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24 Sep 2012 | Rob Blackbourn takes an ambitious twin for a run

words: Rob Blackbourn; pix: Stuart Grant

Mainstream Australian motorcyclists generally haven’t taken a great deal of notice of the Chinese-built bikes arriving on our shores in recent years. Whether it’s been pit bikes or the occasional off-roader or commuter, their small-capacity engines have consigned them to the decidedly un-sexy ‘tiddler’ basket.

But that’s all about to change, as established Chinese factory CFMoto brings to the ring a ‘proper’ contender, a middleweight – the CFMoto 650NK.

This parallel-twin-powered naked, a shameless semi-clone of Kawasaki’s competent ER-6n, is potentially a serious contender in the sporty-commuter category – a segment Oz mainstreamers do keep an eye on.

And as a 650 priced more like a 250 it will certainly be noticed.

The question on everyone’s minds will be: ‘How good a job has CFMoto done in building the first ‘proper’ Chinese motorcycle?’

I’ll get the ball rolling toward answering the question based on my first impressions during a recent road ride aboard CFMoto’s new toy.

LET’S HAVE A LOOK AT YOU

The new 650NK doesn’t look like a first attempt at styling a bike for a new category. The Kawasaki ER-6n that inspired it was a snappy-looking bike, so CFMoto was off to a good start. And the detail changes it made to the design didn’t spoil it. It’s an appealing result that I would label, ‘modern with attitude’.

The stacked headlights in the unique bikini fairing that also incorporates the instruments give the bike a distinctive style. It features a more conventional stubby muffler than the ER-6’s Buell-style underslung version. Its fairing side pods are shortened at the front, exposing the radiator more, while extending rearward to blend with the flanks of the fuel tank. Its separate high-set pillion perch gives the rear a sporty look, perhaps at some cost to passenger comfort.

What hasn’t changed though are trademark ER-6 items like the general arrangement of the triangulated tubular steel frame, the asymmetric mounting of the rear monoshock, the snazzy-looking wave discs front and rear and the appealing way the pair of exhaust header pipes snake their way from the exhaust ports through a succession of smooth bends before disappearing from view – a nice tribute to the art of the pipe-bender.

The squared-off fairing side pods make the bike look a little boxier, a little more upright, perhaps adding a touch more streetfighter attitude to its appearance.

The bright red paint on the tubular frame brings a little classic Ducati race bike flavour to the 650NK, while the red anodised stripes on the stylish cast wheels are a nice touch.

If I have a criticism of the look of the bike it would be the heavy-handed use of faux carbon-fibre trim.

It’s pleasing to see a hugger fitted to the swingarm on an entry-level bike, however, to keep road grime away from the rear of the frame and the rear suspension. Likewise the span-adjustable clutch and front brake levers. Details like these give you the impression that CFMoto’s designers didn’t allow its bean counters to enforce a bare-bones approach to its specification and features.

The overall fit and finish on the test bike looked good to me. The component quality looked fine along with the apparent standard of plating and painting.

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

The liquid-cooled, DOHC, 649cc, fuel-injected parallel-twin engine and six-speed gearbox appear to share most specification detail with the ER-6.

CFMoto claims a healthy (for a twin) power peak of 52kW (69.7hp) at 8500rpm and a torque peak of 62Nm (45.7ft-lb) at 7000rpm.

The underpinnings are entry-level fare with a non-adjustable 41mm conventional telescopic fork up front and a preload adjustable rear monoshock.

The braking package looks competent with two-piston calipers gripping the pair of 300mm wave discs at the front and a single-piston caliper at the rear on a single 225mm disc.

A big analogue tacho is the centrepiece of the instruments with a small digital display for speed and other information.

A surprise is an old-school light switch – it’s a three-position set-up (off/parkers on/headlight on).

Also there’s no starter safety-switch on the clutch lever. That role is left to the safety-switch on the sidestand and the neutral safety-switch. This means that you can’t start it in gear – a possible irritant if you’ve stalled it at the lights in pole position and there’s a big Kenworth breathing down your neck as you fumble for neutral.

LET’S RIDE

The bike is a compact middleweight that feels light and chuckable as soon as you climb aboard. You feel very much at home as soon as you get rolling and by the time you click it into top gear for the first time it’s as if you’re riding a bike that’s been in the family for a year or two.

Seat cushioning and the ergonomics combine to make the riding experience easy and comfortable. You sit in a natural commuter crouch that’s ideal in traffic and just fine for a bit of sporty riding.

Engine fuelling is good, handling the tricky low-speed, low-throttle-opening stuff with aplomb – no surging or flatspots.

When you grab a fistful of throttle the torquey engine gives a predictable, linear response, producing acceleration that’s right on target for a middleweight twin.

Clutch action is very smooth if a little heavier than some, but not excessively so. Gear changes are smooth and accurate, matching the standard of typical Japanese bikes.

Braking is powerful and progressive. The suspension soaks up urban road surface lumps and bumps well with enough damping to keep things neat.

Early in the ride it was obvious that the digital speed display was too small to read at a quick glance and the odometer numbers were tiny. The tacho was just fine.

The 650NK’s gearing is good. On the highway it pulls a relaxed 4300rpm at 100km/h in top gear. Perfect for touring. It accelerates smoothly and reasonably strongly from 80km/h in top gear and at a pinch from 75km/h. That’s a flexible engine in my book. It’s a really honest toiler in the 3000 to 6000rpm range making it very rider-friendly and an ideal city bike. Once it passes 6000rpm there’s a distinct change in its character as it begins its rush toward the 10,000rpm redline. It’s still linear but stronger and more urgent.

The muffler allows a bit of parallel-twin character to be heard as you make the engine earn its keep, but the real aural joy comes from the induction system, which delivers a grin-inducing textured howl.

No engine vibration to speak of reaches the handlebars thanks to the engine’s effective balancer shaft. Some low-frequency resonance can be felt through the frame and seat, though, when you roll on the throttle for strong acceleration in the engine’s mid-range. While it’s noticeable, I didn’t find it distracting and it eases as the engine gets into its stride and spins up. Some fine-tuning of the rubber specification in its engine mounts or perhaps its cush-drive would smooth that out in my opinion.

I liked the bike’s handling along a winding route through the foothills east of Melbourne. With my grin widening as I powered it out of bends, heeled over, with the engine singing like an angel on steroids, it was hard to believe that all this fun was available on a 650 with a 250 price tag.

The bike’s overall competent behaviour under pressure and even the performance of its Chinese tyres struck me as being right on target for an entry-level motorcycle.

Next morning, as I negotiated my way through the city-bound logjam in heavy rain to return the bike, its compact size, predictable throttle and braking response and commuter/tourer riding posture made the 650NK ideal for the conditions.

THE VERDICT

To me the CFMoto 650NK is the real deal. It’s a competent motorcycle that promises to be a worthy contender in the middleweight sporty-commuter category. It has the potential to satisfy both novices and experienced hands alike and its minor deficiencies are outweighed by its super-competitive price.

Obviously the jury’s out on the reliability and durability fronts. That’s a picture that will become clear in the next year or so.

I’ll be surprised if the bargain price of $5990 (plus ORC) doesn’t get CFMoto’s 650NK off to a flying start.

 

SPEX

ENGINE

Type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, eight-valve, DOHC, parallel-twin

Bore x stroke: 83 x 60mm

Displacement: 649.3cc

Compression ratio: 11.3:1

Fuel system: Electronic fuel-injection

 

TRANSMISSION

Type: Six-speed, constant mesh

Final drive: Chain

 

CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR

Frame type: Welded tubular-steel diamond

Front suspension: 41mm telescopic fork, non-adjustable

Rear suspension: Monoshock, adjustable for preload

Front brakes: Twin 300mm discs with two-piston calipers

Rear brake: Single 225mm disc with single-piston caliper

 

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES

Dry weight: 193kg

Seat height: 795mm

Fuel capacity: 17lt

 

PERFORMANCE

Max power: 52kW (69.7hp) at 8500rpm (de-restricted version)

Max torque: 62Nm (45.7ft-lb) at 7000rpm (de-restricted version)

 

OTHER STUFF

Price: $5990*

Test bike supplied by: Mojo Motorcycles

Warranty: 24 months/unlimited kilometres

*Manufacturer’s list price excluding dealer and statutory costs