The 2016 Suzuki DR-Z125L is something of a triple-purpose dirt bike. It can be a transition bike for kids growing up who have graduated from the sub-100cc machines from other manufacturers. The DR-Z125L can be a first bike for a smaller adult or young teenager. Or, it can be a trail bike for an aging rider who no longer has a need for long-travel suspension and the stratospheric seat height (and additional weight and power) that goes with it.The first thing to know is that the Suzuki DR-Z125L is an extraordinarily reliable motorcycle. The air-cooled two-valve single has been around for years, and should provide service for decades, making it an excellent hand-me-down dirt bike. Maintenance is a breeze, as the air and oil filters are easily cleaned or swapped (though both require tools), and it is simple to adjust the chain and change the oil.
That should be the only maintenance you have to do for years, as the Suzuki DR-Z125L is a kickstart bike. That means there is no battery to tend to or replace, but a bike like this really needs the convenience of electric starting, which its competitors from Honda and Yamaha have. It’s great fun to hit the start button and take off, and nothing is more frustrating than a bike that won’t kickstart.Fortunately, the DR-Z125L was a reliable starter for the entire test, though a bit on the cold-blooded side. The choke is easily actuated on the side of the 20mm Mikuni carb, though I’d prefer a pull-knob on the handlebars. EFI is too much to ask for on a $3199 machine, but someday it will be cheaper than building a carburetor and we’ll probably get electric starting at the same time. Kickstarting is more of an annoyance than a problem.For the new rider, the Suzuki DR-Z125L is a welcoming platform. Weighing less than 200 pounds with its 1.1-gallon tank filled up, it feels light from a standstill up to full speed. Power is good off idle and fully controllable, and the handling is neutral. The Suzuki won’t do anything to surprise you, and the suspension will satisfy any beginning rider.Young riders moving up will definitely enjoy the 16-inch rear wheel and 19-inch front wheel. This allows the Suzuki DR-Z125L to easily roll over most obstacles that the full-size trail bikes can handle. On rock-strewn trails, however, the smaller front wheel is more susceptible to being thrown off-line than a standard 21-inch wheel.The graduating rider will also appreciate the excellent IRC iX-05H tires, longer travel suspension, and a bit more power, all of which help overcome the challenge of more weight and a taller seat. This is definitely a good stepping-stone from a shorter Honda CRF125F (standard version) or even smaller Yamaha TT-R110E.As with any dirt bike for a new rider, make sure it fits the neophyte. If the 32-inch seat height is too tall, get a smaller bike. Suzuki and Yamaha no longer offer a 125 with smaller wheels, so the option is to go with a Honda CRF125F if you need 125cc power and a sub-29-inch seat height (which means a 14-inch rear wheel, and 17-inch front hoop).This advice also applies to riders moving up. Don’t expect a youngster to “grow into” a bike. The young rider should get a bike that fits and then “grow out” out it. This is safer, and more enjoyable for everyone concerned.For older riders who still want to tackle trails, but need a lighter bike, backing it down to the Suzuki DR-Z125L may be just the ticket to maintain confidence and ride aggressively. Although it will get left behind full-sized trail bikes on dirt roads and out in the desert, when it’s single-track time, the DR-Z125L is in its element. What you lose in suspension and power, you make up for with the lighter weight, shorter seat height, and more room for error, allowing you to ride hard and make pretty good time.There might even be some places—the tightest switchbacks, for instance—where you’ll have a clear advantage over a full-size trail bike. Certainly, the smaller bike is easier to work with when you need to paddle or push. Where you can ride, the suspension, tires, and motor will impress, though not overwhelm.Speaking of which, you’ll find the single front rotor up front a bit lacking when riding fast. It’s perfectly dialed for new riders as there’s nothing grabby about it, but when wringing the most out of the bike, those limitations need to be kept in mind.On the same note, while the suspension is fine for most situations, it doesn’t handle deep whoops gracefully at speed. That’s fine, just slow down. Truly, the DR-Z125L can handle just about anything, including a black diamond trail—and I took it out on a number of them—if you take your time.There will be times when you need to look farther ahead than you might be used to. There’s no suddenly noticing you’re facing a steep uphill and then twisting the throttle. Instead, build momentum before you start your climb, keep the revs up, use your clutch to keep the DR-Z125L’s motor in the meat of the powerband, and be ready to downshift when revs start to drop.The DR-Z’s biggest weakness is in deep sand washes as, again, you have to aggressively keep the revs up (and weight back) to avoid plowing the front wheel into the soft stuff.All in all, the DR-Z125L is a reliable and capable bike that will suit a range of riders and skills. It’s forgiving enough for beginners, yet athletic enough to keep an experienced rider—who is not riding on the edge—engaged over a variety of terrain.Choosing the 2016 Suzuki DR-Z125L is largely about your opinion of electric starting. If you insist on that feature on a trail bike, the DR-Z125L is quickly eliminated from consideration. By an odd fluke of governmental regulations, the 2016 DR-Z125L is also not available in California. However, if you like the visceral aspect of kickstarting and find the lack of battery maintenance and reliability to be a plus, the Suzuki DR-Z125L is your only current choice.Photography by Don Williams
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!