CF Moto 650 MT, East meets West in the best possible way

Stephen Edwards, foto: Jan Altner 20.9.2018

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I am very fortunate to be able to ride a lot of different motorcycles each year, courtesy of working with Moto Denik and in general I enjoy them all. There has been one, however, that I have been waiting more eagerly for than most and this past weekend I finally managed to get my hands on it, the CF Moto 650 MT.

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It has always riled me when people instantly dismiss anything Chinese as being rubbish and setting their expectations low because of where a product comes from. Consumers in the west want to have all their gadgets, toys etc but are generally not willing to pay a decent price for them. As such cheap alternatives have become available and you don’t get top level gear for bottom level money. China has the ability to make anything that we want, meet the price we are willing to pay but of course deliver the quality that comes with it. They simply are better at making low cost items than anyone else. In parallel with that, however, Chinese industry is perfectly capable of producing the highest quality of goods on the planet, if the consumer will pay the price.

The Chinese motorcycle industry is a perfect example of what I outline but with an added caveat, in that for many years they did not have to deliver Western specification goods because their domestic and traditional export markets, to poorer economies, were more than enough to soak up production capacity. Things changed when China itself started to severely restrict motorcycle use in their own cities. As a result, domestic sales fell, leaving the manufacturers to look to the lucrative European and American markets to help make up the short fall. To do this they would need to up their game product wise. We, thus come back to the machine in question, the CF Moto 650 MT and why I was so keen to try it. Prior information I had heard gave rise to the notion that here was a larger capacity Chinese machine that could, potentially, be evaluated and compared beside those from Japan and the West. I was eager to see if this was so.

First impressions of the 650MT are that this does not look like a typical Chinese designed bike and for good reason. CF Moto partnered with renowned design company KISKA to formulate and style not only their machines but also the entire brand as it pushes into global markets. This is the same company responsible for a lot of the appearance of KTM machines and in my opinion the family resemblance can easily be seen. The bike looks well put together with the fit of body panels and component finish as good as any out there. Someone seeing the bike for the first time and not knowing where it comes from would be hard pushed to identify much in the way of tell-tale signs. The only exception, for me, being the switchgear mounted on the handle bars which I saw immediately had a very Chinese supply look. As with any motorcycle, styling is a very subjective item but I like the look of the bike and would be quite happy to see it in the garage every morning.

Getting on the 650MT reveals it to be just a little on the tall side, though not excessively so. I am 175cm in my socks and was comfortable and secure, though I could not get both feet flat on the ground at the same time. Switching on the centrally mounted ignition key illuminates a large LCD dash with a large rev counter on the left-hand side, the speed displayed only as a number in a box to the left of the centre, a gear indicator, also in a box, to the right of the centre and is strangely a bigger digit than the speed, a couple of odometers, coolant temperature and a scrollable display take up the rest of the surface. It is a well laid out and easy to read item. The ‘idiot lights’ for things like ABS warning, turn indicators, high beam and so on are positioned around the perimeter of the display and I found them to be too small for my liking and a bit hard to see. The handle bar sits on rubber mounted risers lifting it well clear of the top yoke and set at a very comfortable position. Bar mounted rear view mirrors were faultless throughout the test, suffering no vibration or unwanted movement. The right-hand cluster also supports a large, transparent, master brake reservoir which I actually like the look of though I have read of some people thinking it as ugly. The remainder of the forward view is taken by a clear, adjustable wind shield which did a good job of deflecting wind over my head and keeping things relatively quiet. The adjustment is a bit crude and cannot safely be done while on the move as there are no electric motors here. Two clamping screws with quick release levers take care of the job but once it is done, then I never thought to have to change it again. No need to complicate matters.

Thumbing the starter button has the 650 cc, parallel twin, eight valve engine firing up instantly and settling down into an almost chirping sound from the exhaust. Due to the design features in the motor the big twin does not transmit any real kind of vibration to the rider, proving to be smooth and comfortable the whole time. The 61 Hp unit is very heavily based on the Kawasaki 650 unit employed in the Versys. I read and hear people saying that it has simply just been copied as has the whole bike but I am loathe to agree with such a statement as I am sure that CF Moto will have done their own development work on the components too. I also don’t like to call it a copy, as that somehow implies something not quite straight and I believe that the whole thing was done in close cooperation with Kawasaki. Lifting the bike off the side stand and slipping into first gear gives the initial signs of a nice smooth gearbox. All up and down changes were precise and positive throughout the test. Indeed when the pace got a little bit spirited, quick and reliable changes to match the conditions were done without thought. There is a slightly long travel on the foot lever which resulted in a finding a few neutrals between first and second at the beginning of our time together but that soon stopped after a short time.

Entering into busy traffic, after leaving the importers premises, showed the bike to be very easy to ride and control. It has, being in the adventure category, quite a road presence and I felt at ease straight away on the machine. The first gap in traffic on the highway gave me a chance to up the pace a little and here was the first big difference to the typical performance of Chinese made machines in the lower capacities. The smaller machines often show a noticeable power deficit against the Japanese machines of the same engine size but this is not the case with the MT. It pulled exactly as I would have expected on a bike of similar capacity from any of its main stream competitors. This was to set the scene for our entire time together as far as the engine is concerned in that it simply consistently impressed me no matter what I threw at it. Engine fuelling was precise and predictable through the entire rev range with the Bosch fuel injection system making the bike a good choice for beginners as well as letting it be more than fast and fun enough for the experienced rider when pushing on. The left handle bar cluster contains a simple two position switch to change between a pair of engine maps, Touring and Sport. In all honesty I could not feel any real difference between them though I may have tricked myself into thinking that it did accelerate just a little harder from 6000 rpm in Sport mode which is where the real fun stuff lives. If there is a difference then it is not a lot and I simply kept it in Sport and forgot about it from that point.

The machine carries disc brakes from the Spanish company J Juan, utilising a 300mm double disc set up on the front and a single 240mm rotor on the rear. These are paired to an ABS system supplied by Continental with the package providing solid braking that never gave me any cause for concern. I did find the ABS to be a little intrusive, kicking in quite early but this is far from being a complaint, more of an observation. Suspension is provided by the Chinese made Yuan fork and rear shock. The front only has compression damping adjustment which is a little strange these days but it worked well for me, dealing with everything from twisty, bumpy, country roads to motorway blasts all without drama. The rear shock has both compression and rebound adjustment though I admit that in the time I had the bike, I left it as it was. On occasion I felt like I was being slightly pitched in a rocking motion from the back but as it was such a rare occurrence I didn’t feel the need to experiment. All this, combined with the original Metzler RoadTec tyres, produced a package that handled, again, near flawlessly whilst on test.

On picking the bike up my first thought, regarding the seat, was that it would soon get uncomfortable and this was a bit unfortunate as I was due to take part in the Iron Rider Challenge the following day. As it transpired the seat turned out to be a whole lot more comfortable than my first fears and the eleven hours that I did spend with the bike were remarkably bearable. I won’t say entirely comfortable but then there is no motorcycle seat in the world that will allow you to sit for that length of time without aches. Under normal riding conditions the seat was very good and I would have no second thoughts about going touring on it. It was whilst on this endurance event that another pleasant aspect of the bike revealed itself. After a few hours in the saddle a good way to get a bit of feeling back into your rear end is to stand on the foot pegs whilst riding and the 650MT proved to be excellent for this. The ergonomics of the panels on the tank allowed my legs to rest into them and I could stand comfortably for as long as I wanted, feeling secure the whole time. This was the final compliment to what is actually a very comfortable bike as an overall package. Its as if CFMoto have looked at all aspects and tried very hard to eliminate anything that would stop a rider covering as much distance as they would want. Full marks from me.

As night fell the LED headlamp on the bike came into its own, throwing a good wide beam across the entire road. On motorways and main roads’, it was near perfect but when we hit the twisty, country lanes, after the sun set, it did not do such a good job when the bike was leant hard over in tight corners. That, is not a unique, issue to this bike however but it was noticeable. The test machine came with the optional hard case panniers manufactured by Shad and were a good addition to have on test. They are large enough to take a full-face helmet and are easily removed from the bike to be used as luggage cases for taking your stuff into hotel rooms etc. In spite of being quite big items I never felt that they hindered the bike handling in any way. The manual states they should not be used above 120 km/hour but I can safely say that they did not adversely affect anything at well beyond that figure. Whilst on the subject and without giving anything away I shall also add that the 650MT is not only easily capable of motorway speeds but will also hold its own on the Autobahn.

As I sit and write this review I am aware that there is basically very little about this machine that I did not like. It is not perfect and I can’t lose site of the fact that it is still a ‘budget’ machine. It has a list price in the Czech Republic of 130,000 Kc (5150 Euros) with an extra 8000 Kc (300 Euros) for the optional panniers and that, quite frankly, is one hell of a good deal. Certain items could be improved such as the switch gear, possibly some refinement in small items like the screen adjustment, more sophisticated electronics and so on but in the same breath the items it has are perfectly functional as they are. I don’t know how things like the suspension, overall finish and the such like shall stand up over the years. I have no reason to believe that they won’t be fine but we just don’t know yet. If CF Moto would like to give me one for a true long-term test then I would be more than happy to find out.

One concern that people have voiced over the years is the back up and service of Chinese bikes in the after-sale period. This is one thing that I would have no issue with as the Czech and Slovak importer, Journeyman, have been partners of CF Moto for many years having taken the companies Quad/ATV/Side by Sides to be the market leaders in the region, with a network of over sixty dealers and hold spare part stock themselves at their premises on the edge of Prague.

The 650MT is not the best bike I have ridden in 2018 but it is one of them and what it most certainly is, by a very long way, is the biggest surprise of 2018. The manufacturer is clearly putting serious effort into this project as evidenced by the sourcing of some big name components that combine with their in house efforts to produce such a finished machine. So is it worthy of being compared to similar offerings from the likes of BMW, Honda, Yamaha and of course Kawasaki? I say that yes it absolutely is and would recommend that people do consider it in their purchase choices. They may like some of the other bikes more and that is fine but this is not just good for a Chinese bike, it is a good motorcycle, full stop. I very simply would spend my own money in buying this bike if I were in the market and I cannot say it any clearer than that.

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