Honda Brings Back the Minibike

2014 Honda Grom.

2014 Honda Grom.

If you were a kid growing up in the 1960s or ‘70s, one of the most coveted dream toys was a minibike. Simple in design, yet exotic to suburban boys all over the country, the minibike was something almost everyone admired but very few ever actually got to have.

Not street legal, not especially safe, and certainly not approved by most mothers, the minibike was on display at places like Pep Boys, Gemco, and Sears to tempt us. More often than not, Mom and Dad would whisk us right past that two-wheeled status symbol. It was so close, yet so out of reach.

Honda was on a two-wheeled tear in the 1960s, and introduced the CT series of upsized minibikes that were more like scaled-down motorcycles. The “Trail 70” was by far the most popular, and featured lots of items found on larger bikes, including multi-speed transmissions and things like lights to make them street legal.

Knowing that there might be some pent-up nostalgia out there, Honda has introduced the Grom 125. Not a retro machine, the Grom is a modern take on Honda’s own CT bikes from years ago. Small wheels, easy-to-use controls, and just enough power and size to carry an adult around city streets with ease.

Think of the Grom as something that’s not as intimidating as a full-size motorcycle, but with a bit more attitude than a motor scooter. The 125cc engine is connected to a 4-speed transmission with a traditional motorcycle hand clutch. This would be a perfect starter bike for someone who would like to learn how to ride, and we’ll likely see them used in Motorcycle Safety Foundation training classes.

Technically, there’s room (and foot pegs) for a passenger on the little Honda, but two-up use will require a rider and passenger who are both on the small side. The bike’s weight limit is a somewhat amazing 300 lbs, but there’s only so much room on the seat. In reality, the Grom is a solo ride.

I can tell you that this is one fun little motorcycle. I got to attend an event in the parking lot of Honda’s U.S. headquarters in Torrance called the “Grom Prix.” A small road course was laid out with cones, and invited guests competed in teams of three to try to accurately ride to a set lap time. I’ve never had so much fun in a parking lot.

The Grom is looking like an instant hit for Honda, with waiting lists at dealerships before the bike even went on sale. Customizers are champing at the bit to offer cool accessories for it, much the way Honda’s Ruckus scooter has enjoyed the same in recent years.

We all tried to suggest practical reasons for having a minibike to our parents as kids, there are plenty of upsides to owning a Grom today. Honda estimates that it’s good for around 100 miles per gallon, and that maintenance is almost nonexistent, save for oil changes. And, you could park this thing anywhere, even in an office cubicle if you happen to work in one of those hip places where such things are allowed.

Of course, lots of questions surround the little Grom. How much does it cost? The suggested retail price is $2999 before options and accessories are added. Can I take it on the freeway? No. Minimum displacement on a California freeway is 150cc, so the Grom’s 125 falls short. (Besides, you probably wouldn’t want to anyway, even if it were legal. Top speed is only about 60.)

Do you need a license to ride it? Absolutely. It’s classified as a motorcycle, so an “M” endorsement on your driver license is a must. Sorry kids, this isn’t a toy. Can it go off-road? Well, on a dirt road or smooth trail, yes. But this isn’t a dirt bike – it’s a street machine with street tires.

And finally, the big question. What the heck does Grom mean? Well, the name comes from the surfing world, where a scrappy young surfer is known as a “grom,” short for grommet. The name of this Honda certainly fits, as it’s a scrappy young motorcycle, to help us finally live out that fantasy of when we were scrappy young kids coveting those minibikes.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz

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