We might not be proud of it, but one of the major attractions of riding a motorcycle is the fact that it’s long been viewed by society as a rebellious act; an image forever immortalised by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. In fact, we might go so far to say that it’s the non-conformist nature of riding that makes two wheels cool in the first place. Or is it?
You see, what makes something ‘cool’ is notoriously hard to quantify, a thought that entered my head as I rolled into The Bike Shed - arguably London’s hippest biker bar - on Honda’s latest MSX125 (or ‘Grom’ if you’re Stateside). As I parked the MSX underneath one of the bar’s iconic railway arches, it quickly dawned on me that this modern day monkey bike looked rather out of place amongst the eclectic mix of scramblers and café racers.
With its funky Japanese styling, miniaturised proportions and low-powered 125cc engine, it’s certainly not cool in a ‘hipster biker’ sense. But that didn’t stop rider after rider from coming over to take a closer look at it. And you know what? They loved it.
At first this came as somewhat of a surprise, because let’s face it, from an objective standpoint, the MSX looks more like a child’s toy than an accomplished motorcycle. But as the week went on, almost every time I stopped at a set of traffic lights, I’d get inquisitive motorists and onlookers asking the very same question: “that’s cool, what is it”? A comment I’ve rarely received on other motorcycles.
So perhaps it’s time to reconsider what we perceive as cool. Forget scramblers, custom-builds and café racers, if you want maximum attention, get a Grom!
During my time with the MSX, I received a barrage of comments from friends and colleagues who couldn’t resist pointing out that I looked faintly ridiculous while riding it. But you know what? It didn’t bother me one bit. You see, with its tiny dimensions and cutesy aesthetics, the Grom looks completely harmless, which means that you can get away with absolute murder on the daily commute.
For example: try performing a wheelie, burnout or stoppie in the middle of London on a superbike. I guarantee that you’ll be in prison within the hour.
Conversely, on the Grom, pedestrians don’t even notice your antics. You can literally treat the daily grind as your own personal Grand Prix. It’s brilliant.
With CT’s office based in central London, most of my time on the bike was spent navigating city traffic; a task the MSX is well proportioned for. I have to admit, on first inspection I’d assumed that the little Honda would be cramped to ride and seriously uncomfortable over long distances, but as it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
With wide bars, an upright riding position and a 29.7-inch seat, the Grom is surprisingly spacious. You also sit high enough to have a commanding view over other motorists - vital when filtering through traffic. In fact, at no point during my time with the Grom did I feel vulnerable while riding in heavy traffic.
Unfortunately, not everything on the MSX is ergonomically faultless. The biggest problem arose when taking a pillion. Granted, the MSX is capable of carrying a passenger, but after an afternoon of riding around with my girlfriend on the back, I’m not sure that I’d advise it. Even at city speeds, the rear damper was overwhelmed by the added weight, the brakes struggled after prolonged use and the acceleration away from the lights was significantly stunted. Not ideal.
Thanks to the aforementioned wide bars, flat seat and low pegs, the MSX is an absolute joy at low speeds. With a low centre of gravity and proper USD (upside-down) front forks the bike has impressive stability, allowing you to scythe through traffic with confidence. And when the pace does increase, the chassis is more than capable of keeping up with proceedings. You can enter roundabouts at truly ridiculous speeds, scraping the pegs from entry to exit. It’s an absolute riot.
From an objective standpoint, the MSX’s straight-line performance is rather underwhelming. With a four-stroke, 9bhp, 125cc motor, the little Honda is incapable of breaking the national speed limit; at flat chat you’ll top out at a whopping 56mph.
But to complain about the bike’s outright performance would be to miss the point of the MSX entirely. The majority of buyers will use their machines for the daily slog - namely inner city commuting - and for that task, the engine is perfectly judged.
With the MSX only weighing 102kg, the little Honda is capable of beating the majority of cars away from the lights, and with a louder exhaust fitted – an Akrapovic can was fitted to our test bike – it’s loud enough to get noticed while filtering. The four-speed gearbox also gives you significantly more flexibility than a similarly sized CVT scooter.
Oh, and for all you hooligans out there, you’ll be pleased to know that the engine has enough torque to lift the front wheel in first gear. Perfect.
For just £2899 you can have yourself a machine with quick steering, impressive stability and Japanese reliability. Oh, and did we mention that the MSX is capable of a scarcely believable 186mpg? Yes, really.
Over the years I’ve ridden bikes with more power, better technology and higher price tags, but in terms of smiles per gallon, the MSX is practically unbeatable.