Fresh riders have a heap of beginner bikes to pick from nowadays.
As much as I would love for my Old Fat Dad to set me up with all of ‘em, he clipped my wings a bit and gave me just one. In this review, I’ll just be comparing two bikes targeted at beginners — the 2019 CSC San Gabriel and the 2015 Honda Grom. The Grom is both the first and only bike I own and, therefore, the only one I can compare to the CSC. Though these are very different motorcycles, they’ll appeal to some of the same riders.
There are clear differences. The San Gabriel is much closer to a regular size, classic-style bike. Meanwhile, the Grom has a smaller build and smaller engine, but has a much more modern style. The San Gabriel is built by a Chinese company most people haven't even heard of. It is shipped right to you, but you can't get a CSC from a dealer.
The Grom is made by Honda, the largest motorcycle company in the world. It has plenty of stores in the United States to help you out. Despite such differences, both bikes can be suited for new riders, so let's compare the two. No one will deny that these are different motorcycles in both styling and capability, but both can appeal to incoming riders, even if they’re not direct competition.
For new riders such as myself, price alone is a huge consideration. Not even experienced riders want to spend hard-earned money on something they won’t end up liking or never using. While both are very reasonably priced, there is a large price difference between the two. The San Gabriel has an MSRP of $2,195, while the Grom prices in at $3,199, over one thousand dollars higher than the CSC. I didn’t buy my Grom new, though. I got it third-hand, and the price my dad paid for it used was about what the San Gabriel costs new.
Some parts on my bike are modified as well, so if you pick up one, it probably won't be quite like mine. The tires and exhaust on my Grom aren’t stock and Dad stuck on some mirrors that were originally from a Triumph.
Typically, motorcycles with a higher displacement cost more than those with a lower one. However, these two bikes stray from that pattern, even when comparing new to new. The Grom is a tiny, tiny motorcycle with a 124.9 cc single-cylinder engine.
It’s the kind of bike that should only be used in city streets or rural roads. Despite how much fun it is to ride, it’s not quite capable on the highway. The San Gabriel has a displacement of 229.5 cc, and, because it’s almost double that of the Grom, I rode it on the highway without issues.
After riding the Grom extensively for the past year, the fastest I’ve gone on a flat surface was 62 mph. That being said, I only weigh 120 pounds. The majority of riders (who likely outweigh me!) probably won't achieve the same top velocity on the Grom. To keep up with traffic on Pennsylvania freeways, you need to be able to ride just a tad above the speed limit in some scenarios, which the Grom won't do. The highest speed I hit on the San Gabriel was an impressive 75 mph (120.7 kmh). While the Grom is fun to ride to school, it can’t safely go highway speeds. The CSC, on the other hand, runs well on the freeway, and you’ll even be in the passing lane at times.
I will argue, however, that a slower bike such as the Grom is better for beginners. For all you newcomers to the motorcycle world, you might crash your bike a couple times. I sure did. When I first started riding, I crashed my bike while turning onto a gravel road. Yes, it hurt quite a bit and my leg took a while to heal, but I did not go to the hospital or really need any medical attention whatsoever (I was wearing a helmet as well. Make sure you always wear one when you’re on a bike.) If I had been travelling faster on a more powerful motorcycle, there’s a good chance my injuries would have been worse.
Upon analyzing the engines on both bikes, we see that they have different fuel delivery systems. Unlike the fuel-injected Grom, the San Gabriel has a carburetor, which helps keep the cost of the bike down, but it also comes with some drawbacks. Though carburetors are cheaper for the customer, they result in much higher emissions output. While testing the CSC, I rarely if ever used the choke — Dad said the bike's pilot circuit is probably running a little rich. If the low price of a carbureted machine appeals to you, keep in mind that later upgrading to a fuel injection makes no financial sense, so you’re stuck with the carburetor. If none of that makes any sense, here's the difference: On the Grom, you just hit the button and go. On the San Gabriel, you have to remember to open a little valve to let the gas flow and close it when you're done riding each time, and sometimes when it's cold you have to flip a little choke lever and remember to turn it off after the bike is running.
The motor is obviously the focal point of the machine, but motorcycles are a package of many parts. They are all subject to consideration. For example, parts you’ll interact with frequently with are the gauges. The most notable difference between the two is that the Grom has a digital cluster, while the CSC has an old-style cluster of round gauges. Furthermore, several traits I like about the Honda’s cluster are the clock, fuel gauge, and tachometer, complete with a redline to indicate the max engine speed.
When comparing those details to those on the San Gabriel, the most obvious issue to me was the lack of a redline on the tachometer. Old Fat Dad says that there is probably no redline because this is a generic tachometer produced by a separate company for CSC. The tach is also hilariously inaccurate. Here, see for yourself.
Dad says it reminds him of an old clunker with a bad ground, but this is a 2018 bike! While experienced riders will most likely know by ear when to shift gears, the presence of a redline helps novices know when to upshift.
On the other hand, my favorite quality about the CSC’s analog gauges was the inclusion of a gear position indicator. While on the road, many newer riders may get lost in the gears. It's reassuring to quickly be able to check what gear you are in if you've forgotten.
Though this is nice, I still believe the Grom’s cluster is superior, not only because of the inclusion of the redline, but also because it is simple to read. The CSC has a separate fuel gauge, tachometer, and speedometer, while on the Grom, all of these are in one spot. It can be overwhelming for new riders to focus on several gauges at once, so it is super helpful that the Honda simply has one screen for all of this information. It’s all very easy to read, and the incorporation of a clock is just the cherry on top.
In addition to the dashes, I want to mention the tires and kickstarter on the CSC. Firstly, the tires are cheaper than those on the Grom. The tires on the CSC don’t even have a brand name on them. The tread pattern on the tires makes them look like they’d be at home on one of Dad’s vintage motorcycles in the garage, but they are appropriate for a bike with cafe styling.
Another important detail about the tires on both bikes is the difference in diameter. The San Gabriel has 17 inch tires, while the Grom only has 12-inch tires — a huge difference! The larger tires on the CSC allow for better handling at higher speeds, while the small tires of the Grom allow for better control at lower speeds.
Something else you’d see on much older bikes is the aforementioned kickstarter. The fact that the San Gabriel has a kicker at all is very unique among street-legal 21st century motorcycles. Though some dirt bikes today still have kickstarters, the majority of street bikes don’t. It would be impressive if it actually worked on this bike. The kickstand and footpegs both sit in the way of the kickstarter, and it’s unfortunately very difficult, if not impossible, to start the bike by kicking it.
Let’s move on to the lighting. The Grom has LED tail lights and halogen headlight, but everything else is incandescent. While the San Gabriel also has a halogen headlight, its other lights are all LEDs.
The advantage of LEDs is that they consume less power than halogen and incandescent bulbs but produce lots of light. If you wanted to upgrade a Grom, you can purchase LED upgrades from Old Fat Dad at RevZilla. He needs to pay my tuition bill, so help the guy out.
The costs of buying and owning
Whether we're talking about buying parts or buying these two motorcycles themselves, a very important difference is that CSC does not have dealers in the United States. Everything, from parts to manuals to even entire motorcycles, is shipped right to the customer from the importer in Azusa, California. By comparison, there is a Honda dealer in just about every city in the country. This big difference means there are some other things you have to consider.
As I mentioned, money can be very tight, especially for new riders or teenagers such as myself. Like any other dealer, your local Honda dealer will charge a destination fee on top of the price of the motorcycle if you're buying a new Grom. That fee basically covers the cost of shipping the bike to the dealer. Rarely, if ever, will a dealer waive a destination charge. On the other hand, if you buy a motorcycle from CSC’s website, they have an "Assembly/Inspection/Ocean Transport Fee" of $345 but shipping to your house is free.
The story is the same for parts. If you need something for your Grom, you can go to your Honda dealer and they'll either have it on the shelf or can get it for you in a short time. If you need to purchase a part for your CSC bike that is specific to that motorcycle, you have to go to their website and order it there.
Of course once you get the parts you need, someone has to install them. Service is the biggest difference of all. If you're new to motorcycles like me, you're probably an inexperienced mechanic like me, too. If you like to work on your own bike, great. CSC offers the motorcycle’s service manual with color photos for free online.
Many motorcycle owners don’t want to work on their own bikes, however, especially new riders who are still learning. You'll have to find a local motorcycle shop that will do the work for you. The same applies to warranty issues. If something goes wrong during the warranty, CSC will pay a mechanic to fix it, but you have to find a shop willing to work on a bike they are unfamiliar with. I asked Old Fat Dad if he would accept paid work on a bike like this, and he didn’t even blink before saying, “NFW.” I think I know what that means.
When it comes down to it, it’s up to you, the rider, which of the two is better for you and your needs, and part of that depends on how you feel about being able to take care of your own maintenance and repairs. In terms of the riding experience, if you asked me, I would recommend the Grom for new riders because it’s a small sport-styled bike that is easy and fun to ride around in a local setting, while the classic café racer looks of the CSC San Gabriel appeal to many riders, I find it to be super uncomfortable to lean forward while riding. If you feel similarly, the CSC isn’t for you. The Grom, meanwhile, allows you to sit up while you ride.
Remember also that I’m comparing a used Grom to a brand new San Gabriel here, as well. You can pick up a Grom in good shape for about the same price you’d pay for a new CSC. While it lacks some of the features of the CSC and isn’t quite as powerful, I think you’ll have an easier time owning it. If a retro look is important to you, the Honda Monkey is an option (the retro version of the Grom). Sadly, it just came on the market and is pretty expensive, carrying an MSRP of $3,999.
The Grom’s easy to learn on and has higher quality in general, from the gauge cluster to the tires. Style is a personal preference that plays a crucial role for anyone buying a bike, but you can’t cast aside the technical underpinnings. The San Gabriel is made by a Chinese manufacturer almost unheard of in the United States, while the Grom is made by the largest motorcycle company in the world with worldwide support.
While the San Gabriel isn’t a bad novice bike, the Grom has so much more to offer for new riders and wins my recommendation.