Cool Thrifty Motorcycles Canadians Can’t Get

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COVID is having an impact on many businesses and industries; its true magnitude will be no doubt be felt for years to come. In the short term, dual-sport motorcycles and ATVs are flying off showroom floors at an unprecedented rate to the point where some manufacturers and dealers have simply run out of inventory. Another trend is beginning to creep into the North American market: increased interest in small displacement motorcycles.

A reluctance to take public transportation or use ride sharing services due to social distancing concerns have resulted in the search for inexpensive transportation solutions. KTM recently announced that they were bringing the Duke 200 to Canada, but there are so many other cool motorcycles that we aren’t fortunate enough to get north of the 49th parallel. The reasons for this are varied and plenty.

Bikes like the Yamaha MT-03 and Honda Rebel 300 are all well and good, but riders in search of something distinctive and unique will be left wanting something of their own that they won’t see at the local bike night. Our neighbours down south have quite a few more options than us Canadians. Granted our smaller population, shorter riding season and the less than favourable exchange rate at the moment all create limitations, but we could still all benefit from a little more choice.

We’ve compiled a selection of five small displacement motorcycles that have caught our attention. They may not have approval to be sold here, nor may it be financially feasible for the manufacturers in question to meet all of the required regulations, but hey, we can still dream.

5) Cleveland Cyclewerks (CCW) Misfit Gen. II
Displacement: 250cc
Price: $3,700 USD

Background:
Cleveland Cyclewerks (CCW) is a scrappy little motorcycle company that opened its doors in 2009 with a selection of bikes all based around their Chinese-import (Honda clone) 250 cc single. Three road models were available: The Ace, The Misfit, and the Heist (which has become a cult favourite in Thailand, where it’s called the “Iron One”). They became available for a short period in Canada between 2010-2016ish and then vanished, no longer having dealer support or Transport Canada approval for new models. This was a shame because their bikes were really awesome in concept: simple, classically designed motorcycles for people looking to customize on a budget. CCW even had a full line of aftermarket parts in their “Cleveland Speed Shop” that offered customers options to upgrade carbs, exhausts, handlebars, – the whole shebang! Tough competition by the big names took them out of the market, since they could offer similarly priced machines with sterling solid reputations. Negative press reviews didn’t help. The public wasn’t ready to forgive, and their sales dwindled- forcing them to look overseas in markets that appreciated small displacement bikes with attitude. Thanks to this they have made a revival, re-releasing the Misfit, and even offering an electric called the Falcon.

Details:
The Misfit Gen. II stuck with the tried and tested kick/electric start 250 cc thumper that has 15.4 hp and 11.8 lb-ft. of torque. The Misfit Gen. 2 gets 2.9 L/100 km (80 mpg), and a claimed top speed of over 137 km/h (85 mph) which punches above its weight in this list. It keeps the air-cooled and carburated setup as before, but also a host of new bits: upside-down forks, a beautifully sculpted tank, drilled dual wave-rotors, and a crisp tachometer with speedo and fuel gauge mounted front and centre on the handlebars. The bike stays light and is perfect for new riders. Weighing 154 kg (340 lbs) with a 77 cm (30.5-in) seat height, it’s manageable and low. And if you want to customize it even more, the Speedshop is still open!

4) California Scooter Company (CSC) San Gabriel/SG
Displacement: 230cc
Price: $1,995 USD

Background:
Coming in fourth place is the thrifty buyer’s special! No, you did not read that MSRP incorrectly. This bike comes in much lower than its competitors but is equipped with a surprising number of goodies. California Scooter Company started selling motorcycles around 2009 when they revived an old design called the Mustang. This 150 cc mini-chopper was a throwback design from the 1950s that actually ended up having big sales. What helped those sales is a unique motorcycle delivery service that ships your purchase to your front door anywhere in the USA at next to nothing. This got the company on the map and they started offering a wider lineup that included 250 cc adventure and street bikes.

Details:
The “San Gabriel” aka SG250 is the newest addition to the CSC stable after going on sale in 2019. Weighing only 124 kg (273 lb), the café-inspired motorcycle comes in four colours, with a new-for-CSC 230 cc counterbalanced, carburated OHV single. This engine was designed for “minimal maintenance” according to their website. It boasts 3.6 L/100 km (65 mpg) fuel economy and a top speed over 113 km/h (70 mph). Kick or electric start will never leave you stranded, and dual disc brakes with upside down front forks (new for 2020) will keep you comfortable navigating city streets or happily carving up tight, twisty roads. Online reviews have been positive and the company has dabbled with selling bikes in Canada (yes, shipped to your front door). Unfortunately, this bargain priced café racer isn’t available here, but with other models available and approved here I don’t see it being a huge hurdle. As a first or second bike, the price and look is unbeatable. Come on, CSC give us a chance!

3) Genuine Scooter Company G400C
Displacement: 397cc
Price: $4,599 USD

Background:
Genuine Scooter Company is perhaps the “classiest” of the bunch, offering a robust lineup of both modern and retro styles scooters on their very user-friendly website. Genuine was founded in 2002 and has had a few hits, most notably the Genuine Stella 150 Classic which was a copy of the 1980s Vespa PX125s down to the manual four-speed grip shift, but add 25 cubic centimetres of displacement. These were produced by LML (as the Star 150) in India, then imported and rebadged as Genuine Stellas. Those were also available in Canada until they were discontinued in 2013.

Details:
Fast forward to 2019 and Genuine decided that they wanted to offer customers a little more, with it’s debut motorcycle, the G400C. Five speeds, four valves, 397 cubic centimetres of displacement and dual exhaust makes one happy engine that can achieve 3.9 L/100 km (60 mpg) and reach 129 km/h (80 mph) top speeds. A simple design all around, with a single disc up front and drum rear brakes, this bike is a modern take on a classic UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle). Weighing 160 kg (353 lb) with a 79 cm (31-in), this no-nonsense bike is begging to be customized.

2) SYM Wolf CR300i
Displacement: 278cc
Price: $4,999 USD

Background:
Sanyang Motor Co. (SYM) is no stranger to Canadian customers, competing in the small bike/scooter market for over 10 years now. This high-quality Taiwanese manufacturer got its start producing motorcycles for Honda in the 1970’s and actually was born out of the purchase of old Honda CB125 design rights. This bike is now known as the SYM Wolf Classic 150 which adds 25 ccs, ceramic coated cylinders and a cooler paint job, but keeps all the classic swag like air-cooling, carburation, centre stand, kick and electric start. You can buy that bike in Canada, but that’s not what we are talking about today. Today, we are talking about the absolutely gorgeous, stronger, younger, fresher bigger sibling that was let loose in the USA in 2019. We are talking about the SYM Wolf CR300i, arguably the most beautiful bike in the 300 cc class, be it classic or modern.

Details:
The Wolf CR300i gets a fuel-injected, liquid cooled 278 cc engine and six gears, allowing it a top speed of over 137 km/h (85 mph) while also getting 2.7 L/100km (85 mpg). This mill is by far the most advanced in the category, with a ceramic coated cylinder, reversed balanced shaft and four valves. The instrument panel is clean and beautiful, and the colour options are all gorgeous. The Wolf CR300i gets the best brakes in this list too, and ABS comes standard. The styling remains truly unique to SYM and gets classic cues from café racers. SYM achieved a home run with this bike when it aimed to create a classic-looking bike with some modern technology. Oh, it also only weighs 176 kg (388 lb) and has an 80 cm (31.4-inch) seat height. With all of the good reviews and seemingly decent build quality, you get your money’s worth with this SYM.

1) SSR Buccaneer Café /Classic
Displacement: 250cc
Price: $3,599 USD (Café) / $3499 USD (Classic)

Background:
SSR was founded in 2002 and started out importing Chinese ATVs and pit bikes. They recently stepped up their game, and in 2015 began dealing Benelli motorcycles (also a Chinese company now) along with an inexpensive and aggressively styled street bike line. The brand has generated a for building great looking bikes at even better prices. The SSR Buccaneer refuses to run with the pack, just like it’s obvious muse, the Moto Guzzi V7 Racer. Only the V7 costs $12,000 CDN.

Details:
The Buccaneer 250 comes in two variants: Classic and Café. The Café comes with a trick paint job, a rear seat cowl, and lower handlebars. The engine is an air-cooled, fuel-injected 250 cc 60-degree V-Twin based off the Yamaha Virago engine. The benefit of that extra cylinder is a claimed top speed of over 145 kmh (90 mph). The brakes are equipped with braided lines and slotted discs front and rear. Budget suspension keeps it feeling like a classic, while the number plate makes you feel like a real cafe racer from days of old.

We’re all individuals, and the motorcycles we ride represent a need to express ourselves. The aforementioned motorcycles may not be better than the ones already offered here and will be more expensive when you add the cost to import, and convert to Canadian funds, but you always want what you can’t have. The US market is far bigger and offers more buying power, but maybe one day some of these bikes will make their way across the border.

28 COMMENTS

  1. (SYM) Why buy a motorcycle from a company that you cant even buy brake rebuild kit from ? you have to buy the whole brake . I remember MY citycom 300 and outside of the engine it was made to price point and some things were cheapest of cheap. I sold THE POS since the wiring loom end up giving me issues . 1 Dealer in all of BC canada . I talked to one dealership whom loved the wolf 150 but guess what they drop SYM because they couldn’t get parts in Canada. SYM importer in Canada doesn’t support there products much
    The stuff I want will not make to canada but is in the USA eg the honda passport or ADV 150.

  2. If there’s no dealer network or reliable parts supply, this whole deal is an exercise in futility.
    Royal Enfield is a case in point – great new bikes at realistic prices but the pipeline is scant.
    I want to buy an INT650, but until I know I can get a clutch cable when I need it I’ll wait.
    When the Japanese manufacturers came to North America in the early 1960s they knew that and worked hard to establish credibility.

  3. A good way to see if people are engaged with your site is to put forward something outside the realm of debatable. The above mentioned two wheeled items are of poor quality and near zero resale value. Sane people would for the same or slightly more money purchase a quality product from a Japanese company, even if produced in a third world environment.

    • Check out the reviews in the US and you might be surprised. Just because a product comes from China does not make it garbage, Japanese manufacturers had to prove themselves over years of doubters too. As I said earlier, brand reputation does not come overnight. I appreciate the read, and I’m glad to see so much discussion about it!

    • I would agree resale value could pretty sh#t because the lingering opinions on Chinese made motorcycles from those who haven’t done the research, but do some research and many of those mainland Chinese bikes have come a very long way in a very short time. The reliability of the Taiwanese bikes aren’t even debatable, they’ve had a great reputation for years. I still meet people in the 21st century that don’t know the difference between Taiwan and mainland China. Those people are a lost cause. If your world view is that narrow in the information age, you want to live in the early 20th century or you’re developmentally disabled.

      The politics of buying a Chinese motorcycle is a different argument altogether.

    • Agreed! The SR400 is absolutely beautiful and without a doubt a fine quality product. I’m sure plenty of riders would consider it if available here too!

      • “Agreed! The SR400 is absolutely beautiful and without a doubt a fine quality product. I’m sure plenty of riders would consider it if available here too!”

        How many would you consider plenty – 25 ?

  4. You’re joking, right? Factor in the exchange rate on some of these bikes and they surpass or come real close to the price of some of their (proven) Japanese, Austrian and German counterparts. G310 $5,500CDN, three year warranty; KTM Duke 200, $4,599, two year warranty; Honda CB500F, $6,549 with current factory rebate — the CB300R is even less expensive; Kawasaki Z400, $5,999; Yamaha MT-03, $5,899.

    All of the aforementioned brands are proven, have a ready parts supply, an established dealer network – even though it’s dwindling due to online sales – and proper engineering behind them, all factors that will make a beginning rider’s experience much easier. Only Suzuki is lagging behind in offering entry-level bikes, though even the GSX250R, at $4,899 and TU250X at $4,499, are safer bets than any of these boutique bikes.

    And since I’m comparing prices, I’m not even factoring in the added cost of homologating all of these off-brand bikes for Canada.

    • Costa thanks so much for the read! I’ve been a reader of your content for some time and I appreciate the feedback. The market does have some excellent offerings from the major makes, but these bikes offer more than just a reasonable price point.

      The above list highlights the unique styles and approaches to the age old challenge of being an underdog company with fewer resources than the big ones; and their answer is starting by creating beautiful looking bikes and then working down the list. I also want to mention most if not all of the engine choices were based off japanese clone engines with reliable reputations. Tons of part availability, and in some cases assembly lines haven’t stopped producing parts since the designs were owned by Yamaha/Honda etc.

      Understandably many people like going with the flow and sticking with the major companies, due to the sterling solid reputations and reliable dealer network. But remember the reputations of the big ones like Honda were earned, and not overnight. All companies have to start somewhere, and this tenacious bunch has chosen classic lines and beauty as its weapon.

    • Well, think about how Honda was also known to be unreliable and not a “known brand”. They had to work for decades to become the brand that they are today, just like so many other companies. Obviously bigger companies have quality bikes and I understand the importance of that, but I don’t think that’s the point of the article. It’s to emphasize the fact that even with the limited resources and money that these companies have, they are still able to make these smaller nifty bikes and have more leeway to be creative with them. Bigger companies that you have mentioned like Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Yamaha have to make motorcycles in large quantities and are pressured to make bikes that fit a certain look. It works for them; however, smaller companies can produce more diverse artistic bikes that you won’t be able to find in other companies. It’s about the look and it’s a shame that people who would appreciate them here in Canada aren’t given the opportunity to ride them.

  5. This was such a great read and article! I knew that in Canada we have the main big motorcycle brands but I didn’t realize how many just aren’t available here. I think my top pick would be the Genuine Stella 150 Classic – I love the whole look! These bikes are such great finds and hopefully we’ll be able to ride them one day

  6. Aging riders and a nation known for being frugal, I often wondered why small bike ownership hasn’t taken off in Canada? Ego, I guess.

    • I think we just have a different mentality here…few people actually use motorcycles as a legitimate commuter alternative and there’s always that “bigger is better” philosophy that discriminates against smaller bikes. It took a global pandemic to change that mentality after all. When COVID-19 eventially subsides, I predict those small displacement-impulse purchase bikes will be consigned to the back of the garage or flood the used market.

      • Flooding the used market could be a good thing if the bikes are reliable. Used good condition inexpensive bikes could result in a wave of new riders.

  7. The fact the article keeps mentioning brand X Y or Z was in Canada but left likely draws to a close the argument for any of these mentioned. A few enthusiast types might say they’ll buy one but sales volumes during the prior test marketing says otherwise.

    • Thanks for the read GT! I understand your view; the market here is hard fought with excellent products being offered by the big makes. In the article I hoped to highlight the creativity and risks these companies take with their designs as well as their success in the US market. I did personally own a 2013 SYM Wolf 150 classic (which is still available here) and it far exceeded my expectations in quality, fit and finish. If given the opportunity to own the 300, I’d probably have one too!

  8. I hope by the time my 08’ Scarabeo 200 kicks the bucket that there will be greater options in Canada at the 125-200CC level.

    • I hope so too, and thanks for the read! I’ll be doing my best to stay in touch with the manufacturers in case any updates happen. Fingers crossed!

      • I need you to use your magic powers to get the Honda CT125 here. Although if the USD crashes it may be worth a canadian’s time to jump through the hoops of buying and importing from States.

        • Well said! With today’s economy, I like to believe anything is possible. Remember the big 2008 crash? We had some of the coolest bikes start making their way over right after, and I’m hoping the same thing happens after this covid thing. I am working to get in touch with the distributors and will keep you posted!! (There have been rumors of Genuine Scooter Co. considering coming back to Canada but nothing confirmed yet)

    • Interesting pick! First time I’ve heard of it, and it looks great (why not slap that engine in the cbr or neo cb, Honda?). On another retro revival, have you heard of the Jawa 350 OHC Special? It’s a beauty

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