The 125 2T from the Eighties and Nineties

The most beautiful and exciting sports bikes in a once-in-a-lifetime story 

Home Road Motorcycles Classic The 125 2T from the Eighties and Nineties

The period of 125 two-stroke sports bikes only lasted ten years, but what a spectacular, emotion-packed ten years! It was such a remarkable and significant chapter that everyone was involved, even those who weren't motorbike fans. It started in 1984; before that year, there certainly had been some beautiful bikes, but the spark that ignited the passion of 16-year-olds was ignited with the arrival of a UFO: the Gilera RV 125, which blew away fans and took an incredible leap forward, offering youths a bike similar to the Japanese dream maxis that were so popular at the time. It had a beautiful line, a rich set of instrumentation, backlit controls, reed valve aspiration, electric start, automatic mixer and rear mono - all of which had never been seen before. 

The Gilera RV 125, in fact, rattled the 125 bike sector, opening it up to two-stroke sports bikes and immediately piquing the interest of motorcycle manufacturers. Honda was among the first to respond, with the NS 125 F, which accomplished another leap in quality: its frame was made from square-section tubes, it had a single shock absorber, exhaust expansion muffler with racing silencer, exhaust valve, reed valve aspiration, and instrumentation with a coolant temperature gauge. Aprilia and Cagiva didn't waste much time either, preparing for the counter-offensive…

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Gilera's signature style and performance

The Cagiva launched the Aletta Oro, a copy - livery included - of the Kawasaki GPZ 600, which was also released at that time. While the inspiration drawn from the Japanese maxi bikes of the time had up until then only been minimal, it was now not in any doubt: everything about the bike was drawn from the maxi bikes, the line, the colours, the twin disc brake, the suspension systems, all of it. It looked like the final answer to its two main competitors, but then Gilera fought back, and what a result!

In 1986, the Gilera KZ 125 was launched: 25 HP, 150 km/h. A veritable monster. In addition to performance and technology, this beauty gave rise to a brand-new style, designed by Luciano Marabese, which during the second half of the 1980s revolutionised not only Gilera production but actually set down the ground rules for the new 125. The KZ boasts a superb racing fairing with a high exhaust pipe.

Aprilia was quick to respond just one year later, in 1987: launching the Project 108, another crazy bike with reed valve aspiration, exhaust valve, single swing arm, superb fairing, and the same dashboard as the Suzuki Gamma 500. The Cagiva group fought back, entrusting its Freccia C9 directly to the Master, Massimo Tamburini, who developed it together with the Ducati Paso: with an extended fairing, aerodynamic front mudguard and two exhaust pipes. Obviously, the performance had improved further still.

1988: all hell broke loose

A year later, in 1988, Aprilia's response came in the form of the Project 108 Replica, a tribute to Loris Reggiani's racing AF1 250, the first Aprilia to win a World Championship race. Its fairing sported the logos of its sponsors, the dual headlights and even better performance: the new engine delivered over 27 HP and the Replica sped by at over 160 km/h. Aprilia had therefore beaten them all and could have been satisfied with the win, but far from it: indeed, it launched another extraordinary bike just a few months later, the Sintesi AF1 88, one of the most high-tech bikes of that era, even more advanced than many Japanese maxi bikes. It drew its inspiration from the legendary Honda RC 30: aluminium twin-beam chassis, upside-down fork, single swing arm, large front disc brake, 17” wheel rims with impressive tyres - simply irresistible. What about performance? That was a stupid question - performance continued to grow, with over 28 HP. 

Honda had caught them all off-guard. Winning with flying colours.

It appeared to be the golden era of the racing-inspired fairing, as all bike manufacturers were heading in that direction. All of them except Honda, which in 1988 caught them all off-guard with the NSR 125 F: a naked bike! Outstanding technique, a bewitching aluminium chassis and a 31 HP engine. In conclusion? Everyone wanted one. 

All motorbike manufacturers spent this period sharpening their weapons, with ongoing developments to the models in their range; it seemed almost like a sabbatical, but in 1989, Gilera once again broke the rules, pushing even further forward on the sports track with the first true race replica: the SP 01. This was a race bike without compromise, its handlebars set so low you got cramps in your wrists, high, rear-set foot pegs and exquisite racing details. 

The competition had no extraordinary response: Honda presented the faired NSR, Cagiva came up with the C12 with its 7-speed engine. Although unnecessary, the “7 Speed” wording on the fairing provided quite a thrill. 

A Cagiva from the 500 GP

The next year, 1990, saw Aprilia as the first to respond to Gilera's race replica with the Futura, including all the technologies already applied until then, but with a new, faster, uncompromising chassis set-up. Cagiva was unable to beat it with its Freccia, and Tamburini played his trump card, inspired by the Grand Prix Cagiva 500: introducing the Mito, one of the motorbikes of the Century. A 500 GP cylinder, a magnificent chassis, an adjustable fork and a single shock absorber. And in particular an unprecedented, beautiful line, sporting a sleek monochrome red fairing, just like the GP. 

The waters settled a little after the Mito; the other bike manufacturers responded with a few refinements, confirming the models already in their range. In 1991, Yamaha finally got into the game with the TZR 125 R, which two years later was released in the beautiful Red Rocket version, an exact copy of Wayne Rainey's 500 GP. Also in 1991, Gilera presented the Crono, which was soon joined by the extraordinary CX, with a single swing arm both at the rear and at the front, its fairing boasting futuristic lines. Perhaps a little too futuristic: it did not prove successful in the market, but today one specimen is on display at the MOMO, New York's Modern Art Museum. 

In 1992, Aprilia introduced the Extrema, which is quite a fitting name: the bike was in fact extreme in every respect. It had a brand-new aluminium chassis design, with a new aluminium swing arm in place of the steel single swing arm introduced in 1987. The suspension and engine, which delivered over 30 HP and reached a top speed of 170 km/h, were also upgraded. 

Top-of-the-line technique and subsequent decline

From 1993 onwards, the fight over novel features was between two brands, Aprilia and Cagiva. Aprilia launched the Extrema SP, with the adjustable fork and the Marchesini wheel rims; Cagiva released a special version of the Mito, the Lawson 2, with a red livery featuring the competition number (7, on a yellow background), an upside-down fork and carbon fibre exhaust. Many people consider it to be the most beautiful 125 ever built. Of course, the level of performance had also increased, and actual top speeds of 175 km/h had been reached. In 1994 Cagiva made another technological breakthrough with the Mito EV, a small copy of the Ducati 916, a brand which at the time belonged to the same group. 

1995 saw the record for technology and performance but also witnessed the start of the declining phase. Not only had the tastes of 16-year-olds begun to change, but a law was passed a year later restricting the power of these bikes to just 15 HP and motorcycle manufacturers had to comply, as it made no sense to make models that youths couldn't ride. This was the end of a golden era, a meteor that gave rise to exceptional bikes, which are still loved today by those who were lucky enough to experience that period, those who owned one or even simply coveted one.