Ryca CS-1 Review

Innovative kit transforms Suzuki Savage cruiser into a cool cafe racer

story by Eric Bass, Photograph by Eric and Jackie Bass, Created Oct. 05, 2011
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“Hey man I saw you pull in on that little racer bike. What is that anyway?”

“Whaaa, huh?! Oh damn dude, can’t a man pee in private? It’s a Ryca.”

“Never heard of it. Single cylinder right?”

“Yeah, 650cc, belt drive, it’s a kit bike. They even have a chain drive conversion available if you’re into chains for some reason.”

“A kit bike?! No kidding. It looks all custom.”

“Well it’s as custom as you feel like making it. Basically you start out with the engine and frame from the most trashed Suzuki Savage S-40 you can find, then throw $2,595 and a few days of elbow grease at it, and abracadabra! You’ve got social cachet that follows you everywhere you go – even into the men’s room apparently. Hey, do you mind if I meet you outside after I finish giving last night’s beer its proper burial at sea?”

Ryca CS-1

“Oh sure, sure, sorry man. Cool bike, though. Kit bike you say? $2,600? Really?”

It may only feel like you’re being surveilled and interrogated everywhere you go when you’re riding a Ryca, but you can’t deny the cost-effective café racer’s curb appeal. I’ve spent time in the saddle of some pretty potent two-wheeled penis enlargers in my day, and the CS-1 boosts your ego as much as any of them. Created by Ryan Rajewski and Casey Stevenson (Ry-Ca… get it?), production of the CS-1 model has evolved from a personal project of Casey’s, into a thriving small business with a loyal following of customers.

Ryca CS-1

I recently had the chance to sink my teeth into one and found out firsthand what the secret sauce is that makes this slider-sized S-40 such a crave-able commodity. My first impression upon tossing a leg over the Ryca was quite simply, “What the fork did you guys do with the rest of it? I’ve straddled chain link fences wider than this.”

While the Savage may have emerged from the Suzuki factory as a flabby cruiser, after going through Casey and Ryan’s “Biggest Loser” program, it was now tipping the scales at 320 lbs, a full 60 lbs leaner and much, much, cleaner. Generally speaking, the test bikes we review these days require a cast of 3-5 OEM propagandists techno-babbling away over the course of a 2-3 day press intro just to explain all of the engineering marvels stuffed between the traction patches. The Ryca I tested didn’t even have mirrors. That’s lean and clean, fellas. If wonky dissections of the vagaries of 18-step traction control systems get you all gleebiny in your geshmoygin, you can probably skip this story and click over to something that El Duque tested.

Ryca CS-1

The CS-1 may not have the computer-chip optimized cajones to back up its racer bravado, but it sure does look and feel the part when standing still. Don’t be deceived, though. This is no mere chop job. The Ryca is just a “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” design exercise in less being more. Witness exhibit A, the super-discreet integrated LED tail light. Immaculately integrated into the compound curves of the aero-hump, the finger sized lamp announces braking, turn signals, and even acts as a running light at night.

Witness exhibit B, no distracting LED readouts and arrays of buttons. You’ve got your speedo, and a tach, and three little idiot bulbs on the nacelle. Thazzit. But, hey, it’s your build. Nothing’s to stop you from going all OCC and tack welding on whatever crap you want. GPS, comm, trailer hitch, stripper pole… you only spent $2,600, so might as well let your freak flag fly!

Before launch, Ryan gave the Ryca a few extra turns on the adjustable rear suspension to account for my 200-lb mortal coil. He was also kind enough to offer a quick tutorial in operating the manual foot decompression lever. I soon finessed the technique required to get the Thumper thumping and off to the Ace Café I went. At least that’s where it felt like I should be headed.

Rehearsing a cockney accent behind my visor, I leaned into launch position and curled my feet up onto the high and tight pegs. The accommodations weren’t too cramped for my 31-inch inseam, but I was damn glad I wasn’t wearing spurs. Clearly for any acolytes of the “It’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast, than a fast bike slow club,” there will be no hard parts to prevent you from nibbling away at unsightly chicken strips.

Ryca CS-1

Some backfire issues that Ryan was having with the jetting of this particular salvage had the Slim-Fasted Savage farting like a flat-tracker whenever I rolled off the gas. Not the platonic ideal from a purely mechanical perspective, but, man, it added attitude! The reverse-cone muffler on the CS-1 is street legal, but leaves plenty of decibels for your right hand to orchestrate with. As the single-cylinder slap-slap-slappity-slapped away like a nun on crank breaking in a new ruler, I could almost taste the fish and chips as I rounded the bend towards Chelsea Bridge… er, onto the Los Angeles freeways.

Ryca CS-1

On-ramps aren’t really the Ryca’s sweet spot. Sure, a 650cc, air-cooled, SOHC single-cylinder is all you really need to get around, but it isn’t much more than that either. Nonetheless, five gears later, my uninspiring acceleration experience was soon forgotten as I settled into a cruising altitude fluctuating between 65 and 80 mph.  While it seemed as though it was fairly begging for some taller gearing to handle the top end of that range, according to the Rycans, the CS-1 was casually sipping away at barely 60 mpg.  The Thumper pulse was blissfully raw and mechanical, and miraculously didn’t seem to insist upon transferring obnoxiously to the clip-ons or rear-sets.

At first glance when I approached the CS-1, I was certain that the café racer seat would have me groaning, “Thank you, sir, may I have another,” all the way back to base camp. Surprisingly, not so. The custom fiberglass seat pan is mounted off the frame, and the fact that you can scoot forward and back on it allows you to adjust pressure points better than a formed saddle. Plus, something about that ass paddle shape, or lack thereof, just makes you feel like a rocker heading off to do the ton. Speaking of which, while I didn’t quite nudge the speedo past 100 mph, my guess is that the 200-plus pounds that I burdened the Ryca with was the only thing holding it back.

When traffic backed up, the CS-1’s fiber-optic thin profile made splitting lanes effortless. I had so much margin for error that if the Rycans had incorporated one of those H-D thumbscrew cruise controls, I could have just taken a nap and waited for the cool ocean air of Santa Monica to wake me up. Of course, straight-shot highway cruising is closer to the S-40’s design brief than the CS-1’s.

When I had a chance to shove the café racer begrudgingly up the Malibu canyons, it displayed a rollicking willingness to descend back down through the twisty bits. The CS-1 is arranged with a 57-inch wheelbase and is more than happy to wag back and forth from corner to corner. Smooth and calculated speed management between and through corners was well rewarded by the frame geometry (29-degree rake; 4.75-inch trail). Hard on and hard off was not, as the bargain-basement componentry of the shocks and brakes made their meager limitations known early and often. Then again, there’s nothing stopping you from swapping out any bits that don’t suit your riding style. After all, we wouldn’t want your Ryca to wind up just another ornament on the Tree of Shame.

Ryca CS-1

Ultimately, any shortcomings in the performance department relative to more contemporary (and costly) steeds were easily outweighed by how well the Ryca did what it does best, which is deliver classic vintage cachet at a thrift-store price point. I’d even go so far as to say that having ridden it, I couldn’t imagine spending under $4-5K on anything other than the CS-1. That is, at least until Ryca unveils the new street tracker. Then all bets may be off.

For more information, check out the Ryca website.

Ryca Interview

Ryca CS-1

MO: So what have you found to be the best method for acquiring donor bikes to build around?

Casey: “Ryan is the bike-sourcing master. He uses Craigslist, Ebay.”

Ryan: “A lot of times I can find wrecked bikes that aren’t as desirable but it’s just lots of aesthetic stuff that we don’t really care about. Like recently I picked up a 2000 model with 11,000 miles for a grand in mint condition. I picked up another one from Arizona with aesthetic damage for $700.”

MO: What are the key things that need to be right with a donor bike, and what doesn’t matter because they are just coming off anyway?

Ryan: “80% of the bodywork we get rid of anyway, so as long as the tank is in good shape. Actually even that doesn’t matter ‘cause I buy those by the dozen off of Ebay, so we even have tons of tanks available. So, really as long as the fins aren’t damaged, and the frame is straight, no rust on the forks, you know, the important stuff you would look for in any bike. It doesn’t matter what color it is either because every painted part is taken off anyway. There are some really undesireable pink ones out there that you can pick up really cheap!”

Ryca CS-1

MO: Are there really?!

Ryan: “Yeah, they made a pink one. You can pick those up for about $1,000 less if you’re looking for a newer S-40. They called it magenta or something, but it’s really pink!”

MO: So is there a bracket range of model years that you primarily look at as ideal for these conversions?

Ryan: “They all work. The good thing about our kit is that any model Savage will work on it. The ‘86-‘88 models are 4-speeds, and in my opinion have a little less bhp. Some people say it’s just the gearing, but any year works. The newer the better, though, just like any bike.”

MO: What would you say is the ratio of your customers that are buying kits from you vs. completed bikes?

Casey: “95% buy kits. They want to do it themselves and be part of the whole process, which is cool because it just makes them a part of the project. In the end, it’s a better end product for them because they built it.”

Ryan: “I feel like part of the appeal is that most motorcyclists are do-it-yourself get-dirty types, and they’re buying our kits A) because they like it, but also B) because it gives them a fun project to work on. So it appeals to the type of person who wants to get their hands dirty and be able to say they built something themselves.”

Ryca CS-1

MO: What kind of man-hours do you predict it would take to complete the build for someone who is moderately mechanically inclined?

Rob: “I would think maybe about 5 days, depending on how much you’re working on the bike. Forty or fifty hours.”

Casey: “You can do the whole project just with hand tools. There’s no welding. We’ve had a few customers who have done this as their very first bike, as in very first bike ever. But they didn’t want to buy an off-the-shelf bike, they wanted to build something themselves.”

MO: What’s the most technically challenging part of the build?

Rob: “The wiring. You can mildly modify the harness, or you can really get into it to kind of streamline the harness in areas where you want to store the excess wiring, or shorten things, so you can spend a lot of time on the wiring. Everything else is pretty much bolt up.”

MO: Are there any optional mods that people might want to make to improve their CS-1 beyond just the kitted parts that you send them?

Rob: “Yeah, definitely add braided steel brake lines from Stoptech. That definitely improves the front brake and takes a lot of squishiness out of the lever. Other than that, obviously a lot of customers are powdercoating or painting their own parts.”

Casey: “A lot of guys will do a custom decompression lever. They’ll do a hand lever, or one guy used the stock decompression solenoid.” 

Ryca CS-1

MO: You guys are coming out with some new kits soon. You want to talk a bit about that?

Casey: “We’re gonna do a street tracker, and a scrambler that will use a lot of the same parts, and then we’re also looking at doing a hardtail bobber. We’re trying to have those ready for the December Long Beach IMS Show.”

MO: Do you wanna tell us a little history of how you got started with this?

Casey: I bought an S-40 off of Ebay and brought it back to the shop and decided I was gonna make a café racer out of it. Originally I was gonna put the engine in another frame, because I figured there was no way this was gonna work out as a café racer. I got it back and we all sort of brainstormed, and we lowered the front end and put longer shocks on the back. When you do that it kinda actually looks like a real motorcycle, so we just decided to go with it from there. We chopped the tank because we knew we couldn’t use the stock tank. We knew that was the main thing, how we were gonna make this tank work. So we figured out that we could chop the bottom off their stock tank. Then everything fell into place after that.”

Ryan: “See, I think customers realize that when they buy a Ryca kit, they’re getting a fully custom motorcycle, whereas 5 years ago they would have had to pay $10-20,000. We can offer them a fully customized bike for relatively pennies, so it appeals to a broad clientele, because you get a lot for your money. I think people are looking for that nowadays, something that really screams custom but they don’t have to break the bank at the same time. We love the café bikes that are being built in Japan, the SR400s, which are unfortunately not available here new. So this is, in our opinion, better than that because you’re getting a fully custom bike for much cheaper than you could even do one of those for. I also think people are going back to the roots of motorcycling. I mean what do you really need on a bike to have fun and to enjoy it?”

Ryca CS-1

MO: Every place that I pulled over, whether it was a gas station, bar, whatever, someone came up and was like, “Hey, what’s that you’re riding?”

Casey: “Yeah one of our customers said it best on one of our forums. He said ‘If you like talking about your bike everywhere you go, build a Ryca. If you don’t like talking to other people, don’t buy a Ryca.”

MO: Yeah, if what you’re looking for is a conversation starter, you can save yourself $20,000 and just spend the $5,000, because this is all you need. It gets a lot of attention, and it’s fun to ride. It really does give you that café racer experience.

Ryan: “Yeah, if I pull into someplace and there’s 10 other motorcycles, as soon as I put the kickstand down there’ll be 10 motorcyclists standing around the Ryca. We don’t really like to toot our own horn too much but the customers do it for us.”

Casey: “People that are building them, it is a kit, but they don’t view it as a cheap S-40 with parts bolted on. They view it as a whole new motorcycle. That’s the key to why it’s been successful. Once you build the kit and do the mods, it’s really your own brand-new bike.”

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