Small-bore, big fun.
The word "Grom" descends from "Grommet", an old SoCal slang term for a young or inexperienced surfer. First coined sometime in the late-50s or early-60s, it was later applied to new skateboarders during the 70s skateboarding boom. Eventually, "Grom" evolved to describe anyone new to an "extreme" sport. It also described me to a T as I threw a leg over the 2022 Honda Grom for the first time.
I love small-displacement bikes. However, that love was, until very recently, hypothetical. I was in love with the idea of tiny little pocket-sized bikes you could use to zip around town on and use to get into some sensible trouble, but I'd never actually ridden one. See, I didn't start my riding career riding minibikes or small-bore dirt bikes like so many of my contemporaries. No, like an idiot I jumped right into the deep end with one of Yamaha's fast, heavy, big-bore, early-80s triples. Thanks to that decision, I missed out on a whole lot of fun as a youngster and never got to experience the wide, weird world of minibikes.
That all changed at the beginning of May 2021, when the team at Honda called me up and asked, "Would you like to hoon some new Groms around Barber Motorsport Complex in Alabama the first weekend in June?" Let me tell you, friends, I couldn't say yes fast enough. I was in like Flynn. So, on June 4, 2021, I boarded a commercial aircraft for the first time since February of 2020 and headed down to The Yellowhammer State for some small-displacement fun.
Honda held the 2022 Grom launch event at the 2021 Barber Small Bore Festival at the Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama. If you're unaware, the Small Bore Festival started out as a DIY event called the Smoky Mountain Crawl back in 2017. Spearheaded by the minibike maniacs over at MNNTHBX (Man in the Box), The Crawl took place in a field outside of Townsend, TN, for the first few years of its life. It quickly outgrew its small-town roots, but luckily known dairyman, eccentric rich guy, and motorsport enthusiast George Barber invited the MNNTHBX guys to throw their tiny bike party at his massive motorsport complex in 2019. The rest, as they say, is history.
Unsurprisingly, the events of 2020 put the kibosh on that year's Small Bore Festival, but it came back in 2021 with a vengeance. Held on BMP's proving grounds, 2021's Small Bore featured drag racing, food trucks, stunt displays, RV camping, a swap meet, an endurance race, and hot and cold running minibikes. Along with MNNTHBX, representatives from Vance & Hines, Yoshimura, and various other purveyors of minibike hop-up parts lined the festival's main thoroughfare. Mixed in among the popup tents full of custom exhausts, tiny, lightweight wheels, and other minibike accouterment was a handful of minibike racing teams, stunt crews, and custom shops. It was, in a word, the perfect place for Honda to launch its newest Grom.
I arrived at the festival fresh off a direct flight to Birmingham from Detroit. Stepping out of the truck into the brutal, humid Alabama heat, I was blown away by the number and variety of small-displacement bikes zipping around. Along with Groms and a heaping helping of 70s-era Honda minis—CT70, CT110s, Z50s, etc.—the place was awash in barn-fresh Yamaha enduros, radical Ruckus-based drag racers, plebian scooters, race-spec supermotos, and even a handful of Motocompos. The pop and crackle of open two-stroke exhaust was everywhere, and the whole scene was such a whirl of color, sound, and flashing chrome that it was hard to take in after a year and change of lockdown isolation.
Honda's display dominated the southwest portion of the festival, anchoring the main thoroughfare and separating it from the proving grounds track. In the lee of a big, red semi-truck, Honda had assembled its entire line of 125cc minimotos for our viewing (and touching and sitting on) pleasure. There were Monkeys and Super Cubs and CT125s, of course, but the belle of the ball was the all-new Grom. Each of the new bike's trim levels was on display, along with all the new colorways and graphics schemes. There was even a selection of heavily customized Groms done up by Steady Garage and the guys from MNNTHBX to show off the platform's versatility.
After a few hours of oohing and aahing at all the tiny bikes, talking to old guys about their tiny bikes, taking copious amounts of pictures, and about thirty gallons of water (it is hot in Alabama), it was time to get down to work.
On paper, the 2022 Grom is a vast improvement over previous generations—bigger and more capable. The 125cc, fuel-injected, overhead-cam single is nearly all new, with an undersquare design and higher compression that increases torque and fuel efficiency. It breathes in through a larger, 2.5-liter airbox and out through a redesigned, two-piece exhaust system. This tiny new wündermill is mated to a new five-speed gearbox (that's right, the new Grom gets an extra cog!) with wider gear ratios than previous bikes which, all told, makes for a comfier, smoother ride. Last, but not least, the new engine is equipped with a replaceable oil filter as opposed to the previous generation's old, busted oil flinger.
The new Grom's changes don't stop at powertrain upgrades. A larger fuel tank (1.59 gallons) and a flatter, more cushioned seat give the bike longer legs, which allows a rider to stay in the saddle longer. The LCD display is new as well, with the welcome addition of a gear-position indicator.
The suspension remains largely unchanged from previous models, with a 31mm upside-down fork forward and a hard-working monoshock aft. Brakes are discs all around, with a single 220mm rotor bound by a two-piston caliper up front and a 190mm rotor and single-piston caliper at the rear. Front-wheel ABS is an option and is controlled by a new Inertial Measurement Unit. More on that later.
Lest you think that Honda neglected form for function when developing the new Grom, there are a slew of trim levels and custom colorways to choose from. As for trim levels, you have your base model which comes in either Matte Black Metallic or Queen Bee Yellow and is equipped with everything we mentioned above. The Grom SP features a Pearl White paint job with some nice red and blue accents along with gold forks and wheels. If you look real close at the "GROM" graphic on the tank, you can see that the "m" is actually the roman numeral III, denoting that this is the third generation Grom. Clever girl. Finally, there's the Grom ABS which features the all-new, IMU-controlled ABS system and comes in Candy Blue, my personal favorite.
Along with the standard factory colorways, there's a quartet of fancy bolt-on panels that feature the new Grom's premium graphics developed in partnership with Throttle Jockey. Three of these are color variations on a Mossy Oak-style woodland camo, which I find kinda confusing since the Grom isn't really a woodsy kind of bike. The fourth, however, is a Honda Racing Corporation tri-color like you'd find on the bonkers CBR1000RR. This basically turns the bike into a Grom Fireblade (just go with it) and is, in my opinion, the only proper livery for the tiny, mighty Grom.
Now, I know what you're saying: "All that stuff about gears and colors and IMUs is nice and all, but how does it ride?" Short answer? Pretty good for something with 10 horsepower and 12-inch wheels! Long answer? Well, let's talk about it.
On Saturday morning, after a decent night's sleep and a disappointing hotel breakfast (come on, Hampton Inn, get your act together. You're better than this), we all set out for a rip through the Alabama countryside. The Honda team put together a surprisingly challenging, 50-ish mile loop for us. It wound through weird little towns, up and down a mountain (or, what passes for a mountain in AL), along some very twisty roads, and past about four billion barbecue joints. Seriously, the air in Alabama is about 40 percent aerosolized pork.
Upon pulling out of the Barber complex I discovered that you run out of first gear really quick, and there isn't that much second gear, either. I spent a good portion of the ride bouncing off the rev limiter. I did most of my work in third or fourth gear, primarily above 7,000 rpm with the throttle wide open. Thanks to the rather technical nature of our route, I didn't really get into fifth gear too much, but the few times I did it really chilled out the otherwise high-strung Grom while still delivering respectable pulling power.
I got a lot of use out of the gear-position indicator, a rider aid that I'm neither used to nor inclined to use when I have one. The thing is, the Grom's five speed is a little, uh, vague. Neutral is difficult to find sometimes and usually needs either some revs or a bit of rolling the bike back and forth to really lock it in. There also isn't much in the way of tactile feel to the shifter, no solid, satisfying click to let you know what gear you're in. Until I got used to said vagaries, I relied on the indicator to help me figure out exactly where I was in the pattern.
The bike is also equipped with a shift light that comes on hilariously soon. Like an over-protective parent, it starts blinking urgently about halfway through the rev range for a given gear. It begs you to upshift before you even get a whiff of the redline. Every time it did I was like, "Oh no, little friend. We can't shift yet, we have so much work left to do in this gear!" The ability to adjust the shift light to a more sensible level would be a nice addition at some point. Once I got used to the gearing and learned to ignore the nervous shift light, I found it pretty easy to predict what gear the engine would need in a given situation and ceased bouncing off that rev limiter. Mostly.
Being as light as it is—a svelte 231 pounds soaking wet—the Grom is extremely flickable. Combined with a necessarily low center of gravity, those 12-inch wheels, and some surprisingly sticky tires, it handles like a larger, more highly-specced-out bike. It has grip for days, and its easygoing manners encourage a rider to push it to its generous limits. One issue I had, is that I'm about 15 or so pounds heavier than the Grom. That's not a problem with the bike so much as it is the fact that I spent the last year and change eating my feelings.
Thanks to my, uh, unfavorable weight advantage, the bike felt a touch top-heavy and squirrelly when I pushed it. I got used to that pretty quick, though, and by halfway through the ride I was just flinging the bike into corners and hoping for the best. This worked out surprisingly well, and I found myself attacking corners at speeds I wouldn't try on any of my own bigger bikes.
After our spirited flog through the hinterlands, we rolled back to the Barber complex for lunch and the afternoon's festivities. We were each given a Grom to do with what we wished for the rest of the day, so I spent most of my time tooling around the park, checking out the swap meet, and exploring some other roads around Birmingham. Sadly, I didn't get to Birmingham due to time constraints, but I did have time to absolutely demolish Jalopnik's Brad Brownell on the drag strip.
We ended the day with a parade lap on Barber's main course. With a hopped-up Lotus setting the pace, a gaggle of at least a hundred minibikes, scooters, enduros, and small-bore supermotos poured onto the track. It was my first time ever on a really real race track, and I made the most of it. Three laps of hot Grom action: third gear, wide open, all gas, no brakes. I was slow, and timid through some of the tighter turns, but it was the most fun I've ever had on a motorcycle and I was no longer a grom.
So, the verdict? The Grom is, in a word, rad. It does exactly what it says on the tin—provides a fun, accessible, easy to live with bike primarily for young or new riders—and does it very well. It's stylish, eager to please, fun, and has an aftermarket both deep and broad along with a huge community behind it. If that sounds like something you'd be into, then the Grom is definitely for you. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.