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CCM FT 35S
CCM were bankrupt last year and it looked like yet another famous name was set to disappear from British motorcycling forever. But the Clews family, who founded the company back in Bolton in the early 1970s, put together a rescue plan and low volume production is set to begin once again for the 2006 model year.
But CCM aren't planning to churn out 10,000 units per year, appoint hundreds of dealers worldwide and take on Honda at their own game. As Austin Clews notes; `We can only ever be a small scale operation, making unique machines, probably offering bespoke, almost individually tailored motorcycles for customers. They have to be modern, reliable and fun, but they have to have something distinctively CCM about them.'
True enough. Now many an insidebikes.com reader will be familiar with the CCM off-roaders from days gone by, which initially used the Rotax single cylinder 600-640 engine, then the Suzuki DRZ400E engine. This latest bike - still at the prototype stage - uses that same Suzuki powerplant, but that's a good place to start, especially when building a bike that has to appeal to retro buyers, as well as novice riders.
Fact is, from the moment you sling a leg - and it can be a very short leg - over the saddle of the FT35S it feels like fun. Your feet are planted squarely on the tarmac. The bike's wide handlebars offer a sit-up-straight riding position and the suspension and brakes have a finesse, a distinct quality, in their operation as you blat away down the streets, getting the feel of the thing.
The Suzuki motor is in enduro trim, so it pulls instantly, making this a punchy little bike around town. It would take a determined mini-cab driver, in a seriously souped up Nissan Bluebird, to put one over a commuter on the FT35S, away from the lights. The single Brembo disc is also ace at scrubbing speed off when said Bluebird owner decides to overtake on the dual carriageway, then jam the brakes on when he notices ASDA's forecourt have petrol for less than 93.9p per litre.
More importantly, the CCM has balance, a natural poise and adroit flexibility on city streets, which is mainly down to its low centre of gravity and sheer lightness, it weighs just 115kgs dry. You could commute 10-20 miles per day on this bike no problem, in total comfort and feel immediately confident that the bike was going to go exactly where you wanted.
BUILT TO LAST
CCM always had a great reputation for top quality components, but that became a little tarnished for me a few years ago when I saw a chain adjuster snap clean off one of their 404 model swingarms, whilst Mr Steve Berry was riding it in Derbyshire. Steve is no slouch off-road, but he's no Stefan Everts either and that kind of failure shouldn't happen at relatively low speeds on a nearly new bike.
But take time to look closely at the FT35S and you can see that traditional values, like crasftsmanship, and buying in durable parts, can still be applied on bikes aimed at novices, or retro buyers.
The WP front forks for example were superb. They coped with pot-holed streets, slippy grid covers, leafy, rain-lashed back lanes and everything inbetween. They worked in that classic, understated way, which you only notice when you get off at the end of some hair-raising wet ride across a moorland B road. Efficient, compliant, steady. I like that in a set of forks.
Likewise, the semi-prone WP monoshock at the back end, which somehow looks oversized for the little 400, offered a good compromise between seat-of-the-pants type feel, and some decent comfort when simply tootling down the paper shop. Brembo braking, set onto beautiful gold anodised carriers, added another handsome touch, whilst the hand-rolled alloy gas tank - yep, hand-rolled - complete with retro 70s badge, really sets the bike apart from run-of-the-mill commuter/trailies.
CCM say that the headlights and the front number plate will be tidied up before full scale production begins in January 2006 and I think that's a good thing. I didn't like the twin lights with their off-road grille, but maybe that's just me. On the upside, the `race number' plates at the front, and on the side of the FT35S look really cool. If they can meet all the EU/USA construction regs they should keep `em.
Perhaps the only area you can nitpick is that the DRZ400 engine is liquid cooled and there's no hiding that radiator. The CCM flat tracker would look better as an air-cooled bike, and CCM are well aware of that. But Euro 3 regs on emissions, plus tightening noise laws mean that the supply of air-cooled four stroke lumps is definitely drying up. CCM did hint to me that they might be able to squeeze a small-ish V-twin inside the chassis of the FT35S, which would be great stuff. Imagine that new Aprilia 450 twin, or perhaps the Suzuki SV650 motor in there. Very groovy baby.
OK, here comes the downside. This level of top class component sourcing costs money. Plus the labour costs involved in hand assembly in Bolton, Lacashire, rather than Bejing, China, mean this is going to retail at a high price. The FT35S hasn't had its UK price set officially, but it seems likely that it will be in the region of £5500, which is a hefty chunk of beer vouchers for a mere 400cc town/country bike with some flat-track attitude.
If you value long term ownership, sheer riding pleasure, plus the exclusive feeling you get when people at the biker hang-out go `What's that then?' as you park up, then you'll understand that it's only money...and quality counts. If not, go buy an old Honda XR400 out of `Loot' and run it on chip pan oil. It'll still get you to work, and you'll save a fortune. But people will say ` Here's Rigsby again, for his annual jumbo WD40 can.' down at Motormania on Sunday mornings.
So, here we have a classy, stylish retro flat-tracker. Featuring a modern motor, clean running, yet sounding funky thanks to a saucy end can ( Remus are currently working on a street legal exhaust for the FT35S ) which will put a smile on your face at 30mph in town, or 65mph on a moorland B road as sheep compete for Random Road Hazard of the Year 2005. It's also got arguably the lowest seat height this side of a Yamaha Drag Star, does about 55mpg and has a comfortable riding position.
CCM also say that the final version will have chequered flag decals, one-off paint schemes etc. included in a range of custom options. You can also choose road based gearing, via different sprockets for a more relaxed cruising speed.
CCM have decided to appoint about 12-15 UK dealers maximum for 2006, and you'll be able to order your own FT35S direct from the factory if you want to - 60s USA flat track team colours, British Racing Green, Austin Powers shagadelic - whatever floats your boat. You personalised FT35S can be delivered to your nearest CCM dealer and obviously they will offer all the spares, accessories and servicing you need. It's a concept which MZ in Germany are following at present and some small scale manufacturers like Voxan, or perhaps Indian, might do well to consider.
WOULD I BUY ONE?
Whether you think the CCM FT35S is worth the money comes down to how much you want to be different from the pack, simple as that. It's a practical bike, but so is a BMW F650. The CCM's got sporty suspension and brakes, but any number of mid sized Supermotos from Honda, Suzuki, Husqvarna, Yamaha, KTM etc can all outperform it...sometimes for less cash too.
The bottom line is you have to really want to bike British, be different for its own sake, place a premium on classy components and unique styling. Would I buy one? I probably would, if I could afford a second bike as an alternative to my VFR800. Then again I might buy a Suzuki Van Van 125, because I just like the crazy name...
Thing is, some days you do feel like simply grabbing a jacket, open face lid and nipping out to see a mate on the other side of town, or blatting over to the local hang-out to talk bikes and drink expensive orange squash. Biking doesn't always have to be a fusion of speed, blurred scenery and Motorhead level wind noise. Simplicity is sometimes addictive.
The acid test of any bike is the fun factor and the FT35S has got it. But you gotta love the simple, singular life, to find that out.