So Steve and myself recently purchased Kawasaki’s new z125 motorcycle.
Seeing the latest craze with the Groms got us really interested in these minibikes and what they had to offer. Some 2 years ago Groms had infiltrated their way into club racing at WERA which further peaked our interest in the little machines. Turns out they cost a fraction of a “normal” size bike, crash with less damage and are cheaper to race. So for our 12th wedding anniversary this year we decided to treat ourselves to a fun toy.
To be honest the Z was all Steve’s idea. Personally I’ve never been a fan of little bikes—they feel twitchy and in general just make me uncomfortable when riding them. The lightness of the bike and tiny wheels made it squirm under me at 55+mph and the body position felt awkward. But that’s to be expected as I’ve never ridden a little bike like this before.
My only experience with anything close was on an TTR125 at the Texas Tornado Bootcamp and a couple of times at the Herrin Compound on an XR100. I actually fell in love with that little bike but it took me several days to get the hang of it. And even then I wouldn’t say I’m fully comfortable on it. Also the XR is a dirt bike, so you ride it completely different. But alas, this was the perfect time to learn something new and get out of my comfort zone.
“Everything is shrunk down to a miniature scale—the risk, the maneuvers, the speed and the energy you exert. It’s such an incredible learning tool when trying to progress your riding skills.”
As soon as we got the bike home I of course took it for a spin around town. My initial impression was that it was extremely awkward—again mainly because it was completely foreign to me. It’s very different from a big planted steady 600cc motorcycle. But at the same time it’s insanely maneuverable and fun; I can’t deny that I had a huge smile on my face. The tiniest input and the Z does what you want it to do. The only thing holding you back is your mind.
Unfortunately my mind got the best of me because I never felt fully comfortable riding the bike on the street. Even though Steve told me that that’s just how little bikes are, I couldn’t get over how twitchy and loose it felt. That’s when I realized I needed to get my leathers on and really learn to ride the Z even if it meant crashing it a few times.
So you can imagine my excitement when Johnny invited me out to Atlanta Motorsports Park for a private trackway on their go kart course. Of course I was extremely nervous, having only owned the Z a couple months I felt like a complete noob. But as we got out on the track Johnny was extremely patient with me and led the perfect pace to ease me into the track’s layout. I was surprised how comfortable I started to feel just after a few laps. I was terribly slow but that didn’t matter because all my fears were melting away and by the 8th lap I was actually grinning ear to ear under my lid.
Now, I want to talk a bit about AMP’s mini track: First of all I have to say, WOW! What a crazy and fun course! It’s very technical with a bunch of pretty steep elevation changes and off camber blind turns! I was absolutely blown away, definitely not what I was expecting. Initially I felt very lost and would slow down too much when approaching a blind turn because I had forgotten where to go; but after a few laps it all started coming together.
It’s weird how some turns that initially seem scary or hard become your favorite by the end of the day. To me personally it’s all about the challenge. There’s a fine line when you’re trying to learn something: between frustration from failure and the feeling of wanting to get something right because it’s challenging. To me the entire day way the later, it was a constant step-by-step learning experience filled with little AHA! moments. Everything from trying to figure out the right gear for an uphill to body position and lean angle.
When I think back on it now I can tally off so many little things that I had to relearn on the little bike…the list is actually staggering. if I had to relearn all these things on a 600cc or bigger machine I think I would have had a nervous breakdown. But for some reason learning these things on the Z was quite pleasant and actually enjoyable. The Z is just crazy forgiving; just like I always talk about learning to ride on a 250cc motorcycle— because it is forgiving. The same and even more applies to the minibikes. Everything is shrunk down to a miniature scale—the risk, the maneuvers, the speed and the energy you exert. It’s such an incredible learning tool when trying to progress your riding skills.
There’s something downright child like and mischievous when riding the Z, it beckons to be slung around and wheelied, to be redlined and ragged, and all within a somewhat legal and forgiving demeanor.
I can personally tell you that initially a year ago I scoffed at riding a mini and thinking I would learn anything—pure ignorance. It wasn’t until I saw guys race these things and realized that you can have some serious fun and polish up your skills at minimal risk. I can’t even imagine how awesome it would have been to actually learn to ride on this little thing. I can see someone completely new to riding taking this thing out on the track and learning in one day what I learned in a year.
One of the key things I learned that I hope to carry over to my 600 is smoothness—there is no coasting with the minibike. You’re either almost redlining a gear or breaking. On the Z you can pretty much twist to your heart’s content, however I did have a few mishaps when downshifting and spun my rear out…of course it’s so little on that bike that it’s barely unnerving. Speed is your friend here, especially with elevation changes. Even though I was going at a much slower speed, it was still unnerving to go into a turn faster and faster because everything is on that smaller scale. But on the Z you have to go in fast or you lose your momentum. I still have to work on that but at least I started to grasp the concept and gained much speed by the end of day.
Another great thing I got to experience is just how much control you have over the bike with your legs. I was never taught how to weight the pegs on my 600 until taking Jason Pridmore’s STAR course this season. When I applied this on the Z it literally made me giggle out loud! Between using my outside knee and weighting the pegs I could really maneuver the bike sharper into a turn than I thought possible. The same goes for big bikes but it was really eye opening to feel just how drastic it felt when applying this technique on the Z.
All in all I have to say my first real experience on the Z at AMP was an absolute success. I have another trackday already scheduled for September with the Z and now actually can’t wait to go. I have a long ways to getting as fast as my friends who all own Groms, but I’m very eager to learn and have fun with them.