Keeping track of every model in every manufacturer’s range is pretty tricky – you might know about the superbikes and the exciting nakeds, but maybe not the tourers or the cruisers. You probably know nothing of the 125s – which is fair enough. Why would you care once you passed your test?
But if you don’t know about the Honda MSX 125 (Grom if you’re an American) then you’re missing out, whether you’re new to riding or a seasoned pro. Although if you’re a fan of figures it’s perhaps not the machine for you – 9hp and 10Nm of torque is hardly going to set your loin alight.
And it’s small – it’s kind of a spiritual successor to the old monkey bikes of the 1970s, but that does it a disservice because it is much bigger than they were. But it’s still really, really tiny and it’ll make you look like a ridiculous giant on the road unless you’re 4ft9.
The thing is, you won’t care in the slightest how daft you look. Once you’ve spent a few pounds on parts – with hundreds of things to choose from – this silly little bike takes on all the attitude of something bigger and madder, but distilled into a toy-like package of pure hilarity. If a Ducati Monster is an Alsatian, the MSX is an angry Jack Russell.
Sure, the Alsatian could rip the little Jack Russell to pieces, but the little dog thinks it’s hard – and it’ll shout and dash around like an idiot about to prove it. The MSX will too – it’ll do silly little wheelies, skids and burnouts, it’ll blast through gaps in city traffic and it’ll even scrape its pegs on roundabouts.
But it does all this at about walking pace, all the while making the most addictive thump if you get the right aftermarket can (a Leo Vince in my case). It’s the perfect little bike for brapping about town, which is what I used mine for, come rain or shine.
For London it’s spot on. It’s nippy enough for getting away quickly at the lights, loud enough to be noticed when filtering and small enough to fit through the smallest gaps and park in the tiniest of spaces. It turns heads, too – like almost nothing else on the road. Not sure whether those are admiring glances or not, though…
Thing is, once you get past 45mph it’s more or less all over. Sure, it’ll get to 60mph if you thrash it and duck, but on a dual carriageway it’s wobbly and thoroughly terrifying, particularly when a HGV is faster and has decided it’s time to get by. You could, of course, take an alternative route and avoid the dual carriageway.
Except it is only marginally better on B-road, mostly because the cars you get trapped behind will roar off over the horizon when you get to a suitable overtaking spot. It’s a bit unfair on the MSX to fault it here, though – most 125s are just as slow, but they are also a lot less characterful.
I don’t have mine any more, though – I left London to live in a pretty rural town, where an obnoxious little yellow Jack Russell is unsuitable. I miss it, though – there are very few learner-legal bikes that are quite so fizzy and fun, excepting those mad two-stroke 125s of not so long past.
And so that’s that. An absolute riot that can be ridden on L plates, insured for pennies and hurled around like something far more exotic. Yours for a hell of a lot less than a Yamaha R125 – and at least the people in the college car park will be laughing with you, not at you with if you’re riding an MSX.