The CSC TT250: Smiles per Gallon

The CSC TT250 review. The background to my decision to get a TT250 is here.

I’d put on around one-thousand miles on the CSC TT250 as the first green spots started to emerge on the the Pennsylvania woodlands. The bike held up well over Winter, and between the endless rain and salt, winter is a harsh environment for machinery. I’d gambled on the TT250 being a dependable winter warrior, and thus far it has done well. It’s surely a sign that I often choose to ride the bike on my commute over my Ninja 300.

The Good

The TT250 is a well-made bike. The finish is excellent; the frame shows little aggravation from the ravages of winter, though I was decidely liberal with my application of anti-corrosion ACF-50 spray. Some fasteners inevitably dulled, but this is no different from my Kawasaki (which I rode through last winter) and generally speaking I am pleasantly surprised how durable this bike is.

Cold and wet: The TT250 in Winter commuting duty
Cold and wet, a typical morning commute for the TT250.
TT250 Engine after a typical winter commute
The warpaint of a typical winter commute

The engine, an air-cooled 229cc single, is absolutely superb. There’s only around sixteen horses, and about 18nm of torque at 5.5k rpm, but there’s more to it than the numbers. The power band is sweet, and considering it’s a relatively unsophisticated single, it’s very smooth. Western Pennsylvania is not short of hills, and the engine deals with everything with little complaint. I average about 55-60mpg, but this figure has increased over engine break-in, and includes my commute which is terrible for fuel economy.

Once I got my carburetor dialed in (I fitted an aftermarket Mikuni VM26 clone, commonly available on Ebay) the engine started with little hesitation in temperatures right down to 17F. The stock carb was satisfactory, if a little hard-starting when cold, propably due to lean jetting, and by ‘cold’ I mean less than 40F. I chose an aftermarket carb to allow more adjustment should I fit an exhaust system, and the carbs are as cheap as chips. Tuning them is a pain in the arse, but there’s plenty of help at Chinariders if you get stuck.

Stock gearing is 17/50, which isn’t too bad, but if you’re riding mainly on the street I would pick 17/47, which is less hectic at 55mph. Apropos of top speed, you could take this bike on the freeway, but I wouldn’t, unless traffic truly moved around 50-60mph. It’s superb as a back road basher, and absolutely devours city pavement. CSC offer a 49 tooth rear sprocket as an option, and I did actually purchase one, but after researching the forum and the ever useful Gearing Commander site, I went with fitting a 47.

The five-speed gearbox is smooth and precise, but you must ensure you allow the gear lever the full range of movement – that was new to me and before I got used to it I suffered the occasional missed shift.

The TT250's engine
229cc of fun

The tyres are seemingly generic dual-purpose ‘knobblies’. Conventional wisdom says you should get rid of them and fit some rubber from one of the big brands that you trust.

Don’t.

They are quite simply fantastic road tyres, within the performance envelope of the bike. I have ridden these on soaking wet roads, on gravel and salt, on roads with a film of mud on them, and they have been absolutely marvelous. I have taken them on mud and grass, and they’ve been wonderful, confidence-building tyres every step of the way. When the weather is crap, I will take the TT250 because I know I can trust those tyres. By comparison, my lightweight sportbike with Michelin Pilot Street 4 has excellent traction wet or dry, but as soon as the road surface has any artefacts like gravel or mud, it’s terrifying; see this gif as an example of what mud and a wet road can do:

Looking at the wear rate, I’m not sure I’ll get much more than 2000 miles out of the rear, but I think that is reasonable for a general-purpose tyre that will do asphalt and any off-road riding the bike is capable of.

tt250 after some off-roading 1
tt250 after some off-roading 2
The TT250 after some fun on a muddy forest trail.

The TT250 is exceedingly comfortable in stock form; I’m 6’3″ and around 210lbs, and the rider triangle is pretty much perfect for me. I didn’t realise how cramped I am on my Ninja until I started riding the TT250 frequently. The stock seat is very comfy. I haven’t ridden the bike that far, but on many weekends I’ll routinely spend a couple of hours riding pretty hard, with no discomfort.

Handling is superb; really very, very good. It feels at times like a giant mountain bike. It’s very easy to hold a line, and turn-in is sharp, perhaps not surprising on a bike so light. Off road (I am by no means experienced here) the light weight and easy manners translate into a stable, well-mannered platform. The bike encourages you to have fun, and this really is the strength of a dual sport. On some back roads and see an open trail, or a gravel road? What about that nasty looking back road? Go check it out. It’s great.

Here’s some video of me riding the TT250 on its second day in my possession around the wet roads near home:

The Bad.

I’ll say up front these are minor gripes, but it would be remiss not to mention them, lest people think I’m taking money from CSC (I wouldn’t do that of course. Though if they wanted to, I’d accept an RX3…:D )

The brakes are well put-together. You get steel-braided lines (I don’t even have those on my Ninja!) and lever feel is firm, but if you’re giving them a workout (for example: aggresive riding on downhill twisties) and it’s a hot day, they can fade pretty quickly. Not an issue if you’ve trained yourself to use both brakes, but if you’re heavy on the front brake only (like a prototypical supersport rider), they’ll fade. They do recover rapidly. Of course, all bikes will do this to a degree, but it’s more pronounced on my TT250 for sure. My front rotor has also had a little runout from day one, and I think I will be replacing it soon as I believe it’s getting worse.

TT250 rear brake assembly
The brake system is well made, but don’t expect to be able to push it like a sportbike without some fade

The clutch isn’t great. I have probably been a little spoilt by the Ninja 300’s clutch, which is just superb. The TT250’s clutch is durable enough, and I suspect it’s a consequence of uprating the clutch to cope with the 229cc’s higher torque (the original CG was 125cc) but once the engine is up to temp, it can be a grabby, snatchy affair until you get used to it. I struggled for a while to get the lever adjustment right and actually ordered a replacement clutch cable, as I wasn’t certain mine hadn’t prematurely stretched too much. In fact, the adjustment is very particular and in my case is better done with the engine warmed; setting it while cold will result in very slight drag once the engine is warm.

These issues won’t present themselves most rides, but if you’re in stop-go traffic on a warm day, the clutch pack’s tight packaging and air-cooled character of the motor will begin to make themselves known. Get used to fighting a little bit to get neutral, and I’d recommend 15w40 synthetic (once you’re past break-in) if you’re running the bike in a city during summer.

The Ugly.

Everything here is a function of where I live, and the fact that I ride my bikes whatever the weather. Except ice and snow. Sometimes even then. I’m British, after all, and we’re a bit daft like that.

The wheels look great, but the spokes aren’t stainless and it’s a fight to keep the weather off them. At some point I will probably replace them with stainless spokes (the rims seem fine), of course, this will cost, but it’s a function of the climate here, and I need something that will take the weather a little better. I don’t think this will be an issue for any owners that aren’t in the rust belt and ride all year round.

I did strip one of the sprocket carrier bolt holes when swapping the sprocket out; I suspect this was because they were very tight from the factory. It was a straightforward repair, but I’ve read of a couple of other instances of this on the Chinariders forum. The bolts are hard, M10x1.25 steel and the hub is pretty soft; I think studs might have been a better choice. Still, if you potter about with bikes, this isn’t unknown by any means.

Also – and this is by no means an uncommon problem on most OEM fitment using steel pipes – the stock exhaust header is looking worse for wear, and I will probably replace it soon with a stainless system, but this is a largely cosmetic concern.

Is it worth it?

Unreservedly. You really can’t go wrong, and I’m looking forward to many more adventures on the bike, especially now the good weather is here. Put it another way, I’m strongly considering an RX3 Cyclone as my next bike, possibly as a replacement for the Ninja. That’s my faith in the company’s product.

Cheating on my girl with a pair of Italian supermodels

In this part of the world, test riding bikes isn’t easy. The bar to a ‘M’ endorsement is low, and there are no restrictions. A novice rider can get their learner’s permit and hop on a 180hp, 1000cc bike the same day. Yes, they’ll probably hurt themselves. There’s a good example of this from Laurie Jennifer’s Youtube Channel:

I’m assuming – though I am not certain – this is the reason most dealers do not offer test rides; An absurdity given that you might be spending North of ten-thousand dollars. However, manufacturers do run demonstration days where they will rock up in a trailer full of $CURRENT_YEAR models and let you have a ride around in a group. It’s better than nothing, but be sceptical of ‘reviews’ on YouTube (and fuck me, there are loads) based on these rides; they’re simply not long enough for anyone to really learn much about a bike.

Back in July, Ducati ran one of these demo weekends at a local dealership. I’ve never been particularly interested in the brand; the fierce ownership cost and tricky servicing is quite enough to put me off, they are however extraordinarily beautiful bikes, and I definitely wanted to ride their 959 Panigale supersport.

The PanigalePhoto by me

On their booking sheet I’d chosen the Panigale and the naked Monster 1200, as these were the categories I was interested in.  The supersport/superbike class is highly aspirational among novice sport bike riders, and there’s considerable debate in their suitability for the street for they are – to use the formal classification – stupidly fucking fast. The first time on a supersport is lightheartedly seen as a rite of passage for the new rider, i.e. me. The stereotype is well covered in this video…

I, however, am too old for the hype. I just wanted to ride it and see what it was like. I knew it would be quick; it possesses around four times the power of my Ninja 300, and weighs only a little more. Frankly I wasn’t particularly intimidated by it; I had around 9000 miles under my belt at this point and wasn’t worried about riding it; ultimately, it’s just another bike, but jeepers, look at that thing.

20160716_130934Photo by me

Hopping on, the bike immediately felt very light; similar to my own. The supersport seating position is awkward – your feet are back and high, and you feel like you’re on all fours looking over the front wheel. It’s no doubt exacerbated by my height, most of which is in my legs. It makes sense once you start turning the bike, but you have to make a great effort to keep the weight off your wrists. What surprised me about the Panigale is that for a thoroughbred it’s extraordinarily easy to ride. The fueling is very smooth and the clutch action easy; and quite contrary to expectations the bike feels completely stable poodling around a parkling lot at crawling speed. It is steady. Throttle response was gentle but precise, and the bike never stopped pulling at any speed, but I rarely got a chance to really push it. I didn’t love the gearbox, but it was a hot day, it had probably had a hammering, and I found neutral only about a third of the occasions I wanted it, and a number of times I didn’t. The brakes were terrific, needing only a very light pull, but not intimidating at all.

The Author looking downwards, probably trying to figure out how to cancel the turn signal. Photo by Ducati’s marketing bod, whose name escapes me. Sorry.

The route for the test ride took us on a familiar road which happens to have a sequence of very good corners, so I had at least some basis of comparison. At this point I realised the danger of such a bike; it was so effortless to hold a line that you just want to go faster and faster. Likewise the bike felt so comfortable leaned over that I wondered if it was designed to sleep on its side. Just as I felt like I was starting to get used to it, we had to go back.

After a drink, the world’s most expensive gyro, and some surgery to take the smile off my face, it was time for the Monster. I’ve always liked the Monster, they’re extremely cool, and I was looking forward to trying this one despite feeling it was a lot more engine than I thought I’d ever want. Again, a gorgeous machine in a rather different way to the Panigale; all alloy muscletone and sinewy detail.

20160716_150544Photo by me

I thought it looked pretty chunky, but this is an illusion that completely disappears once you sit on it, where once again it feels as light as a feather, and very, very comfortable. Like a living room chair, albeit one that’s one fire while hurtling through Hades. The heat kicked out by the v-twin on this hot day was brutal, and I would not want to be sitting in commuter traffic in similar conditions.

Once underway, the 1200 wasn’t quite as refined as the Panigale, nor is it meant to be. I needed more time with the bike to get used to the throttle, which was fly-by-wire and smooth enough, but The torque was awesome, and I use that word advisedly. Ever walked a pair of strong dogs and felt they could get away from you if you dropped your guard? That.

Bowman and the Monster 1200
The Monster 1200’s torque is not to be taken lightly
 

I knew the throttle feel was just a matter of familiarity and muscle memory but above all, this thing was fun. I wanted to spend all day on it and ride my favourite roads. Shifting about on the seat was easy, and while the steering wasn’t quite as point-and-click as the Panigale, the bike still made me feel very confident. The nature of the engine made it feel like a scooter on steroids; I just stuck it in third gear and left if there for most of the ride. Twist and bloody well go!

Despite having far more power than I’m familiar with, while neither bike was frightening, this was the most obvious sensation for me. Gearing was less important on the street, but having to watch throttle inputs while at rest and under braking was a new experience; the slightest hiccup could cause a small surge in power. The other surprise was ride quality. Both bikes beat the shit out of my Ninja when dealing with Pittsburgh’s dire city roads. For the Monster I expected this, but the fact the Panigale also managed it was impressive to me. I’d expected a supersport to break my back, whereas it was a bit of a magic carpet. The Ninja, on her skinny tyres feels every little bump.

At the end of the ride, it was time to hop back on the Ninja 300 and go home. Afterward, a friend asked me if I still loved my bike after riding two bikes with far more power and better…well, everything. Conventional wisdom says test rides are usually ruinous for your relationship with your current ride. I think the truth is, you’ll always desire more. Power in particular, is addictive. There are a couple of circumstances where I’ve wanted more grunt out of my bike, and eventually I won’t be happy until I have it.

For the moment, however, the kind of riding I do, my bike is nigh-on perfect. If I had a full weekend with a different bike I may feel differently, but after a forty minute ride, it barely qualifies as a holiday romance.