Year of the Copycat | Shameless Chinese motorcycle rip-offs: The 2023 Edition

These Chinese copycat motorcycle want so badly to be something they aren't... some are squintingly convincing, others just insulting.

Motrac Unicorn.jpg

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they say… but a dodgy mimicked accent is just insulting.

Indeed, for every tasteful tribute there is a facsimile from a machine that needs more toner.

The same applies to motorcycles where a steady flow of familiar - if not exactly faithful - renditions of popular models have trickled onto the streets, predominantly in China where the notion of intellectual property seems to be an afterthought at best, shown two fingers at worst.

No manufacturer is immune from the dodgy tribute band effect. We have already run one long list of copycat motorcycles originating from China which rip-off models from Honda, Ducati, Kawasaki and Yamaha among others and yet in 2023 there is now even more material for a second name and shame.

Of course, there are an increasing number of original thinking brands coming from China, but no matter how big the puffed chests of lawyers representing big brands get more and more rip-offs pop up faster than they can be stopped. 

Some are moderately convincing if you squint… and are drunk… whereas others are just plain rude.

It may be the Chinese year of the Rabbit but for some 2023 is definitely the year of the copycat.

Xiang Shuai XS650N - Harley-Davidson Iron 883

How blatant? 7/10    How faithful? 2/10 - The 'Gukki' handbag that might actually fool your friends...

With a silhouette and brand known and revered in all corners of the world, Harley-Davidson is ripe for tributing by any Chinese firms looking to the West for inspiration.

And do you know what? The Xiang Shuai XS650N might have a mouthful of a name to say but it represents a surprisingly faithful effigy of the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 that - and whisper this - might even surpass its US counterpart.

The low slung profile, chunky proportions and matte black mechanicals poking out are close enough to the Harley-Davidson, but the wheel design, fork gaiters and exhaust design are pure H-D.

It’s even more powerful than the Iron 883 at 53bhp (unlike the Harley’s 51bhp) from its 650cc twin-cylinder engine. Throw in LED headlights and LCD display and the Xiang Shuai is going a long way to rendering this article incorrect…

Xianglong JSX500i - TVS Zeppelin

How blatant? 9/10     How faithful? 7/10 - Snooze, you loose

This is, quite possibly, the most cynical attempt yet by a Chinese manufacturer to indulge in some rather rude rival cosplay.

You may not have heard of the TVS Zeppelin but the handsome cruiser certainly caused a stir when it was revealed in concept form back in 2018, so much so that last year it went into production largely unchanged.

Annoyingly for TVS, however, Chinese firm Xianglong apparently also liked what it saw, so much so that it got to work on a version - the JSX500i - that looks suspiciously like the Zeppelin, right down to the engine case detailing, broad headlight (which, to be fair, TVS pinched from engineering partners BMW first) and distinctive multi-spoke wheels.

Trouble is, it was Chinese company that went on to turn TVS' concept into a Xianglong reality, before the TVS concept became its rightful TVS reality. 

You might call it the motorcycle equivalent of 'gezumping', but either way, we have to wonder whether this classes as a intelligent commercial strategy... or just simply intellectual property theft?

Motrac Unicorn - MV Agusta Superveloce 800

How blatant? 9/10    How faithful? 3/10 - The two-wheel equivalent of ill-advised glamour shots for a Lonely Hearts advert

The MV Agusta Superveloce 800. Evocative, elegant, brimming in nostalgia

The Motec Unicorn. All of those things except the complete opposite. Plus it is named after a make-believe horny horse. Horse with a horn. Whatever, it’s silly.

Actually, we rather like the tongue-in-cheek name - intentional or otherwise - as Motec’s light-hearted description of the distinctive funelled porthole front-end which can only be copying the (formerly) unique Superveloce 800 but ‘an attempt’ is as far as we’d go to describing the faithfulness.

Unusually, the rendition does match the MV Agusta’s 800cc engine… except this one produces a mere 60bup (brake unicornpower - fnar) so we’re not entirely sure what half of the engine is doing there except weigh down the bits that serve purpose.

Admirable idea, woeful execution.

Feiken TT250 - Husqvarna Svartpilen / Vitpilen

How blatant? 8/10    How faithful? 4/10 - Feiken news

We like to think whoever chose the name for the Feiken TT250 (Fake-en?!) has a deliberate sense of humour and was having a fit of sh*ts and giggles… but we have a feeling it’s just because something has been lost in Google translate.

Either way, Husqvarna is clearly the victim here in this latest case of stolen identity with the Scandi-cool Svartpilen/Vitpilen being ripped for the Canto-beige Feiken TT250.

While there is some degree of faithful profiling going on here with accuracy in the blocky neo-retro shape if you stand a few (hundred) metres away, otherwise the TT250 is the marketplace shabby sofa to the Svartpilen’s Ikea three-piece suite.

In the interests of fairness, we like those gold(ish) wire wheels and the two-tone effect, while the finish is certainly better than many of the other models seen here.

But given the Svartpilen itself is just a covered KTM Duke, we’ll pass on this tinny karaoke version.

Moto S450RR - BMW S 1000 RR

How blatant? 9/10    How insulting 6/10 - Fairly convincing… but only if actually went fast enough for your brain not to instantly correct itself

Compared with many of the motorcycles on display here, the company imaginatively titled ‘Moto’ has showcased some decent attention to detail in order to create the S450RR, which most will realise is a BMW S 1000 RR copy even before they see it.

That means the rakish lines are fairly convincing, the red white and blue graphics are present and there is even a big can too.

It’s for effect only though because the 450cc engine means it could only rival a Kawasaki Ninja 400 - which is handy because the rear-end copied that model too.

The best bit though? The badge which apes the BMW propeller, except tweaked to (unintentionally) make it look like a desk fan.

Moxaio 500 RR - Ducati Panigale 959

How blatant? 8/10    How insulting 9/10 - Even copycats need to change tact to stand out among copycats

Ducati really only has itself to blame for creating its image and models in such a tempting way as to make them desirable with a price tag few can afford. What is a lovelorn soul to do…? You pop down the market and get the knock-off.

Since the Ducati V4 copy is just soooo last year, here Moxaio has decided to go for a better value choice in the Ducati Panigale 959-inspired Moxaio 500 RR.

The result is a loose cross between the 959 and that real size scale version of the V4 made from LEGO. In short, it’s the chunky version of what should be soup. They have gone to the effort of copying the font and graphic details, but it seems to have gone a bit rogue with the finishing details by dragging Ferrari into the mess with a yellow logo.

Nevertheless, it’s still lumbered with the same dilemma Europeans have here with the 959. Why have a Ducati 959/Moxaio 500 RR when you could have a Panigale V4/One of the multiple copies riding slower than they should be across China?

Too many to mention - Vespa Primavera

How blatant? 10/10    How insulting? 8/10 - The scooter equivalent of Dawn of the Dead

While most manufacturers are irked to see their effort and product replicated in a cynical attempt to capitalise on their original ideas, most won’t bother worrying about the time consuming legal route to stop them because really, does it damage a brand in a grand scheme of things?

Except, there is one exception to this rule. Piaggio has been mounting legal challenges left right and centre to stop the swarm of models emerging under a variety of names that have copied the iconic - and protected - design of its retro infused Primavera.

It has been moderately successful as well, in so much as stopping such models reaching Europe, though it’s unlikely this was ever in five-year plan anyway. 

The Primavera is an obvious target in that it invokes the romance and culture of a European capital city in a cheaper, nippy and unmistakable package. As ever though, those are the very traits lost in such renditions, so you can understand why Piaggio went to court - not for financial reasons but because it is an affront, née an insult, to its very being.

Hanway G30 - Royal Enfield Himalayan

How blatant? 8/10    How insulting? 4/10 - The only example of a manufacturer having cause for copying its own copy

This is one of our favourites here for the mere fact Hanway started off with an uncomplicated, affordable (let’s face it, budget) and fairly basic motorcycle in the Royal Enfield Himalayan… and then turned the copycat premise on its head by (sort of) attempting to upgrade the original doner. Eh?

Here, on what is a fairly faithful attempt at copying the Himalayan’s distinctive retro-no-frills style, the G30 treats us to a TFT dashboard, LED lights, inverted forks and a 26hp single-cylinder engine. Swanky!

We love the Himalayan, not necessarily because we’d choose it over something quicker, more comfortable and better equipped, but because it is a humble workhorse with lashings of charm. 

The Hanway G30 doesn’t have that benefit, but of all the clones here, it’s probably the one most capable of making us think twice (briefly) about whether to go original or grab the knock-off and cash that is £3,000 cheaper than what is already only £4,599. 

Yiben YB250 - Piaggio MP3

How blatant? 9/10    How insulting? 7/10 - Gerr’ outta ma pub!

Such is the popularity and ubiquitousness of scooters the world over, it’s sometimes hard to tell which is which at times. But there is no mistaking the Piaggio MP3 with three-wheels on its trike.

There have since been a few rival models inspired by a bike that once made people recoil but now sells strongly, but in China some simply took an MP3 and swapped the badges. 

As we’ve mentioned previously, Piaggio ain’t taking no s**t when it comes to infringing on their designs so when a company named Yiben attempted to bring its YB250 three-wheeler to EICMA in 2019, it was ejected from the halls under order of a judge like a drunk underage teen in a nightclub.

Embarrassing. But you can be sure that teenager will be back next weekend, fake moustache and all.

Dahaidao 500 GS ADV - Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin

How blatant? 7/10    How insulting? 5/10 - If the Honda is an African Safari, the Dahaidao is the not-as-advertised wildlife park in the Midlands you experience in a Volvo with the windows up

Using the Honda Africa Twin as your go to clone presents a few risks. For one, it’s a big old model to copy that needs a hefty engine to fill that space, and then it needs to be capable of traversing some of the world’s toughest terrain to fulfil its ADV brief.

We can’t speak for the latter, though we have a few assumptions, but visually at least, the Daiaidao (try saying that drunk) 500 GS ADV does imitate the AT’s upright stance and gets a lot of the details right. Hell, even the name successfully nods to a certain other off-roader from BMW.

For the most part this is actually a handsome take, which just makes us wonder why not go to the extra effort of tweaking the design into your own if you’re half-way there already.