Words and photos by Andrew Olson
The 1979 Honda CR125R is the bike I wanted most when I was fifteen. I've always liked the look of the red racers that I saw in magazines. I started motocross racing in 1979, with a used 1978 Suzuki RM125C2. When I got a job at a gas station and started buying new bikes, I always bought Yamahas. I've owned Yamahas, Kawasakis and Suzukis, but my only Honda was a CT70: my first bike.
I became re-interested in motocross a few years ago, after a fifteen year hiatus, and started thinking about buying a bike. I would have bought a shiny new YZ250 two stroke, but I decided I wanted something with an air-cooled engine, and became interested in vintage motocross. My favourite choices were a 1979 CR125R or a 1981 YZ250H. I looked in the classified ads, and there was a 1981 YZ250 for sale, so I bought it, and restored it for racing.
With that one finished, I was in a local wrecking yard checking out some Yamaha parts when I saw an unmistakable red frame with a red swingarm and shocks on top of a pile of junk. I checked the steering head and the ID plate said: "1979 CR125". The guy showing me around said I could have it. So I took it home, and explained to my dubious but supportive wife that owning a CR was a dream come true.
I found another junked CR125 at Recycle, a motorcycle salvage yard. It supplied a rusty old engine and another frame and wheels. I bought a seat on Ebay and re-covered it. Plastic and fat footpegs came from VMX Racing. Then I saw a nearly perfect gas tank on Ebay, and bought that. I bought three exhaust pipes and used the best one. Honda supplied an air filter and a front brake cable. I assembled the parts so it looked like I had a CR125 in the garage, but it was nowhere near running. I knew the engine would need a lot of expensive machine work to get it going, so the bike sat in the garage for two years. During that time, I was able to track down and order a new Cheng Shin 23-inch front tire.
Then, at the beginning of this summer, two things happened. I googled "vintage mx" and found that someone had started a vintage motocross club that was holding vintage motocross races in my area. Then I checked Ebay and found a brand new 1979 CR125R engine for sale. The idea of having a fresh transmission, clutch and carburetor was too good to resist, so I made sure I won the auction.
With a new engine in the bike, and a chance to race at vintage events, the project gained momentum. Works Performance "Gasser" shocks were ordered and installed. A chain slider for the swingarm was ordered, and I made special shouldered washers for it on my lathe. I also fabricated a spacer for the steering head bearings so that the lower triple clamp did not rub on the frame, a spacer to help mount the rear fender and the front chain roller from an old skateboard wheel. I couldn't find a muffler anywhere, but one day I checked VMX Racing's website and they had added a Proform silencer to their list of CR125 parts so that was ordered as well. A few bolts and other odds and ends and it was done. I filled the tank and kicked it over. It started second kick.
Two days later I attended my first vintage motocross race. The CR125R got quite a few compliments from the other racers. I raced my YZ250 in the first 250 moto and took out the CR125 for the second 125 moto. It's handling was a pleasant surprise, as was its wide power band. It was very easy to ride, and it cornered very well in the soft dirt. The suspension felt very plush. I am very pleased with how my "new" bike turned out, and plan to ride and race it a lot in the future.
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