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MD Ride Review: 2002 Suzuki RM125

Two-stroke 125cc motocross bikes have a well deserved reputation for being peaky and difficult to ride. With very little power below the upper mid-range, 125s are “screamers” that require lots of clutch work exiting corners (even exiting a corner in the correct gear). On the other hand, the few 125s with a broad powerband are typically down on peak horsepower.

Suzuki produced an excellent 125cc motocross machine last year — winning more than one magazine “shoot-out”. The completely re-designed, much lighter 2001 model was praised for its motor and its handling. For 2002, Suzuki did not rest on its laurels, but tweaked both the engine and the chassis for even better performance.

The legendary, five-time World champion Roger DeCoster has run Suzuki’s motocross race program for several years now, and you can sense his constant input into refinement of the RM machines. For 2002, Suzuki looked for more engine performance from re-designed powervalves, tighter piston-to-cylinder clearance (for increased compression) and refined carburetor settings. Suzuki also improved the durability of the transmission and added a lighter drive chain.

The geometry of last year’s RM125 was also refined with increased rake and trail for greater stability. Other chassis changes include a new, stiffer swingarm, more rigid frame (with a thicker reinforcement plate behind the steering head), lighter forks and shock with revised valving, and other detail refinements.

Engine performance is the single most important aspect of a 125cc motocross machine. In the 250 class, this is less critical (particularly for amateur riders), but 125s must squeeze every ounce of power out of their smaller mills. The 2002 Suzuki RM125 has a fantastic motor.

The engine performance of the RM125 is truely surprising. Surprising, because it provides both a broad spread of power (pulling hard in the lower mid-range all the way through the top end) and very good peak horsepower. In fact, the RM125 can be ridden more like a 250 than any stock 125 we have ever ridden.

Typically, gear selection is very critical when exiting corners on a 125, but the RM125 could often exit corners in either second or third gear with almost equal acceleration, due not only to the excellent spread of power, but also to a very good clutch.

The RM125 felt so strong that we had to ride it back-to-back with another 2002 model. A 2002 Honda CR125 was taken to the track and ridden back-to-back with the RM by editor Dirck Edge and intermediate motocrosser Andy Stephens. Andy was the owner of the 2002 CR125 (totally stock), but had raced a modified RM125 in 2001. Both Dirck and Andy felt the 2002 RM125 had more power everywhere than the 2002 CR125. It wasn’t even close. Andy felt the 2002 stock machine was just as fast as his highly modified 2001 RM125. Enough said about the 2002 RM125′s engine.

RM125s have always been known as corner carvers, and the 2002 model upholds that tradition. The steering geometry changes, however, were intended to balance that corner carving ability with increased stability on rough straights and through whoops. We think Suzuki achieved its goal. While the RM125 carved corners quite well, we never experienced any head shake while pounding through rough straight-aways. This is particularly impressive given the fact that Dirck weighs roughly 200 pounds, and the fork, with stock spring rates, rode lower than it would with a lighter rider. Matching spring rates with rider weight should result in even more stability.

The stock forks have also been revalved from last year’s settings. The forks were initially stiff, but they broke in well, resulting in a plush and controlled action.

The shock also performed well (make sure you set sag at 100mm). Small, stutter bumps were absorbed, yet bigger hits did not result in bottoming. Good stuff.

Like most stock bikes, spring rates in the fork and shock will be too soft for riders over 175 pounds or so. Once you have settled on the correct spring rate, however, the RM125 suspension is extremely good.

A few nitpicks. The RM125 almost seems too slim to grab effectively with your legs (probably, just a matter of getting used to it), and the footpegs felt as if they were set further rearward than ideal, but this could also relate to the flat seat that allows you to literally sit on top of the gas tank. The stock bars are also placed too close to the rider. A flatter bend (with less sweep) will help, but taller riders may want a new top triple clamp with a bar mount position further forward from stock.

Overall, the 2002 RM125 provides the traditional qualities you want in a 125 motocrosser (light weight and nimble handling that does not tire you out) with some of the broader, meatier power delivery of a 250. The bike is very easy to ride, and should satisfy riders of all skill levels.

While we have not ridden the 2002 KTM 125, which is the other motocrosser in this class reputed to have a killer engine this year, the RM125 has the best stock motor we have sampled so far in the 125cc class. U.S. MSRP is $4999. Visit Suzuki’s web site for further details and specifications.