SF First Ride: SYM Wolf Classic 150

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.

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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