I was initially skeptical about real-sized motorcycles from SSR. Until recently, I only knew of the company’s pit bikes, and didn’t actually know anyone who owned one. That was before I tore up my favorite twisties and townscapes on the (distributed by SSR) Benelli TNT135, which performed much better than its price tag suggested it would. Riding the 135 convinced me to open my mind and enjoy the more “real motorcycle”-sized Benelli TNT300 (review coming soon). No spoilers, but it was Benelli’s 300 that got me excited about attending the press launch for SSR’s Buccaneer Classic and its co-pirate, the Buccaneer Cafe.

SSR’s goal was to create what they describe as a “back to basics” retro motorcycle and experience. Aesthetically speaking, the two Buccaneers radiate a Seventies vibe, with an Italian flavor—think old Guzzi, but with the motor installed the right way in the frame (or wrong way, if you’re a Guzzi nut).

The number plate side covers are classic cool, as are the appropriately round single headlight, taillight, turn signals, and lollipop mirrors on both machines. The 17” front and 15” rear wheels (also round) are properly spoked and come shod with what SSR calls “off road-capable” tires, though they fall short of real dual-sport rubber. The aluminum skid plate, which is not round, encourages dirty shortcuts, even if both Buccaneers lack a matching “scrambler” high pipe.

The Cafe further enhances the retro theme with a front number plate / fly screen combo mounted on a funky, tubular carrier color-matched to the frame, and a solo seat with removable cowl in the same color as the tank. There’s just enough chrome on both bikes to emphasize the classic aesthetics without getting into typical American V-Twin excess.

It’s not just borrowed style—there’s some history here, though it’s a slightly confusing mix of Italjet, Yamaha, and Longjia. Michael Lee, Marketing and Product Manager for SSR, filled us in on the background of the Buccaneer:

“The SSR Buccaneer started life as an Italjet Buccaneer. The name comes from the Italjet Buccaneer 125, a two-stroke, parallel twin with a five-speed (engine sourced from Yamaha) that was first sold in 1972 and won the Italian Junior Championship in ‘73, ‘74, and 75.

“In 2014 the Longjia factory released the Buccaneer 250i to the world. In other markets it was sold as an Italjet, and SSR bought it to the US in 2017 under the SSR brand. The bike’s engine is based loosely on the first generation 250cc Virago’s engine.”

The engine has been around a while, debuting in Yamaha’s Virago in 1981. It’s a “vintage” design, now fuel-injected, a 249cc 60-degree air-cooled V-twin that makes its peak 18.1 horsepower 1,000 revolutions shy of its 9,000 rpm redline. That little band of ponies finds it way to the rear wheel by way of a five-speed gearbox that shifts more dependably than some bikes costing twice the price of the Buc. Clutchless upshifts required minimal effort, even the oft-precarious 1-2 shift.

While 18 horses is almost laughable compared to what many modern bikes produce, you need to remember that the Buccaneer weighs in at just 283 pounds, not much more than the average Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, depending on what they had for lunch.

The Buccaneer motorcycles I rode had no issues hauling me down the freeway at 75 MPH, and I don’t think any football player can say that. Power was delivered with a vigor that I was not expecting from a budget two-fiddy, with the motor really shining between six and eight thousand rpm.

The exhaust note was equally exciting: just loud enough to make kids on the side of the road smile, not loud enough to make their parents give me the stink eye.

The highest speed I saw on the display was 83 MPH. It did take some distance to get there, and I was looking for a non-existent sixth gear starting at about 65.

Extended high-speed runs reminded me I was on a small twin in other ways: the bars were buzzy enough that objects in the mirror seemed to have been painted by Picasso, and I was still feeling those vibes in my hands an hour after I stopped riding.

Despite the classic styling and heritage, the brakes are far from retro. Up front, a single 278mm wave rotor is squeezed by a four-piston caliper; out back a 240mm disc is clamped by a single pot when it’s time to drop anchor. Steel braided lines—an impressive feature on a bike in this price range—ensure that each pull of the lever is consistent. I felt zero fade on the day’s ride.

Also on the modern side of things is a digital display showing gear position, fuel, and miles per hour, situated below an easy-to-read analog tach. The speedo is a little lazy, however: it showed me doing four MPH for about three seconds after I’d come to a complete stop.

The Buccaneer sports 37mm conventional fork tubes and a single shock with adjustable preload. The bike felt more than capable of railing high speed corners on the street, but I didn’t really push my luck with copious amounts of lean angle either.

Turn-in was predictable and thanks to the bike’s light weight, I had to consciously focus on not turning in too early. Don’t get me wrong: it doesn’t handle like a sportbike, but it’s no cruiser either—not super stiff and not overly plush. When I remembered I was riding a $3,500 motorcycle, I was inclined to be more understanding about the bike’s undersprung nature.

The suspension on one of the Cafes I rode was more bouncy than the other, which might have had something to do with the difference in build dates—it felt like the fork oil was lighter, something I would probably have adjusted for my weight anyway.

I also observed some other fit and finish issues. I rode three different Buccaneers, and the switchgear felt different on each. For example, the turn signal switch stuck out about a quarter-inch further on one of the machines, but the starter button was more sunken in on another. The kickstand tab on the first bike I rode was bent up just far enough that I hit my foot on it when upshifting enthusiastically. The friction zone on the clutch was farther out than I would like, but it was manageable and I quickly got used to it.

For motorcycles in this price range, niggling issues like those above seem to come with the territory. Hell, in talking to my friends that have purchased Teslas, it seems that fit and finish can vary widely on top dollar vehicles as well. On the other hand, Japanese OEMs seem to deliver consistent fit and finish on just slightly more expensive motorcycles in the $4,000 to $6,000 range.

SSR hopes to put potential buyers at ease by offering a 12-month, 12,000 mile warranty on both the $3,499 Classic and the $3,599 Cafe. For another $744, you can bump your coverage by another four years.

Another concern that comes with lesser-known brands is parts availability, but after touring the SSR facility I wouldn’t worry much about that—they stock thousands of parts in southern California. The company currently has over 250 dealers in the US, and is looking to be well over 300 next year, so finding someone to order parts and honor that warranty should be smooth sailing.

SSR knows that the Buccaneer is not the biggest, baddest mama jama to ever sail the seven seas, and they don’t pretend otherwise. But they’re hoping that its simplicity and classic styling strike a chord with both the hipster crowd—as an accessory that is more reliable and affordable than a 40-year old cafe bike—and older generations that wax nostalgic over the same 40-year old cafe bikes.

I’m not in either of those demographics, but I still had fun on on the Buccaneers. Both the Classic and Cafe are lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to ride machines that offer with plenty of smiles, and isn’t that what motorcycles are all about?

Stay tuned for a full CityBike-style test of the Buccaneer here in the Bay Area.

7 Responses

  1. Mister X

    What cool little around town bikes, love the V-twin and having owned a ’68 Honda CB160, the Buccaneer does sound beefier than a parallel twin.

    Reply
  2. ChopperCharles

    I’ve had one of these since Feb 2019 now, and I’m having a blast on it. I can’t believe how well it handles when pushed! No slowing down necessary, it just bombs through corners at far faster speeds than I take them on my other bikes. I’ve seen 84mph indicated in a full tuck on a downhill stretch. It handles freeway speeds just fine, in the slow lane at 65-70 or so. If there’s a bit of traffic I can tuck in behind someone going 75-80mph and stay with them, as their car punches a hole in the air for me. (I’m still a safe distance, not truly drafting).

    Off the highway the bike really shines. It hauls my 250 lb butt around just fine. It really excels on gravel as well, and even made a valid attempt at deep mud without getting stuck. (It was all over the place, but it didn’t get stuck!). The massive 9″ of ground clearance is nice, the dual sport tires stick great on the street and great in gravel. It’s fun to slide the rear end out a bit on the loose stuff! If you havne’t noticed, the pegs are adventure style. Remove the rubber insert and they become metal grippy pegs. This thing is meant to be a cafe scrambler…

    I’ve got 1400 miles on it so far, and am just riding it and loving it.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/faedacdd079e5f063eeebb49cac21ba3168cc84d56a0334dbbd7bcaa592f7ed9.jpg
    Charles.

    Reply
      • ChopperCharles

        I’m at nearly 4000 miles on the clocks now. Musings:

        The stock chain was wearing out at 2000 miles, requiring an adjustment every ride. I replaced it with a “Factory Spec” x-ring chain before it damaged the sprockets. I’ve adjusted the chain once since then.

        The stock rear tire was also worn out by 2000 miles. Turns out the manual lists the MAX pressure for the tires as the recommended pressure. So I wore out the center of the tire tread. Read up on Maxxis recommended tire pressures and the tire pressures recommended for the XV250 Virago (similar tires, weight, and power) and am running 28/30 now. Front tire wore quite a bit from the higher pressure, but it’s still got plenty of tread so I’m still running it. For the rear I’m trying a Hideneau K66 130/80/15, which is a lower profile. This gives me the equivalent of 2 more teeth on the rear sprocket.

        One front turn signal and one rear turn signal have failed. The center LED part came loose, vibrated around, and eventually stopped working. Both will be replaced under warranty.

        The LED lighting the left portion of the tachometer face has failed. I’m kinda bummed, I don’t want a new speedometer, I want all my mileage intact. But I’ll likely have this replaced under warranty too. Or perhaps go with a KOSO unit.

        Nothing mechanical on the bike has failed, even though I’m regularly running max rpm and occasionally hitting the rev limiter. Only really turn signals and now gauge lighting. Turn signals are an easy replacement with aftermarket (though I do really like the look of the stock signals), but the gauge is worrisome.

        The lower gearing from the smaller rear tire has been an absolute performance boon. I’ve topped out at 88mph under ideal conditions (downhill, tailwind, tucked against the tank), and I can regularly hit 80 on the highway. 8000rpm is now 80mph. Rev limiter cuts in at 9000rpm. I can easily maintain 80+ if there is traffic to break the wind. On flat roads with no traffic and on a windless day, it will cruise at 74-76 without drama. The big speed killers are hills. Speed will slowly drop down to 70ish on medium hills, and will require a downshift for big hills, and be maxed around 65-67.

        If I go back to a stock rear tire (or a stock size from a different company), I will definitely be getting a custom sprocket made with 2 or 3 more teeth on it. (And may drop to a 520 chain instead of the stock 530 chain, so I can use a stock XV250 Virago front sprocket and also save some weight)

        So, turn signals and gauge lighting are my only (non-consumables) issues thus far. I’m not exactly stoked about the failures, but I paid $3203 for the bike, and I’m having a blast on it… a few niggles I can deal with for that price, I suppose.

      • Surj Gish

        Thanks for the update, Charles. We expected some more signs of cost-cutting might rear their heads after time, but 2,000 miles from a chain is mighty disappointing. The rear tire, too—it’s not like the engine’s output is overwhelming. 😉

        Here’s hoping that’s the end of the miscellaneous failures. Glad you’re enjoying the bike!

      • ChopperCharles

        The chain was still only at the halfway mark within its adjustment range. I could *probably* have gotten 3-4000 miles out of the chain. But I was sick of adjusting it every ~140 miles (every fill up basically). When it started doing that, I went with X-ring and never looked back. I bought the bike knowing the chain was crap, so this was expected. I’ve run cheap non-oring chains on bikes in the past, and they pretty much always end this way. I actually had the chain in my shopping cart since the day I bought the bike, I just didn’t press check out until it was obvious the chain was not long for this world.

        The tires were fine and wearing well until I read the manual and pumped them up to the “recommended” 36 psi. The manual even says for 2-up to run the rear at 38psi, which is beyond the maximum pressure rating on the sidewall of the tire! So after doing that, the center of the tire was mostly gone in a thousand miles.

        I might run a stock tire again to see how long it lasts at a sane 30psi, they’re cheap enough to experiment and I did like the gravel performance. The stock tires really dig in and bite well on loose gravel roads, and even handled deep mud a couple of times.

  3. ChopperCharles

    8000 miles now. Three turn signals were replaced under warranty and are still operational. I’d like to say no other problems to speak of, but I just noticed a fork seal starting to leak a bit. Not a big deal, it’s probably because I’m a big fat guy and I ride it hard… and the occasional wheelie.

    For upgrades, I went to a 520 x-ring chain and got a bit of a performance boost from it. Front sprocket from 2017 XV250, rear sprocket is a JTR273-45. Saved three pounds over stock sprockets with the X-ring chain. I also put in a Barnett kevlar clutch and heavy-duty springs made for a 2017 XV250. The stock clutch lever pull was so light that I could never get the bike to do anything even remotely close to a wheelie. The clutch would just slip out every time. In retrospect, the stock clutch had plenty of friction material left, and I could probably have gotten away with just replacing the springs. But the kit was cheap and since I already bought it anyways I went ahead and replaced the whole thing. MAJOR performance upgrade there, but also far stronger lever pull. For someone not as burly as I am, maybe the EBC springs would offer a lighter pull than Barnett, but stiffer than stock. Also note the SSR gaskets are quality items. They have an integrated bead of silicone impregnated into the gasket material. I’ve not seen that before! (But granted I usually work on old bikes)

    I’ve also laced new rims onto the stock hubs (19 front 17 rear), cut down, re-foamed, and upholstered my seat so it’s flat, and I’m running Kenda big block tires and a different exhaust. I turned my cafe into a lightweight scrambler, and the bike is better for it IMO. 9″ of ground clearance turns into 10″ with the larger rims, and the bike handles gravel and dirt roads nicely.

    Reply

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