If last month’s Bonnie/Sporty shootout on ChopCult proved anything, it’s that practically any motorcycle manufacturer can build a fun, reliable freedom machine for around ten thousand dollars. What would a company’s prospects be if that target MSRP were a third the scratch? This month we’re going to find out.
In another life I used to test 20-inch bicycles for a monthly slick called BMX Plus! I worked for Hi-Torque Publications, home to Dirt Bike and Motocross Action, among others. It was long-time MXA editor Jody Weisel who showed me how to craft an honest appraisal of a machine’s bona fides while shedding light on its shortcomings without insulting the readers’ intelligence or crushing the commercial fortunes of the manufacturer and potential advertiser.
Stock Misfit (right) still features some cool-looking parts for its $3200 price tag
This delicate dance sometimes gleaned less than desired results, especially when it came time to take glory shots of the bike in action. Said photos had to be exciting enough to lure readers into the story without destroying the bike in the process, not an easy assignment when mass-produced parts and high-volume assembly came into play. To insure getting money shots that would keep both our editor and the advertising department happy, we took a pro rider and the test specimen to some huge jump and encouraged him to launch body and bike into the stratosphere. One roll of Fujichrome was usually all it took for a wheel to buckle or a frame to snap. At that point it was my job to trot out terms like “entry-class” and “good for the money” to hide any dubious test bike’s shortcomings in a murky cloud of obfuscation.
The aftermarket pipe looks stylish and definitely improves the engine note coming from the Misfit's 250cc one-lung mill
I never felt good about the process, and conversations with disgruntled manufacturers and ex-advertisers only made it worse. Eventually my unseasoned idealism got the best of me and I quit writing bike tests forever. It was too difficult to report the truth without fear of retribution.
After a 27-year sabbatical from the product-review trenches, I’m sheepishly reentering the game with Macintosh and Nikon blazing. The recent arrival of two Misfit café bikes from Cleveland Cycle Werks signaled the end of my retirement. In the three decades since my own first stab at product analysis I’ve come to loathe writers who state opinion as fact, an all-too-common faux pas these days, especially in the low stakes game of chopper media.
Consequently, I will try hard to toe a very objective line in my assessment of this American-designed, Chinese-made 250cc street machine. Undoubtedly I will wax philosophical—not literal—on at least a couple matters of fact. Thanks for understanding.
I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride…
The two machines Cleveland Cycle Werks provided for our informal evaluation were delivered in both stock and modified trim. Critical mods on the hopped-up Misfit included clubman bars, taller gearing and a custom stainless-steel megaphone exhaust. For our 90-minute scoot around the hills and dirt roads of Murrieta I chose the stocker. Biltwell’s Mike D hopped on the modified Misfit to lend observations and opinions.
The upright bar that comes stock on the Misfit is surprisingly comfortable
From both an aesthetic and ergonomic perspective, neither of CCW’s café-inspired street bikes seem suited to my short, thick frame. At five-nine and 215, I look and feel like a bear on a unicycle aboard anything smaller than a Sportster. On the other hand, Mike D’s chiseled triathlete body looked right at home on the bike I chidingly dubbed “the Charley-Davidson.”
Black chrome is a curious color that we're told will see limited production before matte black engines make their debut as a running change
Despite my prodigious heft, the Misfit’s 14-hp, 250cc single accelerated our combined mass to a thoroughly wrung-out 70 mph in just under 22 seconds by my rough calculations. If you’re in a hurry there are faster ways to get around town, but few are cheaper. I’ve owned bicycles that cost more than the Misfit’s $3195 MSRP. In the realm of high-mileage commuter vessels, the Misfit's claimed 98 miles per gallon puts so-called "green cars" like the Prius to shame. When you compare stickers, it's no contest: slow-sipping motorcycles like the Misfit leave hybrids, clean diesels and similar vehicles in the dust.
Misfit cockpit is tidy and well appointed
Fuel-friendliness aside, what exactly does one get for 32 dead Benjamins? According to the manufacturer’s website, the Misfit features a “CG series” counter-balanced 250cc single-cylinder engine with “a performance-enhancing cam curve” and redesigned intake and exhaust tracks to meet EPA/CARB and EEC standards. CCW goes on to say that Honda “originated” China’s Lifan factory, which is where the Misfit’s powerplant is manufactured, and where I am led to assume the complete bike is assembled.
Other quasi up-market features on the Misfit include electric start, progressively wound coil shocks with adjustable spring preload and remove reservoirs, two-pot hydraulic brake calipers with wave rotors and braided stainless-steel lines fore and aft. A clean tach and speedo binnacle behind a diminutive aero dome above the headlight dress up the cockpit and lend substance to the Misfit’s café style. The fuel gauge in said binnacle was a joke, however, and occupied far more real estate than its metronomic needle bouncing deserved. Swapping the positions of fuel gauge and tach would be a more performance-oriented spec change, in my opinion.
We flogged both bikes on this rocky dirt road, and nothing fell off or bent. We've ridden 13-thousand dollar Harleys to Baja that can't make the same claim
The Misfit’s hand controls boast intuitive buttons and levers for controlling choke, blinkers, lights and engine firing, and its grips feel no better or worse than any stock grip I’ve held on motorcycles costing three times more (are you listening, Harley?) The fork is an upside-down model with a look similar to that of practically any mid-range sportbike, albeit of a slightly smaller I.D. Remember, the Misfit weighs around 300 pounds soaking wet—a lightweight machine by any standard.
The Misfit’s rubber foot pegs, steel toe shifter and welded tubular brake pedal felt commensurately sturdy and looked appropriately well spec'ed. While I personally love the cold-forged alloy brake pedal on late-model Sportsters, the welded chrome unit on the Misfit worked just fine, too, and looks at least as good as the agricultural plate-steel unit on the ’07 Dyna parked in our shop.
The tach (center) should be where the gas gauge is, and the gas gauge should be replaced with a dipstick taped to the down tube. In a word, it sucked
As stated earlier, the Misfit is Cleveland Cycle Werks’ entry into the café game. Misfit stable mates include The Ace and The Heist. The same quarter-liter, air-cooled 5-speed engine powers all three machines. For the record, it is my respect for the English language and disdain for Ebonics that prohibits me from mimicking the model-name spelling as it appears on the Misfit’s flanks.
The plastic pillion cover on the back of the seat can be removed to open up space for a claimed 552 pounds of combined rider and cargo
The carefully crafted litany of features and benefits on their website have me convinced that CCW founder Scott Colosimo is a bright guy. Why try so hard to imbue these diminutive street bikes with fake bad-boy attitude through ghetto-certified spelling tricks? Given their birthplace and dearth of horsepower and heritage, a less braggadocio approach to branding seems like a smarter plan. I know that's just one man's opinion, but I was careful not to state it as fact. In my opinion this motorcycle is fun, affordable and good-looking—it doesn't need tarted-up text treatments to communicate its mission.
Chinese-built remote reservoir shocks looked nice and worked adequately on our admittedly short ride
Branding conventions aside, after spending an hour flogging the Misfit on dirt roads and shitty tarmac, the bike I initially felt silly on eventually struck me as a good fit, indeed. For the inveterate chopper freak with at least two machines in his quiver, the Misfit makes an excellent third bike for fun around town. I reached this conclusion after just one ride, and Mike D agreed.
Billdozer’s test ride aboard the hopped-up Misfit included a spin with his 17-year-old son, who opted for the stocker. During that father-and-son excursion another ownership scenario presented itself: the Misfit struck all who rode it as a perfect first bike for women, teenagers and bantamweight first-time riders.
Regardless of which category you fall into, certain aspects of Misfit ownership demand consideration. First, there’s the challenge of finding a dealer. The CCW website lists 31 shops in the continental US, a situation that could make obtaining parts and service difficult. Assuming your Misfit runs like a top, there’s also the question of aftermarket accessories, or more to the point, a lack of same. Long-term plans for the stock Misfit in our quiver include doing a chop how-to, at which point we’ll know more about the machine’s challenges and limitations as far as mods and retrofitment are concerned.
After spending 90 minutes riding the Misfit and three hours researching the machine and its manufacturer on the Internet, my advice to potential Misfit owners is this: If you think Cleveland Cycle Werks' entry-class café racer is perfect for you, you’re probably right.
Cleveland Institute of Art Scott Colosimo interview: