Chronicle Archive | 1974 Honda CR125M Elsinore

Palm tree kit | June 5, 2022

I was barely in double digits when the dirt bike boom hit. It seemed like dirt bike technology was making huge strides every week, so now was the perfect time to be a dirt bike junkie like me. The bike I remember that really got the tech ball rolling was the 1974 model year Honda CR125M Elsinore, which hit showrooms in early 1973 with a price tag of $749.

The cover of Cycle News which featured our test of the 1974 Honda CR125M motocrosser.

Cycle news already had a full review of the ’74 Elsinore in the July 10, 1973 issue. And I remember as a kid reading that test word for word, but what I really remembered was the cover of this issue, which featured a photo of the lucky person who got to test the bike, holding the CR125 Elsinore aloft, high above the ground, with only his two bare arms, demonstrating just how light the bike really was . And he did it without showing the slightest trace of tension on his face. You know, like Scott Summers.

The CR125M Elsinore wasn’t the first Honda CR, it was the CR250M Elsinore (named after the race made famous in the movie Any Sunday) that came out a few months earlier, but it was the ultra-light CR125M Elsinore, which was modeled after the 250, that really had MX geeks like me drooling. At that time 125s were very popular, probably more so than the bigger bikes, and I’ve heard that the CR125M was produced in greater numbers than any dirt bike ever built, even to this day. I don’t know how accurate that is, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was indeed true. The Elsinore, it turned out, was so good that it gave Honda a reason to get into factory-level motocross racing and it has been doing well ever since.

I always find it interesting to read original reviews of long-running motorcycles, especially motorcycles that have become legendary like the Elsinore. So, just for fun, I dug up our original essay on the 1974 Honda CR125M Elsinore, which is approaching 50 years old, and picked out a few snippets from it that I found interesting even humorous. We wrote:

“The CR125M is so uncompromising that in execution it actually outperforms the 250 Elsinore. While the engine looks like a mini-Elsinore, the chassis components are different and designed specifically for the 125. Ultimately, the lessons learned and weight saved through careful design have produced a bike that definitely tops the 250 Elsinore…

1974 Honda CR125M Elsinore
Photo models? What photo models? We don’t need stinky photo models!

“The combination of the long wheelbase (for a 125) and excellent suspension make the CR125 a superb tracker on moonscape type surfaces. While the Elsinore has become known for its ability on rough surfaces, the 125 exceeds its performance. The bumps that are brutal on many motocross bikes become jarring on the 250 Elsinore. On the CR125 they almost seem to disappear. The ride comfort is absolutely amazing for a bike that weighs as little as the 125. At 180 pounds, the CR125 throws the old adage “weight makes smooth” out the door. The little two-knob Honda will consistently outperform most bikes. At the same time, there’s no sacrifice in precision. bike is not soft at all…

“Not only do the forks work perfectly, but the stock shocks work better than any type of proprietary shocks we have found. This is due to their spot application on the bike in question. The suspension and damping are on point. A chuck hole that could bring every pair of shocks down if caught at moderate speeds, couldn’t outsmart the CR125’s dampers at any speed it got in. In short, the suspension is awesome…

Bumps that are brutal on many motocross bikes become jarring on the 250 Elsinore. On the CR125, they almost seem to disappear.

“The 125 requires a lot less of the rider to descend than the 250. The Elsinore will insist that you have a well-thought-out line, and if you’re sure, it’ll do it real quick. But you better be sure. The 125 will take any number of lines on the spur of the moment. It does so on your whim, not its own. Only in very slow corners will it need to turn the bar like the Elsinore does. Tightening a line in a moderate to fast turn is simple, just bank it a bit more and dial in some power, the Elsinore will do that too, but it’s nowhere near that simple…

“Due to exorbitant alloy usage, the CR125 bounces the scale around the FIM minimum (176 pounds). In fact, Honda went with a steel reservoir and sprocket (starting with the 250) to get the weight above the limit. The steel tank is more durable than the aluminum one found on the 250, but just can’t match the alloy for looks…

1974 Honda CR125M Elsinore
The caption we wrote for this photo nearly 50 years ago still applies: “Isn’t she pretty?”

“The 125 demands you keep it buzzing, and six gears both accentuate and assist. throttle is about 3/16 and if the motor is on the powerband the action starts right away Outside the powerband the motor does not load or falter, it does not develop only about a third of the power. It is necessary that you choose the right gear or be in major distress on occasion…”

We continued the test by answering a few questions.

How fast is it?

“It’s faster than any stock 125 motocrosser available today. Not a lot, but a substantial amount. It is as fast as most modified 125s. A few super specials will beat him. But, if you want more, it’s in there waiting to be released.

How does he manage?

“It does some things better than any bike, and some things worse. You’ll have to learn to live with a pretty pipey engine. You can. Put the pros and cons together and you won’t have enough of a difference with the best ones to account for your personal preferences. It handles as well as any.

How much does it cost?

“It will cost about as much as your dealership wants. Your problem will be getting one. In dollars, you might look around $950 to $1,000.

Is it reliable?

“As far as we’ve taken it, it hasn’t faltered. If it’s like the biggest two-stroke, it’s pretty reliable. Plus, it will cost less to repair than European bikes.

Our summary of the 1974 Honda CR125M: “If you’re using the 125 class as a stepping stone to bigger bikes, you might not want to waste the money involved in the Honda. You can buy a bike for much less that will suit the beginner’s needs. But, if you think you want to stick around, chances are the Honda CR125M is the bike you want to ride.

I never had the chance to own one of those early CR125s. Worse still, I’ve never even ridden one. By the time my skills (and my piggy bank) reached the point where I could buy one, Honda had rested on its laurels a little too long, and the other Japanese manufacturers had all passed it on. One day, however, I think it would be cool to ride one. But until then, I’m happy enough to read about the CR125M in Cycle news when that silver jewel first came out and remember how good I thought it must have been to ride one at that time. I’m sure if I rode one now, all those high expectations and fond memories I had for the CR125M would be blown out the window. So, I guess I’d better live with those thoughts and just rewatch the old tests.NC

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About Rachelle Roosevelt

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