THE SWIFT AVA 250 is everything that’s right and good about vintage motorcycles. It’s raw. It’s raucous. It barks and clatters and feels like it will rattle the fillings right out of your teeth. Yes, it’s more of a motorized bicycle than a proper motorcycle. But it’s charming and stylish, and and it feels faster than it is. It is an elemental machine, a cheap and cheerful runabout perfect for city life.
The diminutive motorcycle, and AVA Velocity Works, the company behind it, is the latest project from Adrian Van Anz, a Los Angeles designer whose work ranges from the utterly absurd to the subtly sublime. He’s done work for HP and Sony and even Jay-Z. But motorcycles are his first love.
“I got my first dirt bike at five years old,” Van Anz tells WIRED. “And I got my first stitches 75 feet later.”
The Swift is the latest iteration of a project Van Anz started five years ago when he founded Derringer Cycles. The Derringer was a motorized bicycle inspired by the board track racers of the 1920s, a 49cc throwback that somehow looked thoroughly modern. It wasn’t long before Van Anz sold the company to focus on his next project, AVA Velocity Works.
“Derringer was the natural evolution of the fixie,” says Van Anz “This is the natural evolution of the Derringer.”
The Swift is distilled to the bare essentials. A wee 250cc single-cylinder engine doles out a mere 16 horsepower through a five-speed transmission. It has an electric starter, but there’s a kick starter for a bit of retro flavor. There’s a single disc brake up front, and no, it doesn’t have ABS. The rear drum brake contributes to the old-school vibe, as does the cafe racer styling with the short seat, long tank and flat bars. There isn’t much more to it than that, which explains the curb weight of around 200 pounds. It’s made right here in the U.S. of A using a whole lot of parts from China, which keeps the cost to a very attractive $3,900.
Throw a leg over the Swift and you might as well be straddling a Specialized. It’s disconcertingly small, especially if you’re used to riding a modern motorcycle. The diminutive dimensions makes it perfect for shorter statures, and its minuscule footprint works to your advantage in the city.
Slicing through traffic and splitting lanes–which we can do here in California–has never been easier. Your elbows are the widest point on the bike, so spaces that would be impossible to slip into on a standard bike are positively palatial. The riding position is a nice middle ground between an upright tourer and a hunkered down sport bike, and the everything is perfectly placed if you’re in the mid-five-foot range.
Acceleration, is as you’d expect, uninspiring. “It feels like a very fast bicycle, not a small motorcycle,” Van Anz says. Twisting the throttle elicits more noise than propulsion, but there’s enough mid-range grunt to pull away from traffic and speed to the next traffic light. Around town every crease, pebble, and rut in the road runs up your arms and into your chest. The rear suspension is more for show than go and the handlebars are constantly buzzing from the thumper between your legs. It’s not particularly fast, but because of its weight and size, it always feels on edge, blending just enough confidence with the thrill of two wheels.
Yes, we took it on the freeway. No, you absolutely shouldn’t. Even though it can hit a top speed of 70 mph, a brisk wind will send you over three lanes and big rigs remind you of your cosmic insignificance. The brakes are good enough for tooling around town, but we were a bit nervous about their abilities in a panicked stop at anything more than, say, 50 mph, and there’s no way they’re up to the rigors of spirited riding. The transmission clunks through gears, and the neutral indicator lied to us on one occasion, leading to an embarrassing stall at a stoplight.