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2003 Honda CR125R: MD First Ride

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste”, and so is a great motorcycle chassis. Last year, Honda introduced an all new CR125R, with a revised motor and new chassis. Honda did a great job on the 2002 CR125R’s chassis, but the engine missed the mark.

For 2003, Honda looked hard for more power from the baby CR, and, basically, came up with an all new engine. As Honda’s dirt bike guru, Eric Crippa, explained, the new CR125R engine has many changes designed with one goal in mind, i.e., get more air into and out of the motor. Of course, more air equals more horsepower.

The changes start back at the air box, which has the same capacity but better flow due to larger intake openings and a straighter path between the air box and the carburetor. The carburetor is new, as well. Now 38mm (last year’s model featured a 36mm carburetor), the Mikuni TMX passes the air/fuel mixture through a new, larger reed valve into a cylinder with a revised compression ratio and a reshaped exhaust valve. Spent gasses travel through a new expansion chamber and silencer on their way into the atmosphere.

In the process, Honda addressed an air box sealing problem with a new foam gasket between the air box and the air boot.

After a few hours riding the 2003 CR125R, we are happy to report that Honda has delivered a substantially improved motor, and that the chassis is just as sweet as last year. While last year’s bike required massive clutch abuse exiting corners, the ’03 model has a much broader, easier-to-use powerband. While “better breathing” might lead you to believe Honda produced a top end screamer with no low-to-mid power, this is not the case.

Indeed, the 2003 CR125R seems to pull harder from bottom to top when compared to the 2002 model (also available for our sampling at Carlsbad Raceway). For the first time in several years, Honda has a very competitive stock 125 motor to go along with its superb handling and suspension.



We’re not ready to say the 2003 CR125R is the fastest stock 125 available this year. Indeed, all of the bikes seem to improve each year, and we have already ridden the 2003 Kawasaki KX125 (which also has an excellent stock motor). Honda has definitely made a huge step forward with its engine, however, and will surely be competitive with the other stock bikes available this year.

Speaking of that handling and suspension, Carlsbad Raceway provided a very good test for the 2003 CR125R. At 200 pounds, I am definitely beefier than the average 125 pilot, but the suspension (despite bottoming on one part of the track — see picture) did a good job, and the chassis is really excellent — combining good high speed stability with very precise cornering manners. I did experience a small amount of head shake coming into some braking bumps at the end of a fourth gear straight, but the bike handled so well over the rest of the track, it is hard to complain much.

The ergonomics are unchanged from last year, and that is fine with us. The bike invites you to take an aggressive, over-the-handlebar riding position, and it is slim and maneuverable. The seat/peg relationship seems about right, and even the seat foam seems to strike a good balance between being too hard and being too soft.

The brakes and transmission worked well — as they did last year, and the clutch did its job despite some abuse on Carlsbad’s famous whooped uphills.

Here’s the bottom line. Detail improvements to the already excellent chassis and suspension are coupled with an all-new motor that provides the CR125R with the punch it needed last year. Very good news for Honda fans . . . not such good news for the competition.