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8 Chinese motorcycles that do deserve your consideration

Chinese motorcycles may not have the best reputation in Europe... but here are 8 models that will go a long way to proving the tide is definitely turning

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We won’t beat around the bush - Chinese motorcycles don’t have the greatest of reputations on this side of the world.

You only have to look at the comments on our Facebook posts - fair or otherwise - concerning Chinese models to witness the uphill task faced by firms to change perception in buyer’s minds regarding quality and reliability.

But history has a habit of repeating itself and these were assertions being placed on certain models from Japan back in the day… now it would take a minor miracle to unseat Honda and Yamaha from the top of the sales charts in the UK.  

And it’s very possible the turning of that tide is already occurring as demonstrated by our first ride of the new CFMoto 700 CL-X Heritage neo-retro roadster that has left us with a very favourable impression as to what is around the corner, not only from this brand but also models from the likes of Voge, which launches in the UK this summer, and Zontes which is promising a brand-spanking new range of sporty triple-cylinder models.

Until then though, here are six Chinese motorcycles that have already blazed the trail to be worthy of your consideration right now.

CFMoto 700 CL-X Heritage

It has taken almost two years for CFMoto to bring its much anticipated mid-range roadster to market after cutting quite a dash during a snazzy launch at EICMA back in November 2019.

Back then the 700 CL-X was shown in three flavours  - Heritage, Sport and Adventure - but it is the former that is coming to market first. Having utilised its connections with KTM to secure the services of Kiska - responsible for the most recent KTM and Husqvarna models - to our eyes it the CFMoto 700 CL-X that emerges as the design house’s most successful creation for some time.

The handsome looks may be a touch inoffensive but glance closer and there is some smart detailing that helps the chunky, European-looking Heritage at least stand out. We also found the dynamics involving and more refined than the modest underpinnings would have you believe.

While there is a fair bit of cherry-picking from rivals to bring the 700 CL-X up to standard (KTM design, BMW switchgear, Kawasaki-sourced engine), CFMoto have clearly worked hard to learn from its contemporaries both in an effort to bring a surprisingly capable model to market, but to no doubt get it right on their own with forthcoming models.

We are still waiting for final confirmation of how aggressively the 700 CL-X Heritage will be priced, but it’s worth noting in Europe it is trading for around £2k less than a £7,500 Yamaha XSR 700… it’s not perfect but £2k is £2k!

Lexmoto LXS 125

We all had to start somewhere and while it is not hard to see the allure of models like the Yamaha R125 and Suzuki GSX-R125 for those who want to step out with something sporty with their first purchase, for many the Lexmoto LXS 125 fulfils the same brief more than adequately.

And sales charts don’t lie. The Lexmoto LXR 125 regularly appears towards the top of UK sales charts, its mix of excellent value, striking looks and eager single-cylinder engine enough to win over an increasing number of buyers.

However, we’d encourage you to shell out for the LXS which retains the LXR’s sensibilities but throws in a bit more desirability for not much more cash. The looks are sharper, it offers retro charm with its underseat exhausts and the 13.8bhp engine beckons you to rev it hard on the back roads.

An R125 or GSX-R125 are more accomplished all round but it’s hard to find a new motorcycle that offers more smiles per mile for less than £3,000.

AJS Cadwell Clubman

In much the same way Jaguar, Land Rover and MG thrive in China for their unashamedly British heritage, several brands have returned the favour by calling upon our quintessentially classic silhouettes for inspiration with their efforts.

As such, you’d likely cause a few mouths to drop open if you pull up 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 AJS is of course a relic of the once thriving British motorcycle industry but having been fairly dormant for decades afterwards, it took to importing Chinese-manufactured models to furrow its little portion of the market today, including the eager 125cc Cadwell Clubman.

It’s on the more basic end of the quality scale, but all 10 of its bhp is right on tap, it looks like a shrunken Norton and it’s a hoot to ride.

Herald Brute 500

You can perhaps see where Kiska and CFMoto got their inspiration for 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 lithe makeover that has a blend of Scrambler and Flat Track racer about it.

Designed, engineered and assembled in the UK, the Herald Brute 500 perhaps shouldn’t quite qualify for this list outright but it wouldn’t exist at all without investment from the Far East. 

Certainly a discerning choice for someone in the market for a middleweight, A2-compliant machine that stands out from the crowd.

MASH X-Ride 

MASH has its origins in France but today imports its motorcycles from China, with the X-Ride its most recent offering that coincided with the firm getting a new distributor in the UK last year.

Scratch beneath the name badge and you’ll find Chinese company Shineray, which has been recycling classic designs for years. In the case of the X-Ride we have a pleasing 70s-themed enduro silhouette that cuts a dash with a look that unashamedly borrows from the Yamaha XT500.

Perfect for those who miss the single-cylinder thumpers of old, while the X-Ride’s £4,999 price tag is likely to entice more than the riding performance, with a buzzy 650cc single-cylinder engine at your fingertips it certainly does a good job of harking back to a bygone era for those who like to get a bit misty-eyed.

CFMoto 650 GT

If Chinese engineered models do indeed make significant headway in the coming years, they will have CFMoto to thank for doing the majority of the legwork. Up until recently the firm was known as WK Bikes in the UK (White Knuckle) but have since reverted to the more international moniker.

Unlike its contemporaries, CFMoto haven’t just focused on low-end models with this - the 650 GT - its largest offering until the 700 CL-X goes on sale.

It’s a lot of motorcycle for the money. For £5,995 the 650GT packs a decent amount of punch to tick off the miles, is well-equipped and feels really well screwed together. It lacks some refinement and the softly-sprung chassis won’t urge you to attack any corners soon, but the 650 GT is a genuinely good indication of what is to come.

There is more to come as well, with the 700 CL-X Heritage set to be joined by the handsome-looking 800 MT adventure tourer based on the KTM 790 Adventure before the end of the year.

Zontes R310

Unusual name aside, Zontes has always been something of an anomaly among the Chinese-branded imports in the UK.

While one can say they have certainly used Kawasaki as the blueprint for its designs - not necessarily a bad thing - it has carved its own niche by offering more sporting themed models than the ilk.

The Z900-aping Zontes R310 is our top pick with a striking design that will turn heads for the right reasons, decent fit and finish and generous kit levels. 

It’s not the most involving to ride, thanks to a somewhat breathless 312cc single-cylinder engine that doesn’t quite match the aesthetics, but if you’re on a budget and don’t want to shout about it, it’s a solid choice.

Benelli TRK 502

OK, so we are cheating a little with this one as Benelli is of course Italian…

However, while you don’t see all too many Benellis on UK roads, the firm has nonetheless become one of the motorcycle industry’s most surprising success stories of recent years on the strength of its Chinese connections.

This is all down to its purchase by Qianjiang Motors (QJ) which has pumped a significant amount of investment into the once ailing firm, so much so that it now outsells Ducati and Triumph globally.

Over in China, QJ has barely gone 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 range is more modest but it is headlined by the 502 TRK adventure crossover, which has taken up residence atop the Italian sales charts.

Excellent value at £5,199 and attractively styled, the TRK 502 isn’t as rough and tough off-road as it may look, but keep it on the twisties and it is a comfortable, refined GT with style to boot. At barely £500 more than a Royal Enfield Himalayan and almost £1,000 less than a Honda CB500X, it definitely deserves your consideration.

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