RYCA CS-1 Cafe Racer Project

Retooling The Savage

It’s the attitude that surprises you. It’s the way people come up to you when you’re on a CS-1. Depending on who’s viewing it, this bike is “cute as hail” (I do live in Texas) funky, obnoxious, cool or a total turd. Every usual descriptive checkbox in motorcycling can be ticked off by this bike. The one thing nobody can take away from me is the completely satisfying knowledge that I built what I’m riding, and that I feel super cool every time I walk up to it.

To be fair, the good people at Suzuki helped by producing one of the most venerable motorcycles on the modern market. Introduced a million years ago as the Savage, it could hardly live up to that name. But it HAS proven to be a machine that will sell without the breathy attention of magazine feature stories, artfully manipulative advertising or eye-catching, in-store POP. This bike has humbly started many a rider on his path to motorcycling—a genuine yeoman’s service to our community. Typically cast aside after a couple of thousand clicks in favor of bigger, sexier machines, this class of bike is nevertheless the critical mortar in our world of moto-bricks.

…a fresh take on the café world that puts you in a great mood while chuffing along country roads on a reliable, semi-modern, yet retro thumper

A name change to S40 (in 2005), along with the addition of a fifth gear are about the only tangible changes the Savage has seen over the years. The search for a cheap donor bike for this project should be a piece of cake; $700 may get you a workable beater, but hold out for that sweet-running, lower mileage $2K deal to set the course right.

A quick internet search for “S40 Cafe” digs up the RYCA Motors website, where moto- monkeys will be enticed with the mechanical equivalent of the whole ugly duckling/swan tale. The executive outline goes something like this: 1) smart fellers want cheap café bike 2) select Slowzuki 650cc 3) design and build a kit. Company founder Casey Stevens employs some squinting with a dose of NASA-think engineering and boom—he and co-owner Ryan Rajewski spork up a sweet little modern cafe bike from a relatively uninspiring (for an experienced rider) turd. Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing the RYCA CS-1.

Building a Mystery

The CS-1 kit requires your donor bike’s gas tank and rear wheel hub. A few weeks later, the same tank and wheel are returned in modded form, along with a passel of cool- looking bits and pieces, some extremely well done fiberglass and a mysterious, yet-to-be identified ingredient that makes a grown man giddy and goofy. Ladies…we Men are simple creatures. Please give us our space when we get like this.

The kit requires hand tools, a decent cut-off wheel of some sort, and a dose of patience for the often inadequate, downloadable PDF and video-based instructions. Word to the wise: these are worth a careful look-see before you drop the $2700 smackers. I’m a gnat’s hair ahead of the average mechanical curve, and I’m not scared to booger something up in the name of learning. Suffice it to say that this project is not for the complete toolophyte. It’s no Lego kit, and like any worthwhile project, there are things that, if you screw up, can kill you. Thus the point, and the attraction. You build it, and it’s your solo ass on the bike. So make sure it’s right and tight before you aim for a fight. Got it Chim-Chim?

The good parts of the kit: Figure any value for time, and you could not build this bike any easier or less inexpensively. Everything is there, the fiberglass is great, and the tank mod and welds are pretty damn good. The challenging parts were thought through, and include some pretty freaking cool design solutions. The quality of the bolt hardware is good (but not great), and it’s all there too. And in the end, all the parts worked to transform the bike into something you grow into, rather than something you grow out of.

The bad parts: Several bits are fiddly. There are some processes that may seem foreign until you actually do them. Some modifications of the supplied RYCA parts and re-used stock bits are still required. Did I mention the OK hardware? The rear wheel lacing on my early kit was not great, and I know there will be virgin builders who will dive in with crescent wrenches and Leatherman a-flailing. In a matter of hours, they will have scared the crap out of themselves when they back up to witness a wheel-less chassis sitting there amidst dozens of unlabeled bolts and bits.

My tips: Accept that this will take you a week of evenings if you are a savvy wrench and choose to do it right. It’ll take you longer if you attack it all scattershot, like a pre-teen at a paintball party. Start with as clean a donor bike as you can. Stretching a few hundred bucks on Craigslist is well worth mitigating the stress you’d otherwise endure by jacking around with a dog-pile during the build. Plan on the wiring taking much longer than you anticipate—especially if you’re anal and want to route everything as cleanly as possible. Do the “quiet exhaust mod” because the kit muffler does NOT muffle. Accept the fact that massaging parts are as much a part of the game as wearing a blue jacket at the RNC.

My problems: The petcock leaked and bubbled the paint around it (though it was my fault for not checking it twice). I also managed to find the only two electrical plugs on the whole harness that looked like they went together, and created a dead short every time I touched the starter. Note—the rear brake light switch does NOT plug directly into the ignition rotor sensor. (Now you owe me a beer because I just saved you a day and fifty 15 amp fuses.)

Maiden Run

Riding the bike is really fun. Stay within the scope of this skinny road warmer and you will enjoy it. Get all “Isle of Man” on the thing and you will discover a front end that pushes, a rear end that could shatter a kidney stone and the pitiful look of a Miata- swaddled co-ed sensing that she’s got you beat. But at least you’re louder. There’s no doubt that at some point you’ll come across a café racer elitist who turns his nose up at your anonymous, modern take on his “real” machine (that he never rides without a charged phone and spare Zener diode). Screw him—his is more common than yours, and you might be louder. Besides, he wants what you have.

The finished CS-1 is a tidy package. I added a ‘70s-style rearview mirror and a stainless front brake line (highly recommended) to mine. The ride quality of the “street” suspension set-up is pretty plush, if bobbly at anything up to a sporty pace. The S40 stock brakes are now adequate, no doubt benefiting from the weight loss. But the real joy of the CS-1 is that it’s not average, and it’s something I built. It was not near-impossible. It was not easy. It was simply worth it.

In the end, the RYCA build dropped 60 pounds and gained 60 times as much attitude over a stock S40. Sure it looks sporty, but to find true RYCA zen, plan to enjoy it for what it is—a fresh take on the café world that puts you in a great mood while chuffing along country roads on a reliable, semi-modern, yet retro thumper (that gets 55+ mpg, by the way). I know few folks will have any idea what it is, and there’s no way another will be at bike night—at least with the same “A&W root beer” paint as mine. I dig the bike for what it is and how it came to be. And that is what it’s all about. cr