My VF1000, brutal machine that. Just look at it.
Monster engine. Big exhausts. Looks like its doing 100 miles and hour sat on its side stand.
See that in your mondeo's rear view mirror, you'd get out the way, sharpies, wouldn't you?
A hard bike, for a hard man, right?
Well... without getting into the semantics of fragile cam-shafts, or the aesthetics.... you get the idea.
Its big, ergo its tough, right?
But, ACTUALLY, some of the toughest bikes about are humble Learner-Legals. 'Little' 125's.
They aren't big, they aren't clever, but, more often than not, they live a hard life!
They are like ants. They might not be big, brutal, and tough as old boot, like a rhino, but they work hard for their living, and pack a punch above their weight!
Built Down to a Price
A 125cc motorcycle is a small bike. Because its small, people expect it to be cheaper than bigger bikes.
Ironically, it costs almost as much to manufacture a 125cc single cylinder motorcycle as it does a 650cc single cylinder motorcycle, because, give or take, there are just as many parts in it, and it takes just as much time and effort to screw them all together. Amount of metal in it makes little odds.
BUT, in marketing terms, people value a 650cc motorcycle a LOT more highly than they do a 125cc one. So, to be able to sell them you have to give them a lower price tag.
This means you can make a bit more money on a 650cc bike, but you probably have to build your 125 down to a stricter price.
On a Big-Bike, the inflated 'perceived value' means that there is more scope to over-engineer it for reliability and performance. But on a Budget-Commuter bike, built to a strict price constraint, there isn't.
On a big bike, costing a few thousand pounds a few extra pence in manufacture is a pretty insignificant % of the product cost. On a little-bike, costing a few hundreds of pounds, its a much bigger deal. And if you are making millions of these things, instead of thousands, it becomes a VERY big deal.
This does NOT bode well for longevity or reliability. A 125, built down to a price will also be built down to a quality, the LOWEST quality that the manufacturer believes that he customer will tolerate.
Thrashed Right from the Start!
Then that lower grade motorcycle is put into service. And your 125, with 9bhp, instead of a 650 with perhaps 40, will have a top speed of about 65mph, where your 650 should comfortably reach around 90. Bimbling about, in 'normal' duty, then, your 650 will happily get up to 60-70mph and cruise all day using barely 1/4 of its power, its engine turning low engine revs, and never being stressed.
Your 125, JUST to get to 65 will be against the stops, screaming its little ends off! ALL the time. So from the very start, its onto a bigger looser for longevity and reliability. Its GOING to be thrashed!
BUT, because your 125 is 'Learner-Legal', its even worse.
650 can only be ridden by a full licence holder. Most likely, some-one that knows a 'bit' about bikes, and how to ride them and look after them. Maybe not that much, but they aren't a complete beginner, stepping onto their very first bike.
The typical 'Learner' is just that, a learner. They wont be well practiced in machine control, balancing the clutch and throttle, making smooth gear-changes, using the brakes progressively.
What happens? The engine gets its nuts revved off it, burning out the clutch as they get to grips with throttle control. Then they start fumbling the gears, smashing it through the cogs, banging the clutch out hard, finding false neutrals, and over-driving the engine, hammering down the gear-box too soon. And that's only the start of the torture. The first fifteen minutes on the play-ground during CBT! Next comes braking, and ham-fisted nose dives bottoming the front forks, and locking the back wheel, often without pulling the clutch in! Oh, and then the endless exercises practicing for the test, e-stops until the fork seals pop!
Are you getting the picture yet? Yup. Bad enough on a privately owned bike, bought to learn on, but a school bike, doing that for eight hours a day, three days a week?! But at least the school bikes will get services properly, by some-one that knows what they are doing. Typical Learner Rider is as ignorant of how to look after a bike as they are riding it, and without experience i the saddle, they probably don't even recognise many faults a bike might have or develop.
Neglected, Abused and BOTCHered!
So after recognising the abuse Learner-Bikes have to tolerate from Learner-Riders, you then have to consider the maintenance they might get, and a complete newbie not knowing how to adjust the valve clearances, or get at and clean the oil filter. How tight to fit a spark-plug, or how to tension a chain. All these procedures are pretty simple, but many many people manage to completely cock them up and do more harm than good! If they bother at all!
Wheel-Bearings suffer from an over tightened chain. As does the chain and sprockets, prematurely wearing. Probably more so than if it was just left to go so slack that it fell off the cogs! Just failing to get the wheel-aligned properly can cause the bike to handle badly, and wear the chain and sprockets out. And none of it helps the gear-box out-put shaft to last, and keep the oil inside the engine.
So, oil will be topped up, not changed. It works out the same doesn't it? And of course, the oil strainer, inside the engine is out of sight and out of mind. supposed to be removed and cleaned every couple of oil-changes, but since it never gets any, when should it be looked at? How do you get at it? You have to take the cover off the engine and ferret around inside? No, that's scary, not going in there, as long as it works, we'll leave it alone!
But its making a horrible rattling nose, so we eventually go in to have a look at the tappets, and adjust them according to the manual, but the clearance is so big that the adjuster screws have been hammered to death, and it wont adjust properly, and even if it is, the lock-nut doesn't get screwed down, and they open back up, or worse, fall off and rattle around inside the engine, or worse still, screwed down too tight closing the tappet clearance up more, stopping the valve closing properly so it runs rough and a valve burns out!
and I'd better mention the cylinder head stripped of the thread for the spark-plug as some-one naively thought that because there's a lot of pressure inside the engine, they ought to do it up REALLY REALLY tight!
Oh! And of course, people that have bought 'Economy' commuter bikes, of course want to save money, don't they?
So tyres will get worn right down to the legal limit, and as long as they can get away with it, as close to perfectly bald as possible! Then when they DO need replacing, they get the cheapest, hardest, least grippy tyres that money can buy.
Punctures get repaired by patching over patches, rather than buying a new inner-tube.
Head-Race bearings don't get replaced, if they can be made to last a few hundred extra miles simply being tightened up a bit.
Brake shoes get swapped from the back wheel to the front, when the fronts 'go', because you don't 'really' need a back-brake do you?
Chain stretched beyond adjustment? New chain means spending money, and why bother, when you can just knock a few links out of the old stretched chain to shorten it so it grips the hooked, worn out sprockets?
Cables? why buy a new-one when its stretched so far it cant be adjusted any more, if you can just pack it out with a few washers, a spare cable adjustor or a bit of tin can?
Slipping clutch? Oh dear. Well, why buy new plates or springs, and have to take the engine apart, and risk not being able to put it back together. Try sticking some heavy gear-box oil in the engine instead!
Learner Legals suffer ATROCIOUS standards of maintenance.
Some of it is through ignorance. Simply not knowing when or where maintenance is needed. Some through not knowing how to do necessary maintenance. But an AWFUL lot is through shear 'Botchery', applying improvised and get-you-by repairs rather than proper maintenance to avoid those failures in the first-place, then more to keep the bike working, when stuff has broken or worn out.
People do NOT spend money on maintaining 125's, for a variety of reasons, but the main ones are that they want a 'cheap' bike, so why spend money when a botch will do? They don't intend to keep the bike, they only got it to do their test on, so why buy a battery or a chain and sprockets, or a new pair of brake pads, that they aren't going to get the use out of, if they can 'botch it. And the FINAL excuse? Well, its ONLY a 125....... not like its a FireBlade or something!
And that's before any-one has the idea that because they are a low-powered and 'slow' 125, to try and make them a 'bit faster' by either 'de-restricting' them, or trying to 'tune' them!
THAT particular pursuit is inordinately bad for reliability, and worse, as often as not, people with the notion, will spend money on tuning goodies rather than basic maintenance, or even instead of maintenance, making an already degraded and over-stressed little motorcycle, even more degraded and even MORE over-stressed!
Working for a Living
So, before you begin, the typical Learner-Legal is destined for a hard life. Its not the toughest cookie in the tin to begin with, and to do what's expected of it, its going to be thrashed mercilessly. Probably by a more clumsy and less mechanically 'gentle' newbie rider.
Its THEN probably going to suffer incredibly from amateur DIY mechanics. It will probably be neglected. What maintenance it does get will probably be done badly, and a lot of wear and tear actually caused by that poor maintenance. Then repairs will probably be botched, and done on the cheap. But, incredibly it will probably survive all this!
Hard worked from the very beginning, most 125's are not garage trophy week-end toys, like a lot of big-bikes. Many big bikes spend most of their lives cosseted in warm, dry garages, brought out only when the sun is shining, and then ridden no where near their limits.
Most 125's are their owners main means of transport. They are used every day, getting to and from college or work, in all weathers, rain or shine, and the only shelter they might get may be no more than a nylon bike-cover.
At ten or fourteen years old, you find 600cc sports bikes being sold with maybe 20,000 miles on them; that's an average of 2,000 miles a year.
Yet, little 125 Commuter, trundling to and from work, ten miles away, can easily crank up that sort of mileage before its first MOT at three years old!
Might not be glamorous work, like tearing around the country-side on a sunny Sunday to see a race meeting, or touring the alps. But its still work, and these little bikes do it. Taking the clumsiness, the thrashing, and the neglect and botchery, and still coming back for more.
Tough little buggers, really, aren't they?
Might not be big and impressive. Might not be all that exiting or glamorous. But, they are proper motorbikes, and deserve a little respect for what they do.