There's a general impression that there are motorcycle riders and there are scooter riders, and never the twain shall meet. The reality is of course much different, with most members from each camp accepting that each conveyance has its pluses and minuses depending on the task at hand, and the market now offering so many variations on both themes that the old dichotomy is largely irrelevant. Honda is further muddying the waters with its new Grom, a kind of supermoto-moped that straddles the valley between different classes of two-wheeled conveyance.
To most of the world this is the Honda MSX125, but for reasons unknown, those in the US get to call it the Grom. This means "thunder" in various Slavic languages, but is also short for grommet, perhaps suggesting that the Grom is intended as a motorcycle for young riders who also like to surf and skate. Or not.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,200 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
The Grom (on which Honda's RC-X Mini Vintage Racer that we spied recently at the Bangkok Motor Show is based) is powered by a 124.9 cc air-cooled four-stroke with programmed fuel injection that generates 10 hp (7.5 kW) at 7,000 rpm and peak torque of 8 ft-lb (10.8 Nm) at 5500 rpm. The engine is nearly square (52.4 mm bore and 57.9 mm stroke), which provides a superior balance between top-end power and mid-range throttle response. The power reaches the rear wheel via a four-speed manual transmission, which is controlled in the same way as larger bikes. While Honda is yet to provide official fuel economy estimates, reports suggest gas mileage of around 100 mpg (2.3 L/100 km).
Top speed is about 65 to 70 mph (104 to 112 km/h) on a flat road, but it would take a braver person than myself to take a Grom out on the freeway. Its natural habitat seems to be city and suburban neighborhoods, perhaps with a side order of lazy country roads.
The Grom has a 1.2-inch inverted front fork with 3.9 inches of travel and only 25 degrees of rake, which combines with the rather small wheels, the low (29.7 in) seat height, and the 225 lb (102 kg) curb weight to provide a rider-friendly experience on the road. At the rear, the ride is cushioned by a single shock with 4.1 inches of travel. Stopping is provided by 220 mm front and 190 mm rear hydraulic disc brakes. Rather than using Honda's Combined Braking System, which applies front and rear brakes simultaneously, the Grom's braking levers independently work the front and back brakes.
So where does Honda position the Grom within its own lineup? The company has two subclasses of scooters. The Metropolitan, Ruckus, and Elite have the traditional Vespa-like look and feel, including step-through floorboards, and 49 to 108 cc four-stroke engines. The performance of this range of scooters probably limits their usefulness to driving around the neighborhood while avoiding major traffic avenues.
The second subclass of Honda scooters are considerably more capable. They provide a sportier visual cue by favoring a small floorboard on each side of a central frame instead of a wide central floorboard. The 150 cc scooters are fully capable of highway travel. Honda also offers larger scooters (The Forza and the Silver Wing), but these compete with larger motorcycles, so I won't go there.
Among street motorcycles, the Grom is by far the smallest, lightest, least powerful bike in Honda's lineup. While riders can feel reasonably comfortable on a freeway on a 250 or larger motorcycle, that's not the case with the Grom. It simply does not have enough power to safely navigate those roads.
Perhaps the best way of summing up the Grom is that it is a 3/4-scale version of a motorcycle. The 47.4-inch wheelbase, the 12- and 13-inch wheels, the 225 lb curb weight and the 125 cc motor are all suggestive of a scooter. However, Honda has gone out of its way to equip the Grom with motorcycle-style controls and styling cues, such as the projector-style headlamp and the bodywork reminiscent of a dirt bike.
From a practical point of view, the size and power of the Grom seems to suggest that Honda is positioning the bike as an ideal vehicle on which first-time riders learn how to properly operate a motorcycle without putting too much power between their legs. The entry price of US$3,000 also lends weight to this argument.
That said, Honda may also have struck a chord with another market. You might expect that people who ride Fireblades and full-blown Harleys would be laughing at this little would-be motorcycle. Instead, many are talking about how much fun these small bikes offer and comparing the ride to monkey bikes and pit bikes, a factor that could see the market extend well beyond beginners.
It seems that Honda has solidly hit a sweet spot with the Grom. Now if only we could do something about that name.
The Grom will be available from August in Pearl Red and Metallic Black from $2,999. It can be seen in action in the following video from Honda.