Rocking the Red

Story by Dustin A. Woods// Photos by Dustin A. Woods and Kanishka Sonnadara
July 1 2015

A Friendly Competition at Big Red’s Expense
Attacking a Gymkhana on a Honda Grom

It’s one of the most common phrases in motorcycling: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” It isn’t just a tag line; it encapsulates an entire way of doing business. Every year, Honda Canada hosts an open house to let potential consumers and existing customers experience a wide array of its products firsthand. Rock the Red is a multidis-ciplinary, family-focused one-day event where attendees can sample everything from motorcycles to lawn mowers in a pressure-free environment. It’s a brilliant way to bring new members into the family, but it’s also part of what keeps dyed-in-the-wool fans coming back for more.

What Is a Gymkhana?

Honda Gymkhana courseIn addition to hosting vendors, exhibiting static product displays and offering demo rides, Honda has incorporated a gymkhana competition into the mix as a way to demonstrate the ability of its products and provide entertainment for spectators. Originally an equestrian event consisting of speed-pattern racing and timed games for riders on horseback, gymkhana has more recently found its way into motorsport. Likely the most well-known example would be Ken Block, who has become an Internet sensation for his splashy videos featuring billowing burnouts and spectacular stunt driving.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.

Unlike Block’s tire-smoking exhibitions, the event I was invited to take part in was a timed competition among riders on a predetermined closed track, meant to display precise, controlled movements. Arriving first thing in the morning, our group of eager riders ranged in age, size and experience. Tackling a course we’ve never seen on bikes most of us have never ridden helps ensure an even playing field. Classes were broken up into two fields of riders who would be piloting either the CB500 or the diminutive Grom pocket bike, which, as it turned out, I would be riding. For the uninitiated, a Grom, or Grommet, is a term once used to describe young surfers but has been expanded to include beginners in other extreme sports as well. Now you know.

Rocking the Red GymkhanaWe were then offered a selection of CBR125s in order to get acquainted with a practice course, which we would later discover was quite different from the one we would be participating on. Quickly and completely memorizing the complex pylon course significantly contributes to a rider’s capability to achieve a high score. Having roughly the same short-term memory as a goldfish, this would prove to be my biggest challenge as we weaved in and out of a veritable sea of plastic markers, each colour representing a different direction and specific action.

Considering we would only be going fast enough to require the first two gears, precision was key. While it may be fun to watch smoking rubber and sliding rear wheels, such activity scrubs off speed, and this was a time trial. It was immediately evident who got the program, but those who went for broke found themselves on the pavement with the clock ticking. There was no shortage of carnage throughout the heats, but thankfully paint and pylons were the only collateral damage. Rather than attack the course with such reckless abandon, I preferred to err on the side of caution and keep the bike’s paint and my ego intact regardless of my time.

Ready, Set, Go!

Straddling the miniature Grom for the first time at the starting gate, I only had time to flick up the kickstand and give the throttle a couple of short, quick twists before the marshal started counting down, “3 . . . 2 . . . 1.”

The 124.9 cc air-cooled, two-valve single responded with an enthusiastic grumble. With my engaging the light clutch and popping it into gear as the flag dropped, the eager 102 kg Grom burst out of the gate. Doing my best to recall which pylons signified what, I also attempted to recall the elementary lessons that my very first riding instructors instilled in me. Properly poised with my head up and eyes focused where I wanted to go, I negotiated each turn of varying radius and difficulty methodically but with a definite sense of urgency. Handling is predictably effortless, and the non-ABS braking is as good as you would presumably need with a Nissin 220 mm rotor with dual-piston caliper in the front and a 190 mm rotor with a single-piston caliper in the rear.

Those who proved to be quickest struck a fine balance between tenacity and elegance, which was impressive to watch. While my strategy did garner me a position in the top half of the field, it wasn’t enough to carry on beyond my heat to the finals. C’est la vie. After the trials were over, I found myself standing around with the other competitors exchanging elated and animated stories of our shared experience on the sprightly 125 cc Grom. I can’t say that I would personally see a need for purchasing one myself, but that’s not to say it doesn’t serve a purpose. The fact that there were a couple dozen leather-clad grown men lining up to ride one, and without exception grinning from ear to ear afterwards, speaks volumes as to how much fun can be crammed into such a tiny package.


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