First ride: SYM Wolf Classic 150

SF First Ride: SYM Wolf Classic 150

Apr 30 • Scooter Reviews, SF Feature, SYM • 5349 Views • 17 Comments

The SYM Wolf Classic 150 is a machine that seems to defy category. It’s a motorcycle, but SYM is best known as a scooter company. It’s on sale at scooter shops all across the country, yet with its clip-on handlebars and flat-top frame, it’s visually more at home in the current Cafe Racer renaissance. Forgetting about categorization, what has SYM really got here, and why should scooterists take notice?

That’s a complicated question to answer. The Wolf has a lot to offer for both scooterists and small motorcycle fans alike. It’s approachable. It’s good looking. It’s light. It’s extremely forgiving and easy to ride. It’s even comfortable, which was a pleasant surprise given its small stature and clip-on handlebars.

Size and riding position
On a gray and chilly Chicago afternoon, I swung by Second City Scooters to take a look at the Wolf. There it sat out front, just exactly the size I’d expected it to be. At just 78″ tip to tail, the Wolf is small enough to feel approachable, but big enough to accommodate someone 6’3″ such as myself. I’d half expected to look like a grizzly bear on a BMX bike when riding the Wolf, but it really is a proper, adult size. It’s still small, mind you, but any thought that the Wolf might be some sort of toy motorcycle is gone as soon as you see it in the sheet metal. Spoke wheels front and back are 18″ and 17″ respectively, giving the Wolf a terrific stance for such a small bike. The proportions give the Wolf a lean, cafe racer look that’s brought home with the clip-on handlebars.

Sitting astride the Wolf, everything was within easy reach, even for someone as tall as I am. The mid-mounted foot controls were easy to reach and the pegs were still low enough to ride comfortably. The biggest surprise was the clip-ons. Most bikes with clip-on or clubman handlebars stretch the rider out and lean him or her over pretty aggressively. While this is great for aerodynamics, it’s uncomfortable for any distance at all. The Wolf’s geometry, on the other hand, is uncannily perfect. The bike is so small that those clip-ons are right where they ought to be. I’d just slouch over and there they were, practically in my lap like an old bicycle. It’s a riding position that for most riders, could provide all-day comfort.

Fit and finish
The Wolf offers all the basic components you’d expect from a high quality Honda CB125 clone. Except for some of the more modern, regulation-driven pieces and modern materials, you’d never guess the Wolf was actually a 2012 model. It’s like something out of a time machine — a small vintage motorcycle right out of the ’70s. There’s a kick starter. There’s a carburetor and manual cable choke. There’s a flat bench seat and shiny side covers. It’s everything it ought to be as a small blast from the past.

The Wolf’s air-cooled, 149cc, single cylinder engine completes the retro package. It’s old tech made with new methods. It looks the business too, with big, angular fins and a single, shiny pipe exiting the front of the engine. Once fired up, the engine has a throaty growl that’s pretty satisfying. Although, given the size and visual age of the Wolf, I half expected it to be 2-stroke. Then it’d have a ’70s soundtrack to match its looks.

There are nice chrome accents throughout, in a mix of steel and plastic. The shape and proportion of the turn indicators and tail lights are a little bit more modern than the rest of the Wolf’s style, but I’ve certainly seen worse. Overall, the components are substantial, even if some of them are a little plain. The bike doesn’t feel cheap, but there are certainly ample opportunities to upgrade many of the components such as the mirrors, grips, seat, foot pegs and tank graphics. All in all though, the Wolf is every bit as “nice” as you could ever expect a $3,100 motorcycle to be.

The ride
Let me first say that I’ve been riding motorcycles since 2010 — ranging in size from 400cc twins up to 1100cc boxer fours and everything in between. Yet, my first powered two-wheeler was a 1979 Vespa P200E I bought in 2007. Since that first scooter, a Buddy 125, Blur 150 and Vespa GT200L have spent significant time in my garage. So I’ve got a pretty good point of reference from both the motorcycle and scooter point of view in riding this little machine.

The Wolf took a little bit of choke to fire up and stay running on that cold, gray afternoon. But within 90 seconds or so, the engine was content to run without any assistance. The Wolf’s throttle felt nice and crisp, with no slop in the cables or unexpected hesitations in the engine. With the engine warm and happy, I pulled in the Wolf’s lightweight clutch and toed down into 1st gear, waiting for a break in traffic to pull out. Second City Scooters is located on North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, which is right in the Wolf’s natural habitat: the urban jungle. The busy two-lane road finally afforded me a break in traffic and it was on with the throttle, off with the clutch, and away I went.

If I had to sum up the Wolf’s riding character in one word, it’d be “chipper”, because this is the happiest little motorbike I’ve ever ridden. Power-wise, it feels exactly like 150cc ought to feel. At just shy of 15 hp, it’s not fast, but it’s not slow either. The single-cylinder thumper churns away without complaint all the way to red line. It’s a good thing too, as in order for the Wolf to make that 15 hp, you’ve got to keep the revs pretty high. To its credit though, the Wolf’s cheery little motor will spin 7,000-8,000 rpms with more smoothness than any engine I’ve ever run. At 7,000 rpms, it feels like it’s got another 7,000 in reserve.

By the middle of second gear, the Wolf was carrying me along in the flow of traffic with no problem at all. Engine braking was predictable and there’s a pleasant amount of torque available. If I was a gear too high after a momentary slow down, the Wolf was more than happy to climb out of that power hole without shuddering.

The gearing on this motorcycle is suited perfectly to its weight and power output. Gear changes were easy and I never found myself stuck between gears or hunting for neutral. I spent most of my time zipping through town in either 2nd or 3rd gear, with more than enough acceleration to keep me properly in the flow of traffic. And while the Wolf certainly wouldn’t hurt for more power, I never felt like the power it had was less than adequate to safely ride in busy Chicago traffic. Downshifting was smooth and easy, even when I didn’t quite match my revs perfectly.

When not strolling forward, the Wolf stops very well. A two-piston front caliper clamps a 240mm disk up front, and a more than adequate rear drum brake assists from behind. There’s a predictable bit of front end dive under braking, but it’s not at all alarming. The suspension both front and rear was a little on the soft side, but even at about 2/3 of its listed load capacity, I never felt the shocks bottom out. Nor did it porpoise down the rough Cook County streets. This basic suspension setup is thoroughly adequate, but there’s plenty of room for improvement if one could source the components.

The combination of the Wolf’s light weight, large but skinny wheels, and upright rake make this small motorcycle feel remarkably like a scooter. The steering is light and responsive, even on those short, clip-on handlebars. Were I to keep a Wolf of my own, it’d likely get both bar end weights and a steering dampener. This might be an especially good approach for anyone riding a Wolf as their very first motorcycle. I wasn’t able to get the Wolf going fast enough in that urban environment to feel for any high speed wobble, but I wouldn’t expect any either. That said, something to add a little weight to the steering would be a welcome upgrade in the feel of the bike. It feels just a little too twitchy for my tastes.

Conclusions
The SYM Wolf Classic 150 is as charming to ride as it is to look at. When you’re considering one of the smallest displacement motorcycles currently for sale in the USA, there isn’t much to compare it too. It simply is what it is. It’s got just enough authentic retro styling. It’s got just enough cafe racer good looks. It’s got just enough power. It’s comfortable enough. It stops well enough. It handles well. It’s, well, enough.

However, in the grand scheme of motorcycles, its appeal is limited. At this price range, there’s a plethora of old Honda CB200s or CB350s that could deliver that extra bit of real world performance the Wolf just doesn’t have. That said, where I think the Wolf could really shine is for scooterists who are looking for an approachable, classic-looking first motorcycle, but who aren’t interested in the mechanical involvement of a vintage bike. For someone just looking to get his or her feet wet in motorcycling, I think your ride is here.

The Wolf feels more like a scooter than any other (even small) motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. While not expressly powerful, the engine has a good amount of torque, which would make learning to operate the clutch and gears all the more easy. There’s not enough power to even remotely “get you into trouble” and the bike’s forgiving character could easily make a motorcycle lover out of many a scooterist.

Thanks to its large wheels and greater range of gearing, the Wolf also opens up faster roads that many scooters might not comfortably travel. As I think back to all the things that scared me (as a scooterist) about riding a motorcycle, the Wolf makes molehills out of each of those mountains. And at a reported 80 mpg, maybe it really is the best of both worlds.

What I liked

  • The vintage looks and color options
  • The character and smoothness of the engine
  • The surprising comfort of the ride and ergonomics
  • The very reasonable price point at $3,100
  • The apparent SYM engineering quality
  • A perfect first motorcycle for a scooterist or new rider

What I didn’t like

  • The steering is little light for a motorcycle of this size, weight and geometry
  • Many of the details are a bit plain
  • It could use another 50-100cc of displacement. 250cc would be perfect.
  • A carburetor in 2012? Really?

Would I spend my own money on one?
Perhaps four motorcycles ago, but not today. Were I brand new to motorcycles, though, the Wolf would definitely be on my short list. However, I definitely couldn’t see the Wolf replacing someone’s 150cc scooter. It’s just too different an animal. It’s not a scooter. It’s a small motorcycle. However, it’s a pretty darn fun small motorcycle.

A huge thanks to Second City Scooters for giving me a run on their Wolf.

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  • http://johnnyscoots.com johnnyscoots

    Excellent write-up. I would still love to have one in addition to my scoot. I do wish it were two stroke, but I wonder how many new models we will see w/ two-stroke anymore, sadly. Kudos on a wonderful article. *shared*

  • http://scoothub.tumblr.com Kevin

    Nice writeup. The black Wolf you chose is definitely the best looking of the colors they’ve brought to the U.S.! I’d like to see (though I’m not that hopeful) that we’re almost ready for a resurgence of small-displacement motorcycles in the U.S.

  • Eric Almendral

    This is almost exactly the same impression I have of the Wolf 150. I don’t so much miss or ever yearn for fuel injection on this bike, though. I think the carb helps keep it simple.

    These are also very easily customizable. My local shop has now painted three, one in orange metal flake and two flat black. Their shop bike also has a pipe and bar-end mirrors.

    I have so much fun on this, every time I bring a scooter in for service, I need a loaner from the shop. “Uh… can I take the Wolf?”

  • Ben

    I doubt people will complain about the carbs, I mean Kawi seems to be able to sell their little Ninja and it’s carbed.

  • http://richardcongo.wordpress.com richard congo

    I have had my wolf ( in “british racing green” -the closest I can describe the color) for almost 8 months – agree with all comments; especially it could use another 50 or 100 cc’s – definitely! Other than that big one, – the whole choke thing seems antiquated- not in a bad way, just constantly a deal…………..Absolutely love the nimbleness while still feeling it is a real motorbike. Anybody know of aftermarket parts? MORE COWBELL! richardcongo@hotmail.com

  • Calvin Hulburt

    I had a test ride, yesterday and liked the bike. I’ve ridden for forty years and don’t need a machine to impress. I just want a transport that’s fun. It is much like a Japanese bike in that it is too heavy for its displacement. Like the first CB150s, it weighs what a 250 should and so the accelerations lacks. Still it was great fun aside from the snatchy front brake and the turn signals that were always on. Those could be adjusted to. I would prefer it without the electric start as the kick starter works just fine and the bike is already too heavy. Less instrumentation would be nice too, as the tach just gets in the way. Sadly the industry has deserted this practical end of the market so when a bike like this comes along, it is this or nothing.

    • http://www.scooterfile.com Nathaniel Salzman

      I know what you mean. No love for small motorcycles anymore. Honda has a couple small bikes still with the CRF250, CBR250 and the Rebel 250, but none of those are the old-style, UJM standard-sytle bike that the Wolf is. Personally, I think that the Wolf in a 250 would be a nearly immoral amount of fun.

  • http://twitter.com/blainekelley blaine kelley

    Interesting & captivating.  I have fallen into vintage cycle lust over the past 2 years and have thought about the new Moto Guzzi V7 Classic, wanting a vintage look w/out the vintage headaches. As a 2 scooter owner, both twist-n-go, I have a small amount of reservation about shifting, both literally and to the ‘dark side’ of the bike world.  The 700+ Guzzi is easy to ride, but I was thinking a vinatge Honda CB350 might be a better choice for me … but now this.  Would I trade my Blur 150 for this … maybe?!  It looks great.  I own a Sym RV250, so I know the quality, engineering, fit & finish will be excellent.  Hmmmmm … now ya got me thinking.    

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      It’s a ton of fun. Were it a 250cc engine, I think it’d be perfect.

  • http://twitter.com/Lexiyntax Daniel E. Markle

    As a Rebel 250 owner, which I love taking on day-long riding trips, I would like to try one of these and see how it compares. The closest dealer that has these is pretty distant from me in Central PA however; I wish they had a more extensive dealer network.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      I think the biggest thing you’d notice would be the difference in seating position. The Wolf is much more upright and old-school compared to the more relaxed, cruiser position on the Rebel. I think you’d miss the power of the 250 though. I think that if the Wolf had that extra 100 cc it’d be just about perfect.

  • fiddlesteven .

    I bought a CB 125 Honda new in 1974. I loved it, but it would would only go 55 mph with the throttle opened all the way so I got a 350 Honda. I always wished I still had the 125. I liked the small light weight. I even put it in a full sized car trunk a few times,being it was light enough to lift. The Wolf looks very much the same except for the paint. Perhaps it has just enough extra power to go 60 MPH without having the throttle open all the way. Tough choice between the Wolf and the Genuine Stella.

  • WorldWeary

    It’s a crying shame that there is very limited availability of quality small displacement motorcycles here in the U.S. Everywhere you go around the world, there are some amazing small 2 or 4 stroke small cc machines. Having owned tons of bikes in my 52 years, both large and small, I can safely say that some of the most pure FUN i’ve had was riding small displacement bikes like the 50cc Honda MB5, or the Yamaha RD100, for example! The SYM Wolf 150 is a much welcome addition to this market segment.

  • Russ

    Would like some advice. I’m 62 years old and brand new to motorcycling. I am 6 foot 9 inches tall and weigh 210 pounds. I am a very experienced, avid bicycle tourist.. I’ve been Riding a buddy scooter on local paved and dirt roads over the last few days and find it a blast. my plan is to carry a motorcycle on the back of my small RV. I would use it for joy riding on both paved and unpaved roads. I won’t ride it on highways or in high traffic areas.

    I’m considering this bike and A low mileage used Honda Rebel 250. I can see I would just love Sailing along at 50 miles per hour on smooth paved roads through western parks. Equally, I want to explore southwest desert areas on dirt roads. Can a rebel do this? OR would the Wolf be a better choice.?

    thank you,

    Russ

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      Hi Russ,

      At your height, neither bike seems like a great fit to be honest. My advice would be to focus less on engine size and more on ergonomic comfort. Or put another way, don’t feel like a bigger motorcycle is automatically harder to ride. It isn’t. You can ride a Goldwing at 50 mph no problem. Not that a Goldwing is the answer, I’m just thinking back to my own experience when I made the transition to adding motorcycles to my riding beyond scooters. They felt really big and intimidating, but once I got even just a little bit of experience, I was riding liter bikes no problem.
      If you’re wanting to keep things small and the speeds low, I’d recommend finding a 4-stroke 250cc Dual Sport from one of the big Japanese manufacturers. Those bikes are naturally taller, and so you might find them more comfortable. Most also have about 12″ of suspension travel, so they’re easy to ride both off-road and on. One bike I’ve got my eye on right now is the Honda CRF 230 Supermoto. It’s basically a dirt bike with street legal stuff like blinkers and then it’s fitted with street tires instead of knobbies.
      Anyway, my advice to you is that if you’re looking for a motorcycle, go sit on as many as you can and choose a bike that you fit on first and foremost. Keep it under 1,000cc and stay away from high-strung sport bikes and you won’t have more bike than you can handle. Remember, the throttle controls the speed and you control the throttle.
      A couple bikes to think about: the Triumph Bonneville and the Suzuki Savage. The Bonneville is the bike the Wolf is pretending to be in miniature, and the Savage is an adult-sized bike like the Rebel. Also in that vein, a Honda Shadow 500 or Honda Nighthawk 450 would also be great approachable bikes for back road riding.
      Good luck! Let us know what you end up with and feel free to email me at nathaniel@scooterfile.com if you have more questions.

      • Russ

        Thanks very much and a big SORRY very much. NOT 6’9″ as I originally posted. 5’9″. (I suppose NBA scouts will be knocking at my door now). The Buddy scooter fits me just fine.

        I just looked at the CRF 230. It appears too much of a dirt bike for me. I guess I’m looking for a compromise bike, cruising and off-road, and a good first motorcycle.

        I’ve been reading a Wolf forum ( http://symforum.com/index.php?board=14.20 ) and it’s heating up my urge to buy now. Not a good way to shop! will look at some of the other bikes you suggested.

        • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

          Ha! Well then you have a lot more options. Same advice though. Go with the bike you’re most comfortable sitting on.

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