The 2020 SSR SR189 is an Entry Level Dream
SSR Motorsports is a United States-based brand that manufactures its extensive line of pit bikes, play bikes, off-road bikes, ATVs and more, in China. Founded in 2002, the brand is best known for its pit bikes but it was the mid-sized SR 189 that caught our eye. Priced at $2689.00, the SR 189 is up to $1000 less than similarly sized offerings from Japanese manufacturers, and it boasts plenty of impressive features on paper. Electric start, a Pro Circuit exhaust, an upside-down fork, dual disc brakes, and oversized 1″ 1/8′ handlebars…not to mention a 35″ seat height and a 15.4 horsepower 189cc two-valve four-stroke engine!
Recently, my 22-year-old daughter Megan expressed an interest in riding motorcycles again. Since graduating from college, she’s found herself stuck at home with no full-time job leads thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s just fine by me! (I regress…she did land a research assistant gig and also runs the SML Merch program full time!) “Dad, I need a hobby,” she said. “I want to start riding again!” Those words were both thrilling and horrifying at the same time, as Meg is my wild child and has already had more surgeries than yours truly.
But first: a little back story…
Back in 2007, both of my girls asked me to teach them how to ride. While my wife, Eileen, had ridden for years, entered a motocross race, and had even done a couple of paying stunt gigs on a motorcycle, the prospect of teaching my little girls how to ride scared the shit out of me. By chance, Yamaha held a TT-R intro at Milestone MX Park and it served as the perfect intro for my kids. Labeled a family event, Yamaha encouraged parents to join in on the fun…
And what fun it was! Both of the kids took to minis quickly and had a blast at the ride day. While we were allowed to borrow the TT-R110 for Samy, the 50s were too high in demand and I was left to find a different option for Meg moving forward. My buddy Kobi at Suzuki was quick to drop off a JR50, and Megan took to the two-stroke powerband instantly.
As is the case with most things as far as my daughters are concerned, Meg was more aggressive as she wanted to keep up with her big sister. On one afternoon, I took the girls to Racetown 395 to ride on its pee wee track, and I watched as Meg did everything she could to reel in and pass Samy, even though her bike was less than half the engine size. And as luck would have it, Meg tucked the front end and fell a couple of seconds after making the pass. Of course, Samy had nowhere to go and mowed her little sister over, then crashed as well. I chuckled as I shot photos of the crash as it was happening, but after reviewing the photos I realized how gnarly it actually was! Samantha ran over Megan’s arm, then proceeded to smash into her head and fall over on top of her little sister with 110cc of fury held wide open! Luckily, a few tears were the only damage that resulted, and they proceeded to ride a little more. Later that day, I sat inside my toy hauler trailer eating a sandwich and I looked outside the window at the crowd of friends who sat in chairs in our pit. I can’t remember who the guy was, but there was someone who I didn’t know sitting there, with a full-leg cast, from thigh to toe! Just as I asked my wife if she knew who the guy was, I heard the terrifying sound of a JR50 blubbering at high rpm, wide open! Looking out the small window in my trailer, it was like watching a television screen. First came the sound, then the guy with the busted leg sat up straight in his chair and braced himself, and then Megan came into view looping out (maybe not, but I swear that’s how I remember it!) straight into the poor guy with the cast! Ultimately, the guy was okay and we all kind of laughed about it a bit, but the event was traumatic enough that Megan – and then Samantha – declared that they were done with dirt bikes as they both wanted to concentrate on soccer. And I was okay with that! Soccer certainly seemed safer, and it wasn’t really my dream to be a mini dad at the races. (As it turns out, soccer was possibly far more dangerous as Meg blew out her knees three times while playing at a high club level in her teens.)
Which brings us to the present… Now 22 and 5’5″, Meg is far too big for a little pitbike, but not experienced enough for one of our 250F test bikes. I could have procured a 85cc two-stroke for her to try, but that would have been far too pipey and violent. As I pondered the trail bike offerings from the major manufacturers, I got a call from our test rider Pat Foster. “Hey bud, do you know anyone at SSR?” he asked. “I want to buy a couple of their SR 189s for my family to play around on. I’ve heard really great things about them: they’re sturdy and priced great.” I told Pat I didn’t actually know anyone there, but I’d look into it.
After stalking the @ssrmotorsports Instagram account I found myself, too, interested in the SR 189 so I slid into their DMs and inquired about checking the bike out. We were lucky enough to get ahold of one of the 2020 SSR SR189 bikes within a few weeks, and I had a hunch that it would be the perfect bike for Megan to get reacquainted with the dirt on.
While SSR Motorsports does produce 250 and 450cc off-road bikes that look eerily similar to Honda CRFs of the early 2000s, the SR 189 seems to be a bike that’s designed by SSR from the wheels up. Though the bodywork looks a lot like KTM’s a few generations ago, the bike is quite simply badass, especially for under $3000. Price is most often the barrier to entry for families wanting to get involved in off-road motorcycling, and SSR offers some great options…and the SR 189 in particular thanks to its “just right” size and unintimidating powerplant.
To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about the SSR bike, having encountered my fair share of Chinese-built pit bikes during the 50s craze that swept through the sport a decade or so ago. In fact, my good friend Jeff Christman of SDG USA and I joked the other day as he installed one of his seat covers on a test bike for me. Back in the day, SDG sold a hopped-up 50c pit bike that nearly put the brand out of business because of warranty claims and a lack of replacement parts. In the TransWorld Motocross offices, we jokingly referred to the SDG pit bike as the “Shanghai Dirt Grenade.” Haha!
When we took delivery of the SSR SR 189, memories of the old SDG pit bike quickly faded. This thing was pretty trick! The Pro Circuit exhaust system was the first thing that really caught my eye, but a more thorough perusal of the machine revealed electric start, massive (overbuilt?) disc brakes, oversized handlebars, and overall good looks made quite an impression on me.
Ultimately, our mission at Swapmoto Live is to help grow the sport of off-road motorcycling, and I grew more and more excited to share our thoughts about this ideal entry level machine. I was more than excited to take Megan out for her big comeback. Then, I realized that none of her old gear would fit. Haha! A call to Daddy Frank and Uncle Mark at O’Neal produced a helmet, jersey, pant, and gloves for the kid, and Alex at Alpinestars suggested a pair of Stella Tech 3 boots, made especially for women. As luck would have it, Meg’s head was too big for the small lid I ordered (lots of knowledge and brains inside, she says…) so she inherited a new Bell Moto 9 Flex of mine that I have yet to ride in. Lastly, a pair of Scott Fury goggles completed her kit, and we were off to the desert!
As I unloaded the SSR SR 189, I realized that Megan had never ridden a motorcycle or driven a car with a manual clutch! After explaining the way a clutch works to her and demonstrating how to feed the clutch and throttle concurrently, I turned the bike over to her and put it in second gear. Earlier in the day, Jeremy McGrath had suggested putting her in second as “momentum is your friend,” and going a little quicker would always make things easier. As it turns out, trying to teach Meg how to take off in second gear proved a little tough, as her tendency to dump the clutch as the lever reached its last half-inch of the extension would often cause the bike to stall. Though she managed to chug away a few times, her success ratio was definitely no better than 10%.
That’s when I realized what a blessing it was to have an electric start. The frustration of stalling the bike repeatedly would have surely been multiplied 10 times over if she had needed to kick-start the bike each time. A quick stab at the starter button (while the clutch lever was pulled in) is all that it takes to bring the mid-sized thumper engine to life. For a beginner, this is a massive plus!
Eventually, I had her start in first gear and grab a quick shift to second gear. First gear is super low, and it made taking off much easier for her. In fact, she could just dump the lever with no grace at all, and the motor would chug away easily without stalling. Though I considered having her cruise around in first gear only, it was immediately clear that the result would have been ear-splitting rpm and about four miles per hour, so I taught her how to grab the next gear shortly after taking off. As the day progressed, Megan used third gear plenty and even ventured into fourth a few times. I must note that finding neutral was a daunting task for me and an impossibility for a first-timer like Meg. Whether the engine was running or dead, the transmission proved tricky between first and second.
While we were tempted to put the SR 189 through a torture test with our regular test riders on a motocross track, we felt that it would be pointless and maybe even a little disrespectful. The SR 189’s target consumer is not a pro racer who intends to jump triples…it’s a small adult or teenager who is just getting their feet wet in off-roading. Furthermore, our friends at Dirt Bike Magazine already did an in-depth torture test with plenty of technical details…
Simply put, the 2020 SSR SR 189 is a rad trail bike and Megan certainly enjoyed her first day on it. In between her motos, Chase Curtis and I took turns flogging it around and we were both pretty impressed with the bike’s fit and finish. It’s no speed demon, but it has enough power to keep things fun and more than enough for most trails that it’s intended for. Most of all, we couldn’t get over the fact that the 189 costs less than a mid-level dual-suspension mountain bike! In fact, I did pay more for Meg’s Specialized Stumpjumper!
We’re not sure of the suspension component manufacture, but the bike seems well sprung and balanced for riders in its target weight range of 100-150 pounds (we’re guessing). Both ends feature compression and rebound adjustments that do make a difference in the way the bike feels, and the bike as a whole certainly looks the part.
As Megan gained confidence, the smile beneath her (my) Bell Helmet grew wider, and I could see that she was enjoying it just like she did when she was seven. The day didn’t go without incident, of course, as a miscalculation in a sandy area caused her only crash of the day, into the only fence in the entire desert! Haha!
At the end of the day, Megan asked if I thought she could do the women’s class at the Day in the Dirt Grand Prix. If that is to happen she’s gonna need a lot more seat time, but the prospect of doing the Father/Daughter class sure brought a smile to my face! Thanks, SSR Motorsports, for producing the perfect bike for me to reintroduce my daughter to motorcycling on! Now all I need is another one and a lot of coaxing