Honda TL 125
The smooth performance afforded from the four-stroke 125cc, single cylinder, air-cooled Honda TL trials machine would make it an ideal machine for the road rider to be introduced to the off-road world of motorcycle trials. Honda was one of the first Japanese manufacturers to integrate trials in its strategic development, just a little earlier than its competitors. It produced the 125 Baiarusu in the autumn of 1972 and presented it at the Tokyo motorcycle show as the family machine. Better known under its anglicised name of Bials – a contraction of ‘bike for trials’ – the first offering was produced prior to the arrival of Sammy Miller as factory development chief in the beginning of 1974, and aimed more at gentle trail riding than serious competitions. The Honda TL125 had already made its mark several years before on the Japanese and North American markets before it arrived in Europe. The evolution of the first
Bials model finished later with the title Ihatove. Here we have a look at the brief history of the TL as we know it.
When the TL 125 arrived it came as a disappointment for the legions of four-stroke riders who were looking for something more competitive from the factory and a rival to the dominance of the two-stroke Spanish armada, which dominated at the time. Three Japanese riders (Nishiyama, Narita, and Manzawa) were all entered in the 1973 Scottish Six Days Trial, along with another Honda ridden by Peter Gaunt who had modified a XL trail bike later to be sold as a Jefferies Honda XL250. Honda in the trials world was ‘go’.
No Model K for Europe
All the Japanese manufacturers imagined that there would be a massive demand for trials models around the Pacific Rim. Honda reserved the 125 Baiarusu for the home market and it sold under the Bials TL name on the American market — the frame numbers started TL125-1000003 and the TL125E-1000001 respectively. The base colour was a metallic grey, which was dark on the frame and a lighter shade on
the tank and side panels. There was a subtle touch of colour on the tank with a small red triangle around the Honda logo — only Tahitian red in the USA, with the option of sapphire blue or pine green in Japan — which was also found on the fuel tank and the lettering of the side panel.
The engine was a single cylinder four-stroke with a chain-driven single overhead camshaft and a one-piece cylinder head. The cylinder capacity measured 122cc.
Taken from the SL125 — a trail version of the CB125S road model — it had an 8:1 compression ratio and was fed by a 20mm Keihin carburettor which drew air from the SL filter housing. Power output was 8bhp @ 8,000rpm. Passing through a five-speed gearbox it could be started in gear which was a novelty of the time.
The trials engine was around 30%, or 4 bhp, less powerful than the SL model but gave a maximum torque of 0.83mkg at only 4,000rpm and not the 8,000rpm of the trail model. Production was around 12,000 units.
In 1974 the Tl-K1 was released in the USA from frame number TL125-1100001 and TL125 1108749 in Canada, whilst the Japanese model remained unchanged; it had a purely cosmetic overhaul. In total there were some 10,000 units, and the frame colour became brilliant black. The fuel tank was available in grey/blue whilst the TL125 on the side panels was bolder and the decal lost the ‘HM’ (Honda Motor) which dated from the 60s for the ’73 design that had the Honda directly connected to the wing motif.
The TL Models
The Bials-K2 appeared in Japan in August 1974. It was rapidly distinguished from previous versions by another colour change, which this time had the logo and pinstripe outlined in black. The new name appeared on the side panels with colour changes from yellow to red or green. The front mudguard and front wheel with a DID rim — the same brand was also fitted to the rear — were reinforced with a new design. The gearbox sprocket cover was larger and, on the other side, a new clutch cover with a raised boss allowed the fitting of a rev counter, if so desired, from the CB or XL models.
Sold as the 1975 model in North America the frame numbers were from TL125S-1200001. The TL-K2 was only offered in the grey/red option; the grey/green was only for the Japanese market. It was with the 1976 model that the little Honda finally arrived in Europe and Australia under the designation TL125 S — frame number from TL125S-1000417.
The Bials model arrived in July 1975 and was finished with a black frame, with the bodywork in grey/brilliant orange or grey metal/blue metal — the second option was only available on the Bials — as well as monochrome markings on the side panels. There was also a new Showa front fork fitted. The TL-S had an increase in capacity of 2cc thanks to a 0.5mm increase in bore size, taking it all the way out to 124cc, and it was fitted with the much improved two-piece cylinder head.
If the Japanese and American models differed it was only in the
smallest details such as the heat shield on the exhaust or the placement of the kill button, but the European and Australian model had more changes. The frame was closer to that of the XL-K and is not the same as other TL models. The principal differences are in the rear sub frame where the upper tubes have a different curvature, and on the long seat loop which was shorter on the US model for weight saving and used to mount the full lighting kit including indicators and tool box. This had been displaced from its usual position by a larger air box from the trail CT model. The frame was also larger in the seat area and better reinforced at the suspension mounting points.
The plastics changed, with a ceramic white colour being applied to the mudguards; the rear was a narrower section from the XL-K which brought the side panels closer to the frame, and the exhaust system now had a conventional rear silencer.
Return in 1981
We can once again find a large number of minor changes to the look of the machine such as the fuel tank design, the chain case and the headlamp from the original XL which was black not chrome, etc. If you want to make a catalogue correct restoration it may not always be wise to raid the stocks of Japanese and US models.
Produced until 1978 the TL125 series had a break of several years before a brief return in 1981 in Japan and a few European countries, apart from France, under the name of Ihatove, after the legendary trial run by original Honda from 1973 Manzawa. The pretty little trail bike was baptised TL-SB and was based on the TL-S, and it was improved with an electronic ignition and air forks, new gas filled rear suspension units and some other small details. This model was in the catalogue from 1982 and there was a production run of another 10,000 units. In 1983 the TL-D and later TL- J were given a makeover, with a frame identical to the TLR 200; including new suspension and a tank seat unit it most certainly was not of the same heritage.
Looking for Honda TL 125 Information
There is a mine of information on the Japanese blog of Taka (http:// bials.kyo2.jp), an English site hosted by Jarno Kaila (www.kaila. net/tl125), without forgetting www.onlytrial.com
The colour changes for the fuel tank from the top: 1960s logo, post ‘73 with a yellow wing on a red or blue base, or white on a green base were the colour options from the first TL to the TLS
The machine was promoted as a back-to-nature machine, typified in this brochure shot of the TL K1. The ‘Bials’ model was the first offering and produced prior to the arrival of Sammy Miller as factory development chief in the beginning of 1974.
1974: The North Americanonly TL-K1 shows cosmetic evolution from the first TL
1976: The TL 125S model is shown in detail.
1976: TL 125S: The Japanese and American models remained similar; the European and Australian models had a different frame, especially the rear loop. All were fitted with the 124cc engine.
Another brochure shot from the USA of the TL 125 and TL 250 models.
1981: The Ihatove TLS-B is the best finished, with electronic ignition, air fork and gas filled rear suspension units.
The TL 125 and TL 250 models.
These superb examples of the Honda trials machines can be found in the Honda Collection based at the Motegi Twin Ring Race Circuit in Japan.
This model, released in 1983, was not the same breed as the original TL 125.
Also in the collection at the Motegi Twin Ring Race Circuit.