We won’t beat around the bush – Chinese motorcycles don’t have the greatest reputation on this side of the world.
You only have to look at the comments on our Facebook posts – fair or not – regarding Chinese models to see the daunting task companies face in changing the perception in the minds of buyers regarding quality and reliability. .
But history has a habit of repeating itself and these are claims that were made on some models from Japan at the time … now it would take a little miracle to dethrone Honda and Yamaha from the top of UK sales. .
And it is very possible that the reversal of this trend is already happening, as evidenced by our first release of the new neo-retro CFMoto 700 CL-X Heritage roadster which has left us with a very favorable impression as to what lies ahead, not only from this brand but also models like Voge, which is released in the UK this summer, and Zontes which promises a whole new range of sporty three-cylinder models.
Until then though, here are six Chinese motorcycles that have already paved the way to deserve your attention right now.
CFMoto 700 CL-X Legacy
It took CFMoto nearly two years to bring its highly anticipated mid-range roadster to market after making a giant leap in a booming launch at EICMA in November 2019.
Back in the day, the 700 CL-X was offered in three trims – Heritage, Sport and Adventure – but it was the first to hit the market first. Having used its ties to KTM to secure the services of Kiska – responsible for the most recent KTM and Husqvarna models – in our eyes, it is the CFMoto 700 CL-X that emerges as the design house’s most successful creation since some time.
Beautiful looks can be a little harmless, but take a closer look and there are some clever details that at least help the big European-looking Heritage stand out. We also found the dynamics to be engaging and more refined than the humble foundations would have you believe.
While there are quite a few choices on the part of its rivals to bring the 700 CL-X up to standard (KTM design, BMW switchgear, Kawasaki engine), CFMoto has clearly worked hard to learn from its contemporaries at the both with the aim of bringing a surprisingly powerful model to the market, but undoubtedly to be successful on its own with future models.
We are still awaiting final confirmation of the aggressive pricing of the 700 CL-X Heritage, but it should be noted that in Europe it trades around £ 2,000 less than a Yamaha XSR 700 at £ 7,500 … it’s not perfect but £ 2000 is £ 2k!
Lexmoto LXS 125
We all had to start somewhere and while it wasn’t hard to see the appeal of models like the Yamaha R125 and Suzuki GSX-R125 for those who want to go out with something sporty with their first purchase, for many the Lexmoto LXS 125 fills the same brief more than adequately.
And the sales charts don’t lie. The Lexmoto LXR 125 is a regular top seller in the UK, its blend of great value, striking looks and a greedy single-cylinder engine enough to win over a growing number of buyers.
However, we encourage you to fork out for the LXS which retains the sensibilities of the LXR but offers a little more appeal for not a lot more money. The looks are sharper, it offers a retro charm with its exhausts under the seat and the 13.8 hp engine invites you to turn hard on the back roads.
An R125 or GSX-R125 is more accomplished across the board, but it’s hard to find a new bike that offers more smiles per mile for less than £ 3,000.
AJS Cadwell Clubman
In the same way that Jaguar, Land Rover and MG thrive in China for their unabashed British heritage, several brands have returned the favor by using our quintessential classic silhouettes to inspire their efforts.
As such, you’d probably have a few mouths opened if you stopped on an AJS Cadwell Clubman and revealed its origin … not least because the name itself couldn’t sound more “Keep Calm and Carry On”.
History buffs will point out that the AJS is of course a relic of the once thriving British motorcycle industry, but having been fairly dormant for decades, it took importing Chinese-made models to tour its small part of the world. market today, including the enthusiastic Cadwell 125cc Clubman.
It’s on the more basic end of the quality scale, but its 10bhp is within reach, it looks like a shrunken Norton and it’s a hoot to drive.
Brute Herald 500
You can maybe see where Kiska and CFMoto took inspiration from the 700 CL-X Heritage when you take a look at the Herald Brute 500.
Having progressed from the fairly utilitarian Brute 250, the larger 500 gets a soft makeover that has a mix of Scrambler and Flat Track racer on it.
Designed, engineered and assembled in the UK, the Herald Brute 500 might not quite qualify for this list, but it wouldn’t exist at all without investment from the Far East.
Definitely a smart choice for someone in the market for an A2 compliant midweight machine that stands out from the crowd.
MASH has its origins in France but now imports its motorcycles from China, with the X-Ride its most recent offering which coincided with obtaining a new distributor in the UK last year.
Scratch under the badge and you’ll find the Chinese company Shineray, which has been recycling classic designs for years. In the case of the X-Ride, we’ve got a nice ’70s-themed enduro silhouette that cuts a dash with a look that shamelessly borrows from the Yamaha XT500.
Perfect for those missing out on the single-cylinder thumpers of yore, while the X-Ride’s £ 4,999 price tag is likely to attract more than just ride performance, with a 650cc single-cylinder engine on hand it makes certainly a good job a throwback to a bygone era for those who like to have their eyes a little foggy.
CFMoto 650 GT
If Chinese engineered models do indeed make significant strides in the years to come, they will have CFMoto to thank for doing the majority of the fieldwork. Until recently the company was known as WK Bikes in the UK (White Knuckle), but has since reverted to the more international moniker.
Unlike its contemporaries, CFMoto didn’t just focus on low-end models with this – the 650 GT – its biggest offering until the 700 CL-X went on sale.
That’s a lot of motorcycle for the money. For £ 5,995, the 650GT packs a decent amount of oomph for the miles, is well-equipped, and feels really good screwed up. It lacks a bit of refinement and the soft-suspension chassis won’t be pushing you to tackle corners anytime soon, but the 650 GT is really a good indication of what’s to come.
There’s more to come as well, with the 700 CL-X Heritage which will be joined by the handsome 800 MT adventure tourer based on the KTM 790 Adventure before the end of the year.
Unusual name aside, Zontes has always been an anomaly among Chinese branded imports to the UK.
While it could be said that they certainly used Kawasaki as a template for their designs – not necessarily a bad thing – it has carved its own niche for itself by offering sportier themed models than the equivalent.
The Zontes R310 Z900-Ape is our top pick with a striking design that will turn heads for the right reasons, a decent fit and finish, and generous kit levels.
It’s not the most strenuous to drive, thanks to a somewhat breathless 312cc single-cylinder engine that doesn’t quite match the aesthetic, but if you’re on a budget and don’t want to scream it, it is a solid choice.
Benelli TRK 502
So we cheat a bit with this one because Benelli is of course Italian…
However, even if you don’t see too many Benellis on UK roads, the company has nonetheless become one of the motorcycle industry‘s most surprising success stories in recent years thanks to the strength of its Chinese connections.
This is all due to its purchase by Qianjiang Motors (QJ) which injected a significant amount of investment into the once struggling company, so much so that it now surpasses Ducati and Triumph sales globally.
In China, QJ barely went a month without launching a new model with offerings as diverse as supersports, cruisers and adventure machines now available with Benelli’s input and expertise. Here in Europe, the lineup is more modest but is dominated by the 502 TRK adventure crossover, which has taken up residence at the top of Italian sales.
Great value at £ 5,199 and attractively styled, the TRK 502 isn’t as rough and tough off-road as it looks, but keep it on the corners and it’s a comfortable GT and refined with style to boot. Just £ 500 more than a Royal Enfield Himalayan and almost £ 1,000 less than a Honda CB500X, it truly deserves your consideration.