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Features Articles more_>’s 2009 Shootout – TM vs YZ vs KTM

by Chris Barker on 11/21/2009

We never rest here at, we needed to know some answers concerning race bikes, we wanted to know ‘’which is best’’ and why !

Going via any magazines stock bike shootout was not going to help us as we all know the PR guys have to keep everyone happy and tell us what we want to hear, plus we all change stuff on our stock bike’s before they even get to the start-line, so we all want a better bike than stock, Right ?

Our aim was to choose a bike from the BIG three who still produce our choice of machine, and we chose some fully sorted race bikes that have been tricked out and personalised to suit their owners, we called in some favours and delivered to our test track was Dave Willets Yamaha YZ125, Jim Davies’s TM125 and last but not least young gun Ryan Houghton’s SX125.

All three riders have won British Championships and each is at a different stage in their career, each rider wants/needs something different and has their machine tailored to suit, we will also ask each of them to ride the competitions bike to see ‘how different’ they could be, we’ve never seen or heard of this before so we were pumped when we got the green light.  And to keep the boys honest we are throwing an independent rider into the mix who will give us a ‘clubman’s’ version of these mega bikes, our very own British 2st Championship rider Nick Banks. Here’s what went down!

A Privateers dream !

KTM 125SX - TM 125MX - YZ125

Essex MX is a perfect all weather venue with a deep coating of mulch that whoops out fast, by midday most guys are loading up and heading home beaten and bruised, not us, we stayed and punished these bikes to grind out the answers we needed, each rider had a questionnaire and we also had a points table working on what boxes they ticked.

It was obvious from the start that each rider had very different  style’s, and their bike set-up was different, we did have to lose Dave from our riding tests as his knee injury was not healed fully and it was going to be a hard day and it was foolish to ask him to carry on. We know these bikes are special to each rider and one would not suit the other, but our aim was to see which machine delivered a package and to give each of our riders a look at what they have to compete against.

What we found was each and everyone of us want or need something totally different from a bike, so as soon as that bike gets in our own workshop we tailor it to suit us, Question was could we find our diamond in the rough ?

Things like bars, gearing & jetting were all left as delivered with not even a lever moved, this was truly a ‘run what you brung shootout’

Ryan Houghton’s  SX125


Ryan's KTM 125

Jim’s Davies’s TM125


Jim's TM 125

Dave Willet’s YZ125


Dave's YZ 125

There’s a thousand question’s and answers we could print but here’s the points that stood out and those that grabbed our attention.

Nick on the TM ‘’my overall impression is that the TM is a weapon with a fast revvy pro only motor, but the suspension was not great for me and I could not attack as I wanted to, one thing he did say was, ”these brakes are so strong their scary”  And then on the YZ he commented that even after a few corners he felt 100% at home on the bike and was surprised by the suspension, and he must get his own dialed in now !

Ryan said ‘’although the YZ suspension was not set up for me but it was very smooth and plush’’ & ” it feels quite slim and light bike making it easy to through around.  Ryan added ”the TM seems to be set up just for Jim as it just feels nervous and unsettled”  Jim felt the SX handling was a bit weird, and perhaps it was set-up for hard-pack’’


One subject made headlines straight away with all three riders saying they could not believe the suspension on the YZ, ‘’Dave’s little Yamaha has the best suspension of any bike I have ever ridden’’ commented Nick, ‘’the bike never feels wild and I found I was saving so much energy’’.  Ryan added ‘’the bike would hold a line anywhere and with the slightest input you could swap lines with ease as the bike tracked effortlessly’’, Jimmy D said ‘’the whole suspension was lovely especially the shock’’.

But the ‘killer’ department on a 125 is the motor and power delivery, here’s our testers views on each others bikes, Jimmy D said of the SX  ‘this is a pretty good motor, strong bottom to mid but could do with a few more revs’ And of the Yamaha he said ‘its very responsive and sharp” but it didn’t want to rev as much as he would like.

Ryan said the YZ ‘’was a great engine that pulled from the bottom and just kept pulling, very smooth and strong’’ Ryan also added he thought the TM needed ‘’much better midrange as it was a fast but very narrow and peaky delivery that was all top-end and was hard to keep in the ‘meat’ so you had to be busy with the clutch’’.

Nick backed that up with ‘the TM motor was fast but he was not able to ride it how it needed to be ridden, and he would like a better spread of power, and perhaps the suspension stopped him from exploiting the motor’’ & he would love to try it again on a hardpack circuit.  On the YZ,  he said ‘’ that is one nice motor, smooth and predictable with plenty of drive and it just keeps revving, excellent when you need that little bit further in that gear’’


The clutches and gearbox on all our bikes seemed to be flawless, as we never had one complaint from any tester about shifting or gear spacing or even clutch feel, in fact, when questioned on the subject the standard reply was ”yea thats all fine”

One thing became clear early into our test’s and that was the YZ seemed to be ticking all the boxes, our test bike was only used for three rounds this year as Dave was out with an injury, so was it a little fresher than the rest ? We doubt that as all bikes would of been fettled before delivery, we took into account Jims TM had done a seasons racing and Ryan’s bike was in fact his elder brothers bike from last year with a recent freshen up to suit Ryan’s taste.  All three had a list of modifications and trick parts installed, and any one of these bikes could bring home that title.

Here’s some spec on our test bikes:

Ryan’s SX has filled cases along with a tuned cylinder and head combo, Doma exhaust system and a sxs cdi and the 39mm carb. The suspension consisted of  06 sxs forks and a modified rear shock from TVS in Holland, all sprung and set for him

Dave’s YZ ran a Rinaldi kit with his own head mods all sat on stock cases, along with a different flywheel, DEP torque pipe with the extra long tailpipe. Mark from ERS helps tweak the suspension to Dave’s liking.

Jim’s TM runs a stock cylinder that’s just cleaned up by Mikey, HGS exhaust which come’s standard, Jim likes his ignition advanced a touch for snap, the stock Ohlin’s is just dialled in for each track.


After hours of testing and discussion our riders had their paperwork to work through to mark each bikes attributes, we had 5 main sections to score to and a maximum points for anything being described as ‘’Awesome’’

Here are our results;

So Dave Willets Yamaha takes the win from the two Euro models. Each bike has a list of mod’s as long as your arm and these bikes were not stock but highly modified to suit each owner, and in each of their hands there’s not a lot to choose from either.

One major point every rider mentioned was how little these machines cost to maintain, and far from the highly tuned, fragile engines people expect, these bikes run just like a stocker with no extra maintenance needed, try that on your squeezed 250f ?

So the humble 125 can be tweaked and tuned to suit any rider and it won’t cost you a fortune to do it either. Go pick a colour and enjoy ………………

Here’s a link to some images of the day