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Opposites Distract


Written by: Dave Sowden and Cornel van der Merwe.

For Gottagged’s second motorcycle test, Cornel insisted that it should be a superbike showdown, pitting one big bike against another; a Clash of the Titans shootout. However, Dave had other plans…

Arriving on another cold morning at Fire It Up! in Fourways, Cornel found Dave doing loops around the shop on a ridiculously undersized motorcycle with a grin bigger than the bike he was on. The neat little red Honda MSX125, commonly referred to as the ‘Grom,’ is a throwback to the iconic, small-wheeled monkey bikes of the 1970’s. Although this characterful 125cc might pay homage to the yesteryears, it has been given a modern look and feel, sort of a fullsize bike that’s gone through a hot wash and shrunk…

The team was surprised to find that the MSX had ABS on the front brakes, and was impressed with the good-looking stacked LED headlight that helps to add a little to its road presence, which it undoubtedly needed. The nice compact digital display shows speed, revs, time, odometer, fuel level and two trip meters. The four-speed gearbox is paired with a fuel injected two-valve air-cooled engine, producing 8.96hp, which is just shy of 7Kw. Although the fuel tank is limited to 5.5 litres, it promises to be efficient with its small capacity engine combined with a tiny kerb weight of just 101.7kg.

An argument ensued as Dave was excited about the notion of testing the little 125cc in the traffic, whereas Cornel still had his heart set on a big bike showdown. They sorted this out as any mature biker male would, with a challenge; a race from Fire It Up! to the Michelangelo in Sandton.

The contender Cornel chose to teach Dave some humility with, was a beautiful black and white 2011 Honda CBR1000RR. To say that this bigger sibling to the MSX is on the other side of the spectrum is an understatement. This four stroke, transverse four cylinder, DOHC, 16 valve 998cc motor produces an astounding 131 kW and 115Nm torque, while the rev-happy engine redlines at 13000rpm, reaching speeds close to 300kph – enough for Cornel to travel back in time and whip Dave’s behind again. Despite the CBR’s weight being more than double that of the MSX, weighing in at 205kg, thanks in part to a higher fuel capacity of 17.5 litres and other apparent factors, the CBR still produces nearly 20 times more power than the MSX. These overpowering odds made Cornel feel confident that Dave was being irrational in his choice.

The challenge was simple. Dave would take an 11km urban street route through Bryanston to Sandton, while Cornel will fly down the highway – a longer 20km blast. Dave was raring to go, revving the Grom’s little engine, and popping the clutch, and mostly acting like a child. As the CBR came to life, with the purr of 1000cc’s of awesomeness amplified by a aftermarket short performance exhaust, the clamour of the 125cc Grom engine disappeared, resulting in Dave’s grin fading a little, while Cornel’s grew immensely.

The Ride
As they headed out on the roads of Fourways, Dave started challenging engine sizes way out of his league, as he immediately raced everything in sight from traffic-light-to-traffic-light, loving every minute, even though the victories were few to none. Filtering through the traffic, Dave was quickly able to explore all of the Grom’s abilities, unleashing all nine of its horsepower (or as Dave affectionately called it, ponypower). Although not fast, maxing out at about 80km/h on the hills, the small wheels make the bike nimble, and fun to ride. The fun is infectious, with people staring, pointing and smiling at spectacle at every stop. Even the sullen taxi drivers found the humour in the oversized Dave on a bike that appeared too small for him. Coming into a tight bend, Dave clicked down a gear, and opened the throttled, resulting in absolutely no change at all. With tons of grip, and most of the weight being added by Dave, the bike was happy with whatever he could throw at it.

In contrast, as Cornel turned on to the highway, he began to regret his choice. The CBR’s hunched riding position was unfamiliar and the power of the high-revving 1000cc engine was daunting to him. Cornel questioned the logic of choosing the superbike over a more relaxed and sensible ride, when in fact Dave is the one known for his speed-freak nature. While hogging the left lane, being overtaken by everything from small cars to busses and trucks, Cornel never felt truly comfortable enough to test the true potential of the speed machine he was saddled on. He felt like he had let down his inner child who grew up with posters of these of bikes adorning his bedroom walls. He decided to finally man-up and open the throttle just a touch so that he could at least reach the legal speed limit and keep the challenge fair, he couldn’t bear the thought of Dave mocking and smirking at him if the 125 were to reach the hotel first. At higher speeds, the bike did start to feel more at ease, although still not completely the riding conditions that Cornel were used to. The stiff and sporty suspension meant that he could feel every bump in the road, and the forward-leaning position combined with his uneasiness, caused some easily avoidable neck and back aches if he had only relaxed and loosened his rigid riding method a little. Cornel perked up a bit as he turned off the highway and raced down West Street toward the Michelangelo…

As Dave arrived at the circle outside the Michelangelo, he was surprised not to find Cornel waiting for him. With all those CC’s at his disposal, Dave thought this would be a walk in the park for him. With some time to kill, Dave admired the tiny steed that had brought him to victory. The Grom looks like someone fired a shrink-ray at a full-sized bike; its looks to be made of giggles and silliness, and stuck together with fun. Although the ride into Sandton had been slow, every start, stop, and corner had been handled with aplomb. Dave didn’t ride this bike expecting performance, however, he hadn’t realised just how capable this small bike would be at the suburban commute.

Once Cornel arrived a while later, he knew Dave was going to let him have his share of shaming. To his relief, Dave didn’t pick on him too much before they’d entered the coffee shop, and ordered a cup of much needed warming elixir. As they reminisced their fresh, up-to-the-minute experience, it became quite apparent that Dave had had the time of his life, while Cornel’s ride had been rather tedious. Dave chattered on about how much sense the little Grom had made on the streets of Sandton; about how people had smiled at him in the traffic, and asked questions about the machine at almost every stop. He prattled on about how the bike loved everything you threw at it, apart from uphills. There was seemingly no end to just how happy Dave was with his choice in this competition. By comparison, Cornel admitted that his bike choice was probably not very appropriate for someone of his easy nature.

Heading back to the bikes, the pair agreed that they would switch stallions, so as to properly compare their assessments. Dave was a little worried about the ride back to Fourways, based on how much Cornel had disliked it. Swinging his leg over, and waking the beast with a push of the start button, all of those worries melted away. Dave chased all the pigeons from the rooftops with a quick blip of the throttle, the sport exhaust shouting its approval. Turning onto the streets of Sandton, Dave understood what Cornel had disliked about the bike. The hunched riding position that makes this bike amazing when taking corners at 200km/h, does not make sense when driving through the city. Every bump is felt through the rider’s wrist. To offer your wrists a respite, you must squeeze the tank with your thighs and use your core to lift your upper torso. This can’t be done forever though, and this riding position quickly becomes tiresome.

Cornel was pleased to be back in a more familiar riding position again, albeit a slightly more comedic one. He had to concede to Dave’s opinion of the little Grom, as the he was also experiencing the effects of its spell, which gained his inner child’s approval with the experience instantly knocking decades off his age.

Funnily enough, this small-capacity bike had a tendency to bring out the troublemaker in Cornel, more so than its bigger sibling did. Sure, the CBR had loads of power, but knowing that he was using 100% of the Grom’s performance made him feel like a pro. Not only is it cute with its stylish, compact, and practical design, the performance matched the confident handling, and it sure could scoot. The four-speed gearbox never missed a shift, and the engine was punchy enough to not leave Cornel cursing it. The overtakes required some forethought but summoning all its ponies was effective enough to get the advantage over unsuspecting old ladies in their Corollas.

As Gottagged’s biking duo made their way through Randburg with Dave riding behind the rotund Cornel on the tiny MSX, he was reminded of the bear riding the tricycle in Pixar’s Madagascar 3. Pulling alongside Cornel, almost crying with laughter, Dave saw Cornel was also smiling from ear to ear. He was also experiencing the thumbs-ups and happiness that other motorists share when setting eyes on the little bike. A taxi full of smiling and pointing commuters whizzed by – and although Cornel was being overtaken, he was confident that he was the one having more fun. In comparison, Dave only garnered the attention of teenage boys who only wanted the bike to go faster ad make more noise. Dave happily obliged.

This CBR really made little sense, until Dave left Cornel behind and turned onto the highway. With an open stretch of road ahead of him, Dave opened the throttle. Feeling the front wheel lifting slightly, Dave maintained his metal, and clicked through the gears. There seemed to be no end to the acceleration, and the open stretch of road quickly disappeared. Filtering through the traffic, the bike seemed to instinctively know which way to go, only requiring a slight lean in whichever direction. The second time Dave maxed out the throttle, he hunkered down behind the screen, squeezing the bikes tank with his thighs, and then really let the bike fly. It was incredible. Turning off the highway and into Fire-It Up!, his hands were still trembling slightly as he handed the keys back to the sales guy, Berto, who smiled knowingly.

The meat of it
This comparison seemed silly to begin with – and it was – but not because these bikes are in different leagues, aimed at different riders. It was a silly comparison because neither Cornel nor Dave could have predicted that the Grom would be the standout favourite. They had a good laugh, that’s what bikes are about – and it’s good to be reminded of it every once in a while.

Sure, the CBR is an incredible piece of Japanese Engineering. It has killer good looks, and the sound that this engine/exhaust combo makes should have an age restriction. Pulling on the throttle through the never-ending acceleration up to incredible speeds is reminiscent of sending Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise into warp-speed. The rate at which you cover distance is unbelievable. However, that is all that this bike can do. It’s a one-trick pony. While you smile like a maniac as you race along the highway, returning to the urban streets, you’re instantly reminded that this bike isn’t built for that purpose. The uncomfortable hunched riding position means you can hardly see over traffic. Where the bike seemed to move on instinct at speed, it seems heavy and cumbersome turning between streets.

On the other hand, the Grom does everything else apart from highway blasts, and it does it well. This is where the smaller bikes make sense. In urban areas, or any stationary traffic, the Grom has the edge over most normal-sized bikes. Filtering through traffic is very easy, and being so short with a snug wheelbase of 1200mm, means you can easily squeeze past the front of one car and the rear of another of even the most spiteful of drivers. If your daily commute is through city traffic, there is nothing better to do it on than a small bike like the Grom. We are glad Honda decided to relive its childhood, because we couldn’t think of a better way for us to experience ours.

Honda MSX
125cc fuel injected two-valve air-cooled engine, producing 8.96hp, which is just shy of 7Kw mated with a 4 speed gearbox
Modern things included as standard like Stacked LED headlight and ABS. which is uncommon on these cheaper little bikes
Fuel tank is limited to 5.5 litres
Kerb weight of just 101.7kg
Snug wheelbase of 1200mm with 12-inch wheels
New, this bike sold for a touch over R30 000. Fire It Up! had the bike as a nearly new option at R25 000. PEANUTS! With the standard warranty that they give with all their bikes.

CBR 1000RR
Transverse four cylinder, DOHC, 16 valve 998cc motor, 131 kW and 115Nm torque mated with a close-ratio 6 speed gearbox
Redlines at 13000rpm and reaches speeds close to 300kph
Weighs a hefty 205kg
Tank capacity of 17.5 litres
A perfectly sized 1400mm wheelbase running on 17-inch takkies
The 2018 CBR1000RR goes for close to R300 000. At R100k, Fire It Up!’s CBR is a much more reasonable option, considering it includes a 4 Year service plan and 2 Year Warranty.

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