Honda started to build the CR125M in 1973. Honda called it the “20 Horsepower Feather”. It had a top speed of 60 mph and was equipped with a two stroke 123cc air cooled engine It was a very popular motorcycle, and it ruled motocross for a while.
Soichiro Hondahad built his company on the four-stroke design and was doing quite well with it. Yet, a few years later, Honda released a two-stroke that changed the world. The 1974 CR125M was produced in greater numbers than any motocross bike ever built. It introduced a generation of riders to racing and, more than any other single motorcycle, was responsible for the dirt bike boom that followed.
Soichiro turnaround on the subject of two-strokes was the result of two factors. He loved racing and couldn’t stomach the idea of losingon the track or in sales. Second, there was a group of young engineers at the company that believed in the two-stroke design and had a secret development program that was hidden from management. When they summoned the courage to present the project to the president, he approved. But he warned them, “If you insist on building a two-stroke, it better be the best in the world.”
That launched a 34-year run of Honda 125 and 250 two-strokes. The CR250M was launched first, but it was the CR125 that had the biggest impact on rank-and-file riders in America. It was the bike that changed everything, in sheer weight of numbers.
Suzuki already had a production motocross bike, and Yamaha would soon follow. Honda’s only official motocross attempt was a 125cc four-stroke that was raced and beaten badly in the 1969 All-Japan Motocross Championship. That project would eventually morph into the 1971 XL250 dual-sport bike, but its racing career ended early. The250cc two-stroke project was first raced in disguise on August 22, 1971. The result was a DNF, but the bike caught the attention of the Japanese press, and that forced the project out of the shadows. When Mr. Honda gave his reluctant blessing, the full might of Honda’s engineering staff was put on the project. Prototypes were built in an amazingly short time. The 250 made its public racing debut in March of 1972, and the 125 was first raced in July. Both bikes won within a few races. The green light was given for production, and Honda started making Elsinores by the thousands. They were given the Elsinore name because of the race that was immortalized in the 1971 film On Any Sunday. The 250 was released first and was called a 1973 model. Only a few 125s reached dealerships in ’73, and those were given 1974 designations.
The first dedicated U.S. National Motocross series started in 1972 but didn’t include a 125cc class. That didn’t happen until 1974, which was the season that launched Marty Smith as America’s biggest motocross star. In 1975, Marty won all the rounds except for the first one. In 1976, however, Marty spread himself too thin. He tried to race the Honda RC125 works bike in the World Championship as well as the U.S. National Championship. He didn’t win either. That was the year that Bob Hannah made his spectacular national racing debut for Yamaha. At the time, Hondas were a popular choice of privateers in the nationals, despite the fact that the production CR125 wasn’t especially competitive compared to the Suzuki and Yamaha. The CR125M was considered great raw material for spectacular custom bikes. Donny Emler at FMF and Gary Harlow at DG launched successful aftermarket companies devoted to the Honda 125. The ultimate expression of that probably came in 1980 with the Mugen ME125, which was raced by Johnny O’Mara. It was a liquid-cooled bike built with Honda parts and technical assistance from the Honda Racing Corporation in Japan. There were a handful of them sold worldwide at the then-unheard-of price of $4000.
Honda won six 125 National Championships in the ’80s with Johnny O’Mara, Ron Lechien, Micky Dymond, George Holland and Mike Kiedrowski. That wasn’t so unusual; in that period, Honda won almost everything. Doug Henry and Steve Lamson squeaked out three more titles for Honda in the ’90s, but soon the winds were blowing motocross towards the four-stroke, and that eventually doomed two-stroke 125s.
- Engine type: 124cc air cooled single-cylinder two-stroke
- Power- 20HP
- Weight : 154 lbs
- Carburetion: 28mm Keihin
- Transmission: close ratio 6 speed
- Bore and Stroke: 56 x 50mm
- Brakes: front and rear drum