2014 Honda CRF125FB Big Wheel Motorcycle TestHonda continues to rejuvenate its playbike lineup with the all-new 2014 Honda CRF125F dirt bike, which comes in a standard version with smaller wheels (14” rear and 16” front) and the CRF125FB, which is the Big Wheel version with a 19” front and 17” rear tire.
The Big Wheel also gets longer suspension travel and different handlebars, but it otherwise the same as the standard CRF125F.We grabbed the first 2014 CRF125F Big Wheel available and took it out on the wide variety of terrain and trails at Hungry Valley State Recreational Vehicle Area, a huge facility about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles.At 5’ 6”, I’m the target height for the CRF125F Big Wheel, though I am a bit more experienced than the targeted owner. However, that is tempered by the fact that my ride on CRF125F Big Wheel was my first on the dirt since undergoing ACL replacement surgery on my right knee. So, naturally, I was planning on taking it easy and riding it as the typical Big Wheel owner would–safely and sanely.A replacement for the long-in-the-tooth, but still successful, CRF100F, the CRF125FB is an upgrade in every way. The new CRF125 gets beefier forks (31mm compared to 27mm), longer travel, a new frame, plus the all-new larger displacement motor. Rather than just bore out the 100, the 125 motor has a smaller bore than the 100, and a much longer stroke. This makes the CRF125F a long-stroke motor that is all about torque.Getting underway couldn’t be easier–electric start! Like most Honda dirt bikes, it is cold-blooded, so start the air-cooled motor up early and let it idle for a while. Once warm, it has superb off-road manners. The clutch has a nice, wide engagement, and matched with the extremely torquey motor and low 1st gear, it is nearly impossible to stall. Eventually, I skipped 1st gear altogether getting started and just took off from 2nd gear when at a standstill on level ground.It may have one less gear than the CRF100F that it replaces, but the four-speed transmission has wide ratios and a strong motor powering it. This gives it a top speed that allowed me to hang with a nearby CRF230F if it stayed in its four bottom gears. Again, torque is the focus of the motor and it pulls.Given that it was my dirt bike ride since a major injury, I had convinced myself to just poke around and enjoy the outdoors. Okay, that plan didn’t last too long. With my right knee safely encased in an Össur CTi OTS knee brace, I found myself moving up through the CRF125F’s gearbox quickly as I rode it down hardpack dirt roads and through the sand wash.With a 31-inch seat height allowing me to sit flat-footed in my Alpinestars Tech 6 boots, I had the confidence that I was in total control of the sub-200-pound Big Wheel. The suspension is limited in travel (just shy of six inches at both ends), to be sure, yet the non-adjustable action was decent–the stock spring and damping rates are spot-on for a playbike.Challenging single-track trails beckoned, and I could not resist. Climbing and dropping the slalom-like trails, the 2014 CRF125F Big Wheel was a joy to ride. Never even approaching overwhelming, the motor just chugs along. There is no need to rev it–short shift and let the torque do its job.This makes for a fun ride that’s not frenetic or intimidating. That security allows the newer rider to push just a bit harder with confidence.Riding down an impossibly narrow canyon with bowl turns every few seconds, the CRF125FB steers predictably and tracks well. The CST tires are Chinese-sourced, yet they work fine for the intended multi-terrain use. I was in everything from deep sand to full hardpack–they never made me wish for higher quality rubber. The tractable motor makes the job easier for the tires.One of the toughest torture tests for the CRF125FB Big Wheel was a rocky, sandy riverbed that seemed endless, getting tighter and tighter as I progressed up the canyon. Hitting unsteady rocks from countless angles, I was able to stand up comfortably and guide the CRF through in 1st and 2nd gears, fully in control. I wasn’t excited about testing my knee’s ability to absorb impact, and the 125 never let me down. I went through at a good pace and the bike moved predictably underneath me, with the suspension giving just the right balance of being plush without wallowing.Honda had been boasting to me about the hillclimbing ability of the CRF125F Big Wheel. Like any factory claim, I took it with a grain of salt. However, I found myself staring a lengthy climb that mixed loose soft soil with hardpack covered with sand–and it was steep. Okay, let’s see if the long-stroke motor’s pulling ability is fact or hype.I revved it up in 2nd gear and went for it, knowing I had 1st gear in case things got sketchy. They didn’t–the bike pulled well, and kept traction throughout. The front wheel never came up–even intended wheelies aren’t easy on the CRF125FB–and the bike tracked right up. That was much easier than I thought possible for an eighth-liter trail bike. I was impressed.Coming back down, the brakes are strong, yet with a soft bite for easy operation. The 220mm front disc is formidable if you pull too hard, so riders will have to learn restraint. The rear drum may look Stone Age, but it works well for those who want to rely on it a bit more. The weakest link, as you might expect, for the CRF125FB Big Wheel is rolling sand whoops.The suspension does get overtaxed at speed, and the thinnish padding on the seat makes it possible to feel the frame rails on G-outs, even with my 110-pound weight. Stand up when necessary, and most of the problems are solved, though that might be a stretch for newer riders. Of course, they aren’t likely to be hitting deep sand whoops in 4th gear. Also, it’s not designed to be a jumper, though small air is fine.While a new engine in America (it has been used overseas), I have no doubt that the CRF125F motor will be as reliable as the sunrise. It’s easy to adjust the chain, change the oil, and clean the air filter–do those three things and you have done 98-percent of the maintenance and this bike should be running in 2034. You can see from the photos that the bike looks slick, and shares its styling with the CRF-X and CRF-R competition Hondas.A huge improvement over the CRF100F, the 2014 Honda CRF125FB Big Wheel makes trail riding for new and moving-up riders just that much better. Even older riders who want to do more boondocking than whoop-skipping will get a huge smile on their faces when riding this go-anywhere trail bike. Smaller playbikes don’t get much love from faster, harder riders, but the 2014 Honda CRF125FB has lots of heart.Photography by Don WilliamsRiding Style:
Helmet: HJC CL-X6
Goggles: Progrip 3450 Top Line
Jersey and pants: Fly Racing Kinetic Girl’s boot cut
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!