Wee Wolf in big Suzy's clothing
What's the best new 250cc motorcycle you can buy for less than $6000?
It's a trick question, because there are only two on the Kiwi market with price tags pegged below that mark - the Daelim Roadwin 250 F1 from Korea, and the latest bike from emerging Taiwanese bikemaker SYM.
Both cost $5995, and both come powered by 249cc, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder engines that respect the high price paid for a tank of fuel and sip gently at it like it would a bottle of rare 30-year-old whisky.
The Daelim has its charms, and the fact that it comes with a full fairing might give it an edge over the new SYM 250Ni Wolf. However, the latter looks more like a product of the 21st century. It's better made and comes in more fashionable colours, like the matte blue of the test bike. I can, therefore, see quite a few learner riders "turning Taiwanese".
At this point, Yamaha would probably like me to write a few words about their 223cc Scorpio, an air-cooled throwback single-cylinder bike made in India and imported into our market.
It's not a bad little jigger, the $4289 Scorpio, but its engine lacks the sting of the Taiwanese and Korean 250s, and is less adept at motorway use or achieving the sort of speeds that will help upskill riders in preparation for bigger- capacity machines. So if you can afford the stretch, the payment of another $1700 for a liquid-cooled 250 instead of an air-cooled 223 is money well spent.
By the same token, paying even more for liquid-cooled Thai-made Japanese-brand 250s like the Honda CBR250R and Kawasaki Ninja will also lift the return in riding pleasure by an equal amount. So consider the SYM and the Daelim to occupy a nice halfway house location in the Kiwi learner bike market at $5995 for either.
Of the two six-grand bikes, the SYM attracts me most. Apart from a couple of visual faux pas, like the ugly mounts of a well-designed instrument pod and an exhaust heat shield that looks like an after-thought, the Wolf imparts impressions of commendable build quality. SYM is the preferred Taiwanese partner of Hyundai in a joint-venture car assembly plant, and it appears the same standards of manufacturing carry over to its bike-making operations. The quality of the paint applications and the frame welds are big bonus wins over its Daelim price-point rival.
Engine performance advantages of the SYM are quite a bit harder to identify. Both the Daelim and the Wolf tip the scales at a rather hefty (for a 250) 173 kilograms, and both place roughly 19 kilowatts at the rider's disposal. While the engine performance of both is equal to that of the award-winning CBR250R, the Honda weighs 20kg less, giving it sprinting ability and fuel-saving advantages, not to mention more flickable handling. Meanwhile, separating the performance of the SYM and the Daelim is like trying to identify the winner from two cricket teams who have scored an equal number of runs. You would swear that these two single-cylinder bikes were built by the same manufacturer.
If you're doing lots of motorway work in your commute, the fairing and the more canted-forward riding position of the Daelim will be big attractions. Not only will you enjoy more weather protection, but the more efficient aerodynamics of the Roadwin should help it use less fuel on the journey. That said, the SYM definitely didn't shirk from open road use on the test, and felt extremely happy to cruise at legal speeds. Given the 10,000rpm redline of the single, and the way it was turning a smooth and unflustered 6000rpm at the legal limit, the Wolf's top speed would appear to be a theoretical 150kmh, 10kmh less than the more aero-friendly Daelim.
Like engine performance, the handling of the two $6000 rides is remarkably similar. Both exhibit a willingness to turn into corners that only comes with singles; both have budget suspension, sturdy-yet-overbuilt frames, and tyres that offer grip best described as adequate. There is a slight advantage in forward weight bias with the Daelim, because the SYM's positioning of the battery under the pillion seat suggests the Taiwanese bike-builder has yet to appreciate the handling advantages that come with mass centralisation.
However, a bike of this build quality, at this price, doesn't have to live at the cutting edge.
All it has to achieve is the trustworthy reliability that will recommend it and a level of dynamic performance that will engage and inspire its learner-licence riders. That the Wolf can do this while managing to look good will be more than enough to meet the expectations of those who are likely to buy it.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 249cc liquid-cooled fuel-injected single, 19kW (26bhp) at 9500rpm (torque figures unavailable).
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, chain drive.
Chassis: Twin-spar frame with double-sided swingarm, 39mm inverted front forks and rear monoshock.
Hot: Can be mistaken for a 15-grand Suzuki GSR750 yet costs $6000, one more gear than Daelim rival.
Not: Budget suspension and tyres limit cornering prowess, along with weight bias.