The coolest kids in the class: Honda MSX125 vs Suzuki VanVan

Paul Taylor
By Paul Taylor
platinum_paul Production editor. Worked in bike industry for 15 years, gets fatter and slower every year. Unhealthy obsession with Honda C90s, top boxes and small bikes.

Proving that you don’t have to be dull to don L plates, Bike Social hung out with the cool kids and took Honda’s MSX125 and a Suzuki VanVan for a seaside adventure

On paper, the Honda MSX125 and Suzuki VanVan are two brilliant and inexpensive first bikes. As starter bikes, this pair could be the perfect choice, but that’s only half the story.

The last few years have seen a number of older riders buying third bikes, with leisure bikes like these proving very popular for vacationers and those just looking for a bike that provides a bit of a laugh and a relaxing ride, without scaring the bejeezus out of you.

Both the MSX125 (and that’s the last time I refer to it as that, because everyone knows it’s really called a Grom) and VanVan can trace their roots to the carefree days of the Sixties and Seventies. These bikes embraced the surf culture of the time. Honda invented the idea with the original Z100 'Monkey' in 1961, while Suzuki’s original RV 'VanVan' range joined the party a decade later. With their small wheels, simple styling and fat tyres, the bikes were marketed at those looking for a small bike to hook up to their camper vans and for youngsters looking for an easy-to-ride learner bike. It’s a spirit that remains alive today, even if Honda and Suzuki have taken their two-wheeled RVs in different directions.

Suzuki VanVan 200

VanVan a-go-go

Suzuki’s original VanVan range featured two-stroke engines from 50-125cc and were built from 1972 to 1982.

The name was brought back in 2003, powered by an air-cooled 125cc four-stroke single but remaining true to the original’s styling with its wide bars, balloon tyres and a big comfy seat. It regained a cult following and for 2016, the 125 has been joined by a 200cc version, which is what Suzuki supplied us for this test. The 200 can’t be ridden unaccompanied on L-plates like the 125 but is essentially the same bike, just enjoying an extra 5.6bhp from its 199cc air-cooled single (16bhp against 11.4 for the 125), as well as a significant increase in torque. As tested, the Suzuki costs £3799, although the 125 retails at £600 less.

Honda MSX125

Fun sized motorcycling

As mentioned earlier, the MSX125 really only needs to be referred to as a Grom. That’s the name by which the MSX is sold in the States, and where its cult following is huge. Even here in the UK, everyone calls them Groms, don't they?

Although only launched in 2014, the Grom (which is a term for a young surfer) embraces the spirit of Honda’s original monkeys and are hugely popular on the customisation scene. Where the VanVan retains the look and feel of the Seventies originals, the Grom is a cut down streetfighter complete with sport-style tyres, upside down forks and a comprehensive digital dash. It’s a three quarter sized motorbike that utilises an updated 125cc version of the venerable aircooled single cylinder design that has been copied by a million and one Chinese pit bike manufacturers.

At £2899, the Honda is competitively priced and comes in at just £200 more than their basic CB125F commuter.

Let’s ride

Although the Honda is physically the significantly smaller of the two, its seat height of 765mm is just 5mm lower than that of the VanVan.

Immediately it is noticeable that we’re dealing with two significantly different bikes here. With the Grom, you literally sit atop the bike, with taller riders more straddling it rather than sitting on it.

The Suzuki has a more conventional feel to it. It’s low, but the wide bars and comfy seat means that it feels the polar opposite of the Honda.

Neither bike has earth shattering performance. The Honda, thanks in no small part to its short gearing and waif like 102kg wet weight (that’s 224 of those ell-bee-esses for those still resisting the metric system) means that it’s sharp away from the line, but a top speed of around 60mph is about your lot out of the crate.

Suzuki provided us with the 200cc version of their VanVan for this test, which obviously outperforms the Grom – although not perhaps by as much as you would expect. With 16bhp, the VanVan has 6.5bhp on the Honda, although its also packing an extra 26kg. It’s a little more sprightly and tops 70mph in favourable conditions. If you're 17 and looking to ride a VanVan on L plates, you'll have to go for the 125cc version. From experience, we’d expect there to be very little difference on the road between the VanVan 125 and the MSX.

VanVan

Handling wise, take your pick. If wallowy is your thing, you’re going to love the VanVan, that’s for sure. This bike has a real squishy, cuddly, feel about it that’s actually quite charming. Those beach buggy tyres, wide bars and heavily padded seat were never going to make this a super sharp weapon, however at the speeds you’ll be doing it all adds to the character.

By contrast, the Grom is akin to strapping on a pair of roller skates and letting off a fire extinguisher. Those 12” IRC tyres sure are skittish at speed, but boy is it fun. 

If it wasn't clear before, these are two very different motorcycles. 

We brought them together because they are both cool and quirky bikes with low seat heights and which appeal in equal measures to both the learner and leisure rider. How they go about their business is very, very different.

Traditional VanVan clocks (top) contrast with modern LCD unit on Grom

Suzuki have remained true to the VanVan concept, perhaps a little too true for the younger rider. The retro styling is right back in fashion, but the spec is as basic as basic can be. That single traditional speedometer features a tripometer and that is your lot. There's no clock and no fuel gauge, just an orange idiot light that's hard to work out if it's on or not in bright sunlight. And that ain't cool on a bike that carries just 6.5 litres of fuel.

By contrast, the Honda is thoroughly modern. It's like they've taken a modern streetfighter and shrunk it in the wash. With the Grom, you've got a funky headlight, modern looking upside-down forks, sports tyres and a comprehensive LCD dash that includes a clock and fuel gauge.

It's cheaper too. At £2899, it's £300 less than the 125 version of the VanVan. It's ludicrously cheap to run as well. Honda claim over 180mpg from the MSX (that's 1.5 litres per 100 kilometres for our Euro cousins) but to be honest we can't verify that one way or another because they were too frugal to accurately calculate consumption in the time we spent with them. What we do know is that both these bikes are cheap to run. With its strong cult following and high demand for second hand bikes the Honda, in particular, is going to hold its value well in the second hand market.

Kawasaki Z125

The missing mini

One bike absent from our test is the new Kawasaki Z125.

Piggy backing onto the growing trend for mini bikes in the States, Kawasaki has introduced its new Z125 PRO this year.

Looking to all intents and purposes like a scale model of a Z1000, the Z125 is aimed squarely at Honda's Grom. With styling, engine specs and pricing that mirror that of the super popular Honda, it looks like an absolute blast, but unfortunately it's only on sale in the United States and selected Asian markets.

Sort it out Kawasaki Europe. We want a go too!

 
Honda MSX125 is our winner

Verdict

These are not sport bikes, where winners and losers are decided by fractions of horsepower and ultimate laptimes. With the Grom and VanVan, it’s about the spirit, the vibe and the look. It's retro versus modern, beach buggy or skateboard, understated giggling against laughing out loud.

With that in mind, you’ve probably made your mind up already. That’s fine, you’ve made a great decision.

The VanVan is a cool little motorbike. It’s a real retro that looks great and is dead comfy for pottering around on. It feels more like a small motorbike than a bike you could almost stick in your pocket, and for some that will be a plus. The Grom is far quirkier, less practical but much more in your face. Riding a Grom makes a massive statement. 

I like the VanVan and would happily own one, but the Grom? It’s a Grom, innit? I want one. I want one so bad. It is the epitome of cool and puts a smile on your face that’s ten miles wide. There’s a club in our city with 72 Grommers. Not a single one is standard and the group ranges from kids on L-plates to pensioners that have thrown thousands of pounds at their pride and joy. It’s a fun sized bike that delivers big fun entertainment. I wouldn’t want to go far on one, but for scooting around town or ambling down back lanes there’s very little that can touch it. Don't believe me? Just visit the Isle of Man TT and see the hordes of visitors who've dumped their sports bikes in favour of a Grom-powered fortnight.

Whether you're a dyed in the wool biker or a novice looking for an inexpensive runaround, the Grom just delivers. There's no stigma to having L-plates on this bad boy. It truly is the coolest kid in the class.

 

Thanks to Paul Bryant for the photography, Rich Beach for the video and Rutland Water for letting us use their facilities. Top fellas, all of them.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Honda MSX125 (Grom)

Suzuki RV200 VanVan (125 version in brackets)

Type

Air-cooled, four-stroke,single cylinder

Air/oil-cooled, four-stroke single cylinder

Displacement

124.9cc

199cc (125cc) 

Bore x stroke

52.4mm x 57.9mm

66mm x 58.2mm(57mm x 48.8mm)

Compression ratio

9.3: 1

9.4: 1 (9.2:1)

Maximum power

9.65 bhp@7000rpm

16 bhp@8000rpm (11.4bhp@9000rpm)

Maximum torque

10.9Nm@5500rpm

15Nm@6500rpm (9.8Nm@7500rpm)

Clutch type Wet multiplate Wet multiplate

Gearbox

Four-speed

Five-speed (six-speed)

Front suspension

31mm upside-down fork

Telescopic fork

Rear suspension

Mono shock

Mono shock

Front brake

Single 220mm disc with hydraulic dual piston caliper

Single disc with dual piston caliper

Rear brake

Single 190mm disc with hydraulic dual piston caliper

Drum

Front tyre

120/70-12

130/80-18

Rear tyre

130/70-12

180/80-14

Dimensions

L: 1760mm

W: 755mm

H: 1010mm

L: 2140mm

W: 865mm (860mm)

H: 1125mm (1120mm)

Seat height

765 mm

770mm

Wheelbase

1200 mm

1385mm

Wet weight (including full oil and fuel tank)

101.7 kg

128kg

Fuel capacity

5.5 litres

6.5 litres

PRICE

£2899

£3799 (£3199)

MSX125 Grom
VanVan
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