
In the end, the Z125 Pro is a hell of a motorcycle for under three large. The smiles-per-dollar quotient is off the charts, and Kawi is already partnering up with aftermarket tuners like Takegawa, Two Brothers Racing, and Yoshimura to offer licensed go-fast goodies to make the Z even more of a riot.
That said, for now I’m going to stop just short of calling it a Grom killer. That judgement will have to wait until we get the Z and the G together at the same time. And yes, we’re already working on doing just that. Stay tuned.
|2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro|
|+ Highs ||– Sighs |
|2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro Specifications|
|MSRP as tested||$2,999|
|Engine Capacity||125 cc|
|Engine Type||4-stroke, Single, air-cooled, SOHC, 2-valve|
|Bore x Stroke||56.0 x 50.6 mm|
|Fuel System||DFI with 24mm throttle body|
|Front Suspension||30mm telescopic fork, 3.9 in. travel|
|Rear Suspension||Single, offset shock with adjustable spring preload, 4.1 in. travel|
|Front Brakes||200 mm single petal-style disc, Nissin caliper|
|Rear Brakes||184 mm, single petal-style disc, Nissin caliper|
|Seat Height||31.7 in.|
|Claimed Wet Weight||224.8 lbs.|
|Fuel Capacity||2.0 gal.|