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Learner-Legals & the Honda Super-Dream

Why the CB125 'Super-Dream' is such a good, but under-rated little bike

Well I guess the first question is, WHY did we choose a Honda CB125TD 'Super-Dream' to mess about with? And the answer, simply, is they are a great little bike! So let me tell you more about them and just what it IS that makes them that bit 'special'.

Honda had previously offered the CB125S, a single cylinder machine, with, for the era, 'advanced', over-head-cam valve actuation, and sprightly performance.

Offered in two variants, a conventional 'roadster' and with small styling revisions, an upswept exhaust, different handle-bars and knobbly tyres, as a 'Street-Scrambler', the fore-runner of the modern 'Dirt-Bike', then beginning to gain popularity.

It was no land-mark of motorcycling history, at the time, it merely filled a gap in the Honda line-up! Its significance though would come in later generations.

The 'Street-Scrambler' variant was to be evolved into the legendary series of XL and XR four-stroke dirt-bikes. The roaster, fitted with a more humble push-rod engine, in the earlier models, a later derivative of the CB125S OHC motor in later versions, was to become the venerable CG commuter.

But the 125cc was a capacity that was NOT popular in the UK, though it was in continental Europe, where it was the size of the 'granddad' of the modern two stroke, the pre-war DKW RT125, which was variously licence built or simply copied by many manufacturers around the world, particularly in Spain and Italy and later Japan, leading to it being the basis of the Japanese Hi-Po 250 2-Stroke twins of the '70's.

Britain's version of the DKW RT125 was the BSA Bantam, which was made to DKW Blue-Prints appropriated after WWII, and made originally in the same 125cc capacity. It was a crude, utilitarian bike, a humble commuter with 'adequate' performance, and in Britain it was the 'bench-mark' for bikes under 200cc, which basically just had to be 'cheap'.

By THAT standard, the little CB125S, was a very tidy little bike, its 4-stroke engine marking it out in a market dominated by two-strokes, and more, boasting an Over-Head Cam, many, and NO British, 'Big-Bikes' could boast.

But Honda had the idea that they needed something a little more inspiring in the 125cc category, and in June 1977 introduced a 125cc 'sports' motorcycle to the UK with a twin cylinder, over-head-cam engine.

It was deemed by the press of the time to not be fast enough or big enough for the young rider, and yet too expensive for the commuter, especially when its price was close to that of many much larger machines, and 'Learner-Laws' of the day allowed a 250 to be ridden on L-Plates.

Yet the bike sold moderately well, to more discerning riders.

This was the era of the 'muscle-bike'. Ferociously powerful machines, with skinny tyres, inadequate brakes, under-damped suspension, and frames that struggled to keep everything in place!

And the Japanese had assaulted the values of the traditional European manufacturers, who considered the 'four-stroke' the superior arrangement of engine for a motorcycle, with ever more raucous two-strokes, that weaved and wobbled their way to incredible velocities, from ever increasing engine capacities, with ever more cylinders.

Its also worth noting that at this time a 500cc machine was considered a 'big' bike, not just something for the immediate post test learner to sit out their restricted licence on, the 650's were the ultimate aspiration of the 'sporting' rider, and a 900cc BMW was the ultimate 'touring' motorcycle.

But, the high performance two-stroke's that the Japanese were starting to churn out were beginning to make people question their values, and perceptions of size, performance and capacity.

The original Yamaha YD1S, the 250cc twin, fore-runner of the RD series, was a bike that made about 25bhp, as much as many European 500's, and with the lighter two-stroke engine, its performance on the road, was good enough to keep many a 650 in sight

But the bikes that followed it, the disc-valved Suzuki's, and Kawasaki 'triples' went even further, and these quarter litre machines were gaining a reputation as 'Giant-Killers'... and being less than 250cc many of them could be ridden on L-Plates, that for a short time could be ridden by a 16 year old, before the moped laws were introduced! (At just about the time this 1972 Kawasaki Samurai, 250 triple was built)

For many 'young-riders' then, nothing less would do. They wanted a full 250, and one that had the performance to annoy the grown-ups, who insisted that this Jap-Crap wouldn't last and that their 'Bonny' was still the best bike ever conceived.

However, its also worth noting that at that time, motorcycling WASN'T the leisure activity it is today, and people STILL rode bikes because they were cheaper than a car. Many of them on L-Plates, because there was little compulsion to pass a test back then, so they never bothered.

And a LOT of riders, didn't want the hi-performance 250's, they wanted more useable, less frightening machines, and MANY of them bought Honda CB250N 'Super-Dreams'.

This was a bike that was considered 'Dull' by the press, but much loved by the buying public.

Being a 4-stroke, it LOOKED like a proper motorbike and essentially it was a CB400, with smaller cylinders, so it looked like a 'Proper-Big-Bike', too.

But the 250 class was plagued by the hi-po learner legals, and the number of bikes crashed by novice riders boosted insurance premiums, so many more budget conscious riders looked at the smaller capacities.

And here, just as the quarter litre bikes were making people question the performance references, so too were the smaller bikes, and the 16bhp offered by the original CB125 Twin was about what the old British 250's had offered, but in a much less exiting package!

Then in 1983, new, and rather draconian Learner-Laws were introduced, that would see learners limited not just to 125cc capacity machines, but also imposed a 12bhp power limit on them, while the provisional licence entitlement was given a two year time limit.

This law helped change the face of motorcycling, as no longer could any one simply apply for a provisional licence, get a bike and ride indefinitely on it, and many abandoned the pursuit rather than take a test or accept the limits of the smaller machines.

But it did promote a new interest in the smaller capacity classes for younger riders, and Honda, anticipating the laws introduction, launched the 'New' CB125TD, in early 1982.

They were designed  when Honda were asserting their corporate muscle, and trying to show that in the rush into the Super-Bike league they hadn't forgotten the 'Little' bikes, and more, they could make one every bit as good as their 'big' bikes.

Christened the 'Super-Dream', it was to carry the four-stroke flag on, in eighth litre arena, where the 'old' CB250N left off in the quarter litre class. And though it shared the same name, it shared little else.

What they built, was for the day, relatively conservative.

Its a four-stroke twin, when the across the frame four was king.

Its air-cooled, when water-cooling was just becoming de-rigueur.

It has only a single-over-head cam-shaft, when double-over-head cams were almost mandatory, and it ONLY has two valves per cylinder, when three or four were common-place.

EXCEPT this was a 125! Where such features were, and still are, pretty 'special'. And those weren't its only boasts.

It had a state-of-the art, 'Pro-Link' mono-shock rear suspension system, and a disc front brake. More, a twin piston disc brake, that is STILL pretty impressive by modern standards. As are other features, like the electric start, which was some small compensation for its learner compliant 12bhp engine loosing nearly 4bhp from the original kick-start 'T' model! BUT, the thing still revved to a heady 12,000rpm. THAT is STILL a pretty impressive engine speed.

At the time, though, these bikes failed to capture the imagination of the era's youth. Next to the more sportily styled Yamaha RD or Kawasaki AR, it was err... 'Boring'. It was the bike your Dad chose for you! They DID however have their fans, and they were chosen by Dads, and more discerning riders, including Riding Schools and Lady-Bikers. The latter, because for their day, they were about the only bike with an electric start, the former, because they were a very capable little bike.

Comfortable, well balanced & nimble, with good handling, and an eager little engine, far more of a proper bike than any of the budget 'commuter' bikes, without being, or looking like one of the teen-age tear-away bikes, but still able to keep up with them, and often show them the way, with twin exhausts loosing a classic four-stroke 'wail' all the way to the 12,000rpm red-line, instead of a bee in a bean-tin buzz, and burned oil-fumes!

Its sad that the four-stroke CB125TD's self inflicted obsolescence, was of course the fact that it was a four-stroke 'sports-bike' in an era of ultra-performance two-strokes, and capitulating to market demand, Honda rapidly released the two-stroke MBX125 to compete with them on more equal terms,

That bike went on to be evolved into first the NS125, then the NS125R, and ultimately the Italian made NSR125, at about which time, the early 90's after a ten year production run, Honda finally dropped the CB125TD from the model range, after successive 'cost-cutting' revisions to re-align it in the range between the more glamorous two-strokes and the more mundane commuters.

Ironically, less than ten years later, ever more stringent emission control legislation, and a resurgence in the motorcycle market, saw the demise of the two-stroke and a resurgence in the four-stroke, and Honda, as ever leading the way with an 'all-new' four-stroke sports learner legal, in the CBR125.

A machine that succeeded where the little CB125TD failed, capturing the imagination of the era's youth, even though its specification is far less avante guarde than the CB125T's was in its day!

Of course, at about the time the CB125T was launched, Honda also released the original CG125, single cylinder commuter, with kick-start, push-rod engine, drum brakes and utilitarian twin-shock suspension, and that has lasted almost into this millennium, updated with the CB125TD's electric start and a variant of the earlier CB125S single's overhead cam engine, and of course ultimately made down to a price in Brazil.

Which I mention, because, TODAY the little 'Super-Dream' is something of a forgotten splendour, over-shadowed by more dynamic machines of the era, often neglected, and abused, BUT they still have X-Factor!

And I suppose that the bench mark that they will be judged by will be the GC125.

Of course, the CB125 was the CBR of its era, while the CG has never been anything but cheap, rugged utilitarian commuter fare. But, now nearly all of them are 20+ years old, and the styling that was 'conservative' in its day, is closest to the commuter-bikes, as are their prices!

BUT, the qualities they had twenty years ago, are pretty much still all there. And all Learner-Legals are still restricted to 12-14 bhp, which means ABOUT 70mph.

This is an old bike, but the power limits haven't changed, so these STILL have about as much performance as you can have on a learner licence.

Take note, because MANY 'commuter' 125's, and particularly 4-stroke ones, like the Honda CG125, and the like, often don't, they put out about 10bhp, and can only do about 60ish... Chinese copies, even less!

AND this is a Honda! May not be new, BUT, these bikes were built when Honda was asserting itself to show they could build bikes that would last. In Japan. It actually Says, "Honda - Japan" on the Generator cover.

AND MORE, these bikes come from an age before disposable biros had micro-chips in them. They have metal where most bikes have plastic, like the switches and the petrol tank. They have nuts and bolts, rather than self destructing clips, and they have little inspection plates so you can adjust the ignition timing, and screws so you can adjust the carburettors, rather than having to plug it into a computer, and have to have access to a data-base in Homatsu to find out that you need to change the spark-plug!

They are a bike that you can, with a modicum of common sense and a few basic tools, do all your own servicing on. And unlike the two-strokes that servicing DOESN'T include tearing the engine to bits every 500 miles to replace the crank, con-rod and piston! (which they DON'T often get, they just get their main bearings replaced, because that's all you can get at without replacing the crank, that often costs as much as the second hand bike did.... which is why so many of the two-strokes shake themselves to bits so often! However....) All you need to do on these bikes at that sort of interval is change the oil and spark-plugs, tension the cam-chain and re-set the ignition timing.

They are, a VERY 'Practical-Classic'. And a real one, a bike that stood out from the crowd in its day, and still do. And though they are old, they can still earn their keep as an every day motorcycle, doing everything you'd expect of a modern machine. The CB125TD, is basically everything you could want out of a 'genuinely' 'Learner-Legal' 125 motorbike.

And the BEST bit, is because its the 'Unloved' Honda 125, over-looked by so many for so long, most have escaped the kind of abuses the other bikes have suffered, by way of being thrashed or crashed or badly fixed, and there are some stunning little bargains to be had out there!

Though do take note! These are OLD bikes, and Learner-Legal bikes get thrashed, crashed and badly maintained! Its all relative, and the CB125TD's haven't escaped these abuses entirely, they just don't seem to have suffered AS badly as other models! Most I've touched spanners too have suffered worst, from mere abandonment & neglect, more than thrashing & bad mechanics.

OK, it doesn't have the performance of an unrestricted two-stroke NSR125, but that's NOT Learner-Legal. It near matches the performance of a restricted one, though, and whether restricted or not, that's a bike that is expensive and difficult to maintain.

It DOES have the performance of a CBR125. Just not its styling. And, well, that's a bike whose styling you either love or loath. And its a darn site easier to maintain, and a heck of a lot cheaper to buy!

It has far MORE performance, and near enough as much economy as a CG125, and takes hardly ANY more maintenance, servicing for the privilege.

So all in all, THAT is what makes them such a great little bike. Its a genuine 'classic', and a very practical and useable one, that CAN be put to use AND deliver whatever you are looking for from other, more contemporary machines, be it performance, comfort or economy, at the same time.

Learner Legal's Spec Comparison

  Honda CG125 Honda CB125TD Honda CBR125 Yamaha RD125LC Yamaha YBR125 Cagiva Mito
 
Engine 4-Stroke
Air-Cooled
Push-Rod
1-Cylinder
5-Speed
4-Stroke
Air-Cooled
SOHC
2-Cylinder
5-Speed
4-Stroke
Liquid-Cooled
SOHC 4v
1-Cylinder
6-Speed
2-Stroke
Liquid-Cooled
Reed-Valve
1-Cylinder
6-Speed
4-Stroke
Air-Cooled
SOHC
1-Cylinder
5-Speed
2-Stroke
Liquid-Cooled
Reed-Valve
1-Cylinder
6-Speed
Suspension Front: 115mm by 27mm Telescopic Fork

Rear: 80mm by Twin Shock, Swing-Arm

Front: 140mm by 31mm Telescopic Fork

Rear: 95mm by multi-link, rising rate, Mono-shock

Front: 140mm by 31mm Telescopic Fork

Rear: 100mm by multi-link, rising rate, Mono-shock

Front: ???mm by 32mm Telescopic Fork

Rear: ??mm by Cantilever Mono-shock

Front: 120mm by 30mm Telescopic Fork

Rear: 105mm by Twin Shock, Swing-Arm

Front: 120mm by 40mm USD Tele-Fork

Rear: 100mm by multi-link, rising rate, Mono-shock

Wheels Wheel-Base: 1297mm
Front:18-70/100 (2.75)
Rear: 18-90/90
Wheel-Base: 1350mm
Front:18-80/100 (3.00)
Rear: 18-85/100 (3.25)
Wheel-Base: 1294mm
Front: 17-80/90
Rear:  17-100/80
Wheel-Base: 1300mm
Front:18-70/100 (2.75)
Rear: 18-80/100 (3.00)
Wheel-Base: 1290mm
Front:18-70/100 (2.75)
Rear:  18-90/90
Wheel-Base: 1374mm
Front: 17-110/70
Rear:  17-150/60
Brakes Front: (Early Models) Expanding Drum
(Later Models) Disc with Single Piston Floating Calliper

Rear: Expanding Drum

Front: Disc with Twin Piston Floating Calliper

Rear: Expanding Drum

Front: Disc with Twin Piston Floating Calliper

Rear: Disc with Single Piston Floating Calliper 

Front: Disc with Single Piston Floating Calliper

Rear: Expanding Drum 

Front: (Early Models) Expanding Drum
(Later Models) Disc with Single Piston Floating Calliper

Rear: Expanding Drum

Front: Disc with Twin Piston Floating Calliper

Rear: Disc with Single Piston Floating Calliper 

Performance Weight: 115kg
Power: 10.5bhp
Speed: 65mph
Economy: 90-110mpg
Weight: 124kg
Power: 12.5bhp
Speed: 70mph
Economy: 95mpg
Weight: 115kg
Power: 13bhp
Speed: 70mph
Economy: 70-100mpg
Weight: 115kg
Power: 12.5/21bhp
Speed: 72/81mph
Economy: 75/64mpg
(Restricted / De-Restricted)
Weight: 124kg
Power: 10bhp
Speed: 70mph
Economy: 80-100mpg
Weight: 129kg
Power: 14.5/31bhp
Speed: 73/101mph
Economy: 00/34mpg
(Restricted / De-Restricted)

 

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