Road Test CFMOTO 650MT | Bike Tests | Latest Tests
Yearning to hit the wide open roads but don’t have the budget for a big-bore soft-roader? CFMoto’s 650MT shows just how far you can go on 7K
It was bound to happen sooner or later, but now one of the many Chinese manufacturers is finally producing an expanding range of European-designed but still affordably priced mid-size motorcycles targeted at export sales. This is in stark contrast to the many smaller-capacity sub-400cc models aimed at customers closer to home in what is still the world’s largest market – 17.8 million bikes were sold in China last year.
Shanghai-based CFMoto has taken a major step forward in the quality and appeal to overseas customers of its own products. It has forged an alliance with Europe’s largest manufacturer, KTM, and has cemented an R&D deal with Kiska Design in Austria, which has overseen the creation of each new KTM since 1992, and will be responsible for the overall design of all future CFMoto models.
The first fruits of Kiska’s involvement are now available to global customers in the form of a revamped, sharply styled 650NK roadster (Vol 66 No 15) and the new 650MT adventure tourer – mid-size motorcycles powered by the Chinese company’s self-developed 650cc parallel-twin eight-valve engine.
The chance to be the first journalist to ride the 650MT came courtesy of Australian importer Mojo Motorcycles, which received one of the first bikes off the assembly line – sent here for ADR homologation because Australia is a key export market for CFMoto. After being impressed with the performance and especially the value for money delivered by its 650NK naked sister bike when I rode it in 2012 – and being equally taken by seeing the level of quality control at its Chinese factory first hand – I was looking forward to finding out how much the twin-cylinder platform had progressed in five years.
The 650MT is still affordably priced, being available Down Under for $6990 ride away (though our test bike included Spanish-made 32-litre panniers that cost an extra $500 a pair). That’s a killer price for an entry-level adventure tourer, especially compared to an obvious competitor such as the Kawasaki 650 Versys which retails for $10,599 (+ORC), without luggage. That’s a massive saving for the Chinese model.
A full 320km day aboard the 650MT riding out into the Victorian Goldfields delivered typical Melbourne weather, with all four seasons in one day. I got seriously drenched riding out along the Western Freeway towards Ballarat, thanks to an icy rainstorm that had me bemoaning the lack of heated grips (they’re not even an option yet). Protection was better than I expected thanks to an adjustable screen with a range of 60mm, though my shoulders inevitably got very damp, and a pair of handlebar guards would have been nice.
Turning off before hypothermia set in, I began to explore the great riding roads linking towns like Daylesford and Castlemaine. Warming sunshine now had the road steaming and quickly dried me off as I headed towards Bendigo before taking the Calder Freeway back to Melbourne.
1. Silencer is tucked in low down on the right
2. LCD dash has twin trips plus an odometer, as well as a readable analogue tacho with the digital speedo set within it. There’s also a gear indicator, clock and fuel gauge
3. The modest pillion perch may not quite convince your significant other to join you on a longer adventure
4. The MT has an upside-down fork, unlike the 400NK and 650NK
The 649cc motor is essentially a Chinese rip-off of the Kawasaki ER6 motor, even down to the dimensions, but CFMoto chose well in terms of which powerplant to copy, and its engineers did a good job executing it. This version is restricted to the same LAMS-legal 41.5kW at the crank at 9500rpm as the 650NK, with identical maximum torque of 62Nm at 7000rpm, though Mojo Motorcycles has said they will import the full-fat version if there is demand.
Thanks to a single gear-driven counterbalancer and hefty balance weights in the ends of the handlebars, there’s no vibration at all right up to the hard-action 10,500rpm rev-limiter, and no tingles in the footrest or seat as you sometimes get at a constant cruising speed from comparable single-cylinder models (and even some twin-cylinder rivals). This makes the 650MT both pleasant and practical on the freeway, as well as ultimately untiring to ride.
To obtain Euro 4 compliance, CFMoto switched to a Bosch ECU for its fuel injection, matched to twin 36mm UAES throttle bodies (as opposed to the previous 38mm ITT items), still with a single injector per cylinder. Besides improving fuel economy – always a consideration on a bike used for longer hauls – reducing the choke size by 2mm has delivered some extra zip under acceleration.
There’s supposedly a choice of three different riding modes. The Rain map really softens the power delivery noticeably, which proved useful when riding along slippery surfaces sprinkled with diesel, as did the effective if brusque single-stage Continental ABS.
I was unable to sense any difference at all between the Sport and Touring modes, but the 650MT is pretty flexible in either mode thanks to the willing performance of its 650cc twin.
Thumb the starter button and the motor immediately comes alive, then settles to a high 1400rpm idle with a pleasing and distinctive syncopated lilt emanating from the 2-1 exhaust.
It’s a fruity-sounding exhaust note that gives the
bike lots of character.
The parallel-twin is torquey, free-revving and smooth, pulling strongly with zero transmission snatch from 2500rpm on part throttle, and from 3000rpm wide open. Power delivery is more responsive than before, leading to a linear build of power all the way to that 10,500rpm limiter; although it picks up revs a little faster from 7000rpm, you wouldn’t characterise it as a step in the powerband.
The six-speed transmission with chain final drive features a Japanese-developed FCC oil-bath clutch, making the 650MT a model of rideability thanks to its flawless gear shift and light clutch action; your left hand won’t ever cramp up riding this bike in traffic. This makes balancing the CFMoto at low speeds easy for riders of all experience levels, with walking-pace feet-up U-turns dead easy on a manoeuverable bike that has a very tight steering lock and responsive but well-mapped fuelling. Though not particularly light for a 650 twin at 213kg (without luggage but with a full 18-litre tank), this will be an ideal mount for beginners and especially women, provided they’re comfortable with the quite tall 840mm stock seat height (though there’s an 820mm option).
The 650MT is still enjoyable to ride fast, even if acceleration is determined rather than assertive thanks to 10kg of extra weight over its 650NK stripper sister. It’ll cruise all day at 120km/h with the tacho needle parked at 5900rpm, little more than halfway to redline. It will cruise at 160km/h, tracking dead straight with no wobbles even with those wide panniers fitted, while that quite effective screen shelters your helmet from windblast.
Absolute top speed is 200km/h with the engine peaking at 8400rpm – it won’t pull any higher – but things are definitely stressed running that fast. This bike is more comfortable at lower velocities. Torque is spread widely enough throughout the powerband that there’s no point in revving it anywhere near that 10,500rpm limiter; shifting up at 8000rpm puts you back in the fat part of the torque curve every time.
The Kiska-concocted riding position is super-comfortable, with the deeply stepped seat slotting you into the bike rather than sitting on top of it, while also providing relatively plush padding – I had no trace of numb-bum syndrome after my 320km day on the CFMoto. My only complaint being the height of the footrests meant my legs became too bent to be truly comfortable on a long ride.
The cockpit is accommodating, in spite of a front brake master cylinder that is both massive and ugly – the only naff-looking item on the entire motorcycle. A sense of being welcomed aboard is partly thanks to the well-designed if slightly spartan dash; this is a big step up from the 650TK’s pre-production item, which omitted a trip reading, clock or fuel gauge – on a tourer! That was corrected for production after Mojo pointed it out.
The relatively compact motor sits in the same tubular steel diamond frame as the 650NK, in which it’s employed as a fully-stressed member. Unlike the naked model, the 650MT features Chinese-made Yuan suspension. The fork is adjustable for compression damping and delivers 140mm of excursion, while an extruded steel swingarm with tubular bracing has a direct-action Yuan cantilever monoshock offset to the right and providing 145mm of travel. It’s adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping.
The well-damped front end irons out all but the worst examples of road rash out in the country when taken on the angle, even at high speed. Thanks to the wide handlebar, there’s good leverage to help hustle the MT from side to side through a series of sweeping turns, where it feels really planted. There’s also good feedback from the 120/70 front version of the pair of 17-inch Metzeler RoadTec tyres.
The fitment of Spanish-developed J.Juan brakes – albeit made in China – gives the kind of superior stopping power lacking from previous budget bikes. The twin-piston front calipers now deliver a reassuring bite when gripping the twin 300mm front discs, aided by metal brake hoses now fitted as standard. A larger than before 240mm rear with a single-piston caliper comes into its own off road; though the 650MT is not a proper dual-purpose bike, especially with its RoadTec rubber, the nicely responsive rear brake will be welcome on gravel.
The brakes also worked well in the wet, as did the Metzeler tyres, though it helped at times to use some engine braking from high speeds, which even in the absence of a slipper clutch you do not need to worry about chattering the rear tyre. But you don’t need to squeeze the brake excessively to get them to work, and lever pressure remained constant even after successive hard stops.
The fact that CFMoto has fitted Metzeler tyres, Bosch ECU, Continental ABS (strange it didn’t opt for the complete Bosch package, though!) and J.Juan brakes indicates a welcome commitment to deliver a bike fitted with name-brand components that will provide reassurance to export customers, while still maintaining that affordable price. However, while there’s a USB port fitted to charge your phone, it’s a pity that on a bike likely to be used for longer journeys there isn’t a pocket in the bodywork for a phone and other knick-knacks. And while there’s room to clamp a GPS to the handlebar, there’s no socket to power it from – another omission CFMoto should remedy on a bike with touring pretensions. A delivery courier who might otherwise seriously consider the 650MT as a suitable traffic tool, thanks to its upright stance and the good view over traffic, wouldn’t think much of that either.
The CFMoto 650MT is as capable and pleasing a ride – as well as practical – as many bikes costing twice the price. Just how well it will wear the passage of time is yet to be seen, but since it is seemingly as well manufactured as it is engineered, this may be the long-awaited Chinese-made adventure touring bike to make the breakthrough in Western markets, just like the 650NK has done in the nakedbike class.
At last a Chinese manufacturer that seems more interested in quality than price has developed a product providing exceptional value for money, distinctive and crisp styling thanks to Kiska Design, that delivers dynamically on all levels.
Anyone thinking about buying a second-hand mid-capacity tourer, let alone a new one, now has a hard decision to make. Do you buy that or a brand-new CFMoto 650MT? Tough call, but after my day’s ride through the Victorian Goldfields, I know which one I’d choose…
WORDS ALAN CATHCART PHOTOGRAPHY STEPHEN PIPER