Looking at the new 125cc rules in Japan

After getting my own 125cc motorbike, I was reminded of news from a couple of years ago regarding Japan changing its vehicle licencing rules for those with car licences. The proposal was that instead of the current 50cc scooter limit, car drivers would be able to ride up to 125cc machines.

On the face of it, I don’t think it’s such a bad idea, it’d likely mean more people – especially younger people perhaps – getting into motorcycling, enjoying a slightly larger machine than the 50cc, and easing congestion at the same time.

The other possibility is of course that people would now be riding larger two wheeled vehicles like complete nutters.

However, let’s stay positive!

What are the actual rules?

Naturally there is more to it – it can’t simply be a case of increasing the maximum capacity rating so let me try to give a bit more detail on the actual proposal.

Yes, in April 2025, people with a normal Japanese car licence will be able to ride a new category of 125cc motorbike. The key phrase of course is new category. It won’t mean car drivers can drive any old 125 cc machine – they can ride 125cc motorbikes up to 4kW power output. I am assuming they’ll also have to be automatic gearbox special 125cc machines too.

Is that me hair splitting? Not really.

My Hunter Cub is a 125cc class bike (123cc truth be told) and puts out 6.7kW of power. That is notably above that 4kW limit. Even the Cross Cub 110cc comes in at 5.9kW. My point is that most bikes above 50cc but under 125cc put out more than 4kW.

For reference, the 50cc Cub is 2.7kW, and the 50cc Honda Giorno scooter is 3.3kW.

They will of course be subject to other sub-125cc rules – no expressway/motorways and some toll roads will also not allow them.

So what’s the goal?

Really, the govt wants a whole new category of ‘125cc’ bikes which only do up to 4kW but are more environmentally friendly than the old 50cc bikes, which according to the site I linked to, they hope to phase out.

They’re planning to increase emissions standards for 50ccs from late 2025 and it sounds like it’s not going to be cheap and/or easy for manufacturers to hit them, so this could also be an out for manufacturers, at least for the Japanese market.

This might also be part of a move here in Japan to popularize the idea of rating motorcycles in terms of power output, rather than cubic centimeter displacement, for licensing purposes. Given the electric, hydrogen fuel cell or whatever is coming over the horizon that makes sense. Europe has been moving in this direction for a while, with most rating licenses in KiloWatts.

Final Thoughts (today)

I’m actually optimistic this will help bring more people into two wheel powered travel. I’m not sure how long it’ll take to get some old rust bucket 50s off the roads as there’s no shahken (車検 – road worthiness test) for anything up to 250cc, so you see some real messes on the road, but that’s also the attraction of a smaller bike – being cheaper to run. I suppose there’s also the idea of modding these new 125s to see what can be unlocked above 4kW!

I’m also assuming there will be a special number plate colour for these new machines to help people and the police be sure what a vehicle is. I’ll have to look into that nearer the time.

To give you an idea of the market, JAMA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association) at the end of March 2022 said there were approximately 10.31 million ‘motorbikes’ on the roads of Japan, of which approximately 4.49 million were 50cc or less, which is ~43.5% of the total. That’s a huge part of a market to look to change.

So I’ll have to check back in on this in about 18 months and see what if any effect this has on motorcycling and vehicles generally in Japan.

In the meantime – ride on!

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