Mention the 2020 CSC TT250 dual-sport motorcycle, and one question always comes up first: “How good can it be for $2195?” That’s a reasonable question, and after testing it in urban environments, canyon twisties, and off-road, the quick answer is “Pretty darn good.” Let me explain.
Let’s start with the background of CSC Motorcycles. Based in Azusa, Calif., California Scooter Company (CSC) has been around for 30 years, and now focuses on selling five Chinese-made motorcycles—the RX3 and RX4 adventure bikes, the SG250 San Gabriel street bike, the electric City Slicker, and the subject of this test, the TT250 dual-sport. The builder, Zongshen, manufactures more motorcycles in a year than are sold annually in the United States.
CSC has an unusual business model. It imports the motorcycles mostly finished from China, and they do final assembly here to add a layer of quality control. Then, instead of sending the motorcycles out to dealers, they sell direct to customers.
The motorcycles are shipped out fully ready to fuel up and ride. Shipping from China ($345) and documentation ($55) adds $400 to the price—something applicable to all brands, though the prices are not negotiable. Shipping is free within the US, and there’s a 12-month parts-and-labor warranty. For warranty labor work, CSC negotiates with a local repair shop to do the job—any professional mechanic can work on the very simple motorcycle. CSC also sells a $425 third-party four-year parts-and-labor warranty.
If doing your own work on the TT250 sounds appealing, CSC includes a service manual and lots of helpful tutorial videos to get you going—from the most basic repair to motor work. Parts should not be an issue. CSC says every single part on the motorcycle is stocked at its California headquarters, and parts can be delivered overnight, if necessary.
The engine is based on a 1975 Honda design, which has an expired patent. Zongshen puts its own spin on the two-valve, short-pushrod motor that started out as a 125cc design. The CSC TT250 has an electric-start 230cc engine that is counterbalanced, and is fed by a Keima slide-style carburetor. We’ve never heard of Keima until now, though they make carburetors and fuel-injection systems for motorcycles and automobiles in China.
Okay, so you get the idea. It’s an inexpensive motorcycle made in China with a focus on ease of repair rather than strict reliability. Keeping it in top running order is a collaborative effort between CSC and the buyer. Now, let’s get on to how it works.
On cold mornings, you’ll need to turn on the petcock and use the carb-mounted choke—minor inconveniences. Once warmed up, shut off the choke and off you go.
The motor definitely is not going to intimidate anyone. It puts out a claimed 16 horsepower at 7000 rpm, and you really have to be willing to rev the little guy hard to get the rev count that high.
Redline on the large tachometer is 10,000 rpm, but it seems like that was designed for another motor. The engine starts misfiring at 8k downhill, and refuses to budge past 9000 rpm. Despite the counterbalancer, the motor vibrates quite a bit as you hit 6000 rpm. That encourages you to shift the five-speed transmission to a higher gear. In practice, consider 8000 rpm to be the redline.
It’s worth noting that the dash is quite nice, though the tachometer is unnecessary. A yellow shift light and flashing red light for the rev limit would be more than sufficient. There is also a small LCD display with white letters on a blue background—compact yet readable, with the speed being the largest numerals. You get a helpful fuel gauge, gear position indicator, and trip/odo, but no clock.
The ignition module looks to be straight off a scooter with a locking security mechanism that covers the keyhole. There’s also a helmet lock near the toolkit (yes, a toolkit) on the left side of the rear subframe.
The transmission works well on the TT250, though the clutch isn’t novice-friendly. The engagement is late in the throw, and the engagement range is relatively narrow. That’s less of an issue than it might be; we aren’t talking about vast amounts of power, and that prevents anything abrupt from happening.
There is enough power on tap to keep the 2020 CSC TT250 ahead of the pack in traffic, though you will have to have a reasonably aggressive throttle hand. The grips are fat, so the quarter-turn throttle feels like it needs more wrist-twisting to lift the carb slide all the way open. Novices will appreciate that it will mask any sloppy throttle application by the user.
You will want to stay off the freeway, as top speed is about 60 mph on level ground. Throw in a hill, and that can drop below 50 mph on the way up, with 70 mph accessible on the way down. We’re talking full-throttle runs to get these numbers.
Although the TT250 weighs around 340 pounds with its 2.9-gallon fuel tank topped off, it’s reasonably agile in-town. The narrow Centrao dual-sport tires, with a 21-/18-inch rim set, add to the light handling. The seat height of 34 inches might sound off-putting to a new rider, but a soft, narrow seat meant that I could just barely flat-foot at stops with my 32-inch inseam. CSC offers a sculpted TT250 Seat Concepts seat that is 2.25 inches lower than stock for $250.
One serious shortcoming on the TT250 is its front brake. Despite having a steel-braided line, it is alarmingly weak and feel is not good. You can pull the lever as hard as you like, and the lever doesn’t move all that far toward the grip. A firm grasp eventually gives you some slowing, but never what you expect on a motorcycle this size. Instead, you find yourself relying on the rear brake, which also has a steel-braided line, and isn’t bad. Novices who have heard that most of the braking power is in the front brake will be bewildered.
Once you adjust to the braking peculiarities, the 2020 CSC TT250 is a pretty fun little city motorcycle. You can zip around town easily, jump curbs as necessary, and thanks to a quiet exhaust, explore any urban trails you might notice without bothering anyone.
For those who expect to ride the TT250 exclusively on the street, there is an accessory supermoto wheelset from CSC with 17-inch rims waiting for appropriate rubber. Spending $650 on a $2195 motorcycle seems a bit strange, and it would be gracious for CSC to offer a supermoto version. The street-only CSC SG250 San Gabriel is always an option, of course.
Things improve as you head for the canyons, which is a bit unexpected. Power isn’t the TT250’s ace-in-the-hole, so you have to rely on its agility and predictable handling. The Centrao tires are up to the demands of the 16 horsepower motor and dual sport chassis, so it’s all about corner speed.
The suspension is firm, without being harsh, so you can hold a line confidently. With the off-road favored suspension setup, the TT250 isn’t put off by poor quality roads. It absorbs inconsistent pavement with impressive poise.
Going uphill is definitely slower than down, though if the speeds are below 45 mph, there’s enough torque on tap to have a good time on inclines. The front brake is of limited value, so you have to manage the speed with the engine braking and the rear brake. You won’t be passing many people, but it is still a fun ride that’s not particularly demanding.
Most impressive of all is the 2020 CSC TT250’s performance once the pavement ends. We’ve also never heard of Centrao tires, yet they impressed immediately on dirt roads, even without airing down. You can run the TT250 on a dirt road almost as fast as you can on the street. You won’t be steering with the rear wheel, as there’s hardly enough throttle response to break the 4.60-inch tire loose. Just get some confidence in the steering and go for it—fortune favors the bold.
Even poor-quality dirt roads aren’t a big issue. The TT250’s inverted fork and single-shock can take hits from deep cross ruts with minimal complaint. Keep in mind that speeds are not that high, so the demands on the suspension are limited. Still, that’s what makes for good suspension—matching the capabilities of the chassis and motor. In this context, six-plus inches of travel is adequate.
A recurring theme comes up when working dirt roads—the front brake. It is simply not a big help, so make the most of the effective rear brake and engine compression braking.
Amazingly, single-track trails of moderate difficulty do not faze the TT250. You won’t be going fast, but you can ride confidently. The suspension is just right for the first gear riding you will be doing, as the motor and gearing rarely reward shifting up to 2nd gear on tighter trails.
Shifting is an issue if you’re wearing authentic dirt bike boots. While I was able to shift without any problem with Fly Racing M16 street riding shoes and Gaerne Stelvio ADV boots, the Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduro boots are too bulky for the shifter, which is quite close to the left footpeg.
Speaking of footpegs, there’s a rubber insert that is easily removed—no tools—to give you off-road serrated pegs. The downside is that the pegs are small. With the small footpegs and thick-waisted chassis, the TT250 doesn’t inspire standing up in rougher terrain.
Sitting down is fine, as the suspension does its job nicely, and the seat is a good cushion. The front end goes where you point it, most of the time. Now and then in looser terrain, the front Centrao 3.00-inch tire would push unexpectedly. It never threw me on the ground, though it did get my attention.
You will want to avoid big hills on the TT250. Going up, you can run out of steam—13 ft-lbs of torque can only do so much with a 340-pound motorcycle. Also, the rear tire that works well on trails is not the greatest for the demands of a hillclimb.
Plus, what goes up, must come down, and the front brake again reminds you of its vast limitations. You have to keep your speed down early on downhills, as it is hard to slow down once the TT250 gains momentum.
It’s important to lay off the clutch on downhills, as the brakes can’t do the job alone. I learned that I could just leave the clutch alone until the TT250 got down to about five mph, and that would make sure I always had the needed engine compression braking. Just a slight application of the clutch fully disengages the transmission, and things get sketchy fast.
When it comes to handling, the 2020 CSC TT250 does a good job of disguising its weight. I rode it up and down rocky stream beds—some dry, some wet—and it did a darn good job. I was worried about breaking the mini-bike sized 428 drive chain, but it survived. The TT250 isn’t fast, but it is persistent.
The fat grips that are okay on the street are not ideal for the dirt. The large diameter is tiring, and they have almost no grip. If you ride in the dirt regularly, replace the grips immediately.
The TT250 is a credible off-road learner motorcycle, though smaller riders will struggle to pick it up should they fall on a trail. Experienced riders who appreciate a boondocking pace will be impressed by the decent suspension and predictable handling of the TT250. It is truly a much better off-road motorcycle than it has any right to be at $2195.
As I was riding, thoughts of a TT250 Dirt Special drifted through my head. The suspension is good enough, and pumping up the motor probably isn’t a great idea. So, I’d like to try the TT250 with more dirt-oriented tires, wider footpegs, and grippier grips—easy fixes. More complicated is sorting out the front brake and clutch engagement. Still, a rider can dream.
At its heart, the 2020 CSC TT250 is a DIY motorcycle for someone on a budget who doesn’t like buying used. Even if you like used, $2195 has limited buying power on the used market. It is a fantastic motorcycle for the back of a motorhome, a college student who wants something different, or an urban commuter with a sense of adventure. As long as you are prepared to handle any problems yourself (or with a friend), there are plenty of reasons to give the CSC TT250 a close look.
Photography by Kelly Callan
- Helmet: Arai XD4
- Shirt and gloves: Scorpion Abrams
- Body armor: SAS-TEC
- Jeans: Joe Rocket Accelerator
- Boots: Gaerne Stelvio Aquatech
2020 CSC TT250 Specs
- Type: Four-stroke counterbalanced single
- Displacement: 230cc
- Bore x stroke: 66.5 x 66.2mm
- Maximum power: 16.1 horsepower @ 7000 rpm
- Maximum torque: 13.5 ft-lbs
- Valvetrain: Pushrod-actuated 2-valve head
- Fueling: Keima carburetor
- Cooling: Air
- Starting: Electric and kick
- Transmission: 5-speed
- Final drive: 428 chain
- Frame: Tubular steel
- Front suspension: Adjustable-damping inverted 49mm fork; 6.2 inches
- Rear suspension: Linkage-free spring-preload and adjustable-damping shock; 6.5 inches
- Wheels: Wire-spoked steel rims
- Tires: Centrao
- Front tire: 3.00 x 21
- Rear tire: 4.60 x 18
- Front brake: 267mm disc w/ steel-braided brake line
- Rear brake: 219mm disc w/ steel-braided brake line
- ABS: None
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 55.0 inches
- Rake: 28 degrees
- Seat height: 34.0 inches
- Estimated fuel consumption: 65 mpg
- Fuel capacity: 2.9 gallons
- Curb weight: 340 pounds (approx.)
- Colors: Black; Blue; White; Orange
- 2020 CSC TT250 Price: $2195 MSRP