A few years ago SSR introduced a play bike that we might call a “midsize”— a machine halfway between a true play bike and a full-size bike that was impressive for both its value and performance. The fully updated 2020 SR189 boasts 19/16-inch wheels and tires like a 105cc class mini. But, rather than a liquid-cooled two-stroke engine, the SR midi runs a carbureted, air-cooled four-stroke engine. New for 2020, the SR189 has an improved seat, bodywork and graphics. Available colors are dark blue or white.
WHAT IS INSIDE?
In addition to the new cosmetic look, the SR189 has significant internal changes. Of all the midsize four-stroke play bikes we see, only the SR189 has a 10-inch-travel inverted fork with both compression and rebound adjustments. The SSR’s fork has massive 43mm inner fork tubes and a large front axle with proper double pinch bolts on each side to add rigidity to the front end. The cast-aluminum triple clamps have double pinch bolts as well.
Out back, the 189 has just shy of 8.5 inches of rear-wheel travel. The piggyback shock has a large shaft and a sizable body with spring preload, compression and rebound adjustments. The shock does use a linkage that is attached to a steel swingarm that looks like it could be aluminum. You will see that the frame is robust for a trail or play bike, particularly in the swingarm pivot area. It is constructed of stamped and welded parts, so it is fully boxed in like modern steel-framed motocross machines. It has a big-bike size and styled rear axle and chain blocks. It even takes a 32mm axle nut like a full-size modern bike.
WHAT ABOUT THE ENGINE?
Things are a little more old-school in the engine bay. As a two-valve, air-cooled, single-overhead-cam, carbureted four-stroke, the SR189 is typical of the Honda CRF150F, CRF230F, Yamaha TTR125 school, but the SSR differs in carburetion. It uses a 30mm Chinese carburetor with a handlebar-mounted remote choke. A Honda CRF150F uses a 24mm carb, so the SSR runs harder, particularly on top. The carb uses normal Keihin pilot jets but uses a less-typical flat main jet. We’d heard stories of accelerated slide wear in Chinese carburetors, but ours had a chrome-plated brass slide that looked perfect after many hard hours. The carburetor does not have an accelerator pump, so it hesitates if the throttle is whacked open too fast.
The engine has both a kickstarter and an electric starter. To be honest, we never even tried the kickstarter and even considered taking it off. Shifting is crisp, if not especially smooth. Young riders with smaller feet felt it was harder to shift than those with a size-9-or-larger boot. Our engine didn’t use any oil. We changed the oil twice, and the magnetic drain plug never evidenced any worrisome chips or metal filings. It has an oiled foam air filter with a large element for a machine this size.
The exhaust note on our bike has a bark to it. The pipe is a solidly mounted, attractive unit, but there is no spark arrestor. That means that the SR189 is a closed-course competition model. Obviously, it would be better if the machine met EPA standards for trail bikes so it would have no trail restrictions. This matters more in states with lots of national forest and BLM land. It matters not at all for those who ride on private property.
WORKING ON IT
You remove the saddle with a single fastener under the rear fender. This gives you access to the battery and foam air filter. A single wing nut allows you to move the small and light battery and reach the wing nut, securing the filter element. Both the front and rear wheels are easy to remove. The rear wheel has an added washer between the rear-brake caliper mount and the swingarm that requires a little care, but nothing out of the ordinary.
You will find a variety of fasteners, including a lot of Allen bolts. That can make working on the bike slightly time-consuming but not bad. It is unusual for a bike of this class to have a removable subframe, and that is fortunate. The subframe must be tilted up or removed to remove the carburetor. Even tilting the subframe up, removing the carburetor is somewhat time-consuming. An in-line fuel filter is standard. There is no reserve setting on the petcock.
GETTING IT DIRTY
Even though the current price of the SSR is quite good at $2689 and it has an enormous amount of technology invested for a play bike, it is still a little-known quantity. Therefore, we attempted to put as much time on the little machine as possible. We raced it at a quarter-mile flat-track race in completely stock form, including the stock Chinese knobby tires. Pro dirt tracker Ajay Hateley won his heat, then finished third in the main event of the modified 150cc air-cooled class. Some of the competing 150s were rumored to be as large as 215cc, so we were very pleased with the performance. We spent two full days on trails for a total of 100 miles. All of those miles were with adult riders in punishing conditions. Finally, we managed to hit a total of five track days.