So here it finally is: the first Chinese vehicle of any type or wheel count to ever put a huge smile of operator satisfaction on my face.
The new CFMOTO 650NK is so good that it'll cheer up its rider's darkest mood.
|AT A GLANCE
|Engine: 649cc liquid-cooled dohc 8v parallel twin stoked by fuel injection to develop 52kW (71bhp) at 8500rpm and 62Nm of torque at 7000rpm.
|Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.|
|Frame: Steel-tube trellis frame with oval-section steel tube swingarm, 41mm Kayaba front forks, preload-adjustable Kayaba rear monoshock.|
|Hot: The first truly convincing Chinese streetbike has a well- rounded performance profile thanks to reasonable brakes and suspension.|
|Not: Kawasaki-derived engine design will keep intellectual property lawyers busy; don't look too closely as your eyes will get sore, just two New Zealand dealers so far.|
It is such a complete copy of Kawasaki's ER-series parallel twin that it appears that the Zhejiang Power Company's only contribution of new intellectual property to it is the stamping of its own CFMOTO branding into the clutch cover, and the cobbling together of a crude but effective exhaust system for it. The end result is a great Japanese engine for a Chinese price, but I'm such a morally sensitive bloke that I couldn't help feeling like an intellectual-property thief every time I rode the NK. There was always the nagging thought while riding the first truly convincing Chinese attempt at a larger-capacity streetbike that the model's nomenclature was really an abbreviation of "NicKed".
But then, I'm potentially the worst person to approach if seeking to sell some cheap Chinese knock-off. Some poor bloke on a footpath in Shanghai once tried to sell me what appeared to be a Rolex Seamaster watch. It was while winning a 10-minute argument over the price that I decided I no longer wanted a "Rolex" with a tick so tremulous that it probably registered on the Richter scale. A small riot nearly ensued when the street vendor insisted that I take the watch and pay him the negotiated price of a cup of coffee for it. In the interests of Sino-Kiwi relations, we quickly reached a compromise: I paid him the pittance but he had to keep the watch.
The 650cc CFMOTO is a much more impressive piece of work than that potentially fragile and fraudulent timepiece, particularly as the Zhejiang Power Company has wrapped the parallel-twin engine in a fine-handling ultra-rigid frame of its own design, and fitted the bike with half-decent suspension and brakes.
For those whose moral compass is subject to magnetic interference when a potentially big saving to their new bike-buying budget is involved, the obvious Kawasaki origins of the engine will be seen as a plus rather than minus. It's probably going to be some time before the New Zealand CFMOTO dealer network expands to beyond a couple of selected metropolitan centres, after all. Those in the provinces in need of engine parts for their 650NK are likely to be able to order the vital components from their nearest Kawasaki dealer instead.
For this is definitely the engine of the 2010 Kawasaki ER-6 model series replicated in southern China almost in its entirety, judging from the NK's identical 83.0mm cylinder bore diameters, and the 60.0mm stroke of the twin pistons. Also unchanged is the 2010 Kawasaki's 11.3:1 compression ratio, which gives the Chinese bike a slightly harsher and harder-hitting top-end delivery than Kawasaki's latest version, which uses a softer 10.8:1 compression ratio. The Chinese Power Company lives up to its name and claims more horses for its motor than Kawasaki can for its mirror-image motor at present. Where the ER-6-based Ninja 650R sampled recently developed 49kW (67bhp) at 8700rpm and 58Nm at 7000, the CFMOTO generates a claimed 52kW (71bhp) at 8500rpm and 62Nm of torque at 7000. These are more than just boasts judging from the riding impressions of the CFMOTO. It's definitely a slightly friskier ride, and the offering of a titch more performance than the Ninja at nearly half the money is one of the most persuasive statements of its appeal.
Another is that it is fun to chuck around. Even the CST (presumably Cheng Shin Tyres) radial tyres have the grip required to support the sports-riding aspirations of the CFMOTO. It's definitely the fastest point-to-point road warrior ever to emerge from the Asian mainland, with a Kayaba-suspended chassis that's built to contain and control the moderately impressive powertrain performance.
So what's the catch, apart from the guilt of riding what is obviously Kawasaki's work on the engine front? It's found in the design and detailing of the CFMOTO. The former is immediately identifiable as a provincial Chinese interpretation of a European streetbike, and parking the CFMOTO next to a Ducati Monster or Triumph Speed Triple is often a prelude to red- faced embarrassment. Then there's the details: my border collie could produce better-looking welds . . . and she's going blind.
Oh well, remember the price. At this money, and this engine capacity, you can forgive just about everything.
- The Press