Project 89- The Red Rocket

It took a while, it was a lot of money but we're done!

Photos by LeBig

Well finally, #Project89 is done! I have chronicled the other two project bike builds, the ’88 YZ250 HERE and the ’90 KX 250 HERE and both times before I started those two bikes, I was looking for an 1989 Honda. I don’t know what it is about that year but I always wanted to build one. I owned a ’90 and that didn’t appeal to me and everyone does ‘87’s so it was either an ’88 CR250 or an “89 CR 125 or 250 for me. That was ideal. Honda went dark red for only two years (’88 and ’89) and only the ’88 250 had the low-boy pipe look that I desired.

Everyone has a different reason why they picked their project bike and I think in the end you have to respect that choice right? The ’90 Kawasaki was also on the bucket list for me because they were so damm cool when they came out. The ’88 YZ, well that wasn’t on my list but a guy in Alaska offered it to me for free if I paid the shipping (thanks Ollie!) so I went for it.

Now I did step by step for the other bikes and figured that was old news so let me just present the completed machine here with one “before” shot for you to look at.

Ok, so I’ve done three of these now and we have a cool idea for this bike down the road but for now, I think I’m done with project bike builds. Like, I’ve had enough you know?

It’s funny, as the bikes have gone along they’ve gotten progressively harder and more expensive. Despite being far and away the choice for vintage racing, Honda’s got the worst availability for NOS parts out of the three I did. This Honda was stored near the ocean so it was pretty rough with rust and broken/crappy bolts. The power valve was worn so badly and no parts were available for it that it took three eBay purchases to make one system. Well, three purchases AND Spencer at the JGR shop to fix one arm up and take the slack out of it after the purchased ones were too hammered to use. The transmission? Yeah, it was shot and that was another purchase. Clutch? Inner, outer, pressure plate- all blown out. The other two bikes didn’t need any of the above outside of an exhaust flap for the KIPS on the Kawasaki.

The original machine picked up six months ago. Nick McCabe photo

The frame? Cracked and a broken exhaust pipe bolt meant a trip to a welder and I figured I’d get the paint blasted off the swingarm at the same time via soda blast. I got the frame back with hack welds and a jacked up exhaust tab along with a swingarm that was pitted like crazy because they “ran out of baking soda”.

So that was more running around along with getting the brake calipers and ATAC chambers beat down black paint blown off.

The bike had an ’88 rear wheel on it which meant a new disc on the back as well and that was a whole other ordeal that I’d rather not talk about.

To be fair, some of the issues, costs I had were my own doing. After all, I didn’t HAVE TO decide to put on WP USD’s from a 2001 KTM on it did I? I didn’t HAVE TO spend the crazy amount of money on the “Honda Racing” covers from England or the handful of Ti bolts did I?

Ok, enough whining by me. I will say that I think this is the coolest looking project bike I’ve done so far and the trickest as far as what’s inside the bike. Let’s take a look at the final project yeah?

I mean there are certain things you HAVE to do when you’re building up a late 80’s, 90’s CR bike and that’s put the Honda HRC wing shroud sticker on there right? These came with the Camel Supercross logo underneath but I clipped those right off.  The Technosel seat cover is something I went with on the ’88 YZ and I love the look of them so it was no-brainer to put it on this bike with a stock foam from GUTS Racing. 

The number 762 has two connotations for this project…one is the future idea I have for it ala my other project bikes and the other was my number was 762 when I got off '80’s. So Roost MX hooked it up for me with same font as Honda used in ’89. Yes, those are WP forks. 


Race Tech is now offering engine services for two and four stroke machines and after touring their shop around Anaheim, I can attest that they’re not fooling around. They took my beat-down looking cylinder and head, soda blasted it all nice and then cleaned up the ports and head. I didn’t want to go nuts with cutting the head, making it a full race bike that needs race gas but a small port job, I’m down with that. And if I had a two-stroke of any kind, I would always have a V-Force reed block on them. They really work and I have no connections there, I've paid full price for each one I've put in.

The cylinder and head were natural aluminum color with the ATAC Power Valve chamber painted black. And on an old bike like this, it was pretty hammered looking. But then a funny thing happened when I got it blasted and I scrubbed it up. When the motor was on the stand it looked bitching as it all matched but once in the frame, the chamber kind of stood out like a weirdo tumor or something. Like, your eyes were drawn to it. Maybe that’s why Honda made it black? Anyways, still different from most other Honda’s you see so, like, whatever. 

Really didn’t want to use the stock plastic front sprocket cover but the bolt that runs through the top of it goes into the other case half and is like two feet long so without sourcing the right length bolt out, I was forced to use it. The aluminum Honda Racing covers came to me in a natural grey color so I had to have it and the clutch cover powder-coated to look right.

I built the other two bikes with tires from Dunlop but with Michelin launching the new StarCross 5 line, I had to get a set for this bike. There was NO OTHER thought to doing up a rim color for this bike outside of classic Honda gold that the factory team ran back then. You cannot get new wheels for a late 80's, early 90's Honda and not put this color on. I love the color of the Pro Taper sprocket as well. I did take some grief for Project ’88 Yamaha having a red sprocket on it and I had to redeem myself. 

The folks at Talon hooked me up with hubs for this bike and DUBYA USA built the wheel set around those for me. The color of the hubs was something I thought about with gold and red kicked around by me. In the end, black was the choice and I’m stoked with the choice. Red is too modern of a look and gold wouldn’t have matched the rim color and besides, that’s too much gold anyways. 

Ok here’s where some source of frustration came in for me, but I did it to myself in the end. The 1989 CR125 came with 43mm conventional forks stock while the ’89 CR250 came with Showa USD’s. Everyone and anyone takes a stock 250 front end and bolts it right to the 125 with no hassles and bingo, bango, you have the upside-down fork look for your 125. That’s easy to do, there’s a ton of them on eBay. I took a different route.


I had these 48mm WP SXS forks from when I worked at KTM hanging around the garage. They’re from 2000 right off our race bikes, look pretty cool and Race Tech had all the parts to rebuild them  (they’re basically a copy of KYB’s from back then). You definitely have never seen an ’89 Honda with WP SXS forks on it before right? So I went that way. Ride Engineering sent me some clamps from newer CRF that matched the OD’s of the forks but the stem size was off. So then I needed insert for ’89 stem but what about the stops? And then if I use the CRF stem the bearings wouldn’t work. And what about the width of the clamps…would that even work with what was now going to be a KTM front end? Not too mention the spacers under the top clamp and so on and so on.


That seemed like more issues and problems than I wanted so I found out that Emig Racing (Gary, Jeff’s dad) is still in business and he could custom make me some clamps. That would be pricy but they would work perfectly Gary assured me. I sent Emig the stock clamps for measuring purposes and the upper and lower fork diameter. 

And waited…and waited…and waited some more. You can’t rush perfection right? Well, not really. I got the clamps back and they looked cool for sure but bolting them up and there were a few issues. Emig had for some reason sunk in the area around the top nut (stock didn’t have that) but the stock washer’s outside diameter wouldn’t fit in the sunken area.  Ok, no worries, I can get a smaller washer but when I did, the nut would only screw on a few threads. Hmmmm….so instead of sending to Gary and waiting who knows how long I spoke to my buddy Gothic Jay at Honda and he hooked me up by getting Lars over there to do the work for me! Lars “sunk” the area where the nut goes even deeper so I could get tighten it up along with a washer that was thinner.


Next problem was the one frame stop worked perfectly while the other stop’s outer edge dug into the frame before the stop hit the frame tab. So I had to get Lars to round off that square edge to give it some space. I DID send the stock upper and lower clamp in to make sure they were, I assume, copied directly. Oh well, more time wasted but luckily for me, I have cool friends. 

That’s a very beefy bar mount by Emig Racing for some 7/8 bars right? And by the way, I’m also a believer that you can’t put oversize bars on a bike that didn’t come with them. Looks janky to me so Pro Taper SE bar it was.


Besides all the machining work that the Honda guys did for me on the clamps, the Emig customs came with a deep-set allen bolt on them that seemed to make the bolts from Home Depot or something. I remembered that for about 20 years the Kawasaki factory clamps sort of used that deep allen as well so I got the Kawasaki guys to hook me up with old Ti bolts. Problem was, the bolt head outer diameter was too big so back to the Honda machine shop where Lars took the lathe to them to fit inside the clamps.

A big issue with these old bikes is the narrow footpegs on them that don’t hold up well and they’re hard to get new anyways. So I worked the Google and found out that 2005-era YZ250 pegs bolt right up to these bikes. And they’re Titanium at that! 

With the clamps came the option of a front number plate pattern and because I love the plates that wrap around the forks on the bottom, I went with a newer style CRF plate with two bolts on top because trying to get a hold of the old-school CR plates that were that opaque white color (with bolt in center of plate)  would’ve been impossible (I did try though!). So a Cycra plate fit right up and looks pretty good.


I had a group text with about 10 professional mechanics asking what color zip-tie to use on the number plate and not one of them said red. In fact, they all said red was horrible. But Pookie and I both thought red was cooler looking than white or black so red it was. Suck it everyone that told me no. Oh and the “straight” option on the carbon front brake line won over crooked on Twitter so straight it is.

And also to not complicate things because the forks are off a 2001 KTM, I had to get the front hub for KTM and an entire Magura front brake system for a KTM. All eBay purchases. So this bike is 85% Honda, 15% KTM.

Pro Circuit’s been on-board with me for all the project bikes. I got the very last ’90 KX250 PC pipe they had in the warehouse and they had to build me custom ’88 YZ250 pipe as they had nothing in-stock. But this ’89, because Honda’s so popular, they had the pipe and silencer in-stock and I got it right away.

What the real gnarly vintage bike builders want is the old school PC silencers with the tip that could cut you. I don’t care that much so a newer style end cap is fine with me. 

Rear shock was another issue as it turns out there was a 2001-ish CR shock on this bike (the high and low speed compression should’ve tipped me off) and I had to pick up a stock KYB ’89 shock on eBay. The one that was on there wasn’t the right measurement at all and the bike was about 3 inches too high. Race Tech hooked it up for me on the re-valve and the rear brake pedal return spring was gone from the bike when I got it and there was nothing available. I ordered one that kind of looked like the stock one and Spencer at JGR shop cut it and bent it to the right length. Taking the paint off the water pump cover is cool right? That was Tony Berluti's idea.

This might be the coolest thing on the bike. The stock rear brake pin plug (that black thing you use a straight edge screwdriver on) was hammered and not shocking at all, you couldn’t get a new one. So I asked Dan at Honda if I could have one and he said yes. What I didn’t know was that Honda just had these works titanium ones with an 8mm head on them. I don't know if Dan knows that was what he was saying yes to so no one tell him. That was a score...factory coolness bro! 

Sweet straight blade Ti bolts for the rad shrouds from the guys in England along with the drilled out washer on the bottom. 

Thanks to all the companies that helped and yes, the rear fender is a bit crooked which is now driving me nuts.

For sure a 125cc dirt bike does not need a 280mm oversize disc on it to stop but because the front end is a 2001 KTM, MotoStuff had this oversize disc for it. Yeah it’s overkill but it looks sweet right?

I think I can confidently say that this is the only 1989 CR 125 in the world with 48mm WP USD forks on it. 

This most frustrating to build, the most money spent but the coolest one I think!

SPECS 1989 CR 125

Cylinder: Race Tech

Head: Race Tech

Reeds: V-Force

Pipe: Pro Circuit

Silencer: Pro Circuit

Piston: Stock

Connecting Rod: Hot Rods

Carb: Keihin PWK/SUDCO

Clutch Plates: Stock

Clutch Inner Basket/Outer Basket/Pressure Plate: Hinson

Gasket Kit: Athena


Front Fork: WP 48mm SXS/Race Tech

Rear Shock: KYB/Race Tech

Triple Clamp: Emig Racing (Custom)


Wheel Hub/Rim: Talon/EXCEL Gold

Tires: Michelin StarCross 5 Medium

Front Disc: Moto Stuff Blade KTM Oversize 280mm

Rear Disc: Sunstar

Front/Rear Brake Lines: Moto stuff


Rear Sprocket: Pro Taper 52T

Front Sprocket: Pro Taper 14T

Brake Pads: Pro Taper RS

Chain: Pro Taper Gold Series

Footpegs: 2005 Yamaha YZ250

Linkage/Swingarm/Steering Head Bearings: Pivot Works


Handlebars: Pro Taper 7/8 SE

Throttle Tube: Pro Circuit

Clutch Perch: Works Connection Elite Perch

Grips: Pro Taper Single Density Half Waffle

Front Master Cylinder: 2001 KTM with Works Connection cover

Seat: GUTS Racing Foam

Graphics: Roost MX

Filter: Twin Air/


Honda OEM Parts:



Very Nice!

I'm not sure how I feel about the WP forks. They probably work okay, but it just looks really weird seeing them on a Honda. Still, I've always wanted to do one of these, but I'm glad this came out of your wallet and not mine. You did a lot of really nice work on this one.

This is my favorite of your builds so far.