2016 CSC RC3

Editor Score: 64.50%
Engine 12.0/20
Suspension/Handling 7.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 5.0/10
Brakes 7.5/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 6.5/10
Appearance/Quality 8.0/10
Desirability 5.0/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score64.5/100

What do you think of when you hear “Chinese motorcycle?” Cheap, ugly, and under-performing? Those observations would be largely correct, as the majority of Chinese motorcycles to come to these shores (that’s the United States, for our international readers) were exactly that. Let’s face it: the words “Made In China” aren’t held in high regard.

But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. CSC is looking to change how we think about Chinese motorcycles. Its first attempt (outside its line of Mustang mini cruisers) was the RX3 250cc adventure bike, which impressed the hard-to-please Tom Roderick in this review. Now with the RC3, a sportbike built on the same bones, CSC is looking to impress a different group of riders.

If you didn’t already know this motorcycle was made in China, would you have guessed it from this picture?

If you didn’t already know this motorcycle was made in China, would you have guessed it from this picture?

The RC3 is powered by the same Zongshen 250cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, SOHC, 4-valve Single as the RX3, spitting out a respectable 19.6 hp and 13.7 lb-ft of torque when spun on the MotoGP Werks dyno. Bore and stroke measure 77mm x 53.6mm with 11.5:1 compression. For comparison, the closest competitor to the CSC, Honda’s erstwhile CBR250R, with its liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 249cc Single, made 22.5 hp and 15.2 lb-ft to the wheel during our 2013 Beginner Bike Shootout. The Honda’s bore and stroke measure 76.0mm x 55.0mm, and though it runs a lower 10.7:1 compression ratio, the little CBR has the benefit of two overhead cams to the CSC’s one. Of course, that’s moot now since the CBR250R has been superseded by the CBR300R.

From a fit and finish standpoint, the RC3 doesn’t fit the stereotype we’ve given to Chinese motorcycles. Styling looks clean and distinguished for a sporty bike, and all the body panels line up as they should without any gaps or glaring fitment issues. No errant wires could be found, either. Basically, the RC3 is shucking the mold of Chinese motorcycles being cheap afterthoughts. “Big kudos for a Chinese-built bike that looks twice as fabulous as its price tag would indicate,” says E-i-C Duke.

Compared to its closest rival, Honda’s CBR250R, the CSC RC3 falls short when it comes to power and torque. The Chinese machine really loses out when the revs start to climb.

Compared to its closest rival, Honda’s CBR250R, the CSC RC3 falls short when it comes to power and torque. The Chinese machine really loses out when the revs start to climb.

The RC3 rolls on 17-inch wheels (110/70-17 front, 140/70-17 rear), features a single floating disc with two-piston caliper up front ABS), steel-braided lines, gold-anodized inverted fork with rebound adjustment, preload- and rebound-adjustable shock, a digital dash display, gear indicator, LED turn signals and brake light, a massive 5.28-gallon fuel tank, and both 12v and 5v power outlets on the top triple tree plucked straight from the RX3. Oddly, the RC3 features ABS only on the front, from Continental judging by the sticker on the gauge cluster. Duke surmises front-only ABS is a way to “cheaply bring ABS to the low-rung Asian areas, this bike’s primary market.”

All this for an initial price of $2895, part of CSC’s Don’t Miss The Boat program which rewards those who purchase a motorcycle from CSC’s initial shipment with a discounted price. Once all the models from the first shipment have been sold, pricing for the RC3 goes up to the standard price of $3495 – significantly cheaper than the $4399 Honda’s asking for the current CBR300R, if price is your biggest priority.

But How Does It Ride?

So far, the RC3 impresses with the three F’s: Fit, Finish, and Features. Riding the bike is pleasant, but this wouldn’t be a review of a Chinese motorcycle if it didn’t have a few quirks.

Firstly, it should be noted that the RC3 CSC gave us to review was a pre-production unit, most obvious by its speedo, odo, and trip meters all reading in kilometers rather than miles. Right away, throwing a leg over the RC3 reveals a motorcycle that feels compact, but still roomy enough for my 5-foot, 8-inch frame. My guess is riders who aren’t much taller than me would feel cramped. Seat height is 30.25 inches, and reaching the ground is easy enough.

The RC3’s seating position is reasonably comfortable for a 250cc sportbike, though getting into a full tuck is a little cramped. Note the gold anodized inverted fork. Pretty trick looking for such a budget bike.

The RC3’s seating position is reasonably comfortable for a 250cc sportbike, though getting into a full tuck is a little cramped. Note the gold anodized inverted fork. Pretty trick looking for such a budget bike.

The bike feels easy to toss between your legs despite its 370-lb wet weight. This compared to the 357 lbs the CBR250R weighs when similarly fuelled. Then again, when you consider the CSC is carrying nearly two gallons more fuel than the Honda’s 3.4 gallons, the weight difference is easy to forgive.

Duke says the clutch engages softly and feels a little weak, and yes, you’ve gotta feather the clutch slightly and give a steady amount of throttle to launch. It won’t win many stoplight-to-stoplight drag races, but the power feels adequate considering its displacement. Rowing through the gears is a mandate when you’ve only got 20 horses to play with, and while we applaud the fact it has a six-speed trans, it does feel notchy at times in both directions, requiring a firm flick to engage. Neutral is also hard to find, especially at a stop. Hopefully this is a condition that fades away with more kilometers on the clock.

That said, the RC3 will reach and maintain freeway speeds, but you’ll have to plan ahead when trying to pass another vehicle, as passing power isn’t readily available above 70 mph. With its small dimensions and relatively light weight, crosswinds can blow the RC3 and its rider about. Duke noticed “Some awfully crude harmonic moans from the airbox,” while I was paying more attention to the pleasantly throaty pitch from the exhaust. Vibes from the Thumper make the hands start to tingle after 30 minutes or so of sustained freeway riding.

The RC3’s steering characteristics aren’t for everyone. In fact, they’re arguably not for most. It steers quickly, nearly to the point of unpredictability. At least that’s what Kevin, Evans and John think. Personally, I dug its quick steering in the canyons and didn’t mind it around town.

The RC3’s steering characteristics aren’t for everyone. In fact, they’re arguably not for most. It steers quickly, nearly to the point of unpredictability. At least that’s what Kevin, Evans and John think. Personally, I dug its quick steering in the canyons and didn’t mind it around town.

Without a doubt, though, the RC3’s most controversial aspect is its handling. The RC3 steers very quickly, seemingly falling into turns at the mere thought of direction change. Normally, that’s a good thing when talking about sporty motorcycles, but less so in the RC3’s case.

“It steers with unpredictability,” says Duke, continuing, “Its front wheel feels like a caster more than any bike I’ve ever ridden.” Both Evans and John Burns agree, noting that the RC3’s quick steering and “completely numb front end,” to quote Brasfield, make the RC3 a very odd-handling motorcycle. Kevin also noted, “I wouldn’t be surprised to find out there was less than 80mm of trail.”

And, in fact, Kevin is right. Trail is a critical number when it comes to a motorcycle’s handling – too little and it’s unpredictable, too much and the bike steers slow. The RC3 features some radical geometry numbers: 22º rake, 75mm trail, and a wheelbase of 52.4 inches. How extreme are these numbers? Here are a few of the RC3’s contemporaries for comparison:

Rake Trail Wheelbase
CSC RC3 22.0º 75mm 52.4 in.
Honda CBR250R 25.0º 98.6mm 53.9 in.
Kawasaki Ninja 300 27.0º 94.0mm 55.3 in.
Yamaha R3 25.0º 94.0mm 54.3 in.
Yamaha R6 24.0º 96.5mm 54.1 in.

To find a motorcycle that comes anywhere near matching the geometry numbers of the RC3, we turn to Buell. A favorite of our own John Burns, the XB9 “always felt super stable,” he says despite its 21º rake and short 52.0-inch wheelbase. Its trail, however, measures 83mm. Just enough to provide a solid front-end feel.

My opinions about the RC3’s handling seem to differ from the others in the MO crew. When I first hopped on the bike, I too was startled by its quick, almost twitchy, steering, but once I got used to its characteristics I learned I could turn much later into a corner while moving my weight further towards the front to get some feel. Of course with 20 horses it struggles to haul butt up our favorite mountain roads, but on the way down I could keep up with riders on bigger bikes using this late turn-in technique. And if I did need to scrub speed quickly, the front brake lever is nice and firm, thanks to the braided lines, “even if power is merely adequate,” says Duke. Is it the perfect handling machine? Far from it, but learn its nuances and it can be a fun ride.

Is CSC The Real Deal?

If you ask me, I think CSC and the RC3 are a very viable alternative to small-displacement Japanese bikes. My fellow MOrons might disagree with me because of the funky handling, but if price is your primary concern, then the RC3 is a good platform to learn the basics of riding on the cheap before moving up to something bigger and better.

Think of the RC3 more of a downhill racer, because it doesn’t exactly go uphill very quickly...

Think of the RC3 more of a downhill racer, because it doesn’t exactly go uphill very quickly…

Then again, the CSC customer has to be a very specific person. Namely one who likes to get their hands dirty. CSC sells direct to customers. As Tom mentioned in his RX3 review, for its low entry price the CSC customer has to be willing to accept a few trade-offs with the CSC experience compared to buying a Japanese or European motorcycle.

CSC offers to fully or partially build your motorcycle and then ship it directly to your door (or you can pick it up if you’re local). A full service manual is included with each purchase, and CSC is working on producing online tutorials for basic, intermediate, and advanced repairs or maintenance work.

Each CSC comes with a two-year warranty on parts and a one-year warranty on service. Strangely, should a warranty issue arise, CSC will send the parts and will allow (in fact, CSC encourages…) customers to work on the bike themselves to solve the issue. And if you don’t trust your own wrenching abilities, CSC will contract with a local shop to do the work. Unorthodox to say the least, but CSC representatives have so far stated they’ve had no issues with this process.

Here’s one benefit of front-only ABS!

Here’s one benefit of front-only ABS!

If you’re cool with those stipulations, and don’t want to blend in with all the other Kawasakis and Hondas on the road, the RC3 might be worth a look.

+ Highs

  • Attractive price
  • Attractive styling
  • Fit and Finish far better than other Chinese bikes we’ve seen.
– Sighs

  • Uninspiring handling (at least to the other MOrons)
  • Clunky gearbox
  • Especially outclassed now that the Japanese have moved to 300s
2016 CSC RC3 Specifications
MSRP $3,495
Horsepower 19.6 @ 7800 rpm
Torque 13.7 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm
Engine Capacity 249.7cc
Engine Type Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, single overhead cam, 4-valve single-cylinder with balance shaft
Bore x Stroke 77mm x 53.6mm
Compression 11.5:1
Fuel System Delphi EFI
Transmission 6-speed
Final Drive Chain
Frame Steel
Front Suspension Rebound adjustable inverted fork
Rear Suspension Preload and rebound adjustable monoshock
Front Brake Four-piston caliper, 300mm single disc
Rear Brake Twin-piston caliper, 240mm single disc
Front Tire 110/70-17
Rear Tire 140/70-17
Seat Height 30.3 inches
Wheelbase 52.4 inches
Rake/Trail 22°/2.95 inches
Curb Weight 370 lbs
Fuel Capacity 5.28 gal
Colors Blue, White, Red
Warranty 2 years unlimited mileage. The first year is parts and labor, the second year is parts only.

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  • BDan75

    China has 1.35 billion people, a huge manufacturing base, and the demonstrated capability to build…well, you name it. I’ve always found it a little surprising they don’t do better with bikes…

    • Driver Magz

      yea but hey, in just 10 years they have gone from making rickshaw to manufacturing cars. With that rate of progress, where will they be in 10 years time?

  • Driver Magz

    not particularly their best start, but still a start nonetheless

  • Old MOron

    Good review, Trizzle. I know someone who has an RX3 and loves it. And CSC has provided excellent support.

    I guess Brassbristles made you do several runs in order to get the photo just right. Those skid marks tell of precise riding. Cool.

    • TroySiahaan

      Brassbristles wanted to call it a day, actually, but I was having so much fun kicking that back end out that I didn’t want to stop! Good thing there’s plenty of film in that camera…

      • Old MOron

        LOL, you were having all the fun, and he wanted to call it a day. Can’t say I blame him. Thanks for the good pics, Brassbristles!

  • GodWhomIsMike

    That 5.28-gallon fuel tank tho. Mated to a 250cc, if that gets 80mpg, that bike could have a 422 mile range. That’s pretty amazing. Sucks about the handling, but at that price range, it really shouldn’t be expected to have class leading handling. Still, it is pre-production model, and the folks at CSC seem very proactive about tweaking and fixing things.

    • Kenneth

      “It steers with unpredictability,” says Duke”
      “…but at that price range, it really shouldn’t be expected to have class leading handling.”

      Class-leading is one thing, but not using known, and proven, frame and fork geometry is hard to fathom. And an engine score of “12/20”? Where’s their R&D? As in the past, a Chinese bike continues to be meant for someone whose first priority is the absolutely lowest price, eschewing the much better in all respects Honda, Yamaha, etc., competition.

      • GodWhomIsMike

        I haven’t heard anything bad about their RX3 Adv Bike. The RC3 has a bunch of competition, and with that, the Honda CBR250R/CBR300R would be my top choice for a sportbike in that class (I like Honda, but yeah, there is the Ninja 300 too).
        As for the CSC RX3, there is nothing else in that class. If you want a lightweight low CC adv bike, CSC is the only show in town at the moment. I really wish Honda would take the CB300F, and throw some cargo boxes on it, more aggressive rubber, and make it into a CB300X.

        • Kenneth

          Hmmm, a CB300X?! That sounds like something to actually travel around the globe with: Light, simple, and totally reliable, with high-quality Honda parts available everywhere.

          • GodWhomIsMike

            Sadly, there are not even bags available for that bike (CB300F). It would take a bike that has little to no fanfare and make it into a very popular bike with a few little tweaks. I would like one, but I like taking trips and packing waters and a lunch, and picking up groceries.

            I’m using a 2009 Rebel for lightweight riding, and put over 550 miles on it in the last month and a half. Problem is that it is pretty much topped out at 62 mpg (GPS speed. Speedo indicates about 68 mph). It does great, but I wish it had just a little bit more oomph on 55 mph roads. Love how light weight and low it is, handles great, the saddlebags can fit fill six pack in each bag along with gloves pants and a shirt. Only issues I have are that it is nearly topped out at 55 mph and the transmission is a bit clunky (problem could be the 11250 miles on the original clutch with multiple previous owners). I’ve taken it down dirt and gravel roads, rode poorly maintained roads, took a 100+ mile trip, and it has yet to skip a beat.

          • Old MOron

            I’ve owned both a Rebel 250 and a CB250 Nighthawk. Those bikes are endearing for the fun they deliver while they take a beating.

          • John Ferguson

            They’re also snail-slow, noisy throwbacks to 1980. A Rebel struggles to hold even 55MPH highway speeds, both are cramped for anyone taller than about 5’3″.

            For added fun, the Nighthawks actually still use mechanical drum brakes in front, just like in 1925! I rode a Nighthawk for the MSF class, and could feel and smell the brakes fading in the damn parking lot!

          • Old MOron

            Well, that’s one way to look at it. I had a rebel as my only transportation when I was in graduate school. I rode it back and forth between Hell A and San Diego to visit my parents a few times. I didn’t give it the best care, but it endured hours of full-throttle application and never let me down. The little Nighthawk was supposed to be for a new rider, but she got cold feet. So I kept it for a year and had fun railing it in the canyons once in a while. The process for riding it was basically whack it open and hold it there 🙂 Eventually I sold it to another new rider, and I’m sure it served her well.

          • Ian Parkes

            The lack of OEM boxes isn’t a showstopper. Make your own CB300X with a set of aftermarket panniers – preferably soft ones like the Aussie made Andy Strapz, which don’t break when you drop it in the dust, or hard stuff. The risk of slashing theft is vastly over-rated.

      • TheMarvelous1310

        The huge tank makes sense-at this price range you probably can’t afford another bike, and in a lot of places might be the only vehicle period! Why not give you the most range possible?

        • Kenneth

          If you think a 250 needs a 5 gallon tank, then you also must think a full-size bike needs at least a 10 – 15 gallon tank? And even if it’s your only vehicle, you’re not likely to be 350 miles from the nearest gas station. The tank size on this bike is just silly (as is the frame geometry).

          • John Ferguson

            I would LOVE a ten-gallon fuel tank on a bike! A fuel range under 200 miles sucks rocks.

      • Ser Samsquamsh

        This bike is aimed at new riders so when ultra experienced test riders says the bike is “unpredictable” that means “higher chance of noob wiping out”. Pretty sure ending up in a ditch isn’t worth the $900 cheaper price tag.

      • John Ferguson

        Troy seemed to love the handling.

        • Kenneth

          Yeah – that must be why he gave “Suspension/Handling” a 7.5 out of 15 (the lowest rating I’ve ever seen, here).

          • John Ferguson

            Did HE give it that score, or did all the riders/writers give the score? (I honestly don’t know.)

    • Scott Silvers

      I wish more bikes had huge fuel capacities.

  • Jeff LaLone

    Before I admitted to myself that sport bikes just didn’t agree with my body, I was looking into this. I’m very technically inclined, with a reasonably “complete” set of tools and facilities. The price, compared to a brand new CBR300 or what have you, is very tempting. And you guys aren’t the only ones to say that they’re surprisingly well designed and built.

    The problem? The Ninja 250.

    Ninja 250’s are everywhere. They are a known quantity, with readily available replacement (and upgrade!) parts, that every shop already knows how to fix. There are two of them in my town (near Syracuse, NY) in damn good condition for under $2500. I really like the idea of the RC3, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Kenneth

      “And you guys aren’t the only ones to say that they’re surprisingly well designed and built.”
      That’s not what their ratings chart shows – far from it. The only “surprising” thing, from reading the review, is the improved fit-and-finish.

  • AZgman

    Come on… you are really stretching to say anything good about this bike. I know this is an entry level bike, but as said in the comments already, buy a “good” bike in the Kawasaki instead. Initial cost is not the only criteria to think about. The reviews here are starting to remind me of the TV show “The Voice”; they never say anything critical about anyone (any bike)

  • Scott Silvers

    Chinese bikes are inevitable….just look at your fancy iPhone, a marvel of modern tech, and also made in a shabby Chinese factory in Foxtown. Face it, Chinese bikes are going to catch up fast.

    • DickRuble

      Just look how many people have iPones or any Samsung, Nexus, or whatever smartphone and now just look how many times a day they use it. Got that? A lot right? If you multiplied the number of phones around you by the number of times people take them out of their pocket, it’s a big number. Now, look around you and tell me how many people have motorcycles and how many times they use them per day, on average (divide 2 by 365 if they only take them out twice a year). Now multiply these two numbers.. How does the result compare with the one in the phone case? Good… now you understand the difference between consumer goods and recreational vehicles. Bottom line, motorcycles designed and built in China winning a significant share of motorcycle market in US? Not until motorcycles become as ubiquitous as smart phones. Till then, and as long as a used Japanese motorcycle is cheaper than a new Chinese motorcycle, they don’t stand a chance. They have a chance in India though..

      • Renato Valenzuela

        They have a decent chance everywhere else in the world where the motorcycle isn’t considered a well-to-do person’s weekend toy, but a viable alternative to the automobile.

  • Flubbly

    You could fix some of that rake and trail by lowering the rear end with a shorter shock or some kind of linkage.

  • schizuki

    The Chinese can’t manufacture the little balls in a ballpoint pen. I’m going to trust them with my motorcycle? No thanks.

    I keep hearing how they’re going to surpass us, build this and that better and cheaper, be the new world economic superpower, yadda yadda yadda. Heard the same thing about Japan throughout the ’90s. How’d that work out?

    (Of course, we’ve spent the last eight years imitating the worst policies of both these countries, so I suppose they could catch up that way.)

    • John Ferguson

      Next time you are in traffic next to a large truck…look at the tires. You will be AMAZED to see how many are from China. (The most advanced tire factory in the world is the Double Coin plant in Shanghai.)

  • Kenneth

    The subtitle reads: “Changing how we think about Chinese motorcycles.”
    That’s a bit deceptive; the review doesn’t give much reason for this bike to change the perception. It is then stated, though, that “CSC is looking to change how we think about Chinese motorcycles.” THAT is more to the point, and I wish them well in their pursuit to catch up with the established brands.

  • LS650

    Until these Chinese manufacturers get a dealership network in place to provide support and service, they will go nowhere.