Cleveland Cycle Werks' Tha Heist 250 is almost a pastiche of an early custom bike, dead simple in design and execution.
Cleveland Cycle Werks' Tha Heist 250 is almost a pastiche of an early custom bike, dead simple in design and execution.
The saddle of The Heist is only 660mm off the tar, the handlebars low and the foot-pegs way forward - pure Dennis Hopper.
The saddle of The Heist is only 660mm off the tar, the handlebars low and the foot-pegs way forward - pure Dennis Hopper.
The traditional custom look extends to the instrumentation.
The traditional custom look extends to the instrumentation.

I hadn't ridden a bike without rear suspension for nearly 30 years and I'd forgotten just how hard a hardtail is.

That, I think, will be the first impression of anybody who slings a leg over Cleveland Cycle Werks' Tha Heist 250. The seat is a ploughshare-shaped steel plate, mounted on two little spring struts and upholstered in black vinyl over what feels like about 3mm of low-density padding.

The springs were totally overwhelmed by my 106kg and bottomed out on anything bigger than a matchstick, although that didn't seem to do the struts any harm - which is more than can be said for my aching bum.

But its Cool Quotient is sky-high; it attracts enormous amounts of attention from children of all ages, many of whom find it difficult to believe it came out of the crate like this.

That saddle is all of 660mm off the tar, the footpegs way forward and the handlebars low and narrow; the seating position is pure Dennis Hopper.

The kicked-out front end makes the steering heavy and floppy at walking pace but surprisingly steady above 20km/h, very commendable for such a light bike - it weighs only 115kg with a full tank of petrol.

The front suspension is firm but not harsh, progressive and reasonably well-damped. The 150/70 rear tyre is all the rear suspension Tha Heist has and, unsurprisingly, the bike picks up a distinct rear-end wallow when pushing on through long sweepers.

But the handling is good at more relaxed speeds - about 80km/h or less - so you soon learn to just cool it; that, after all, is what custom bikes are all about.

The brakes are good if old-fashioned, with dual-piston sliding callipers front and rear. The front one delivers good initial bite and progressive action but the rear is typically American, its sudden action easily locking the rear wheel with injudicious application.

The traditional custom look extends to the instrumentation - a small speedometer with a mechanical odometer and a neat chromed plate with separate warning icons for neutral, high beam and indicators.

You'll find very little plastic on Tha Heist; the frame and cycle parts are all steel, right down to the mudguards, battery cover and electrics box.

There's lots of neat if rather agricultural bracketry and exposed bits and pieces - like 1950s Americana it wears its engineering on the outside.

And it's beautifully finished in two shades of black with sexy, stick-on graphics on the eight-litre peanut tank.

Even the foot pegs are mounted on a solid steel crossbar and the foot controls have needle roller bearings; there's absolutely no play in the gear or rear brake linkages.

Where's it made? Cleveland Cycle Werks, as its name suggests, is located in Cleveland, Ohio, which is where the bikes are designed and prototypes built.

Production machines, however, are made in China, which is how the price of this robust little cruiser is held down to $3195 (about R23 250) in the United States.

Recommended retail price in South Africa is R27 995.

The 229cc single-cylinder engine is by Li Fan, one of the world's largest makers of small petrol engines. It's mostly derived from the Honda CG series, designed in the 1960s and still current in the CRF230 dual-purpose bike.

Rated at an understressed 10.5kW, it's distinctly vibratious when pushed and the straight-through pipe crackles and pops on the overrun - just right for a bike with an attitude out of all proportion to its size.

The clutch has a pleasant action with a positive final take-up; the five-speed gearbox, however, is notchy when cold and bloody horrible when hot. However, experience with 1970s Yamahas, which left the factory with something akin to fish-oil in their sumps and suffered much the same problems until their first service, suggests that a decent 15W40 multigrade could work wonders.

As it was the little single took me smartly up to 100km/h in a straight line, then very slowly up to an indicated 118 - a true 109, according to Mr Garmin and his friends in the sky.

But who wants to work that hard? The engine settled down and went to sleep at an indicated 90km/h, just above the old US Double Nickel (55mph) with the needle pointing straight up. Is Cleveland trying to tell us something?

VERDICT

Tha Heist, cute as it is, lacks the gravitas of a full-bore cruiser and it's too uncomfortable to ride for more than 30 minutes at a time.

It's a workable commuter but, essentially, it's a toy or a pose-bike for teenagers. Nevertheless, at R27 995, you can afford to have one just for tooling around the neighbourhood and going down to the Waterfront for coffee on a Sunday morning - which is when the Cleveland Tha Heist does what it does best - just looking cool.

Test bike from Deuce Bikes, Cape Town.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 229cc Air-cooled single.

Bore x stroke: 67 x 65mm.

Compression ratio: 9.2:1.

Valvegear: SOHC with two overhead valves per cylinder.

Power: 10.5kW at 7000rpm.

Torque: 15.8Nm at 5500.

Induction: 24mm Sheng Wey PZ31 slide carburettor.

Ignition: CDI.

Starting: Electric.

Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.

Transmission: Five-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.

Front Suspension: 37mm conventional cartridge forks.

Rear suspension: None.

Front brake: 290mm disc with dual-piston floating calliper.

Rear brake: 240mm disc with Tokico dual-piston floating calliper.

Front tyre: 90/90 - 21 tube type.

Rear tyre: 140/70 - 18 tube type.

Wheelbase: 1515mm.

Seat height: 660mm.

Dry weight: 115kg.

Fuel tank: 8 litres.

Price: R27 995.

Bike from: Deuce Bikes, Cape Town