2012 Cleveland CycleWerks tha Heist Review

Hardtail chopper cool on the cheap


We want to like Cleveland CycleWerks, the small, start-up OEM from this author’s home state of Ohio. But affection isn’t the first emotion felt when the footpeg assembly and tail light vibrate loose within the initial 50 kilometers of riding a 2012 Heist model.

Why kilometers? Because the one and only gauge on tha Heist delivered to us predominantly displays the metric measurement. A less legible mph resides below the kph readout, but the gauge’s odometer also records kilometers traveled.

If tha Heist were a fast motorcycle, the foreign gauge may help explain why you were exceeding the posted speed limit, but tha Heist is not fast. And even if it were, tha Heist’s architecture is constructed for neither speed nor comfort. Tha Heist is about image, more specifically, a maverick image at an affordable price.

2012 Cleveland CycleWerks tha Heist profile right

Tha Heist’s rigid rear end, peanut tank and raked front fork lend it a profile of quintessential rebellious badass. However, its $3,195 MSRP and diminutive measurements, including a purported dry weight of 254 pounds, 25.4-inch seat height and 229cc displacement, suggest tha Heist is anything but intimidating.

While those dimensions are attractive for the short in stature, taller riders interested in tha Heist will find solace in the bike’s adjustable seat. With no more complexity than loosening a couple of nuts, tha Heist’s seat moves fore and aft over a distance of about two inches. At 5’ 11” I found tha Heist, with the seat positioned in the middle of its three settings, comfortable enough to drain its 2.1-gallon fuel tank over the course of a few days without need of a chiropractor.

2012 Cleveland CycleWerks tha Heist left side

Tha Heist’s seat also features two preload-adjustable shocks for smoothing road imperfections. Uncertain where to begin, I set both shocks halfway through their adjustment range. This lasted for one spine-jarring trip to the gym.

2012 Cleveland CycleWerks tha Heist frontWith as much preload as possible dialed into both shocks they manage to keep my 180 pounds from bottoming out on most rifts. At this setting the seat feels nearly unsprung at slower speeds, but comfort is the tradeoff for that clean hardtail look. Lighter riders than I will be able to reduce preload settings, thus creating a smoother shock action and a more comfortable ride. Those weighing more than me may want to consider replacing the stock shocks with high-end mountain bike components.

Maintaining tha Heist’s elemental cruiser persona are its skinny 90/90-21 front and 140/80-18 rear wheels. Whereas customized bikes of this nature often forego front brakes, CCW did conform to safety standards by gracing tha Heist with both front and rear single-disc brakes utilizing steel-braided brake lines and twin-piston calipers. Next to its wicked good looks, stopping power is tha Heist’s most formidable attribute.

The air-cooled Single is capable of propelling tha Heist at freeway speeds, but that’s an uncomfortable place to be for extended periods of time. A lighter rider will strain the engine less, possibly leaving a little power in reserve, but a cross-country rig tha Heist is not. The spunky, counterbalanced Lifan engine, however, does produce surprisingly minimal vibrations felt through the footpegs but not the handlebars. Like most carbureted air-cooled Singles, tha Heist is slow to warm and requires a lot of choke, but the bike will get you on your way quickly running on full choke.

2012 Cleveland CycleWerks tha Heist hardtail

Where tha Heist is most happy is tooling around below 80 kph (50 mph). The front fork exhibits a tragic amount of stiction and at freeway speeds the front wheel periodically begins oscillating up and down. Fork tube diameter, rake, spring rate and stiction probably all contribute to this sketchy effect. Being a hardtail bike, CCW’s only suspension consideration is a fluidly operating front fork, and that isn’t the case with tha Heist. The 21-inch front wheel also wants to flop into corners at slow speeds, complicating parking lot maneuvers.

For whatever reason, the sidestand kill-switch operates whether the transmission is in neutral or not, making it easy to forget keying off the ignition switch. Of the three lights comprising the dash (neutral, blinker and high beam), the neutral is indistinguishable in bright light.

2012 Cleveland CycleWerks tha Heist left rear

The cable-actuated clutch and 5-speed transmission function together gracefully. We didn’t notice any shifting clunkiness or driveline lash during our time with tha Heist. Accelerating from a stop requires a combination of higher engine revs and clutch slippage, but nothing beyond what is normal for a small-displacement motorcycle.

2012 Cleveland CycleWerks tha Heist forward foot controlsQuality remains subpar compared to its Japanese counterparts, which you can read more about in our upcoming shootout between tha Heist, Honda Rebel 250 and Yamaha V Star 250. We were disappointed to see yellowed chrome of the muffler, the seepage of oil from an engine cover, and the messy routing of some of the cable/wires.

After tightening the footpeg assembly and reattaching the dangling brake light, tha Heist held together without issue and proved to be a fun companion. Tha Heist certainly projects a ruffian biker image its Japanese competitors can’t match, at a price below that of comparable used bikes. For the right person tha Heist’s inexpensive attitude is all that matters, assuming that person owns a rudimentary set of tools.

2012 Cleveland CycleWerks tha Heist

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