Two weeks with a Honda Grom | Video review

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a KTM 1050 Adventure. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty, bumpy backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

 

Don’t try and find a reason for the Honda MSX125. If you question why, it’s not for you.

The MSX – or Grom as it’s known in the US – is an undersized bike with no under-seat-storage, a 125cc motor and a price tag £494 higher than the far more ‘normal’ Honda CB125F. Still though, some people buy them for their economy (Honda claims it’ll return 186mpg), while others buy them for their diminutive height. Some lust after the tiny kerb weight of just 101.7kg.

But a large proportion buy them just because they’re a Grom.

Put yourself in the position of a 17-year-old looking for a relatively cheap-to-run vehicle. Do you go for the practical CB125F, or do you opt for the characterful MSX?

I’m a 5’10”, 13 stone 45-year-old, and I spent two weeks with the Grom, leaving my own KTM 1050 Adventure, and long-term-test Suzuki GSX-S750 in the garage…

 

 

Commuting

There’s nothing like a mini-bike to raise a smile as you wander out of the office after a long day. Seeing the little thing sat there between the ‘proper’ bikes is hilarious, and weaving between the cars as they queue to reach the end of the car park reminds you just why motorcycles are so brilliant.

But my commute soon sees me on a fast stretch of dual-carriageway. Laying flat over the headlight, Superman style, is not that comfortable after long, but it’s the only way to hit an indicated 74mph. According to the GPS, that’s actually 67mph, which isn’t bad, but it does mean that overtaking cars doing 55-60mph can be a little annoying, especially if there are other vehicles hammering along at 80mph+. Though dominate your lane, be predictable, and make sure people have seen you and there’s no real reason this should be any less safe or enjoyable than a full-size 125. In fact, I’d say it’s more fun, and the massive thumbs-up I got from one ZX-6R owner going past me made me realise that a lot of bikers know what a Grom is, and it makes most of them smile too.

With no storage under the seat, carrying anything requires a rucksack. That’s no disaster, but you’ll need to think about how to secure the bike. There’s not space in the front or rear brake discs to use a disc-lock, and even if you could, you’ve got to be aware that it’s possible for one person to pick one of these up and sling it in a van. You really do need a chain if you’re going to be parking it on the street.

There’s no immobiliser on the Grom, and with a plenty of eBay sellers offering complete ignition barrel, fuel cap and seat locks sets – with two new keys – for £50-£100, you have to wonder just how big a market there is for people who legitimately need to change their locks. If it were mine, I’d fit a tracker.

In cities, or any stationary traffic, the Grom has the edge over any full-sized bike. It’s not much narrower thanks to the bars of course, but filtering is very easy, and being so short means you can easily cut between the front of one car and the rear of another to carve across lanes.

The front indicators being on steady all the time make you a little more visible, while at night the stacked LED headlight looks good and shows the road ahead well, but doesn’t have much of a spread, so it’s hard to see unlit junctions to the left or right. Main beam doesn’t help much either – it has the same pattern as dip, but is just a bit brighter.

 

 

Back-roads for pleasure

Sure, an R1 is amazing on back roads, but there’s something about knowing you’re really using 100% of a bike’s performance that makes you feel… well, epic. Of course you’re likely to be wringing the little thing’s neck, but with the throttle pinned, looking well ahead to time any overtakes, it can be great fun.

In the wet it's no different to any other unfaired bike – you get wet. The front tyre has plenty of grip even when braking hard for a van driver that appears not to have seen you, but the rear is quite easy to encourage to slip a bit. It's funny to be honest; most small-capacity bikes can have a tendency to bring out the trouble maker in an experienced rider, and having such a low reach to the ground makes this even more so.

The suspension is totally unadjustable, but it's fine, even for a hefty bloke like me. You're never going to have the plushest of rides with wheels this small, but it's not uncomfortable until you hit speed bumps a little fast.

The two-pot sliding front Nissin and single sliding rear are plenty powerful enough – there’s room for improvement with braided hoses, but it’s really not essential. And having ABS on the front makes for safer stopping in the wet for inexperienced riders. But it doesn’t operate the rear… great for noisy skids. 

The clocks show speed, revs, time, odometer, fuel level and two trips, while the clutch is – as you’d expect – extremely light. The four-speed gearbox isn’t big-bike slick, but it never missed a cog. Five gears would give a little more confidence in some overtakes, but the motor is punchy enough to not leave you cursing it.

Riding 55 miles of back roads one afternoon was great. I couldn't go as fast as a big bike, but this was a different way of riding. And I loved it. Overtakes require planning like they do on any 125, but there were enough times that I could see it was clear enough to lay on the tank and take a stream of cars on the approach to, and around a bend. I must have looked ridiculous.

 

 

Longer distances

Bennetts – BikeSocial’s parent company – was running a track day for its customers at Cadwell Park while I had the MSX. I always prefer to ride to a track day, rather than take a van, and I didn’t intend it to be any different with the Grom. But 60 miles at 6:30am, in the fog, on a 125cc bike isn’t something you often crave. The journey took in fast single-carriageways, twisty B-roads and plenty of mud-strewn single-laners.

Traffic rarely gets over 60mph on this route (I’ve been stuck behind a tractor overtaking a tractor here before), so it’s not too bad being on a 125, but I missed the performance of my KTM and Suzuki. Cars doing 55mph couldn’t be dispatched in a few seconds like they could on a bigger bike, but on the other hand, you do have time to admire the views. And when you hit a river of mud it’s far less intimidating than on a tall, 235kg adventure machine.

Riding home, my mate Chris followed me on his KTM RC390 – I was worried he’d get bored behind me, but he didn’t know where he was going, so didn’t mind. And the size of the Grom meant I occasionally managed to throw it into a corner, or between traffic, and leave him trailing. We had a laugh, and that’s what bikes are about, isn’t it? Had we both been on mini-bikes, it’d have been hilarious.

 

 

On track

I was working at Cadwell Park, arguably Britain’s most enjoyable circuit; did you really think I wasn’t going to ride the MSX there? Some people did, and as the novice group was full, I needed to ride in intermediate. “How fast is that?” asked one of the marshals. “65mph,” I told him.

“And you’re riding it?”

“Yep.”

“But there’ll be bikes doing 160mph on the straight.”

“Okay…”

“Stick to the white lines then. Be predictable. And watch for the flags in case we need to get you off the track.”

I hoped I’d last half the session before they stopped me, but I was out for the lot, just watching my mirrors and never crossing from one side of the track to the other unless it was totally clear. The scariest bit was the mountain – I’d go up on the right, keeping a good look behind me all the way up, before a life-saver at the top and getting over to the left. There was no chance of me lifting the front wheel, let alone jumping – the little Honda didn’t have enough grunt – but as I went into Hall Bends and the Hairpin I was in my element.

I got one more session in that day, finding space in the novice group. There the Grom’s nimble chassis meant I could easily keep pace with most bikes through the tight section under the trees, scraping the peg and my knee as I went through.

Riding a Honda Grom at Cadwell Park, surrounded by full-size bikes, will go down as one of my truly memorable biking moments. I probably wouldn’t recommend it though…

 

Honda MSX125 vs Benelli TNT 125

BikeSocial takes a tongue-in-cheek look at two great mini bikes…

 

On an appropriate track

Stretton go-kart circuit near Leicester is a far more suitable location for a bike like this. And at just £35 for a day’s riding – if the track’s available – it’s a brilliant way to enjoy you mini-bike on your own, or with a group of mates. I was there with stunt rider Chris Northover to shoot our tongue-in-cheek video comparison of this and the Benelli TNT 125, where he proved the performance of the suspension and brakes (his first move was to lift the seat and pull the main ABS fuse, allowing for unhindered stoppies).

Both bikes received a thorough thrashing, the Honda in particular, which was jumped several times. Nothing broke, nothing fell off, and despite being slammed down to first and backed into corners, the gearbox felt fine to the day this loan bike was sent back to Honda.

And damn, it was fun; it’s easy to get your knee down on this bike, and if things get a little squirrely – like at the damp back hairpin under the tree – it’s not hard to feel it slide, then recover out of the turn. You’ll feel like a hero, without the silly speeds and eye-watering financial consequences associated with bigger machines.

 

Conclusion

I’d love to ride to Hunstanton with a few buddies on these, all in open-face lids so we can shout across to each other. It’s still biking, but a whole different world.

The Honda MSX125 is faster and more characterful than my old Yamaha SR125, and not really much less practical. I overtook a guy on an old 125 commuter one day, and I'm pretty confident I was having a lot more fun.

Even with the distance corrected by GPS, I got 98mpg when thrashing the little bike across back roads and dual carriageways – it’s an economical thing – and other bikers seem to love them; my mate who tried it was impressed, coming back with a massive smile on his face – “I want one” – while another friend I spoke to, who only has his CBT, really wants one; “I’m not interested in a commuter or scooter – this is the only bike that really does it for me. I live just three miles from work, so it’s perfect. The only trouble is that they hold their value so I’m struggling to find a good used one – there seems to be a ‘Grom tax!’”

I'm no stunter anymore but this thing makes me mess about – you can't help but do rear-wheel skids and little stoppies as you pull up; the Grom brings out the kid in you.

For the first-time rider it offers a fantastic – if more expensive – alternative to the traditional 125 commuters. For an experienced biker it makes an absolutely brilliant second or third bike.

Whether blasting into town with a big smile on your face, or just going out anywhere for a laugh, I really can’t think of anything that beats it, which is why I’ve just bought one…

 

Big thanks to Stretton Circuit. While providing a full range of go-kart activities, the track also offers testing sessions for karts AND mini bikes. If you own a TNT or similar machine, give them a call – if the track’s available, for just £35 (£25 if you join as a member) you could have as much time as you like on the brilliant circuit.

Stretton also hosts open test days on the last Sunday of every month for pit bikes up to 160cc – these tuned machines are far quicker than a standard TNT or Grom, but it’s worth a ride over just to watch the incredibly close and exciting racing. Though don’t be surprised if you get hooked…

 

Video: Rich Beach Photography: John Milbank and Tim Keeton (Cadwell Park)

 

Specification 2017 Honda MSX125 Grom

Price

£3293

Engine

124.9cc air-cooled 2-valve single-cylinder

Power

9.7bhp (7.2kW) @ 7000rpm

Torque

8.1 lb-ft (10.9Nm) @ 5500rpm

Chassis

Steel backbone with steel swing-arm

Suspension

Unadjustable 31mm USD forks and monoshock

Brakes

(F) Single 220mm disc with two-piston sliding caliper and ABS; (R) Single 190mm disc with single-piston sliding caliper

Tyres

(F) 120/70-12 (R) 130/70-12

Tank capacity

5.5 litres

Fuel consumption

98mpg (measured) (claimed 186mpg)

Range to empty

118 miles (claimed 225 miles)

Seat height

765mm

Kerb weight

101.7kg

Contact

www.honda.co.uk/motorcycles

Insurance

Click here for a quote

 


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