Those are the words of Melisa Ganzon, a long-time friend of Editor Duke. A graduate from the MSF Basic RiderCourse more than 11 years ago, Melisa has three years of riding experience under her belt.
However, her extended absence from two wheels (to start a family), along with her petite female stature and willingness to step back up to the plate created an epiphany in our collective Motorcycle.com mind: Melisa is an ideal candidate to participate in our 250cc Cruiser Shootout.
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Pint-size Cruisers, Beginner Bikes, or Both?
Suzuki also has an offering in this segment, or at least used to, with the GZ250 that’s powered by a 249cc, air-cooled, carbureted single-cylinder. Unfortunately the last model year that Suzuki imported the GZ was for 2010, so that leaves one less offering from the Big Four, while Kawasaki doesn’t even bother entering a model in this class. Until recently the Honda and Star essentially were the 250cc cruiser class, but a new player has emerged in the small-displacement streetbike segment.
Cleveland CycleWerks (CCW) is an Ohio-based motorcycle design company founded in 2007 by owner Scott Colosimo. With four current models in the CCW lineup, it’s tha Heist that fits this shootout.
Although the Chinese-manufactured 229cc air-cooled, carbureted Single (found in all CCW models) that powers the bobber-themed tha Heist is a few cubic centimeters shy of the Star’s 249cc air-cooled V-Twin, the CCW engine makes for a diverse mix of motorcycles when we also factor in the Honda Rebel’s 234cc air-cooled, parallel-Twin. This trio of 250-ish motorcycles, each with a different engine configuration, represents what’s available for riders shopping pint-size cruisers.
With a quarter-liter or less of engine capacity, the modest levels of power produced by each engine make them appealing to newbie riders. But even experienced, price-conscious riders shopping for a gas miser should find that there’s enough go-juice on tap – even from the least of the three – to allow sufficient acceleration to stay ahead of city traffic. Nevertheless, with respect to engine power we have a clear winner.
With a best showing of 19.3 horsepower and 14.0 ft-lb of torque, the V Star 250 is the bike with the most potent engine at any point in the rev range. Next up is the Honda with 16.5 peak horsepower and 12.0 ft-lb of torque. The dyno charts reveal the V Star is always ahead of the Rebel, yet the Honda at times felt equally as peppy and willing to rev as the Star, making the V Star’s modest power advantage less discernable from the saddle than on paper.
Despite a displacement deficit of less than 10% to the Star, tha Heist is down considerably on power. The CCW machine managed a best performance of 11.5 hp and 10.5 ft-lb.
Tha Heist’s nearly 8 less horsepower compared to the V Star is notable, however, when the difference is viewed in terms of percentages tha Heist looks anemic – it makes a whopping 68% less peak horsepower than the Star. Tha Heist’s torque figure is more competitive, yet it’s still one-third less torque compared to the Star, and 14% less than the Rebel. In some ways, though, it gets worse from here for tha Heist.
In the interest of full disclosure we have to explain that the dyno results for tha Heist aren’t really from tha Heist we rode.
Our Heist test unit operated without any major foul ups during test rides. However, for reasons we, as well as Carry Andrew of Hypercycle, couldn’t determine in a reasonable amount of time, tha Heist suffered some sort of electrical failure that prevented it from making spark, thereby meaning we couldn’t dyno test the thing. (Update: Actually, it turns out there was no electrical failure. We just found out tha Heist's sidestand safety switch allows the engine to crank over but kills spark to the engine, which made us suspect an electrical gremlin. All other sidestand safety switches we've sampled do not allow the engine to turn over, so this was an unusual case. We apologize for our error, but it was easy to make when the Honda and Yamaha were purring away while resting on their sidestands.)
Since all CCW motorcycles use the same engine, for academic purposes we borrowed a previous dyno run from tha Misfit. We assume its dyno run would’ve been a near mirror image of what tha Misfit produced. There, elephant’s outta the room.
The differences between the bikes’ engine performances are fine for some armchair quarterbacking, but perhaps what carries greater significance in this arena are things like engine character, clutch and transmission operation, throttle response, etc. And when impressions from re-entry rider Melisa, as well our own Tom Roderick are plugged into this three-bike equation, raw engine numbers take a back seat to the motorcycles’ various other qualities.
“I feel more comfortable on the Honda,” says Melisa.
What we presumed our 5-foot 2-inch returning rider was referring to was the Rebel’s over all ergonomic layout. But after discussing with Melisa some of the Honda’s traits that she preferred, we learned it wasn’t quite so much the Rebel’s comfortable ride that appealed to her, rather that the Honda instilled confidence in her rusty riding skills.
As the day wore on and we had several circuits aboard each cruiser, Tom’s keen senses honed from decades of riding pinpointed a key ingredient in the Honda that Ms. Melisa found so attractive: clutch engagement.
“The Honda’s clutch is monumentally easier to manipulate than the V Star’s friction zone which is incredibly narrow and positioned at the end of the lever’s throw,” Tom notes. “The Rebel’s clutch engagement begins close to the handlebar.”
Experienced riders might perceive less-than-ideal clutch actuation a mere annoyance, but Tom explains how for new-ish riders clutch function can make or break a ride.
“Beginning riders will find the V Star’s clutch difficult to manage, especially when performing tight parking lot maneuvers, while the Honda’s easily operated clutch helps newbie riders overcome the anxiety often associated with starting from a stop, and slower-pace moves that require them to perform multiple tasks – like shifting, steering and applying throttle – seamlessly for smooth riding.”
The Star’s V-Twin engine layout issues the least amount of engine vibration, while the Honda and CCW are buzzier by virtue of their vertical cylinder arrangement. Despite its rigid-mount engine tha Heist’s counterbalanced Single doesn’t produce excessive vibration in the handlebar or footpegs; but as we’ll soon learn, tha Heist generates considerable vibes elsewhere.
Each bike’s five-speed transmission shifted smoothly, but the Star’s occasionally elusive Neutral bugged Tom. With traditional CV (constant velocity) carburetors as the means of feeding the engines, cooler ambient temperatures necessitated using the choke to start the bikes, and all three needed a few minutes of warm-up time before they were ready to rumble. Otherwise, throttle response was linear and predictable.
Reeling in our petite cruisers is the work of a single caliper and disc in front; but where the Honda and Star utilize a standard drum brake for the rear, tha Heist has a better performing caliper and disc. No brake set here was spectacular, however, we gave tha Heist the nod for best braking performance, which is likely the result of its lightest-of-the-group vehicle weight, as well as its steel-braided brake lines.
We didn’t have a chance to weigh tha Heist ourselves, so we’ll crib Cycle World’s numbers of 285 pounds with its 2.1-gallon fuel tank full. That’s well below the Honda’s fueled and ready-to-ride weight of 331 pounds and the Star’s 323 pounds. Not having rear suspension has advantages on the scales.
The Rebel boasts the shortest wheelbase of the bunch. With 57.1 inches between the axles (58.7 for the Star, 59.6 for the CCW) and a buckhorn-style handlebar providing good steering leverage, the Rebel earns another mark in the Plus column from Melisa as the easiest to handle. Contrarily, tha Heist falls to the back of the pack in handling.
Its narrow 21-inch front wheel, longest wheelbase and lots of steering rake give tha Heist “chopper flop” handling at slow speeds – that is to say tha Heist feels like it wants to fold in on itself when turning. We expect this trait in large cruisers and raked-out choppers, but it’s an intimidating buzz-kill for newer riders.
The V Star’s drag-style handlebar lends to a more open cockpit, but its narrow bar limits steering leverage. The Star’s brake and clutch levers are also farther from the grips and therefore less friendly to beginning riders when compared to the Rebel’s lever position.
Instrumentation is basic stuff on all three ‘cycles. An analog speedometer is the only gauge on each bike, but the Honda gets bonus points for its panel of warning and indicator lights augmenting the speedo. Our CCW test unit’s speedo reveals its country of origin with a speedo display in km/h, while mph is the subordinate readout.
Also fairly run-of-the-mill is front and rear suspension. The Honda, CCW and Star have standard oil-damped forks, with the Japanese contenders fairly matched in terms of damping quality. Tha Heist’s fork, on the other hand, is woefully short of the same quality and performance, as it exhibits too much of what’s called stiction, which inhibits the fork sliders from responding smoothly to bumps and rebounding quickly enough to prepare for the next bump in the road. A pair of coil-over shocks with adjustable spring preload are found on the V Star 250 and Rebel, while tha Heist uses… Nothing!
You read correctly. The CCW effectively has no rear suspension, making it a hard-tail cruiser. The best tha Heist can offer for bump absorption is a springer saddle: a pair of tiny shocks mounted to the underside of the seat, each with a hand dial to tune in preload on their little springs, is all you get.
It should go without saying, but the ride is rough. If you weigh, say, 160 pounds or more, you’ll likely have to crank down fully on the springer seat’s shocks to keep from compressing them fully. And if you’re a lightweight female like Melisa, you run the risk of getting bounced out of the saddle when riding over expansion joints and pavement in a poor state of repair.
Finally we come to ergonomics, an aspect of these motorcycles that carries almost as much value as their respective engines.
Registering the lowest seat height of 25.4 inches is tha Heist, with the Rebel next at 26.6 inches and the Star at 27.0 inches. Even with an inseam around 25 inches Melisa could comfortably flatfoot each bike at a stop. Tom and I preferred the openness of the V Star and Heist’s rider triangle. The Star’s tallest saddle, as well as the forward reach required by its flat handlebar, provides more room to move compared to the Rebel’s cramped-feeling cockpit.
Tha Heist has even more legroom courtesy of its chopper-type forward controls. A three-position fore/aft seat adjustment helps Heist riders fine-tune ergos – a surprisingly thoughtful feature on a bike that sacrifices in so many other areas.
The Honda’s dished-out seat and pull-back handlebar only served to make Tom and I feel like we were aboard a 4/5ths scale motorcycle, but lil’ Melisa couldn’t have felt more at home. The Honda was the perfect fit for her, where the Star felt “a bit too big and heavier.”
Summary of Small Cruisers
If this shootout was weighted heavily on cool factor, tha Heist would score big, perhaps big enough to slide into first position overall. As Tom states, “tha Heist certainly projects a ruffian biker image its Japanese competitors can’t match, at a price below that of comparable used bikes.”
An MSRP of $3200 is way cheap for a motorcycle with a custom style found on cruisers costing thousands more. Melisa recognized straight away the visual value of tha Heist, saying it’s “the coolest bike here.” But no way would she pay cold cash for this scoot as her first choice as the bike to reintroduce her to riding. We agree this isn’t the best choice for beginners.
We applaud Cleveland CycleWerks for gracing tha Heist with a minimalist ethos that generates a remarkably clean look. Yet we were disappointed to see yellowed chrome on the muffler, the seepage of oil from an engine cover, and any number of non-crucial components that vibrated free during Tom’s initial testing. These issues combined with the floppy feeling front-end, excessively harsh ride from the rear half, and questionable build quality present too many points of contention for us to consider placing tha Heist in any spot other than last in this trio.
But, for the rider with a tight billfold and a strong mechanical aptitude that easily envisions ways around the above issues, tha Heist might be an unbeatable bargain.
The duel between the Star V Star 250 and Honda Rebel simply comes down to a matter of which best fits your physical frame. Both brands have decades of reliable Japanese engineering and quality control to give us peace-of-mind, and their identical price of $4190 painlessly removes cost from the decision-making process.
For Tom (and yours truly) the Star makes the most sense because of its better fit for someone standing 5-feet 6-inches or taller. For riders fitting this criterion, and who are ambitious enough to assimilate the Star’s challenging clutch, the V Star 250 is the right ride. Furthermore, the Star adds a highly sought-after quality in the cruiser world not found on the Honda or CCW: a burly sounding exhaust note.
“The V Star 250, with its V-Twin engine and stacked, staggered dual mufflers looks the part of a full-size cruiser and is more appealing both visually and acoustically compared to the Rebel,” Tom says as he summarizes his top pick.
So then we come to the venerable Honda Rebel. This thing’s been around so long it’s achieved icon status, a default choice for new riders. Melisa, the quintessential, petite female beginner rider, routinely gravitated to the Rebel for one encompassing reason: user-friendliness. “I felt at ease on that bike,” she summarizes.
A welcoming environment is a badge of honor, a hallmark of Honda motorcycles. We’ve testified of this fact time and again, whether discussing the effortless ride-ability of the hypersport CBR1000RR, the surprising agility of the plump and long-in-the tooth sport-tourer ST1300, or on Honda’s highly stylized foray into customized cruisers, The Fury.
Indeed, this signature Honda attribute of user-friendliness even finds its way to the entry-level Rebel.
2012 Cleveland CycleWerks tha Heist Review
2012 Honda Rebel Review
2012 Star V Star 250 Review
2011 Beginner Bike Shootout
2009 250cc Streetbike Shootout
2009 Suzuki TU250X Review
Choosing Your First Motorcycle – A Beginner’s Guide
Motorcycle Beginner Series on Motorcycle.com
All Things Honda on Motorcycle.com
All Things Star Motorcycles on Motorcycle.com
All Things Cruiser on Motorcycle.com