So what’s the deal with Chinese motorcycles? You’ve been told that they’re nothing but trouble, but that’s not strictly true – there are a few gems out there that are worth your consideration. It’s pretty fashionable to poke fun at Chinese industry at the moment, but it’s a mindset that needs to change. There was a time when it was fun to mock the likes of Honda…and then look what happened. Japanese motorcycles are incredibly popular and the world has come to appreciate the engineering skills of numerous Japanese brands. But what about China then? Why are we so quick to dismiss the Asian giant? Sure, there have been a few horror stories going around, and yes, their production lines might be a little loose at times, but these teething problems won’t be around forever. In fact, many of them are things of the past already. It’s just the stigma that remains.
But if you’re willing to chalk the hiccups that you’ve heard about to one-off occurrences, or if you can accept that the quality of Chinese production methods can only get better, and you’re prepared to ignore the sensationalist fear of the great other in the East, then you might actually find a motorcycle that interests you. You see, we’ve ridden plenty of Chinese motorcycles, and while many of them can’t measure up to a Japanese model, there are a few that are worthy of note. And things will only get better, too. You might have heard about new partnerships between established manufacturers and Chinese factories…and that only means good things for the future.
For now though, if you’re looking for something cheap and cheerful that can do the job and not leave your coffers empty, then it may very well be in your best interests to look into the world of Chinese motorcycles. If you’ve had your eye on something from an established brand but can’t afford it, you can bet there’s a Chinese knock off out there somewhere at a fraction of the price – and they’re not as unreliable as you’ve been told either. But don’t forget, you get what you pay for at the end of the day.
You’ll probably have heard of brands like Lifan, Zongshen, and CFMoto before, and you can expect to hear a lot more from them in the future. The chances are that if you’ve ever owned a cheap minimoto with a small engine, or a cheap dirt bike, it will likely be from one of those manufacturers. And the Chinese excel at making cheap and decent small motors, but when the cc’s get bigger, and the riding risks get higher, you might want to do a lot more research into the Chinese motorcycle model you’re thinking of buying. To that end, we’ve put together a list of our favorite Chinese motorcycles out there. Some are available in the USA, some may need to be imported, but all are cheap and not nearly as bad as you’ve been led to believe…
Top 10 Chinese Motorcycles – Our Recommendations
#10. – The Chang Jiang 650
Let’s start with the old classic: the Chang Jiang 650. Chang Jiang is probably one of the most well-known Chinese manufacturers thanks to their honesty. They make replicas (direct copies!) of old school Russian and German motorcycles, and they’ve made no secret about it. In fact, they’ve made an entire business out of it instead. We like to call the Chang Jiang 650 the poor man’s Ural, and that was pretty much the case until recent years. In all but name, the Chang Jiang 650 is a carbon copy of the legendary Ural – and it used to come equipped with a dodgy boxer twin engine for the sake of authenticity. Nowadays though, the Chang Jiang 650 comes powered by a more modern parallel twin motor from CFMoto. If retro is your thing but you’re working to a budget, then the Chang Jiang 650 is your weapon of choice. Luckily, it comes in both sidecar and solo versions. Sidecars are scary, if you haven’t already had the pleasure…
#09. – CFMoto 650TK
Talking of that 650cc parallel twin engine from CFMoto, let’s talk about one of their own models that features it. This is the CFMoto 650TK, and it’s one of the most widely distributed Chinese motorcycles out there. Why? Well, in essence it’s mechanically identical to the Kawasaki ER-6 and comes with a price tag which is far more appealing to the frugal rider. Geared towards mild touring or more luggage-laden commuting, the CFMoto 650TK actually comes with some very nice features – so be prepared to be surprised. The fuel-injection system comes from Ducati Energia, with ITT throttle bodies, Magneti Marelli injectors, and a Japanese-made clutch. The engine produces a capable 70 hp at 8,500 rpm, and a max torque of 45.73 lb-ft at 7,000 rpm. Combine that with a lightweight tubular steel frame with KYB suspension, and you’ve got a pretty good motorcycle. All for a price that comes in under $7,000 new.
#08. – QuanJiang/Benelli BN600
Benelli, Keeway, KSR-Moto, Generic, QianJiang. No matter what name it goes by, this motorcycle which is ultimately the work of QianJiang is exactly the same no matter what label is put on it. This four cylinder 600 isn’t the most advanced nor exciting product on the market, and it certainly doesn’t measure up to a Japanese 600, but if you’re looking for something that will do its job and look mildly interesting at the same time, then you could do a lot worse than one of these. The four cylinder engine manage to produce a smooth power and torque curve, 82 hp at 11,500 rpm and 38.4 lb-ft at 10,500 revs, and is quite a fun bike to get around on. On top of that, QuanJiang also treated the BN600 with USD forks, Metzeler tires, and wrapped the whole package in some quite fetching bodywork. While it’s only loosely Italian in heritage, it does show off some classic Italian styling DNA. Not bad for a bike that comes in much cheaper than its competitors.
#07. – Motrac MG500
You probably haven’t heard of Motrac yet, but they’re a relatively new thing. As a division of the Taizhou Moray company, we’re expecting big things from this firm. The Motrac MG500 is a pretty convincing looking machine, right? And it should be. It comes powered by a Loncin twin engine, which appears to be a cast-iron copy of Honda’s CB500 unit but has some different internals. For a start, it’s 20cc bigger than the Honda CB500’s 471cc, with 491cc on tap, and it comes with a completely different bore and stroke – changes aside, the performance figures are identical to the Honda. The engine is one thing, but what’s most interesting is the overall adventure lookin’ package. Wrapped in a trellis front section, with a cast aluminum rear, with USD forks up front and an aluminum swing arm out back, we’ve got the makings of quite an impressive motorcyclist. To make things more attractive, Motrac have given the MG500 some Ducati Multistrada inspired shapes too. All in all, it looks like a very interesting machine. If it arrives in the US with the right price tag, we’d probably be prepared to take a gamble on one.
#06. – Zontes 310S
Coming new for 2018, we have this rather stylish offering from Zontes. This is the Zontes 310S, and it really is quite an interesting looking model. As far as Chinese motorcycles go, this one is pretty forward thinking in the styling department. It’s because of its styling, and the promise that goes along with it, that we’ve scored it so highly. Since the 310S won’t be available until next year, we haven’t really got the details on it. However, it’s already on pre-order in Europe, with dealers in France and the UK singing the Zontes 310S’s praises. Armed with a fully Euro4 approved engine, Bosch ABS, USD style forks, LED lights, and a top speed just under 100 mph, we can imagine that this might be a runaway success for learner riders. And the price is right. In Euros, Zontes are only asking €4590 – which is about $5,430 – and that’s not a bad price at all. Let’s hope that it lives up to the hype.
#05. – CFMoto 650NK
Now for another CFMoto creation. This is pretty much identical to the previously mentioned CFMoto 650TK, except that this is the naked version. In a similar theme to Kawasaki’s ER-6 and ER-6N, we have the un-faired and not-touring specific 650N. While the internals and hardware are absolutely identical to the 650TK, we’ve ranked the 650NK higher purely because of the looks alone. In its most recent form, it’s really quite a knockout. With the overall design penned by the Kiska design house, you can see why it’s easy to love this bike. With a Chinese manufacturer putting this much effort into the design alone, it gives us high hopes for the future of the country’s motorcycles. Sold under numerous trade names, such as WK Bikes in the UK (who you might recall became famous back in 2013 for putting the first ever Chinese motorcycle into the Isle of Man TT), they’re generally quite easy to find. Unless you’re in the USA – but if you’re willing to do the leg work you can probably find one.
#04. – Zongshen RX4
The Zongshen RX4 is actually the motorcycle that really inspired us to put together a list of the best up and coming Chinese motorcycles. The reason is this: not long ago, Zongshen formed a partnership with the iconic Norton brand name. The deal is pretty straightforward, with Norton designing a 650cc engine for Zongshen to manufacturer and put into their own bikes. Essentially, the world will be able to have an affordable Norton (of sorts) which is a great thing. Unfortunately, the dream pairing of “cheap” and “Norton” is yet to come to fruition – so in the meantime, we can all have a good look at one of Zongshen’s own, newer models. This is the RX4, a 450cc single adventure bike and it’s one of the most highly anticipated motorcycles to come out of China this year. It’s likely to make its way across to Europe, where it will be a great entry-level touring bike for learners, but whether it makes its way to the USA remains to be seen. We do hope so, because it looks like a lot of fun.
#03. – Benelli Leoncino
Yeah, yeah, Benelli is an Italian firm but come on, is it really? It doesn’t matter who you’re talking to: if you’re talking about a modern Benelli, no matter how much Italian design has gone into it, or how many Italian flags you paint on the sign, the chances are that most people are going to chalk it up as a Chinese motorcycle rather than an Italian one. Owned by QianJiang as mentioned above, the Leoncino was actually developed in China too. The Leoncino might be a Chinese motorcycle, but it’s a cut above some of the others we’ve seen. Powered by the solid 500cc parallel twin engine which is more commonly found in the Benelli TRK 502, this particular engine is inserted into a rather stylish modern-scrambler kind of chassis – which is very much in fashion. We haven’t seen one of these up close yet, but if it performs as well as it looks, then it could very well be one of the best Chinese motorcycles on the market. If you class it as a “Chinese motorcycle” that is.
#02. – CFMoto 650MT
Yet another CFMoto 650 variant? Yep. CFMoto are without doubt one of China’s foremost motorcycle manufacturers, so we would be remiss not to include more than one of their models. For their third and final entry onto our list, we’ve opted to go for the 650MT. This isn’t a naked bike. It’s not a tourer either. It’s a sports tourer with equal parts “sport” and “adventure.” Tall in profile, sleek in styling, and something that you could generally take for a thorough ride and hurl abuse at without it making you fear for the cost of a repair bill should things get nasty. It’s a lot like the Versys 650 in many way, but it also has a few key styling elements courtesy of the Kiska design (Kiska are the design team behind many models in the KTM range). Cheap in price, but not in design and build quality. If you had to blind test the 650MT up against its Japanese competitors, you may struggle to guess which is which…until you learn the price.
#01. Sur-Ron White Ghost
It’s electric. But hear us out. This is the Sur-Ron White Ghost, and as Chinese motorcycles go, this one is pretty innovative. It’s not just good by Chinese standards either, it’s getting some serious attention from electric vehicle enthusiasts from all over the world. On the surface, we have what looks like an electric motorcycle: it ticks all the right boxes in terms of design, and while there’s nothing particularly exciting about it, it’s hardly an ugly duckling either. All good so far. Then we have the performance. While it’s not going to be breaking any speed records, with a top speed of 60 mph, and it’s hardly going to cross continents with a meager 60 mile range, it’s not terrible. But then we have the really good part to balance out the lackluster performance. The cast alloy frame only weighs 17.1 pounds (7.8kg) – and that’s pretty damn incredible. Oh, and it comes with ABS too. While you might not be impressed with the performance or styling, just knowing that there’s a company out there putting this much effort into R&D should change your opinion about Chinese motorcycles and their future. If this comes up cheap enough, it could be a very popular choice for city commuters. And we hope the idea catches on.