Before you start reading this test of the 2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro, try to think back to when you first started riding motorcycles and, more specifically, why. That’s a complex question, and the answers will run the full spectrum – motorcycling seemed exciting, challenging, exhilarating, and it just looked cool. But, if we distill those feelings to their base components, what you have left is “for the fun of it.”Above all else, the 2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro wants to be fun. I know how that sounds odd and, as an adult, we’re supposed to cast those feelings aside in lieu of more nuanced expressions. But I happen to be partial to pure intentions, even the basic ones.
When the Z125’s direct competitor, the Honda Grom, was released in America in 2014, Kawasaki saw the trend of reverting back to simpler, lower-displacement times, and seized the opportunity. Honda struck gold with the Grom, and now Kawasaki is trying to follow suit with the 2017 Z125 Pro. Like the Grom, the Z125 can be ridden by anyone of any skill level, and I discovered its appeal on the busy, hill-filled streets of San Francisco.Starting with the 125cc SOHC 2-valve, air-cooled engine fed by a EFI system with a 24mm throttle body, the Z125 Pro has enough power to get you around town in short order. Zipping in and out of traffic, the Z125 powers up the steepest grades of San Francisco with ease. The power delivery on the Z125 Pro is smooth, linear and predictable. With a top speed of around 60 mph, I found myself doing everything that I needed to do in an urban setting such as San Francisco.There is a complete lack of throttle snatch and, for a new rider, or someone beginning to understand the concept of throttle control, that is certainly welcome. Whether I was going wide open after some hard braking or managing the gas through a nice sweeper, what struck me more than anything was the compliance of virtually every function of the Kawasaki Z125 Pro.What helps that compliance is the four-speed gearbox. A confident one-down-and-three-up is all you need with a bike this size. Geared for urban riding and, again, with newcomers in mind, you’ll notice that the Z125 Pro has slightly longer gears. The reason is pretty basic—newer riders can get off the line and into traffic without having to worry about fussing with shifting. After a confident click, you’ll be on your way.The clutch pull is effortless, but more experienced riders will notice that the friction zone starts a little further back than you might be used too. Not that it’s an issue. Watch for the possibility of a non-Pro Z125 being released with an automatic clutch in the future—it’s a bike that has been available in other markets.Familiarity is comforting, and Kawasaki was quite smart to capitalize on the opportunity. The Z125 Pro has an aggressive profile, predatory in nature, hunched forward with stylistic cues borrowed from its big brothers, the Kawasaki Z1000 and Z800.The 2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro still has an edge to it, despite its petite overall stature and substantially smaller displacement, but it has enough brazen qualities to be quite a looker. Approachable, thanks to an amicable 30.7-inch seat height, there is plenty of room for my 5’ 11”, 200-pound frame.Now, where the Z125 Pro excels is in the handling department. There is nothing more inspiring than being able to tip the 224-pound Z125 Pro into a corner. It does it all without a misstep. Upfront, we’ll find non-adjustable inverted 30mm forks featuring nearly four inches of travel and a spring-preload adjustable single shock. I didn’t find myself needing more, although I would appreciate more adjustability, the stock package is adequate.Over the hills and across the beaten San Francisco roads, the suspension soaked up any and all that was thrown at it. Under heavy braking during a few unwanted traffic situations when unaware motorists pulled out in front of me, I didn’t experience any fork dive.Tipping the Z125 Pro into a turn is a joke, and I mean in that in the most positive way imaginable. It’s light, responsive, and above all, confidence inspiring. Now, that can be a bit of a buzzword in the motorcycle world, but in this case, it’s more than appropriate.Leaning into a corner, whether it be a tight first-gear hairpin or your favorite canyon curve, the Z125 Pro is stable, despite whatever preconceived notions you might have of smaller bikes. With a slight 46.6-inch wheelbase, just put some weight into the inside peg and lock in with the outside leg. You will be whipping around corners with the big boys.Helping that tip in is a pretty keen choice on Kawasaki’s part. Out of the box, the Z125 Pro is using 100/90 (front) and 120/70 (rear) 12-inch tires. Just a bit narrower than the Honda Grom, but while tires of those dimensions might be more unstable at speeds the Z125 is incapable of reaching, the upshot is that it allows the user to get the bike leaned over faster and easier.Kawasaki’s custom-built “Treasure Island gymkhana course” showed off its capabilities to the fullest. This is where my favorite feature of the Z125 Pro stands out – and it’s something a little bit odd to get so caught up with…the gas tank.The two-gallon tank with its aggressive, razor-edge profile borrowed from the Z line lets you hook up and pull it over in the tightest of corners. If you’ve done track days, body positioning and experimenting with those techniques is suddenly that much easier on what I’d consider a “low-risk” platform. As many have said, starting on lower cc machines is the way to go, and the Z125 Pro offers a solid foundation to begin learning those techniques. In the case of an advanced rider, getting to toss it around creates a grin ear to ear.If the Z125 Pro has any issue, it would be with taller riders. A rider pushing into the 6’ range will most likely notice that their knees meet the bars quite easily. Taller bars and adjustable rear sets would sort those issues out permanently but for most people, that probably won’t be an issue and a taller rider can make use of the long seat to get a bit more legroom, if need be.The Z125 Pro has a modest braking system, to say the least. I was a bit reticent when I first saw them in the flesh. A 200mm petal-style disc up front, with a Nissan two-piston caliper, and a 184mm petal-style disc in the rear. Modest, indeed, but consider the kinds of speeds you’ll be hitting on the Z125 Pro.Brake pull is firm and linear, while producing a very positive amount of feedback. There’s enough braking power to do stoppies, if you’re the stunter type. The Z125 Pro doesn’t have ABS, but locking up the brakes, dare I say it, isn’t something that gets lost in translation. Release and all is well.A well-organized and functional dash is always appreciated. An analog/digital display can be found on the Z125 Pro that has all of the pertinent information a rider could want—fuel level, gear indicator, clock, trip meter, and speedometer.So, why the 2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro? Let’s take it all the way back to the beginning—what makes things fun? I can only speak for myself, of course, and truly having fun on a bike means that I’m feeling confident in my abilities, whatever those might be, being able to manipulate the bike without fear of heavy repercussions. That’s exactly what the Z125 Pro offers.Kawasaki was able to bridge the gap and make riders at either end of the spectrum check up on their ego. On one hand, we have the newly minted rider, someone who accepted the challenge and took the plunge, knowing full well that they weren’t ready to jump on that larger displacement bike. On the other is the advanced rider, someone who might have gotten lost in stat sheets, lap times, gear choices, and staunch personal opinions but, again, they have accepted that sometimes you have to step back to go forward and revisit those fundamentals.With summer rushing over the horizon, I see the Kawasaki Z125 Pro as a community builder—a bike where a group of friends can get together on, take to a vacant parking lot under the lights, and put it to the test. It is those moments that we are always chasing, where friends from all skill levels can share a laugh and come together. That’s what got me into riding—wanting to do something a little different, a bit exciting, and above all else, fun.Photography by Kevin WingRiding Style:
Our first segment introduces you to the new Arch 1s. This latest, slightly more sporting American V-twin, adds to the original KRGT1 coming from the boutique manufacturer based in Hawthorne, Southern California. Senior Editor Nic de Sena rode through Malibu with Gard Hollinger, who co-founded Arch Motorcycle with his friend, Keanu Reeves. The 1s is a unique ride for sure, and Nic explains what makes the bike really stand out.
For the entertaining story behind Arch Motorcycle from Gard Hollinger himself, you must listen to his podcast episode on Motos & Friends HERE
The guest segment of Motos and Friends is brought to you by the faster and most technologically advanced, 2023 Suzuki Hayabusa—visit your local dealer or suzukicycles.com to learn more.
In our second segment, Associate Editor Teejay Adams chats with multiple Emmy award-winning writer, Producer, Director, and actor, Thom Beers. the former Chairman & CEO of Fremantle Media North America, responsible for American Idol and America’s Got Talent.
Thom’s fertile imagination led to most of the really big reality TV shows such as ‘Deadliest Catch’ (now in its 17th season!), and many others. Of course for us in the motorcycle world, you’ll be interested to hear the genesis and story of how he started the first real fabrication reality show ‘Monster Garage’, that showcased Jesse James, and then how that led to ‘Biker Build Off’ and the ‘Zombie Choppers’ movie.
You’d imagine that most of Thom’s time is spent sitting behind a desk and on his phone. Not so. His intense stories of capturing much of the content for these shows make for some hair-raising listening.