2016 CSC RC3 Review

Troy Siahaan
by Troy Siahaan

Changing how we think about Chinese motorcycles.

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.

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

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?

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 Of course, that’s moot now since the CBR250R has been superseded by the CBR300R.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.

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 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.

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:

CSC RC322.0º75mm52.4 in.
Honda CBR250R25.0º98.6mm53.9 in.
Kawasaki Ninja 30027.0º94.0mm55.3 in.
Yamaha R325.0º94.0mm54.3 in.
Yamaha R624.0º96.5mm54.1 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…

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!

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

Horsepower19.6 @ 7800 rpm
Torque13.7 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm
Engine Capacity249.7cc
Engine TypeLiquid-cooled, 4-stroke, single overhead cam, 4-valve single-cylinder with balance shaft
Bore x Stroke77mm x 53.6mm
Fuel SystemDelphi EFI
Final DriveChain
Front SuspensionRebound adjustable inverted fork
Rear SuspensionPreload and rebound adjustable monoshock
Front BrakeFour-piston caliper, 300mm single disc
Rear BrakeTwin-piston caliper, 240mm single disc
Front Tire110/70-17
Rear Tire140/70-17
Seat Height30.3 inches
Wheelbase52.4 inches
Rake/Trail22°/2.95 inches
Curb Weight370 lbs
Fuel Capacity5.28 gal
ColorsBlue, White, Red
Warranty2 years unlimited mileage. The first year is parts and labor, the second year is parts only.
Troy Siahaan
Troy Siahaan

Troy's been riding motorcycles and writing about them since 2006, getting his start at Rider Magazine. From there, he moved to Sport Rider Magazine before finally landing at Motorcycle.com in 2011. A lifelong gearhead who didn't fully immerse himself in motorcycles until his teenage years, Troy's interests have always been in technology, performance, and going fast. Naturally, racing was the perfect avenue to combine all three. Troy has been racing nearly as long as he's been riding and has competed at the AMA national level. He's also won multiple club races throughout the country, culminating in a Utah Sport Bike Association championship in 2011. He has been invited as a guest instructor for the Yamaha Champions Riding School, and when he's not out riding, he's either wrenching on bikes or watching MotoGP.

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3 of 28 comments
  • Schizuki Schizuki on Jun 04, 2016

    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 '80s. 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 John Ferguson on Jun 05, 2016

      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.)

  • TW200 TW200 on Jul 03, 2016

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