It’s quarter after eight, and the sun cuts through the trees onto a secluded back road still damp from the first real frosts of the season. I’d be enjoying this more if I wasn’t secluded-back-roadside with the CSC SG250 and a flat tire from a screw, 25 miles from work. I put the bike on its center stand, pulled off my helmet, and started making a mental list of people who could get me out of this beautiful jam.
Two days earlier, Lance suggested that we get some more miles on our SG250. With Spurgeon’s video and article wrapped up, it was time to start putting real miles on the micro machine. I snagged the keys for a one tank review.
First impressions: This motorcycle rides as small as it looks. I’ve called the Ninja 250 a seven-eighths-scale motorcycle, and the SG250 is like three-fourths scale. With the SG’s smallness comes lightness. Just 273 pounds wet, claims CSC. Wheeling the bike out of ZLA’s motor pool as I geared up for my first ride was easier than almost any motorcycle we’ve had.
It’s small, it’s light, it’s cheap… you already knew all this from Spurgeon’s review. As I wait here at the side of the road for Spurgie to pick me up, I’ll flip through my notes and give you my takeaways for this little import.
There’s more to the SG’s instrumentation than any new motorcycle of this size or price should have. Speedometer, tach, and… is that a fuel gauge? And a gear position indicator? Modern stuff! A fuel gauge is a valuable addition to this bike, especially for beginners who aren’t used to using a petcock with reserve. The gear position indicator would sometimes cut out and display nothing. A firm shift would bring it back. I didn’t use the gear indicator much, so it wasn’t a big deal. Controls are totally adequate. They all work, which is more than can be said of most cafe projects on Craigslist.
It’s got one! And it takes off like a can of whipped cream. The CSC encourages wound-out riding to make up for its displacement disadvantage. And riding around with a heavy wrist is fun! Missing a shift due to laughter has absolutely happened on this motorcycle. And while it might be a little buzzy, the SG250 will handle around-town riding without complaint. In fact, I think a city or campus would be this bike's ideal environment. The clutch pull is easy, the throttle is very smooth, and the carb has been painless so far.
Got one of those too! Frame’s steel, of course, with a hooped back just like that cafe racer you saw on Instagram. The swingarm uses a tube with squashed ends to hold the axle. “It's like a Huffy from the '90s!” observed George, one of ZLA’s resident pedal bike enthusiasts. Parts like the swingarm look primitive compared to bikes from decades ago, but for the CSC’s power and price, it’s a perfectly good choice. The front fork is a little bit Huffy, as well, and undersprung. At the rear, the piggyback shocks are firm but not back-breakingly so. Passenger pegs are optimistically included. Overall, the bike sits low enough that just about anyone should be able to flat-foot it on both sides.
Should I buy one?
If most or all of the following statements apply to you, give the CSC SG250 a look.
You want a cheap motorcycle. Price is the CSC’s competitive advantage, and the low price of admission appeals to many rider demographics. College kid? Beginner? A more seasoned rider seeking a second “fun” bike? Loads of people want fun, cheap motorcycles. The used market is full of great examples, but...
You want a new bike, or at least a warranty. For some people, buying new is the only way to fly. While I don’t personally subscribe to that philosophy, I get the appeal of riding a machine that hasn’t been abused or neglected by the previous owner. At $2,500 all in, the CSC SG250 is awfully cheap for a new motorcycle, so why not buy new? The San Gabriel also carries a one year warranty which is more warranty than any of my motorcycles have right now. In addition to buying new...
You want retro, and you’re more interested in riding than rebuilding. Cafe racer dreams dashed by the skills needed to build one or the cash needed to buy one? This is the sobering discovery many prospective buyers face after seeing that sweet retro racer on the internet. On the other hand, the SG250 is like Cafe Racer Lite. It’ll still need service now and then, but you get to skip the whole building thing. And if you’ve never touched a welder, grinder, or multimeter before, there’s no need to burn yourself out before you ever get started. And one last thing...
You rarely need to ride on a highway. It can do it. Can. Enough said.
Why I liked it, and why I didn’t
I’ve got to agree with Spurgeon’s assessment that the SG250 is the coolest new motorcycle under $2,000, and that’s mostly because I’m struggling to think of any real new competition for it in this country. The SG will have to face the used market’s cheap universal Japanese motorcycles (UJMs), though it does offer an advantage over the classics: the CSC SG250 can be bought new. Pit it against, say, a $1,000 1982 SR250 you might find on Craigslist. These two bikes would perform pretty similarly from the factory, but today, the SR would be hurting for service. When was the last time anyone worked on the fork? Changed the tires? Changed brake hoses? Pads? Wheel or stem bearings? None of these are major jobs, and certainly not dealbreakers. That said, I think the work and expense necessary to refresh an older bike needs to be considered when comparing it to CSC’s offering. I like that CSC gives riders an option, because not everyone will want to take on the task of building their own custom motorcycle to achieve a similar look.
Dislikes? Almost everything can be forgiven considering the CSC’s price. The paint’s a little thin, the tires are no-namers, and the seat isn’t something you’ll want to sit on for hours at a time. In light of the cost, so what? The only thing I really can’t forgive is the gearbox. It’s not like you can’t learn to ride with it, but it requires firmer, more exaggerated input than Japanese bikes to avoid falling into The In-Between.
My favorite thing about the SG250 is the interest in motorcycling it brings out in other people. While riding it around, I got questions from friends, coworkers, people at the gas station, even somebody in a car next to me at a light. “What is that?”, they want to know. “I like the way it looks. How old is it?” And then, the inevitable: “How much is it? Wait, really?” That’s the beauty of the SG250. It gets people thinking about motorcycling in ways that larger, more expensive motorcycles never could.
The only time the CSC let me down was here, at the side of the road with a screw through the tire, and that wasn’t even the bike’s fault. (It was my own, for not carrying a tube, levers, and other tire-changing stuff.) While the SG was fun to rip around on, I still wouldn’t personally spend $2,500 on it. I could get a decent Yamaha FZ1 for that, a Suzuki DR-Z400, an old Harley Ironhead, or maybe a Honda Hawk like Mark Gardiner’s. But look at my choices. Clearly, I’m just not in the market for a little retro! But judging by the amount of interest this motorcycle received, lots of other people are.
What’s this? Someone else interested in checking out the SG250 in this idyllic park at dawn? Nope, just Spurgeon, here to help this stranded writer. I won’t soon forget my time on this motorcycle. Spurgeon will make sure of that.