Project Africa Grom: Why I bought a Honda MSX125

Honda MSX125_Project Africa Grom


Why would the owner of a KTM 1050 Adventure, who’s held a full motorcycle licence for more than 21 years, buy a Honda MSX125? It’s a question I’ve been asked plenty of times. By those who’ve never ridden one.

It all started with BikeSocial’s test of the Benelli TNT 125 and Honda MSX125. Both are great bikes, but it was the MSX (known as the Grom in America) that I really bonded with; Stretton Circuit near Leicester proved the handling to be better than the Benelli, mainly due to the much better ground clearance, lower centre of gravity and non-linked brakes. It was the MSX I rode the 170 miles or so to Cadwell Park and back. And of course, it was the MSX that I took out on the track – as memorable biking moments go, that’s right up there.


Honda MSX125 vs Benelli TNT 125

BikeSocial’s track comparison of two great mini-bikes


Just after the press-fleet bike went back to Honda, I was working at Rally Raid to write a feature about the company’s aftermarket enduro parts. I wobbled up to the Northamptonshire-based workshop on my KTM; “Sorry,” I said to the boss, John Mitchinson, “I’ve been riding a little MSX for the last two weeks and seem to have forgotten how to ride anything big.”

“Adam here’s got a Grom,” he told me. “He’s going to make some spoked wheels for it.” Hmmm… they’d look good…

Shortly after that, I met Richard Niven through our Facebook page – he used an MSX125 to explore the mountains of Scotland through winter. I was inspired, and so the idea for the Africa Grom was born.


Honda MSX125 Grom

Richard Niven uses his MSX125 to explore Scotland in the winter


I like riding off road. Note the word ‘like’, not ‘love’. I’ve owned a Honda MTX125, CRM250, and a Yamaha WR250. I’ve done a few off-road courses, including the superb BMW Off Road Skills, but while I’ve had a few crashes in my time on various bikes, the ones that have seen me get properly hurt have been off-road – nothing serious (touch wood), but broken ribs and a torn rotator cuff, which left me unable to use my right arm properly for six months, did tend to mean love was too strong a word for my off-road experiences.

So with the KTM 1050, I’m one of ‘those’ people; an adventure bike rider who doesn’t want to take their machine off-road. I argue that it handles bumpy, twisty B-roads better than anything I’ve ridden, and that I can load it up for a weekend away with my wife, so who cares that I take it on nothing rougher than a gravelly fire track. I bought it for how and where I ride, not for the image.

When the launch of the new BMW G310GS came up, I didn’t want to do it. “It’ll be off-road,” I argued. “I’m rubbish off-road, and I’m bound to crash.” I did crash, but I also had a lot more fun on that lightweight machine than I’d imagined. I realised that I love exploring. That I don’t care how fast I can go, or how far I can jump. Just that I have the opportunity be somewhere I wouldn’t otherwise.

The MSX is clearly not an off-road machine, but on most byways and trails it’s so small, light and manageable that I could pick it up and carry it out of trouble if I had to. I bought this used Honda as a toy – something that I can thoroughly enjoy on back roads, in the town centre and on gentle byways, without worrying about it being too heavy (or expensive) if I get things wrong.

But as much as I’m thoroughly looking forward to some great fun rides on it, I’m excited about the evenings I have ahead in the garage, bolting on the parts that’ll make it uniquely mine, modifying and machining bits where necessary. I’ve already started sketching some ideas for the paint, but when it’s finished, I’m not aiming for something that looks wild and crazy; I dream of a machine that could, maybe, have come out of Honda’s factory. Like the Yard Built Yamaha XSR700 I made, which was on Yamaha’s stand at Motorcycle Live last year ­– I did all the work myself on that, apart from the paint, which was crafted by Chris Tunbridge at CT Motorcycle Services in Kent.


Yamaha XSR700 custom

When I’d finished building my XSR, I rode it to Spain on the back roads through France


I want the Africa Grom to echo the styling of the current Africa Twin (I prefer the colours to the 2018 Adventure Sport model’s paint scheme); white with blue, red and black detailing. That’s going to need a professional paint shop, but everything else I want to do myself – if it’s not a part that anyone can buy, then I want to make it. My plans are bound to change a bit, but here’s what I hope to do…

Security: There’s no immobiliser as standard on the Grom, and it’s very easy to pick up. The first thing I want to do is fit an alarm/immobiliser that’ll make the bike that bit harder to pinch.

Spoked wheels: These are in development at Rally Raid, and should be the first ever for the 2017 bike, which now has an ABS ring on the front. I’m hoping to have black anodised machined billet aluminium hubs with gold rims.

Crash protection: R&G has a full range of kit for both the first version of the MSX and this one – I’ll be fitting front and rear axle protectors, as well as crash bungs.

Lighting: The Grom’s stacked LED headlight looks great, but my previous time with the bike proved that it’s not got a good spread – I’ve used Denali D2 lights on my KTM, and a Kawasaki Versys 650 before that, so I’m planning to fit a smaller set to the Grom. They’ll add to the adventure look too…

Bars and handguards: There’s something about Renthal Fat Bars that I love – my plan is to add modified risers that’ll allow me to fit a set. And for the proper off-road style, I’ve got to fit a set of BarkBuster hand guards. There’s a set available that fit directly to the MSX’s standard bars…

Tail tidy: Homologation of bikes requires that the number plate is set behind the rear wheel, hence the long mudguards on so many machines these days. While the long mudguard would be more practical when riding down muddy green lanes, I really need to shorten that thing…

Exhaust: The previous version of the MSX had a high-level exhaust, but this new model is set low. There’s no under-seat mounting point on the new model, but there are adaptors available. A previous model’s pipe won’t work due to the length of the tail and hanging points under the bike… Whatever happens, the Africa Grom will need to have a high-level can to look the part.

Luggage: That high exhaust is going to limit panniers, but I’m hoping to make a system that’ll give me space to carry some adventure-style kit, as well as a tail-pack. I don’t need much of course, but it’ll be handy for carrying a lock, and if I’m exploring, I want to be able to take my camera kit. Plus it’ll be handy for the shopping.

What would you do to customise your bike? Whether it’s a complete build or simply adding some new levers, what would you do to make your bike yours? Tell us in the comments below…


Africa Grom sketches