It isn’t often a new 125cc scooter will be worth getting excited about. Two-stroke fun is all but dead and buried and four strokes don’t generally provide quite as much excitement as an old smoker. After all you can’t tune a four stroke quite as easily or effectively, you don’t get that tingle down your spine as the revs rise into the golden but short-lived powerband and you don’t have to have your recovery service on speed dial, or shares in Putoline to run one.
Don’t let rose tinted specs prevent you from riding a modern scooter though because there are still plenty of benefits to be had. As we found out with the new Honda Forza 125, a feature packed and very well sorted scooter. Blasting around the coastal road heading into Monaco on the European press launch I couldn’t help but feel lucky. Not just because I get to do some pretty cool things (both for work and pleasure) but also because I learnt to ride in the first place. Experiencing freedom on two wheels is the best way to experience life. Whether you’re riding to rainy Morecambe with a bunch of mates, or the lavish wealth of a marina in Monte Carlo, two wheels is the only way you’ll be able to soak up the whole atmosphere. Your senses are heightened in a way they never would be in a car. A waft of smoke from a distant garden fire way down in the valley would just be smoke if you were encased in a four wheeler, on a scooter you can tell it came from a garden fire as a Frenchman cleared his dried out weeds ready for summer. Further around the coast you can taste the subtle scent of fragrant pines and as we stop for coffee in that very exclusive marina the smell of cold hard cash from the multi million pound yachts hits you smack in the face. Welcome to Monaco, the second smallest and most densely populated country in the world. It’s not getting there that matters though; it’s how you got there and we certainly didn’t have to sit in stationary traffic like the rich and beautiful. Scything through rush hour traffic is always much easier on two wheels, so what exactly does the new Forza have to offer offer.
The Forza is a machine with maxi scooter presence, an economical engine, some useful technology and of course the finish we all expect from Honda. That quality comes at a price of course but sometimes the best things are worth paying a little bit more for and to be honest it’s less than many people spend on a night out in Monaco! As 125’s go the Forza is at the top of the scooter price bracket (unless you count the exclusive £9,000 Vespa 946 of course). It’s likely to be in the region of £4000 when it arrives in May, which pits it directly up against its main rival the Yamaha X-Max 125. Well on price at least, the Honda spec sheet is much more impressive so it’d easily outdo the Yamaha at scooter Top Trumps. So what exactly do you get for your money?
Let’s start with the engine; it’s a 4-valve SOHC liquid-cooled low friction, eSP engine, (enhanced Smart Power), as used in the PCX and SH125. Around 60% of the parts in the engine are new and it produces 14.75bhp so, on paper at least, it should be a contender in the sports 125 class. The scooter also comes with idling stop technology (as does the Honda PCX). It’s a great fuel saving gadget and if there’s one thing Honda are good at, it’s building economical scooters. They claim 123mpg for the Forza, ridden hard on the test we were seeing around 104mpg, which isn’t a bad figure at all. Honda have tried to maximise range so average commuters will only need to fill the 11.5 litre tank once a week; they claim a 310 mile tank range.
Styling and ergonomics were given serious consideration during the design stage, the scooter needed to have a good road presence, be comfortable, stylish and practical. The weight is placed low down, with enough front/rear bias to make it easy to manage in slow moving traffic. Honda haven’t neglected storage either, there’s 48 litres worth beneath the seat. That’s large enough for two full-faced helmets, or a helmet, riding jacket and trousers. Very practical, as is the handy plastic divider, a simple way to partition the space to separate your luggage and stop it sliding around. There’s also a hidden cubbyhole with integral charge point in the front fairing. Nice work Honda. Lighting is taken care of by modern LED’s with headlights, running lights and rear lights all benefiting from the brighter tech. The clocks feature an analogue speedo and tacho with a digital screen for fuel, temperature, twin trips, average and current fuel consumption, a clock and service reminder.
With a line up of shiny multi coloured Forza’s and some lovely French sunshine awaiting us outside the hotel we were all pretty eager to get out and ride. The seating position was comfortable and offers a choice of two positions for your legs, 90 degrees or slightly bent. The engine is quiet, as you’d expect and it seemed as eager to get going as we were. The panoramic rear view mirrors took a bit of setting up and getting used to but they’re excellent once you get them set perfectly. A busy morning rush (or slow) hour gave us a chance to appreciate just how well the geometry works; it’s a very stable and well-balanced machine. Weaving in and out of the traffic was a doddle, as was slow speed feet up riding. Talking of stop/start traffic, the engine cuts out if you’re stationary for more than a couple of seconds. Twist the throttle again and it’s business as usual as the engine bursts instantly to life. A useful fuel saving gadget to have. ABS will be mandatory on all new bikes of 125cc and over from next year but as usual, Honda are well ahead of the competition and ABS has been a common feature on their two wheeled machines for a while now so it’s no real surprise that the Forza comes with two channel ABS as standard. I found out just how effective the brakes are whilst getting distracted riding around the opulent splendour of Monaco’s impressive harbour. As we rode along the start/finish straight of the Formula 1 track I found myself doing an emergency stop to prevent me rear-ending a fellow journalist. The hastily grabbed brakes stopped me dead with no drama, or smashed plastic.
Out of the busy principality and into the hills and the engine pulled even better than I expected. It climbed hills easily enough, was quick off the mark and had plenty of mid range power for those quick overtakes. In fact I found myself thoroughly enjoying the blast. Hairpin corners, linked by short straights and leading to fast flowing sweepers were the perfect environment to test the Forza to the limit. I was suitably impressed at just how well this learner legal 125 coped with the gradients, and at just how well it handled itself through the fairly punishing test route. As 125’s go it’s certainly not slow or lacking in any area. It’s a great all round package. On the ‘race’ back to the hotel we managed to grab a quick motorway blast. With the screen up to its highest position (there are six to choose from and it can be altered using one hand whilst on the move) the wind was well deflected, no doubt a benefit of having one of the tallest Japanese designers I’ve ever seen working on the project. Well done to Tomokatsu Suda for designing a scooter with average Europeans in mind.
Head down, tucked in (on a calm day) and with the engine bouncing off the limiter I managed a very impressive 81mph on the GPS. That really is a good top speed for a 125cc scooter. In normal conditions 75mph should be easily achievable. Riding in that lovely quiet, still air was great whilst it lasted though. Back to the hotel and it was time to hand back the keys. As 125’s go Honda have ticked all the relevant boxes with the Forza 125. It looks great, has plenty of dedicated accessories to help you personalise your machine and best of all it offers great handling and the kind of performance lacking in many of its competitors. Honda plan to eat them up and spit them out and I think the Forza is easily up to the task.