Really, the Heist is best summed up by one of Cleveland Cycle Werks’ dealers, Steve Barber, of Scooter City Sacramento. For many potential buyers who wander into his emporium, there are three choices: a scooter, the Heist or the bus.
Yes, it’s made in China (with various parts from other places), says Cleveland’s owner/visionary Scott Colosimo for the millionth time, but then, what isn’t? he asks, submitting as Exhibit One his constantly active iPhone. Made in China. In case you hadn’t noticed, a huge proportion of everything we drive, communicate upon, ride and play with now comes wholly or in part from China, along with a lot of what we eat, sleep on, lose sleep over and whine about. The baby-faced 29-year-old Colosimo is a realist. Trained as a designer and quickly frustrated after a few years inside American Industry, he decided to just bypass all of it and pursue his dream: build cool motorcycles. Cool motorcycles people can actually afford.
The thing to bear in mind about China, says Colosimo, is that its industry is not so different from any other country’s. There are factories that churn out pot-metal brake calipers and tainted baby formula, but there are also plenty that produce components of the highest quality. (If there weren’t, the world would’ve already ground to a creaky halt.) To get a good motorcycle out of China, then, what you need to do is elementary: spend some time there, root out and establish relationships with the good suppliers (mostly ISO-certified ones), which lead to relationships with other good suppliers. “When it comes down to it,” says Colosimo, “the Chinese are pretty much like us. They want to succeed, make money, live in a nice house, send their kids to college.” It’s pretty basic, isn’t it? Colosimo actually packed up and moved to China, and he still spends plenty of time there when he’s not at the home factory, which really is in Cleveland, Ohio.
More than one person wanted to know what year Triumph this is. Triumph of the global economy maybe? What it really is, is a 229cc Chinese knock-off of a vintage Honda Single in a 272-pound hard-tail package. If you’re not going far or fast, it’s not so bad.
In fact, he spent plenty of time banging his head against the wall attempting to source parts domestically, only to be shot down repeatedly by corporate entropy, fear of liability and plain old stupidity: Even U.S. companies that earn a living making brake discs for cars, for instance, recoil in horror at the idea of stamping one out for a motorcycle. In China, on the other hand, it’s how many would you like and when do you need them?
The Heist is powered by a 229cc air-cooled Single with two pushrod-actuated overhead valves. A 10mm wrench is all you need to remove the three bolts that hold its chromed valve cover in place (no need to disturb the gas tank), revealing screw-and-locknut-adjusters. Guys of a certain age look at that engine, squint and say it looks like some sort of Honda but can’t quite place it. That’s because it’s a knock-off of an engine Honda began building in the early ’70s, the CG125, for parts of the world unfamiliar with concepts like preventive maintenance. Since then, it’s grown to 229cc, gained a counterbalancer, electric starter and various other amenities, but at heart it’s built to keep slogging out 12.5 hp at 6500 rpm and 11 ft.-lbs. torque at 5000 rpm (as measured on the official CW dyno) through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, oil changes or no, inhaling through a 31mm Sheng Wey carburetor. That’s not much power, but then the Heist is not much motorcycle at 272 pounds dry (on the CW scales).
Colosimo dropped off two Heists at our offices, each with 4 kilometers showing on their metric odometers, and encouraged us to flog away. Break-in period? Not so much. Colosimo says he’s put 100,000 miles on three test Heists, along with FEA and stress-testing of all sorts of components.
I only had time to put a few hundred kilometers on one Heist, but I have to admit that for riding around town, the thing is pretty damn fun. Yes, it’s a hardtail, but nice little mountain-bike shocks support the seat, which is really low. Unlike the 2009 Johnny Pag we rode, the Heist’s fork tubes seem to contain some sort of lubricating fluid, which allows them to actually slide somewhat smoothly back and forth. As a result, the overall ride quality isn’t significantly worse than that of the H-D Iron 883 we rode a while back (with 1.6 inches rear travel).
Chrome-moly tube is expensive and stiff, so the Heist frame is 1020 DOM (drawn-over-mandrel) mild steel. If CCW had a marketing department, they’d trot out “tuned flex.” Combine this springiness with the seat shocks’ lack of rebound damping, and the first in a series of bumps will catapult your butt out of the seat as you pass over the ensuing ones, so you don’t feel them at all. Crude but effective. Seriously, I agree with Jesse James on the idea that riding a rigid sort of makes you a better rider; it forces you to pay attention and pick smoother lines as you scurry about your business.
Top speed seems to be just about 70 mph in fifth, which is not so thrashy as you might think, thanks to the engine’s counterbalancer. Short hops on the freeway aren’t so bad in the right lane. Cruising along at a nice 50 or 60 mph on surface streets is smooth and easy, even enjoyable. Fuel mileage so far is 77 mpg.
Obviously, 12.5 hp isn’t exactly rocketship thrust, but when you finally realize you need to wind the long-throw throttle all the way open, there’s more roarty single-cylinder power than you might expect, intake honking right below your right knee, exhaust blatting happily away. Free speech! America! There’s even a catalyst in there (which gets really hot, judging from the color the muffler’s turned). Other manufacturers complain about CARB and so does Colosimo, but he got ’er done anyway and received certification as of the day I’m writing this; the Heist is 50-state legal.
The Heist is powered by a 229cc air-cooled Single with two pushrod-actuated overhead valves.
So far (admittedly not far), everything works. The shifter pivots on roller bearings instead of bushings, as does the rear brake pedal, and Road Test Editor Don Canet was actually impressed with the quality of the shift linkage (sturdier than what’s on a GSX-R1000).
Anyway, function is how we measure motorcycles mostly, but the Heist buyer will also be concerned about fashion, and in that department the little beast is pretty impressive—for what it is. Colosimo had his own wire-spoked wheels laced-up, with more spokes than usual. Harley guys, drawn in by the shape of that gas tank, pretend they knew all along it was a cheap knock-off as they back sheepishly away. Engine mounts are laser-cut and smooth, those rear fender struts are cool, so are the round underseat keg that contains the electrics and the chromed aluminum (not plastic) engine covers, the braided brake lines, the fake billet mirrors…
The fact is that Colosimo pretty much got the proportions just about right with this affordable little mongrel. I can’t remember the last time so many strangers came up to admire and tell me how cool my bike is. At first, I thought they were being sarcastic. Most of them weren’t. None were women, but CCW expects a bunch of Heist buyers will be.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the bike in time to put many miles on it, so we can’t say this Chinese bike is different than the other Chinese bikes we’ve ridden. But it sort of feels like it is. And that’s what’s fun about the motorcycle business: It’s as good a microcosm as any, and you can ride it. We remember when we laughed at another aspiring Asian country trying to stick its toe in the door, which went on to become quite successful. Ahh, the sweep of history… Colosimo’s got more bikes in the works, including a supermotard, a café racer, a moped; and he’s not the sort to give up. Neither are the Chinese, it’s beginning to appear. $3195? Things could get interesting.