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When a certain manufacturer with a name that starts in H and ends in A introduced a small, 125cc, single-cylinder streetbike three years back, I questioned how many people would actually go out and buy one. I, just as much as the next motorcycle enthusiast, want to see the industry grow and new riders come into the sport, but would people really see the allure of a little street bike like the Grom? A budding group of mini-bike owners that ride past my house every other weekend, booming aftermarket, and continually growing mini-bike race grids answered my question.

Now Kawasaki wants in on that action, and plans to grab a piece of the two-wheel small bike pie with the Z125 Pro. An all-new, global model for Kawasaki, the Z125 Pro features a low, 31.7-inch seat height and 225-pound curb weight, in addition to a 2-gallon gas tank and LCD dash with everything from gear indicator to dual tripmeters.

The 125cc, SOHC engine borrows parts from Kawasaki’s KLX models that came before it, yet is different enough in its design for Kawasaki to refer to it as all new. Even still, Kawasaki folks with a finger on the mini-bike pulse and history kitting small-bike models of yore, suggest that there will be overlap between engine kits that were already available, and that you could easily get more power out of the Z125 Pro. Likewise, the aftermarket has already got its hands on the bike, with companies like Two Brothers Racing already getting anodized parts and an exhaust ready for the bike.

In stock trim, the Z125 Pro’s engine runs and fuels smoothly, as a powerplant housed in a new-rider-oriented bike should. All the same, clutch pull is light (though admittedly not entirely linear in its pull, which causes some less-than-smooth starts from a stop for less-experienced riders) and the four-speed transmission easy to work. Kawasaki noted that there could be some extra slack in the shifter due to the fact that, in other markets, the bike will be made available with an automatic transmission that uses the first bit of travel to engage the clutch, but we never had a problem and were pleased with the overall shift feel.

Ergonomics are tight for anyone more than 6-feet tall, and at anything near that height you run the risk of hitting your knees on the stock bars while turning, an issue I don’t remember having when riding a Grom with a stock handlebar. There’s not much you can do about your inseam, but I imagine a set of taller handlebars sourced from an aftermarket catalog will help. All the same, the seat is nice and supportive and good for logging all the city-street miles that the 2-gallon gas tank and impressive fuel economy numbers will allow for.

I say this assuming that you’re not already planning on turning the Z125 Pro into a little roadrace bike, but knowing good and well that this is a possibility—and not all that bad of an idea either. After all, the bike surprised with its solid handling on the narrow, cone-lined course that Kawasaki laid out for us later in the day on Treasure Island (video above). Steering is communicative and light, the brakes offer up admirable stopping power with a firm pull, and there’s zero twitchiness.

After the races, we toyed around with the Z125 Pro in and around the shunned grounds that make up the rest of Treasure Island, and walked away equally as surprised by the bike’s willingness to get a little loose. Wheelies, stoppies, and even jumps were no match for the little Z125 Pro, which took all of the hooligan riding in stride, with only a little clatter here and there to remind us of our immaturity. Consider the bike something fun for the experienced rider, something practical for the guy who’s already got a bigger bike in his garage but wants something for running to the store, and at the same time something user-friendly and affordable for the newer rider.

All that, of course, for $200 less than Honda’s Grom ($2,999 for the Kawasaki versus $3,199 for the Honda).

(By Bradley Adams, via cycleworld.com)