First Ride – 2018 SSR Buccaneer 250 – Classic and Cafe

In Cafe Racer, Reviews, Standard by AbhiLeave a Comment

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 like:
  • $3,499 or $3,599 (plus a $300 rebate!).
  • Proof that cheap bikes can still look cool.
  • Best stock exhaust note I can remember from a 4-stroke 250.
  • Weighs just 283 pounds.
What I don’t like:
  • Chintzy touches abound, like “DOT” stamped on the mirrors or a heat warning on the exhaust.
  • Inconsistent build quality.

Photos by Hal Wang and Abhi Eswarappa

Founded in 2002 as an importer and distributor of pit bikes, SSR quickly expanded their product line by offering ATVs, UTVs, and scooters. In 2013 they introduced bigger MX bikes, and in 2015 they became the North American distributor for Benelli. As evidenced by a page on their website dedicated to old models, the lineup constantly changes – in the near future they’re cutting out all of their in-house scooters and will solely be selling Benelli-branded ones, and they’ve got some new models that will be announced at AIMExpo this October in Vegas.

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.

A common complaint with Chinese motorcycle companies is a lack of parts – SSR thinks they’ve got that sorted out.

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.

SSR’s 250cc street bike options are three-fold – there’s a single-cylinder bobber called the Snake Eyes, and then a V-Twin powered Buccaneer which is available in “Classic” or “Cafe” variants. Hopefully it’s clear by now that we’re going to look at the Buccaneer siblings in detail during this review.

The Buccaneers are built by Longjia in Ningbo, China. Seeing as this photo was taken at the port in Long Beach, there’s a good chance this bike came to the US via a cargo ship like the one in the background.

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:

Older riders will also see similarities to the Moto Morini 3 1/2, at least in terms of engine layout.

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.

SSR could not stress enough that this bike is for a “very specific owner”. Their premise is that there are riders who want an old bike that’s as simple as possible, but old bikes require more frequent maintenance and are generally getting more expensive to fix. So, what about a new bike that yields the same experience? You could understandably counter by noting that nearly every OEM has gotten into the “retro bike” game, with motorcycles such as the Kawasaki Z900RS, Yamaha SCR950, or the BMW RnineT Urban GS.

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.

With all that pontification up above, you should be expecting to see an emphasis on the “basic” of “basic specifications”. The motor may be the epitome of this – a 249cc, 60° V-Twin that goes back to the late 80s. The design was originally developed by Yamaha for the Virago 250, and from what I can determine the design was eventually sold to the Chinese motorcycle manufacturer Lifan.

10.0:1 compression ratio, SOHC, 2 valves per cylinder, and very under-square (49mm bore x 66mm stroke). It’s simple and it’s got a 30 year history.

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.

The “DSP SYS” unnecessarily takes up space, and I couldn’t find any controls for a trip meter.

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.

Classic on the left, Cafe on the right.

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.

I’m on a Green Classic, while Don Williams from Ultimate Motorcycling is on a White Cafe and Max Klein from CityBike is on a Red Cafe.

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.

With the tires and skidplate, you shouldn’t feel averse to getting a little dirty.

Both the Cafe and the Classic are good looking machines. I prefer the former in white and the latter in Green, but they’re stylish no matter the color.

Which do you prefer?

On close inspection, there’s a few issues. Certain welds reflect the price point, but that doesn’t doesn’t bother me.

What I find much more annoying is the alignment of the stripes that are applied as stickers, because those are easily seen while riding.

LEFT: Stripe on the tank isn’t centered. RIGHT: Same thing with the rear fender.

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:

The warning is silly, but this pipe sounds great!

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…

Our planned route included city streets, open freeways, and some twisties. It was a good choice to highlight the strengths of the Buccaneer, which mainly stem from the low weight. 18 horsepower is enough to out accelerate your fellow commuter at a traffic light, and once you hit the corners it’s fun to throw your weight around.

It all goes back to SSR’s claim that the Buccaneer is for a “very specific owner”, which entirely 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, plus 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!

Including the rebate, you can buy a Buccaneer for $3,199. That is an almost-unbelievably small amount of money for a brand new motorcycle, and the savings buy a lot of forgiveness. The SSR Buccaneer is stylish, comfortable, and cheap. It put a smile on my face while in the corners, it’s just rougher than the (pricier) competition. Unfortunately, it’s too rough for me to recommend over other options.

In other markets, this is known as the Italjet Buccaneer.

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.

Helmet: Arai Signet-X in Place Red – $829.95
Jacket: REAX Ludlow – $299
Jeans: REV’IT Philly 2 Loose Fit in Dark Blue – $229.99
Gloves: Alpinestars Oscar Robinson in Brown – $89.95
Boots: Sidi Fast Rain – $175