Decades ago, American riders looked down upon bikes from Japan, considering them poorly made and cheaply built. Now they’re the stereotypical answer if you want something reliable. Korean cars have gone through a similar transition – in the 80s Hyundai and Kia were better known as joke fodder than personal transportation, but thanks to an industry-changing warranty and unique marketing programs like “Hyundai Assurance“, public perception changed and they’re now taken seriously as manufacturers you can trust.
The same shift in sentiment seems inevitable for vehicles made in China – the question is no longer if it will happen, but when? I recently got to spend half a day on a SSR Buccaneer to see if the answer is…today.
What I don’t like:
Photos by Hal Wang and Abhi Eswarappa
The majority of SSR’s sales involve dirt bikes. Since 2002, they have sold approximately 40,000 pit bikes in the US, and they believe they stand out from other Chinese manufacturers thanks to a self-described “enormous” parts supply with a VIN-based lookup system. In fact, this ride event was the first time that SSR has hosted media at their headquarters in Norwalk, California as they wanted to show us not just the bikes, but the operations as well.
SSR currently has over 250 dealers in the US, the majority of which are east of the Mississippi. They expect to have 300 by the end of the year.
Like I said in my review of the Royal Enfield Himalayan, the most significant aspect of the Buccaneer is the price: $3,499 for the Classic, and $3,559 for the Cafe. It must also be noted that SSR is currently offering a $300 rebate on both bikes at the moment, but I do not know how long that will last. Unlike the Himalayan, however, it’s tough for me to think of direct competitors to a cafe/standard powered by an air-cooled 250cc V-Twin. If we’re exclusively looking at styling, there’s a lot of similarities to the Moto Guzzi V7 Racer:
But as an overall package, it feels like the closest comparison is simply an older bike like the 1975 Honda CB360 twin I featured last week. Turns out, that’s what SSR was going for.
But, if I’m allowed to oversimplify, those are simply new bikes with styling tweaks. Michael Lee, Marketing and Product Manager for SSR, is going more than one step further. He says that since the 70s, updates to motorcycles have primarily been made to “insulate the user” and “dial back the visceral connection that used to exist between man and machine“. They get more powerful, sure, but they also get heavier and more expensive with technology that isn’t required to enjoy a motorcycle. Does a motorcycle have to have ride by wire, liquid-cooling, electronic suspension, or ABS? How far can you push this theory – do you NEED balance shafts in the motor to enjoy your commute or your weekend canyon carving?
You don’t have to agree with this. But SSR is betting there are people that do, riders that just want to get around town and only need a top speed of approximately 80 mph to open up the possibility of a jaunt on the highway. If you’re one of those people, say hello to the Buccaneer.
The motor produces 18.1 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 14 pound-feet of torque at 6,000 rpm, sent through a 5-speed transmission with a chain final drive. SSR’s top speed goal for the Buccaneer is 80 miles per hour, and that’s feasible (I personally saw 75 mph) as the bike weighs just 283 pounds. The only “modern” features are the gauge cluster – which features an analog tach with digital readouts for speed, gear position, and fuel level – as well as the brakes, which have 4-piston calipers, wave rotors, and steel braided lines. ABS is not available.
Everything described so far is the same between the Cafe and the Classic. The differences are entirely cosmetic – the Classic is styled like a standard, while I’m hoping you can figure out what the Cafe looks like.
The Classic costs $3,499, while you’ll have to spend an extra $100 to get the bikini fairing, reshaped seat, and seat cowl of the Cafe. The other difference is the paint options you’re offered. The Classic has a black frame with Green or Red bodywork. The Cafe has a red frame, and bodywork is either White with a Red stripe or Red with a White stripe.
Both bikes share a 31.1″ seat height, which is a little taller than I expected. A bigger surprise to me was that both models are equipped with semi-knobby tires and an aluminum alloy skidplate. It doesn’t really jive with the visual aesthetic of the Cafe, but I think it’s very cool on the Classic.
What I find much more annoying is the alignment of the stripes that are applied as stickers, because those are easily seen while riding.
Once I hopped on, a few positives were instantly evident. The seat is soft to the touch, comfortable, and (at least on the Cafe) has a great shape. I was told in advance that certain controls like the levers would feel cramped for me because they were designed for shorter riders, but I found everything to be ergonomically pleasant. When one of my colleagues fired up his motor I nearly sprained my neck looking around to see who else was nearby on a bike, because I refused to believe the sound was coming from our Buccaneers. It sounds tremendous for a 250. As I am an idiot, I never took a moment record audio, so I’ll have to share this from someone named “Mert YAMAÇ” on YouTube. You only need to listen for about 10 seconds or so:
With a claimed curb weight of 283 pounds, the Buccaneer is easy to wheel around. It’s simply a case of “less is less” – there’s not much going on here, which means there isn’t much to weigh you down. I fired my own bike up, got confused for a moment as the fuel injection computer inflated idle to about 3.5k rpm for before settling at a normal number, enjoyed the rumble of idle and the vibration of the V-Twin, and then eased the clutch out…
It all goes back to SSR’s claim that the Buccaneer is for a “very specific owner”, which means everything depends on your perspective – if the Honda CB300R I recently reviewed vibrated this much, I’d be annoyed. Yet somehow I find the vibes of the Bucco to be charming. If you prefer riding at a relaxed pace, don’t mind the vibrations of an unbalanced motor, and want to spend as little as possible on a new bike, there’s plenty to like. It would potentially serve you well as a 2nd bike that was dedicated to in-town usage.
As an overall package, the Buccaneer does a decent job of being a basic motorcycle. From a riding standpoint, the core concepts of acceleration, gear selection, and suspension damping are all adequate. Twist the throttle and it will accelerate the brakes are distinctly better than average – they’re powerful and very easy to modulate.
With that said, the bike I spent most of my time on – the white Cafe – had a few issues that did not encourage the idea of long term ownership. The gear position indicator had no problem with gears 1-4, but when I was in fifth (top) gear, the display would show “0” (neutral) when I was on the throttle. When coasting, the indicator correctly showed “5”. In addition, the fuel gauge would not display more than 3/4, even if the tank was full. I was on a 2017 model that’s been tested and possibly worn out by several journalists in the past. I had ample seat time on the green Classic and red Cafe also shown in the above photos, and those bikes did not have similar issues.
It seems like there may have also been changes to the front suspension between model years, as there was a distinct difference in the handling of the white and red Cafes. I thought my front tire was slightly flat, though the pressures were later measured and said to be within 1 psi. When I brought all of my concerns up to a SSR representative, he noted that’s what the warranty is for. That’s true, but it didn’t feel reassuring. It also got me thinking about the warranty – by default, the coverage lasts for 1 year/12,000 miles. For an additional $744, you can make it a total of 4 years/48k miles. It’s almost been two weeks since I’ve ridden the Buccaneer and I still don’t know how I feel about that number. On one hand, $186/year sounds cheap for an extended warranty. On the other hand, $744 is over 20% of the original purchase price!
Normally when I review a bike, I can visualize a buyer for it even if it’s not my particular cup of tea. I also try to avoid comparisons to used bikes because I don’t think that’s fair – there’s always going to be a slightly used model that does 80-95% of what the new bike does for much cheaper. But when a motorcycle like the Buccaneer is competing almost entirely on price, it really does beg the question of why you wouldn’t just buy a 2 year-old 300cc bike from the usual suspects or just save up more money. Either way, you’ll have something more refined.