Kiski Junction Railroad, Pennsylvania, June 26th 2016.
I'd taken my family to ride this little railroad just the week before. On the road down I'd noted the last few miles would make a good bike ride, and so one week later I took my Ninja 300 there.
It was a boiling hot day, but a curiosity is how it's the details of the bike's life that stay with me: That chain was on its last legs, and had a tight spot I just could not massage out. The rear sprocket would soon be gone too, but the greatest recollection of all was the valve adjustment. just a few days later over the July 4th weekend, I tackled the valves. The diminutive Ninja had about 8000 miles on it; the recommended check was 7600; conventional wisdom on the Kawasaki Ninja 300 forum was to leave it to 15000, I did not want to leave it to chance.
It actually turned out to be a long undertaking, and the exhaust valves were indeed out of spec. I got the job done, and the bike still runs today. It remains the most complex thing I've done mechanically.
The joy of bike ownership, learning to do things you never thought you could.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
It's just for a couple of days, and it's not actually been too bad. I took the Ninja out yesterday for the commute and the bike felt really good. I've been fighting surface rust on the chain for weeks on the Ninja, largely because the expensive new cover I bought fits tightly due to the taught elastic and tends to wick moisture up around the bottom 3-4 inches. Next year I'm going to store it over winter and just use the TT250, as that's one of the main reasons I bought it.
Speaking of which, I have a few ambitions for the Chinabike, as I've got an aftermarket carb working really well on it. In no particular order:
An aftermarket exhaust system. The stock one is doing the standard OEM cheap job of oxidising heavily around the downpipe, I really want some stainless steel on there. You can get a decent one for about USD 120. I will have to find someone to drill out the flange and make a bracket though; I lack the necessary workspace at home.
Stainless spokes for the rear wheel, which will also mean a truing stand and some other bits.
The bike has survived winter pretty well, however the exhaust header and rear spokes (and it is just the rear) are determined to return to nature, so I'll deep clean them for now, but spending a couple of hundred bucks on a more permanent solution sounds better than constantly trying to clean them up.
The weekend is looking good for a long ride; it will be the first since October.
I can't get a job, because if I had a job I wouldn't have enough time to vlog.
The above quote isn't attributed to anyone in particular, it's rather a sentiment I've seen expressed a few times recently.
Motovlogging culture - those guys that go out on their bikes and record it for our entertainment - has become a big part of the motorcycle media landscape in recent years. I won't namedrop because it's vulgar, but like most entertainment media, the majority are forgettable, and a very few are excellent. Like most media, there is not always a correlation between quality and a channel's success. In short, there are some utter clowns that have become very successful, and some truly great channels that languish with low views. If I understood why that is, I'd be vlogging myself.
That success has brought financial rewards, although it's difficult to know how much, as both Google and the channel owners are cagey on the subject; it's fair enough - it's nobody's business but their own. However, the mere suggestion of money can be ruinous to men, and creates something of a gold-rush mentality. I've seen a couple of vloggers give up their day jobs and chase YouTube money, and when it hasn't quite worked out,they resort to asking their viewers for help with the bills. I believe one of the drivers is they've done just well enough to convince themselves it's viable. I dislike myself for it, but this brings out the cantankerous old fart in me. Nobody's owed a living, and if you can't make it work you've got to be realistic and think about how to go forward. That might well involve having to take a regular job for a little while to make ends meet, and taking stock of the fact that you're choosing to compete in a phenomenally crowded market which, to make matters worse, is only getting more competitive.
This reminds me of conversations I used to see on photographer message boards in the early 2000s; specifically the ire of professional photographers towards amateurs giving their work away either for free, or well below market value. The rush of consumer DSLRs and affordable pro-grade editing tools meant their world had changed; the barrier for entry was lower, their slice of the pie just got that little bit smaller.
YouTube is no different. The barrier for entry is again very low, and the productions standards on many channels are really very impressive, and this can only mean more competition for views. Some of those guys that are at the top of the pile now would certainly struggle if they were just starting out, but that's capitalism; 'twas ever thus.
I feel bad for a lot of these kids, because they're talented and they are entertaining enough, but YouTube's model is based on a tiny number of winners and a lot of losers. Is it fair? No, but when was life ever fair? I suspect if you crunched the numbers, it would not be that different to the rest of the entertainment industry
Should they be paid? Unfortunately, that decision has already been made. You can consume gigabytes of video entertainment on YouTube for the cost of an internet connection and a device to watch it on; you just have to put up with the ads. Where that money then goes is up to Google, but you can be sure they're the biggest winners. That leaves Patreon and similar services, but given the huge number of free channels out there I'd be surprised if there's much money to be made there if you're not already a giant channel somewhere else.
As winter got underway, I started to consider whether I should get a second car. My reasoning was it would cut the mileage on the family Toyota (I don't use the bike on snow or ice days, I might be British, but I'm not that crazy) and would limit inconvenience to the family when I had to take it for the day. Secondly, I wanted to take the strain off my Ninja 300, which was clocking up nearly one-thousand hard commuter miles a month at peak use. I really didn't enjoy how much work it was in winter time; it isn't the easiest bike to keep the weather off, and it's surprisingly heavy on consumables like tyres and brake pads. Maintenance could be stressful if there were delays due to parts, my incompetence, or visits to the shop. It could really disrupt my transport arrangements, not to mention piss off my ever-supportive wife when I have the car for days on end.
I quickly dismissed the idea. I didn't want to pay for another one; I could scarcely afford something decent, anything I could afford would become a maintenance money-pit (been there) and I would resent the thing for the majority of the year when I wouldn't be using it and it would be sitting in the car park eating money.
I'd thought about a second bike, and reckoned I could make it work as long as it met some criteria:
It had to be cheap to purchase and run.
Simple to maintain and clean, the former more important than the latter.
Suitable for the rough winter pavement conditions present in Western Pennsylvania.
I'd been reading a lot about the various offerings from China, with the knowledge that you get what you pay for, and an awareness of the strong prejudice toward Chinese kit, but I'd been impressed by the commitment of CSC Motorcycles in California. They've built something of a reputation for selecting good bikes from Zongshen (a giant Chinese manufacturing concern) and applying some American customer service know-how with the proviso that the owner is part of the process (no dealer network, you wrench the bike with support from CSC). I'd been through a lot of wrenching with my Ninja, including the hell of shimming the valves, so I reckoned I could handle it with enough support and reading. CSC's best-known offering nowadays is the RX3 Cyclone, a 250cc adventure bike which has carved out a market that was practically non-existent in the US.
However, the RX3 was not in my plans. It was a out of my budget (although clearly outstanding value) and a little too similar to my Ninjette in terms of my needs. I would probably replace my Ninja with something like an RX3, not supplement it.
No, I was looking at something like a dual sport. I liked the utility of it, and the fact that I could take it on some trails if the mood caught me, plus it would easily handle some bad back roads I had purposefully avoided beating the Ninja up on. Enter the CSC TT250
Here's the TT250 as described by CSC:
The CSC TT250 dual sport motorcycle is rewriting the definition of affordable quarter-liter enduro riding! Featuring a digital speedometer (new for 2017), counterbalanced air-cooled engine and 5-speed transmission, the TT250 was identified by Motorcycle.com magazine as the best motorcycle value in the US! The lightweight TT250 has 18-inch rear and 21-inch front wire wheels, knobby tires, hydraulic front and rear disk brakes, inverted forks, adjustable suspension front and rear, a 300-watt alternator, handlebar-switch-controlled underseat accessory outlets, and more. The TT250 is perfect for riding around town or around the world on both paved and unpaved roads. When coupled with CSC’s free Service Manual and online maintenance tutorials, the simple-to-maintain and highly reliable TT250 is a great motorcycle!
I had actually toyed with buying a TT250 not long after they were released much earlier in the year, just for the hell of it, perhaps as a gateway drug into a different kind of riding. I hadn't considered it would make a really good second bike in its own right.
I pulled the trigger one Saturday night over a few beers, and went for a great end-of-year deal. I'd considered waiting, but I didn't know when CSC would get the 2017 consignment, and if they would have any issues - the 2016 model was now a known quantity. The snags had been worked out (minor things like the occasional wrong countershaft sprocket, or the odometer being in KM). Plus, it was nearly Christmas and my birthday, so screw it. Retail therapy.
One week later on a chilly December morning, a truck turns up outside and deposits a tidy-looking crate in a parking space I'd set aside for the purpose. I eagerly got to work hacking into the cardboard and freed the bike rolling it around to my patio. The bike ships ready to roll, with a small amount of petrol (I assume from a test engine-firing and drive) and a crank case full of 10w30 engine oil. You only need to attach the mirrors.
First impressions? Build quality is good. I would happily say the fit and finish is as good as my Thai-manufactured Kawasaki. It looks the business. No loose fasteners, and the bike had been prepped properly. I wasn't sure about the tyres, they had the look of 'just good-enough no-name OEM rubber' to me, but I'd soon learn that things aren't always what they seem.
Was there any China showing? Not really. Some of the plastics like the muffler guard and the fork covers appear a little shiny and cheap, but they are sturdy. A couple of design details are telling,- the rear brake master cylinder and pedal assembly is a bit clumsy, the shift lever is long and ungainly-looking, and some welds though solid enough look a little rough to my untrained eye. Generally though. this is a well put-together bike. The hand controls and switchgear are well made; the levers have no slop or play, and the throttle action is superb. The engine looks gorgeous with its smooth black finish.
As ever, paperwork is the boring part, and a nice lady at CSC does the hard work for you and sends you everything you need to make registering the bike as painless as your state's bureaucracy allows. I hadn't done this before, and I ended up going through a tag notary, sucking up the fairly high fee as the cost of getting it done quickly. I got my plates same day, and was ready to ride. More of that in part two!
Last year, we were blessed with winter staying almost entirely within bounds; a late December to February even, most severe in late January. This year the lake-effect weather system, resulting low temperatures (10F!!!) and snow started early.
I also got the seasonal man-cold a couple of weeks ago. Any medical professional recognises the seriousness of this condition, for those unfamiliar it is outlined in this documentary:
This coincided with the final November weekend which wasn't utterly freezing, coincidentally the occasion I'd planned to weatherproof my bike. This involves taking the mid-fairings off (an utterly tedious job that entirely encourages my tendency to procrastinate) and drowning everything that isn't a brake component in ACF-50. As this didn't happen, I've been reluctant to use the bike much, so I'm just going to have to put on my big-boy pants and do it, even if it causes my extremities to shrivel up and drop off.
That being said, over the last weekend a couple of inches of snow fell, the local authority dumped its customary million tonnes of salt and sand everywhere, but it warmed and rained, and today felt almost like early March; not particularly cold, and very damp. Don't worry though, by the end of the week it's going to be utterly freezing, again.
I'd forgotten how much crap is on the road surface at times like this. It's a godawful mix of mud and grit; occasionally very slippery, and I can hear it scrunching on my rotors every time I pull the brake lever at low speeds. Everything gets covered in this fine coating of brown mist that looks a bit like raw sewage. As usual, the most dangerous part of my commute are the hundred yards of road in my apartment plan, which despite the sterling efforts of the property managers, remains unusually slick in poor weather.
For the winter rider, I think this thawing condition is every bit as hazardous as black ice when freezing. In similar circumstances I nearly dropped the bike last January:
Smoothness is key, but if you're going over, there's not a lot you can do. It is also at these times I dislike the abrupt throttle transition on the Ninja 300; it can cut suddenly and unsettle the rear end.
So why do it?
For me it's a mixture of practical and emotional. I really love riding, I love the challenge and discipline of it in difficult conditions. I desperately do not want to buy a second car; it'll cost a fortune (as cars do) and I'll resent it sitting there and devouring money I need while it's barely used for most of the year. When the weather's really severe, I take the family Toyota. It is a matter of enduring about 10-12 weeks. It's not terrible.
Any other winter riders there? I know there's a few. Share your experiences!
I was rather taken with this. Motorcyclist Magazine's senior editor Zack Courts rides a 2017 Monster 1200 S around Monaco. I got a chance to ride the 2016 model in Summer, albeit around semi-rural Pittsburgh suburbs.
Ohiopyle is about forty miles from me, as the crow files. It's a phenominal motorbike ride, which is interesting because in the year I've been riding, I've never bothered to do it, due to the constraints of time and the fact I can get lost in my own apartment. Despite the relatively short distance, I had this preconception it was a bit fiddly to get to. I was wrong.
I haven't bothered to get a RAM mount for the bike for a phone, or gone to the trouble of wiring in any power outlets (honestly, I can't be arsed, and it doesn't really fit the bike's main job), so navigation on the bike for me is the old fashioned way; meaning using my memory, but mostly my miraculous palm-held computer that can tell me precisely where I am in the world, and how to get pretty much anywhere. So, little difference between me and and T.E. Lawrence, clearly...
After some map study I realised I could take a familiar back road almost all the way there, and left fairly early on a Sunday morning, intending to be back by lunch. The ride was absolutely breathtaking; sunny, unseasonally warm, and the Autumn colours were glorious. Perhaps the best of all, there was little traffic, and the small number of slow cars (I couldn't begrudge anyone wanting to admire the scenery) were easy enough to get past. I felt for a few fleeting moments that I had my own private road. And, I didn't get lost
[vimeo 187990328 w=640 h=360]
I didn't spend quite as much time as I should of enjoying the scenery, mindful as I was of needing to be back by lunch, but I got a lot out of the ride and it felt like one of those perfect moments you imagine having when you take up riding.
The bike used just a half-tank of petrol for around 100 miles of running, which is a great thing about the Ninja 300, but I again had the feeling I'd have liked something physically bigger, with a bit more punch and longer gearing. On the way out (it's in the video above) I spotted a GSXR and had a moment of benign envy at how much fun a supersport would be on those roads; but I also felt the same looking at the people on their cruisers. They looked a hoot.
I experience this every time I take my bike out for a ride longer than fifty miles, which is my typical weekend sprint. This little bike that I ride daily, rain or shine has been perfect for me and makes a dull commute a joy, but as motorbikes start to consume more of the my attention, time and money, I think about what I'd like next to an almost obsessive degree.