2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro review

'What is that?!' Kawasaki's pint-sized Z125 is even more fun than it looks

The Kawasaki Z125 Pro is everything you'd expect in a good motorcycle, but smaller.
The Kawasaki Z125 Pro is everything you'd expect in a good motorcycle, but smaller.
The Kawasaki Z125 Pro is everything you'd expect in a good motorcycle, but smaller.

Highs

  • Great value
  • Big-bike styling and features
  • Excellent fuel economy
  • Nimble handling

Lows

  • No ABS option
  • Torque band may not be for everyone

I pulled up to a red light on a beautiful summer afternoon, heard a car horn, and turned to see a grinning driver leaning out his window.

“What is that?” he asked. I responded that it was the new baby Kawasaki. He pressed me for details, ignoring the light as it changed to green. I had to cut him off with a wave as I sped off before it changed back again.

This was a regular occurrence during my time with the Z125 Pro, the newest and smallest street bike from Kawasaki. It drew attention from riders and non-riders alike. I got more smiles and thumbs-up than I have with any other vehicle I have ever ridden or driven.

My bike was clad in Candy Lime Green bodywork, but it wasn’t just the color that drew people in. This vehicle recalls the mini bikes many of us grew up around, but you don’t have to be a fan of motorcycles to appreciate its aesthetics and purpose. To my delight, it proved to be even more fun than it looks.

Shrink session

Small motorcycles from the Japanese Big Four have made a serious comeback in the United States. Kawasaki, Honda, and Yamaha all have offerings in the popular 300cc segment (we’re still waiting on you, Suzuki). But it was Honda that truly tested the America’s appetite for tiny bikes by bringing us its 125cc Grom in 2014. It was a runaway success, and it was inevitable that Kawasaki, Honda’s longtime rival, would introduce a contender.

The Z125 Pro sports many features from larger, more expensive bikes. The little bike borrows its styling from the larger members of the Z family of street-fighters, as seen in its fairings, LED taillight, lower cowling, and low-mounted exhaust.

The Z125’s components go beyond looks and bely its price point. Digital fuel injection means easy, reliable starts at the push of a button. Up front, the 30mm inverted fork has nearly 4 inches of travel, while the offset single rear shock has four preload settings. Front and rear petal-style disc brakes lend confident stopping power, and 12-inch wheels with narrow profile street tires contribute to the Z125’s agility.

The air-cooled, SOHC four-stroke motor is mated to a 4-speed manual transmission that is geared towards street performance. The easy-to-read digital display includes a fuel gauge, gear position indicator, trip meters, clock, and speedometer.

Despite its aggressive looks, the Z125 is a comfortable commuter. The seating position is relaxed and neutral, and you don’t need to contort yourself to reach the handlebars or foot controls. At 5 feet 10 inches tall, I was comfortable on the bike, though taller riders might feel cramped.

With a curb weight of 225 lbs, the Z125 is remarkably toss-able and easy to ride. This comes in handy when avoiding road hazards that could spell trouble for the little bike, though it proved to absorb most bumps with little trouble.

A short ride

When I first threw my leg over the bike, I felt I was sitting lower than the modest 31.7-inch seat height would suggest. It was the size of the bike itself that made me feel close to the ground. And once I was on the move, it disappeared from view. I had to tilt my head straight down to see the display, and the mirrors showed as much of myself as the traffic behind me.

2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro
Albert Khoury/Digital Trends
Albert Khoury/Digital Trends

The clutch had a light feel, and gear changes were crisp. This was a good thing, as I found myself constantly shifting to stay in the power band and maintain speed, especially when going uphill. The gear indicator was a welcome feature in this respect, even with just four speeds to choose from.

The 125cc single cylinder motor sounds like an angry swarm of wasps, which goes well with the bike’s insectoid styling. The thin saddle and ergonomics gave me confidence when taking tighter bends, and the raised foot pegs give decent ground clearance if you like to bring your knees closer to the pavement.

The tachometer needle hits red at just under 10,000 rpm, and the little motor practically begs you to flog it. When you do so, you are rewarded with a buzzy scream as well as a slight kick in power near the top end.

Lower power comes with greater responsibility

Flat out, I was able to hit an indicated 64 mph, and that was on a flat surface with the wind at my back. With a bike this small, your size contributes significantly to performance. Regardless, I spent most of my time below 60 mph, as the bike felt less stable at higher speeds.

Though the Z125 is capable of maintaining freeway speeds, I stuck to local roads. The Z125 just felt a little too small to roll with tractor trailers and SUVs that could move the bike all over the place in their wake.

2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro
Roberto Coman
Roberto Coman

The bike makes for an excellent runabout. It’s easy to park and maneuver in low-speed traffic, and you don’t need to put your feet down unless you roll to a complete stop. It’s ideal for getting to work or school, or taking a quick trip to the corner store.

The little green machine really shone when I took it out of traffic and onto some curvy suburban roads. It handled most corners with ease, and could lean when it needed to. When I approached the bike’s limits, I was quickly reminded that this was a modestly priced small street bike, and I should ease off.

The Z125’s components go beyond looks and bely its price point.

The Z125 could bring out nearly anyone’s inner hooligan. At boulevard speeds, it was docile and graciously forgiving. But when things got twisty and fast, all my extremities were put to work, as my hands worked the throttle and clutch while my left foot did a tap-dancing routine on the shifter.

The brakes gave decent feedback, though it shouldn’t take much to stop a bike this small. There is no ABS option, so good brake control is important to keep the rear from sliding out under more extreme conditions. Kawasaki’s 300 Ninja offers ABS as a $300 extra, and as Europe moves to make the safety feature mandatory for its motorcycles, we may see it arrive on our smaller street bikes.

I am bringing up the lack of a passing button to flick the high beams, as this can be found on even the smallest Ninja. Why Kawasaki left it out on this bike is beyond me. I kept my high beams on during the day, but I would have appreciated an easy toggle for night riding. Whether or not it’s often used, it’s nice to know it’s there.

At $2,999, the Z125 delivers good bang for your buck. You won’t spend much to insure it, and you can practically run it on pocket change. I averaged about 80 mpg overall, and I was able to consistently get a range of over 150 miles from the two-gallon tank.

I am a big fan of small bikes, but the Z125 was smaller than anything I was used to. I daresay it was also more fun to ride than most. Though it would make a great beginner bike, I would suggest it’s just as good for veteran riders. Whether your ride is a weekend track monster or a mile-devouring cruiser, your garage and budget should have room for a Z125 addition.

Conclusion

With the introduction of the Kawasaki Z125, there’s never been a better time to get into motorcycling. And if you’re already there, here’s a chance to add a new ride to your stable.