GETTING INTO THE SPIRIT - by Ben Williams Once upon a time, if you wanted an inexpensive but cool-looking 125cc bike you had limited options. Maybe you could pick up a decent little Honda CB for a few hundred quid and café-it-up a bit, but anything straight off the production line would need a whole lot of tinkering to get it looking like it wasn’t just a cheap commuter. The market just wasn’t there - or so it seemed. Then something happened. In 2013 Boneshaker Customs took a Chinese built HMC Classic S and turned it into the “Mutt”, an inexpensive but cool retro-styled brat/scrambler, and the market that apparently wasn’t there for it gobbled it up like a stoner with a packet of Cheesos. Fast forward to 2018 and now when it comes to a cool-looking low-capacity motorcycle, we’re spoilt for choice. There are loads of brands offering retro-styled 125s out there - nearly all of them based on the same Chinese Chongqing-built frame and engine that was spawned from tried and tested Japanese blueprints (Suzuki's GN125 engine is made under licence in the state-of-the-art facility in China), just with a few styling changes to set them apart. Usually, however, there isn’t that much of a difference. The engines are the same, the frames are the same, the forks are the same, the brakes are, you guessed it, the same. And on top of this many of the bikes aren’t really breaking ground in the looks department, either. Unless you’re talking about the Bullit Spirit. The Spirit came on to the scene in 2017 and immediately made its presence felt. There’s no denying it’s certainly one very attractive looking machine (especially the metallic green and gold model I got to try) with a decidedly café racer style about it. It reminds me vaguely of the old Thruxton 900, but just in the way that skinny Steve Rogers still looks like Captain America. Anyway, with its inverted forks, piggyback shocks, clip-ons, front and rear-sets, the Spirit is definitely making a statement that it is offering a lot more bang for your buck than similarly priced competitors. Now you might well ask whether a lightweight 125 really needs all these beefy upgrades, and you’d be right to ask. Whilst the answer maybe “no”, they certainly make the Spirit look like a bigger, more aggressive machine, and that is going to appeal to a lot of folks - myself included.
Jumping on the bike, it feels light and lean and the seating position is surprisingly comfortable; the rear-sets aren’t too rearward, and the clip-ons don’t have you reaching too far either. Once I’d figured out how to start it up (the big red kill switch should have been a clue), I expectantly revved the engine. Now, as this bike utilises the same GN125 clone that nearly all these bikes have, and having heard a few Mutts rattle the teaspoons at The Shed with their exhaust roar, I was a little disappointed by the flatness of the Spirit’s note. But that’s a minor gripe and nothing a swift aftermarket exhaust swich-a-roo won’t solve. Speaking of which, I’d probably also swap-out the mirrors, which aren’t super-adjustable and do vibrate excessively - a couple of inverted bar ends would look sweet and add to the whole café racer look. That’s another nice thing about the Spirit: It might already look seriously pretty, but there’s still room to add your own flavour.
Getting down to it, riding the Spirit is a lot of fun. It’s really light, ideal in London’s traffic, although I didn’t feel it had as much at the low end as it might, which made me second-guess a couple of manoeuvres that my previous Honda CD125 would not have blinked at. Which leads me to my biggest gripe about an otherwise lovely little machine. Much of London is, as most cities are, predominantly 20MPH zones, which is fine. But the Spirit gets to about 18MPH and wants to switch up, which you dutifully do, and you’re left struggling with no power to play with. Drop back down and you’re at the limit of the rev range, the engine protesting. This results in constantly switching gears where you should be sitting happy in one or the other. No doubt this is due to the stifling EU4 emissions regs and easily overcome. That or swap the front sprocket to either lengthen 1st or shorten 2nd. Also, finding neutral would probably cause a Trappist monk to break his vow of silence with a Tourette’s-like spew of profanity. But I put this down to it being a brand new bike that needs a few miles under its belt to bed in.
But whatever slight negatives there are with the Spirit, it’s far outweighed by the good. And let's not forget that these things are incredibly affordable, no matter the depth of your pockets. It feels quick - somehow managing to make 30MPH feel like 50MPH, which I can only assume it does through a combination of Newtonian physics and Voodoo magic. It turned heads and garnered positive and enquiring comments from other riders at the lights, which we all know is the true test of any motorcycle. Moreover, I took the Spirit on this year's Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, where over a thousand custom and classic motorcycles took to the streets of London (and many more in cities worldwide) to raise awareness for prostate cancer and men's mental health. Amongst all these beautiful bikes, the Spirit didn’t look for one second out of place - I know this, because I saw another one on the ride and it looked cool as f***. There truly aren’t many bikes available at this price point that can make anything like the same claim.
LONG-ISH WAY DOWN by James Joseph
When Bullit offered the chance to ride the Hero off-road for the Sunday Scramble I knew I'd be in for a fun day out. I'm used to riding grown-up bikes with engines sized closer to a litre than this little 125. But the Hero would in fact be the ideal companion for a beginner off-road rider like myself.
Through rivers, sand and the kind of mud that would send even a walker sliding to their backside, the Hero coped admirably, its aggressive knobblies proving hard to unstick. And as predicted it was a hoot to ride, it skipped across the loose terrain and gave me enough confidence at one point to try for a bit of air over the whoops. I failed, but it didn’t care, the upside down forks soaked up my failure and on to the next obstacle we went.
The Hero looks cool too. It might be small in capacity but not in stature. I'm 6ft tall and could only just flat foot it, making the Hero feel more like a proper scrambler which inspired Bullit's designers. The number of riders both at the Shed and during the Scramble that just had to know more about the bike was plentiful, and most were more than a slightly impressed at the meagre price, just £2500. Then there are the tiny running costs. I filled up with fuel twice during the day, our first stop £2.31 came up on the pump and after a full day off-roading and the flat out ride back to London I tried but couldn't fit more than £2.69 in. A full day for a fiver, not bad! Being used to my seemingly economical XSR700 I’d forgotten just how cheap 125s really are.
The road ride from Dorking back to BSMC gave me a chance to acquaint myself with the Hero as a road bike. After getting over the fact I was constantly on the throttle-stop, and Dutch leading the group maintained a maximum 60mph to compensate, I looked to the Bullit Hero’s defining factors. The height and ground clearance is something that really makes the bike feel capable off-road, more capable than it's pilot at least, and gave a great view above the hedgerows on country lanes and over car roofs once back in the smoke. The disc brakes front and rear offered fairly decent stopping power, but I've not tried other bikes in the category for a while so presume that this is the norm.... I felt safe, that's all that matters.
All in all I reckon the Hero is one of the best looking 125s around at the moment, and one definitely not just for learners. I had a blast!!
And here's shop manager Anna enjoying the London DGR aboard the Hero, a nice upgrade from her YBR125.
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