Cleveland Cyclewerks hasn’t been around that long; they first started attracting attention when their made-in-China chopper, dubbed Tha Heist, appeared on the market back around 2010.
Since then they’ve expanded their line up with a couple of other bikes based on that machine’s air-cooled single-cylinder motor (a 229 cc motor that appears to be have its origins in Honda’s CG125 powerplant). Now they have a cafe racer (called Tha Misfit) and a standard (called Tha Ace).
For a while that seemed to be what CCW were going to be about, but in the spring of this year, one of their distributors started showing off photos of a new 450 dual-sport to be called Tha Hooligan, which was recently confirmed by CCW.
According to CCW founder Scott Colosimo, the bike’s genesis came when a Chinese manufacturer was trying to finalize their design and asked CCW to come on board and help them finish developing the machine. Once that process was done, Colossimo says, his company decided to brand and sell the bikes themselves.
The bike boasts specs equal to its competitors; liquid-cooled motor, aluminum frame, USD fully adjustable forks and even a kickstarter (remember those) to back up the electric boot. For a while now, Colosimo has been saying he wanted to build a machine with performance to equal the Japanese machines, and this is his company’s move in that direction.
Just before this year’s Mad Bastard Scooter Rally, I had a chance to pop into Cleveland Cyclewerks’ offices and hop on the new 450 cc supermoto for a day, to get first crack at the bike. Granted, that’s not as extensive a test as we would have liked, but it gave me an idea of what the 450 thumper is capable of.
The bike was very close to what will come on the Canadian market – a few things like tires may change, but the rest of it is basically what will be on showroom floors.
Supermotos started off as dirt bikes with street rubber, and that’s what the Hooligun rides like, which is both good and bad.
The 450 cc motor is geared more towards urban hooliganism than the highway, where it will top out around 85 mph and get pretty buzzy as you pick up speed. It’s also got a small eight-litre fuel tank (although CCW will also have a bigger fuel tank available) and the seat shows its dirt bike heritage – it feels like a padded plank. And, since no self-respecting supermoto rider would have a windshield, there’s a lot of windblast at highway speeds, same as any other naked bike.
Keep it around town, though, and when you take off from a stoplight, you feel that the front wheel is pleading for a chance to rise above the pavement, if you’d only just scoot your butt back on the seat a few inches. See a curb you want to hop? Done. Is the law chasing you now, necessitating a quick U-turn? No problem, amigo. Err, to go back and find out what the officer wants, of course …
The bike I rode was carbureted, but CCW is working to add fuel injection. I did find I had to open the throttle more than I expected when letting the clutch out; thanks to EPA regs, the Hooligun doesn’t have the snap at smaller throttle openings that I would have expected.
Of course, that’s the sort of thing many owners can tweak. There’s a lot more power available out of this motor, if a non-environmentally-friendly owner wanted to get rid of the power sapping EPA add-ons.
Although the motor felt pretty usable, the five-speed gearbox didn’t feel as affirmative on as its Japanese counterparts, especially on downshifts, and it took me a while to get used to shifting to neutral from first – requiring more effort than I’d expect.
Thanks to its light weight (264 lbs/120 kg dry) and wide bars, the machine is extremely maneuverable. It feels like you’re riding an off-road bike, but instead of dodging trees and bushes, you’re whipping between traffic cones and around pot holes.
The front USD forks are adjustable for rebound and compression, but the test bike I rode had the adjusters disabled, as the shop tech wanted to retain the machine’s settings. The rear shock is adjustable for preload and compression damping; I wouldn’t have minded fiddling with it a bit to see if I could take off the edge of some of Cleveland’s larger potholes, but alas, time did not allow.
The 240 mm front and rear discs slow you down efficiently. There are no funky fake ABS cylinders, as so often seen on other Chinese bikes; of course, most supermoto riders wouldn’t want ABS anyway. The brake lines are braided stainless steel, not cheap rubber units.
I only had a day aboard the Hooligun, and the majority of it was around-town riding through Cleveland. This is the bike’s natural environment, but I did manage to get to a few short miles of twisties in a local park. The bike took to these backroad corners naturally, handling as light as a 250 through the curves, but with much more grunt.
Fit and finish were superior to any other Chinese bike I’ve ridden – the plastics are dyed, so if you scuff your bodywork, you’re not left with big white scratches. The dash is limited to just a speedometer and tripmeter, both of which can be changed from miles to kilometres at the press of a button.
As with any Chinese bike, pricing is going to play a major part in this machine’s market success. At around $6,000, the Hooligun’s closest competitor, the Suzuki DR-Z 400SM, is about $1,700 more (priced at $7,699 in Canada), but hasn’t really changed much since its introduction in 2005.
Furthermore, if Colosimo follows through with his plan to assemble the bikes in Cleveland, they’ll likely shed a little of that made-in-China stigma, as he should be able to keep a handle on quality control.
He’s also working on a dual-sport version of this machine, and since the chassis has been designed in a modular fashion, it would be easy for him to build other street-based designs around this platform as well. I saw some design mockups for a pretty aggressive street bike while I was there, which would certainly interest a lot of people if it came to market.
He isn’t really planning on making these his company’s main line anyway (the 230s seem to be his main focus); telling me that he aims to sell 1,000 to 1,500 of these bikes annually.
If they prove reliable in the long run, who knows where that number could grow to? One thing’s for sure, during my day’s ride, an awful lot of people took a moment to stop and admire the bike’s lines.
At time of posting, the Hooligun is tied up in EPA regulations at the moment, but it should be available in the Canadian market sometime in 2014. There will be aftermarket parts available for the machine at some point as well, including aluminum hubs and some carbon-fibre and magnesium bits.
A Quick Factory Tour
When I picked up the Hooligun at CCW’s headquarters, I naturally asked for the grand tour.
The company’s HQ is a pretty neat place – it sits in a re-purposed rubber-and-steel factory, a leftover building from the days when Cleveland was an industrial powerhouse.
The whole building oozes gritty DIY character. You’d really think you were visiting a back-alley chop shop.
Inside, there’s some retail space at the front of the building, where you can buy CCW parts or a T-shirt. In front of the counter, there are two CCW bikes that Colossimo used to set land-speed records (small capacity class of course), as well as his customized BSA chopper, complete with GSX-R USD forks and brakes … obviously, the people who work at this shop worship at the temple of DIY speed.
I couldn’t resist a quick ride on CCW’s Misfit café racer, either. I only had time for a quick spin around a few nearby city blocks, but I was very impressed with this quarter-litre charmer. The engine is far smoother than any other made-in-China 250 I’ve ridden, without any obnoxious mechanical noise.
The brakes were slightly stiff (but not as bad as another made-in-the-USA large-displacement cruiser I recently rode, with a price tag about $14,000 higher!), but overall, I was surprised at how much fun this bike was.
The bike was fitted with one of CCW’s aftermarket exhausts, but there are many other trick bits available for the machine too, including performance heads, jet kit and race carb; there are more fun parts on the way, including upgraded brakes and even a big-bore kit from Wiseco.
Everything about the place, and their bikes, has that old-school, hands-on ethic that has been sadly missing from motorcycles lately. Yes, the bikes are manufactured in China, but if Colosimo is to believed, the CCW badge will ensure the much needed quality control. CCW certainly has the right attitude, the rest is up to the customer.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
|Bike||Cleveland Cyclewerks Tha Hooligun|
|Engine type||liquid-cooled, single-cylinder, SOHC, four-stroke|
|Power (crank)*||43.5 hp @ 7,000 rpm|
|Torque*||42.5 Nm @ 6,500 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||Eight litres|
|Brakes, front||single 240 mm disc, two-piston caliper|
|Brakes, rear||single 240 mm disc, single-piston caliper|
|Seat height||960 mm|