Off-Road with the Sinnis Retrostar 250

Join The Club

Sign up for the latest interviews, reviews, and motorcycle news

Join The Club

Sign up for the latest interviews, reviews, and motorcycle news

Off-Road with the Sinnis Retrostar 250

Last November I traded my 883 Sportster in for a Sinnis Retrostar 250. Why on earth should I do such a thing?
I’ve been a keen trail rider for thirty years, owning a variety of trail bikes from Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki, yet, five years ago I found myself without a pukka trail bike as such and using the Sporty for easy going offroading on dirt roads and gravel tracks, something which, provided you didn’t go too mad, the Sporty was surprisingly ok at. Nevertheless, I still had a hankering for some “proper” trail riding and now with a Fatboy in the garage for tarmac, I decided to swap the Sporty for something a lot lighter and with knobbly tyres.

My last proper off-roader was a Suzuki DR250, but frankly, it was so over suspended that I found it simply too easy to ride- it cruised over everything with such ease I simply didn’t feel that connected to the tracks I was riding. I also wanted a bike I could mess about with and change around as a project. Something more basic was required! I’d recently bought an Apache 125 for my eldest son so had become acquainted with the Sinnis range and the Retrostar looked just the job- a mechanically sound Suzuki 250cc four-stroke engine in a simple twin shock package that should be easy to mess about with. It was also half the weight of the Sporty! I contacted the dealer I’d bought the Apache from (Motorcycle Trade-ins in Bournemouth) and the deal was done, bought unseen and rode away in the pouring November rain.

DSC06516 1

First impressions- the standard tyres are not the best and so were swapped out at the first opportunity. Second impressions- whoever designed the Retrostar is my personal hero. Everything about the bike seems to scream “mess about with me!”. There’s plenty of room in the swingarm for knobbly tyres, it has a magnificent front end with USD forks, discs all round- so no awkward brake rods restricting tyres fitment at the back and the rear frame loop behind the saddle simply unbolts allowing you to play around with different mudguards. The frame rails are flat, so plenty of saddle options or even a flattracker tail unit if that takes your fancy. The fins on the engine have been restyled to mimic the current Triumph Bonnie range- all you need is some black paint and a file to get a proper air-cooled fin look (that’s on the list). In fact, the whole thing shouts modern BSA, but with a reliable engine!

The only thing missing from the Retrostar is a kickstart. However, the battery is powerful and has never failed to get the engine going, even after a thorough soaking. Minor niggles aside, I’m enjoying the bike. My initial “project” was simply to get the bike trail ready for 2016. Essentially, apart from cosmetics (removing the ugly headlight & speedo, chopping back the rear mudguard- a mixed blessing!), this boiled down to wheels and tyres. My initial thoughts were to swap out the stock 17inch front wheel for a 19. M/C Trade ins supplied a new front hub for the ridiculously cheap price of £35 so I contacted my local wheel builder, but for various reasons I went with knobblies on both front and rear 17inch rims just to get going in the Spring mud. Tyre choice was originally a problem with one local tyre dealer telling me that you couldn’t get knobblies for 17inch rims. Searching around the web I found that this was flat wrong and I ended up going to Eastleigh Motocross for a set of Continental “TKC 80’s”. These tyres are a revelation. On the muddy tracks around Hampshire, the TKC’s have not let me down with plenty of grip, however, its on the road that they make a huge difference. The original nylon tyres gave the bike a very twitchy feel, but the TKC’s put the bike on rail tracks with impressive grip. Cornering is now very…different… just lean it in and hold it, overcooked it? No problem, just lean some more. Whilst “knobbly” the TKC’s don’t have lugs on the edges, but they still cope well climbing out of muddy ruts. Overall well recommended.

DSC06517 1

A replacement number board was sourced from the internet and trimmed. The speedo, also off the web, gives an approximate indication of speed! Some slightly longer rear shocks from a previous project lift the bike about an inch. Black renthals naturally and a new stainless rear mudguard which is way too short but looks the business. The TKC’s complete the chunky tracker look. Riding the bike on the chalky tracks of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset is a joy. It’s not a “mini thumper” as the 250cc engines revs freely and steadily more like an overbored 125, but the power delivery is predictable and therefore easy to manage. The lightweight is a dream, it just goes where you want it to go. The front forks are a little too harsh, but some lighter fork oil might moderate that. I’ve done nearly a thousand Kms off road now and am thinking I’ll swap the 17in front for a 19 after all as the smaller wheel does chatter over hard bumpy ground, but nothing to spoil your day out. I must confess that the short rear mudguard is essentially useless! I should know better, but hey, its only mud.

Obviously, the Retrostar is sold as a road bike, so the footpegs don’t fold and the gearchange and brake levers don’t have folding tips. Also, the longish brake/clutch levers do catch the vines and can tug you into the undergrowth if you get caught. I’ve left the stock exhaust for now. As for the future, it’s a keeper, so I’ll ride it a couple of years as is then think about changing it all around. On the list so far are: An alloy tank similar to a BSA B50, solo saddle and upswept pipe with a smaller bottle, painting the cylinder head black and some folding tip levers if I can find some. By this time the finishes, not a strong point, will need some attention so spokes replaced and frame painted. Can’t decide to keep the scrambler look or go flat track with the seat/tail unit. Those pillion peg mounts will have to go. All in, lots to look forward to.

I mentioned earlier my son’s Apache 125. We bought this after he passed his CBT last spring. It’s essentially a bright orange supermoto aimed squarely at 17-year-old lads! Having said that it’s a cracker. Surprisingly tall in the saddle but comfy and easy to ride. Performance once you get going picks up well, in fact in top speed there’s not much at all between the Apache and the Retrostar, the 250 just gets there a little quicker. As a Dad, my concern was my lad keeping up with fast traffic (he navigates around Basingstoke’s dual carriageways and roundabouts every day) which the Apache copes with easily. Its been very reliable, no breakdowns and servicing is a doddle. The only minor problem has been the indicators which have packed up- I presume a microchip somewhere has fried.

Where to ride off-road? Ok, “off roading” is a misnomer, to legally ride a “byway” you still need a fully insured MoT’d motorcycle as byways are still classified as public roads. The common term for this sort of fun is “green laning” and as anyone will tell you, securing public rights of access to the countryside has a long and frustrating history as the public has battled landowners, local authorities and other user groups such as the Ramblers Association. Without writing a long essay, our rights to use the countries network of old unsurfaced roads have been severely curtailed in recent years by the Labour Governments “Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000” known as “CROW”. Essentially, we are now free to ride anything marked up by the Ordnance Survey as “Byway”.

Be advised though that anything marked up as a “Restricted Byway” is essentially a bridleway only- vehicles prohibited! To find out where you can legally ride a trip to the Country Records Office is needed as they keep the official maps that the Ordnance Survey use. Alternatively, I have found two websites which are very useful as a starter: http://www.bywaymap.com/index.html and
http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/communityandliving/rightsofway/publicrightsofwaymapping.htm . Anything in RED is a Restricted Byway- we can’t legally ride them, but anything in GREEN is good to use. As you can see, Hampshire and Wiltshire are good areas to go, but this is entirely due to the diligent work undertaken by the Rights of Way departments in these two counties who have worked hard over the years to correctly classify these old roads.

2018 Update

Over the winter the Retrostar has been kept in the garage but has now emerged as a tribute to my dad who rode a BSA M20 across North Africa.

With no changes to the essentials, aside from a slightly uncomfortable scrambler saddle and shrouded rear shocks all for period aesthetics and to match the USD forks. With a new pipe and sorted back end, also been experimenting with different disc wheels for the Jerry-can look, hoping to pull it all together before the wet weather returns!

It gets some interesting looks now.