2021 Honda CRF125F Review

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield
Fast Facts

Basic, bullet-proof – and fuel-injected –125cc air-cooled engine
Two sizes of wheels on essentially the same platform for different-sized kids!
$3,249 (if you can find one)

An almost perfect bike for luring new riders into motorcycling

This year has been full of firsts for this father. My oldest left home to start her adult life on a university campus, and my youngest told me that she wanted to learn how to ride motorcycles. Guess which of those I’m going to write about here? For a 13-year-old, there is really only one option for piloting their own bike, and seemingly within minutes of her statement, I had her signed up for an MSF-certified off-road training with proper riding gear ordered and on the way. I didn’t want to miss the window of interest. The class run at the Colton Rider Education Center sealed the deal from the moment she first eased out the clutch successfully. The bike she was learning on? A Honda CRF125F.

2021 Honda CRF125F

Editor Score: 80.0%
Engine 15.0/20
Suspension/Handling 11.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.0/10
Brakes 7.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score80/100

Making A Rider: Teaching Your Kid To Ride

Honda, when designing the diminutive CRF, was smart enough to build two versions – because kids come in a variety of sizes. The CRF125F my daughter first threw a leg over was the smaller version, with a 17-inch front wheel and a 14-inch rear. The CRF125F Big Wheel features a 19-inch front hoop and a 16-inch rear for a more full-sized riding experience. Aside from an almost 2-inch higher seat (the standard CRF has a 29.1-inch seat, the Big Wheel 30.9 in.) and component variants to accommodate the bigger rims, the two bikes are functionally the same.

A forgiving engine

As far as I’m concerned, the two most important features of the little CRF are the easy-to-use clutch and the friendly, reliable engine. For the littlest of the littles, a semi-automatic transmission is ideal for starting to ride, but for a 13 year old, learning to use the clutch properly from the get go was way up my list of skills I wanted my daughter to master. The perky little air-cooled 125cc Single features a SOHC and two valves. It also has fuel injection and an electric starter. Even better, it is tuned for bottom-end torque, making it easier for new riders with their inconsistent clutch hands to get under way without stalling. The short gearing also plays a supporting role here.

The little engine that could. The CRF125F’s engine delivers tame power that new riders need.

Once moving, the tame power delivery builds in a non-intimidating way, leading us to an interesting tidbit. All that bottom-end torque comes at the cost of top-end power, meaning that at a certain point, spinning the engine faster doesn’t deliver appreciably more power, just vibration and noise. I’m certain that my daughter would have been happy tooling around in first gear much longer than she did – if she could’ve gone just a little faster. Alas, she had to learn how to shift. While in our time with this Honda, she hasn’t reached the top of the four-speed gearbox. Still, it’s good to know it’s there for her continued growth as a rider.

Instruments, we don’t need instruments!

A basic, tough chassis

The steel frame is about as basic as they come, and the steering geometry (27° rake and 3.2-inch trail) is more for confidence-building stability than motocross flickability. The 31mm fork has 5.2 in. of travel, while the rear Pro-Link single shock has 5.5 in. The suspension seems ideally set up for the speeds and abilities of its ideal rider, meaning that, in my experience observing from the sidelines, it works great over washboard bumps and whoops at the speeds a new rider is likely to be going.

Everything a new rider needs (almost) and nothing more.

I have yet to see any air under the tires (except when the bike is lying on its side), but given the simple needs of a new rider, my guess would be that once the rider is doing any significant jumping, it’ll probably be time for an upgrade to a more capable dirt bike. (This is just conjecture on my part, and Burns says that the TTR125L he and his son had during this stage of his parenting could handle jumps just fine.) Then the little CRF can move on to its next owner, having fulfilled its duties as a gateway drug into the world of motorcycles in our house.

The two-piston front caliper squeezes a 220mm disc while a drum (gasp!) handles rear braking duties. Both are suitably powerful for a rider learning how to manipulate five controls with only four appendages.

Oops! Without standard hand guards, this broken lever may be a frequent sight.

Dirt bikes, by their very nature, spend more time lying on the ground than other categories of motorcycles. While my daughter should be capable of picking up the bike (with its claimed 194-pound wet weight), she has, so far, ended up under the bike on all of her crashes and needed me to lift the bike off of her. The plastic bodywork has received a few scuffs, and the steel brake pedal and shifter have needed to be straightened out a couple of times. So, far every component – except the clutch lever – has proved itself to be able to withstand her low-speed tumbles. Why a bike designed for newbies doesn’t come with hand guards to protect the levers is beyond me.

Many of our readers may have never owned a bike with a drum brake, but the CRF really doesn’t need more braking power.

The verdict

When I asked my daughter what she’d like to say about the Honda CRF125F for this review, she said that it’s the right size for her and really easy to ride. She also added that she wants us to get one permanently. From my perspective, it will be a sad day at the Brasfield house when we have to return the little CRF to Honda. Thanks to the COVID bump in dirt bike sales, new CRF125Fs are hard to find, and used ones are going for more than the $3,249 MSRP. Never mind, the hook has been planted (in both father and daughter), and we will find a bike to buy for her as soon as we can. The first change we’ll make is adding some hand guards.

If you have a kid showing even the smallest interest in motorcycling, get them to a rider training class! I’ve been lucky enough to ride lots of cool bikes in great locations all over the world, and this summer of riding the Honda CRF125F with my daughter has been the most fun I’ve ever had on two wheels. (And the conversations on the way to and from our rides were pretty spectacular, too.)

2016 Honda CRF125F

+ Highs

  • Low end torque for (largely) stall-free starts
  • Easy-to-operate clutch to learn how to shift
  • Regular and Big Wheel options for little and big kids

– Sighs

  • Vulnerable clutch lever
  • Doesn’t come with hand guards
  • Hard to find at dealerships

2021 Honda CRF125F Specifications

Engine Type124.9cc air-cooled Single, SOHC, two valves
Bore and Stroke52.4mm x 57.9mm
Compression Ratio9.0:1
Final DriveChain
Front Suspension31mm telescopic fork; 5.2 inches of travel
Rear SuspensionPro-Link single-shock; 5.5 inches of travel
Front BrakeDual radial-mounted four-piston calipers with full-floating 310mm discs
Rear BrakeTwo-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front Tire70/100-17
Rear Tire90/100-14
Rake/Trail27 deg/3.2 in
Wheelbase48.0 in.
Seat Height29.1 in.
Curb Weight (Claimed)194 lbs.
Fuel Capacity1.0 gal.

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Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

More by Evans Brasfield

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2 of 6 comments
  • Imtoomuch Imtoomuch on Sep 19, 2021

    Doesn't come with hand guards? Oh yeah because so many beginner trail bikes come with them...not.

  • Innumerati Innumerati on Sep 19, 2021

    Sounds like fun.
    If you’re going to bring a ripper home permanently, I’d suggest the smaller (17’s) electric Segway/Sur-ron X160. Though its missing the clutch, the silent operation means your kiddo can blast around the backyard/ neighborhood all day all night without annoying anyone, and $0 on maintenance/fuel.
    It was too bad that Alta bit the dust before the battery tech really improved, but I’m confident that the next 3 to 5 years will bring better batts and your little one might be choosing from a few different electric options.
    I got all my nieces doing laps of the house on the X160 with big smiles and no problems.