Tag Archives: CCM GP450

The Chinese travel bikes are coming

Updated Summer 2020
See also: Mash 400 Roadstar • Fantic 500 Caballero

chinee

Since this page was originally written in 2015, it might be better to say: The Chinese Travel Bikes are Here. Each year China pumps out millions of sub-250s and scooters for users who need no-frills runabouts or workhorses. So does India, and it’s an open secret that many long-established motorcycle marques have been manufacturing in China for years, even if some high-end bikes may get assembled closer to home. Chinese origin isn’t considered a great selling point, but it’s easy to turn a blind eye as long as you have a familiar European logo on the tank.

On the right: condensing this long article into one page for AMH.

chinmoto

It’s much less easy to persuade western consumers to buy a native Chinese brand, even if that machine may well have been cast in the same foundry as the marques we know and trust. To get around this, some importers invent ‘Anglo’ sounding brands like Mutt, WK, CSC or Mash. On top of this, Chinese manufacturers have found a good dodge by buying the rights to defunct European marques like SWM, Fantic, Benelli or Francis Barnett which older bikers will accept more readily, even if it’s all just a badge over a Chinese motor with some European design input or, as in Fantic’s case, a motor bought in for their running gear.

loncin

Researching this, I’ve come across tales of early adopters getting burned by crumby assembly, irregular running or poor materials. To that you can add the suspicion when the engine indicates some obscure Chinese marque but the tank shows something else.

I suspect some western consumers are also put off by China’s ruthless manufacturing ethos that doesn’t see merry bands of workers attending communal keep-fit sessions in the company car park each morning, let alone provide the sort of workers’ rights or environmental concerns we take for granted in the West. True or not, this is mainly why established bike marques play down any Chinese connection, even if what holds most of us back from buying all-Chinese is unknown reputation and crippling depreciation, rather than a prickly social conscience.

... Some of the more famous examples [of joining forces with more famous foreign manufacturers incude…] Loncin (BMW), Zongshen (Piaggio and Norton), Qinqi (Suzuki and Peugeot), Jianshe (Yamaha), Lifan (MV Agusta), Qianjiang (owners of Benelli), Jialing (Honda), and CFMoto (KTM).  

David McMullan
chongqing

As far back as the early 1980s Honda established partnerships with the Chinese Jialing factory and within a decade Yamaha and Suzuki made similar arrangements. By 2011 China overtook Japan as the world’s largest bike manufacturer, with many factories based in Chongqing (left).

Around 2006 Chongqing was renowned as the white-hot epicentre of China’s urban industrial gold rush, but according to this recent article that gold rush waned. The recession, adverse currency rates and the strength of other markets like India (where English is more commonly spoken) have seen China’s motorcycle production slow or even reverse.

Back in 2006 there [were] over 100 motorcycle companies operating production lines in Chongqing alone, a good proportion of them ‘one line’ export factories that provided super-cheap models for the African and domestic markets. Unlike India in which the Hero Group and Bajaj share a huge proportion of the market the Chinese market was shared by a multitude of smaller companies. The number of Chongqing motorcycle factories still operating is now less than 40 relevant companies and is likely to reduce even further over the coming years.  

David McMullan
adventures-1977-20

Take this all back half a century and you can imagine our bike-riding forebears grappling with the same ‘Made in Hong Kong’ suspicion as Japanese bikes began to make their mark. Even when I started biking in the late 1970s you planted your boots in either the ‘Brit Shit’ or the ‘Jap Crap’ camp.

motopig1

Broadly speaking, the Chinese have adopted the same strategy as Japan: start by banging out cheap small-displacement utilitarian machines, then move in on the smaller volume, bigger-engined bikes with a higher markup, while getting into racing to speed up the R&D. Just like the Japanese in the 60s, the Chinese are on the march as they attempt to tune in to what affluent western buyers might consider, now that the load-carrying-runabout markets are saturated.

shine
swm650x

Established in the late 90s, Shineray (as in ‘Shine-Ray not ‘Shiner-ay’ if the company motto above is any guide) are one of the smaller Chinese marques said to specialise in trail and off-road machines. In 2014 they notably bought the Italian SWM name, last heard of in the 1970s. Around the same time Shineray also acquired an old factory with a batch of Husky models off KTM. That SWM Superdual on the left uses the old 600-cc Husky TE630 engine, but in the flesh was not so inspiring. Shineray/SWM have since diversified into SUVs.

franban

Judging by what I saw at a Classic Bike show, the even older Francis Barnett marque (right) has had a similar makeover. Buy the rights to a heritage brand then design a suitably old-school look around your Chinese- or Indian-made machine. For an anonymous Chinese factory which nevertheless annually pumps out more bikes than are sold in the UK each year, it’s a quick way of getting wary western consumers to buy your product, whether they know it or not.

shine400
GB250TT

In a similar vein established French motorcycle importer SIMA created the Mash Motorcycles brand. They’ve taken a proven Shineray XY400 (left) and refined it. It’s an appealing Brit-based retro look that some twenty years ago became popular in fad-prone Japan, if not in Britain itself. That early 90s GB250TT on the right was one of many similar machines made for the Japanese market and which are now cropping up as pricey and exotic UK imports.

sinnis250

The briefly sold 250 Retrostar from Sinnis (left) bore a very close resemblance to the Mash 400 retros, but as far as I can tell, Sinnis (a UK brand name behind Qingqi) and Shineray aren’t the same company, and now in the UK Sinnis only sell 125s in various styles. The fact is you can spend a long time trying to untangle these Chinese whispers. But with Chinese bikes origin is important. Is it a Jap clone, licensed or otherwise, a copy, or a cheaply made fake?

mash-06

At a Classic Bike show I got the chance to see some close-up. Chinese 250s are two a penny, but with a more overlandable capacity of 400cc, could a Mash retro be a contender as a base bike? I’ll admit that part of me is attracted to the idea of regressing towards a retro-styled machine: the appeal – however flawed – of a simple and inexpensive low-key, leg-over overlander that you can adapt to your needs. My 2019 Himalayan fitted that category. A close look before the crowds rolled in revealed a quality of finish that was hard to separate from a similar Japanese bike. A few days later I took one for a test ride.

shin400
XBR500

Many assume the motor is an XR400 clone, but it’s actually derived from the 400cc version of the similar, late-eighties kick-and-electric XBR 500 cafe retro (right), also sold in Japan as the ‘Manxified’ GB500.

wk400

I was once deliberating over a back-to-basics 400 overlander when it transpired that manufacturers in China might do the job for me, producing adventure-styled bikes but with full equipment.

zongRX3

One such machine is the Zongshen RX3 Cyclone sold under various badges in the UK, the US (5000-mile report) and Russian-speaking lands, but that’s just another 250. What’s wanted is a 400’s added torque so you don’t have the scream the motor when overtaking a lorry up a hill.

WK‘ is the UK brand of the Chinese CFMoto marque – one of the bigger players in the bike game which gets sold as ‘CFMoto’ in other western markets. They were unusual in being one of the few Chinese bike makers to produce a ‘big’ 650 road bike which, bodywork aside, looks based on a Kawasaki ER-6/Versys. but that bike no longer features on WK’s website; a 400cc version seems to have replaced it.

WKTrail400

From 2015 there was an over-priced WK Trail 400 (above left and right) but within a year it was going for under £3000 and is now no longer listed. Comparing specs with the Mash 400 Adventure far below (and still sold in Europe), it does seem to have been the same bike, except the luggage and crash bars were optional. Read how UK WK owners are getting on.

mashadv1

In 2014 French Moto Mash announced their 400 Adventure (leftquick road test),  which was near identical to the also defunct WK Trail 400 above. 

At 400cc you’d hope either of these bikes could potentially plug the gap between the heavier and pricier twins and an over-extended 250. Right now that category is only really served by the Himalayan.

mash-16

The conclusion I came to reading short tests of the WK400 in BikeOverland Magazine and Rust is that they don’t plug that gap. The bigger capacity doesn’t add up to any greater performance over a similarly priced Jap 250 trail bike in terms of top speed, acceleration, fuel consumption and price, while brakes and lights are said to be poor. Royal Enfield’s Himalayan makes similar compromises but actually works very well.

The retro-styled Mash Roadstar (above; still available in a variety of styles) is the closest thing they still have in the UK. But as the 400-cc engine is the same as the 400 Adventure (and the WK Trail), I test one: more here.

4-swm

SWM 440
Shineray also bought former Italian off-road marque SWM in 2014, a way of slipping into the European market which otherwise wouldn’t look twice at a ‘Shineray’ or even a Mash/WK badged machine.

swm-silver

SWM produced the Italian-designed 440cc retros shown above, all based on a different engine to the XY400 used by Mash/WK. It’s described as a 435cc; 6-speed, SOHC air-cooled wet sump with no kick. 
It seems unlikely that SWM will produce an adventure model as that clearly didn’t work for Mash or WK. At this capacity it seems there’s much more demand for retro-styled bikes for younger riders.

husqvarna-baja

Above left, the SWM Silver Vase 440. Conceived at the end of BMWs involvement with Husky, some of its iterations faintly recall the Husky 650-based Baja concept bike (right) that was seen a year or two earlier. But by 2019, when Overland Magazine and MCN tested them, the 440s were being heavily discounted and maybe even discontinued in the UK.

Fantic Motor is another reborn Italian brand whose frantic sports mopeds and cringe-inducing 125cc chopper I recall from the 1970s. Things are looking up: they now have the Caballero range including ‘500s’ in Scrambler (below), Rally and Flat Tracker form (below), plus the latter two as 250s and 125s.

fmcabspek
nc450

These Fantics appear much higher spec than the air-cooled SWMs, using Zongshen’s water-cooled NC450 motor (right) claiming around 42hp.
Could this be the first truly modern Chinese motor in this capacity? I tried out a Scrambler and it sure felt like it. Trouble is, from £6400 up to £7000, the Caballero 500s cost more than a new Honda CB500X in the UK. But maybe not in a year or two.

FMCabFT.jpg
zongrx3
ZRX4-2019-2

The Zongshen RX4 Cyclone sells in the US under the CSC brand. It uses the same NC450 single, but gets restyled as a chunky travel bike alongside their established RX3 250 Cyclone. The 450cc RX4 weighs well over 200kg, but maybe that depends whether you take the full luggage option.

cscrx4

Tank is 20 litres (5.3 USg), the alternator puts out 300w, seat is a friendly 32 inches (813mm) for $5795 delivered, maybe it’s what CCM should have used in their short-lived GP450.
Among other branding around the world, in France Cyclone Moto sells the Zongshen RX3S 380-cc twin of below). Power, weight and styling seem to be the same as the 450 single; price is €5000.

RX3S

The bikes at HUBB UK 2013

hubeJust back from HUBB UK (read feedback here) and having just returned from the  Overland Expo in Arizona – also pitched at all wheeled overlanders, not just motos – it was interesting to note the differences in the bikes in attendance.

hub1hub2In the US the range of bikes seemed more narrowly focussed towards big BMWs (left), including  GS12s of course, as well as F800s such as the fully laden example on the right. Meanwhile at HUBB UK the bikes were about as diverse as you could imagine considering the similar theme; everything from C90s up to the 1200s and beyond.

Some might scoff at the Americans and their XXXL tastes, at least when judged by European standards, but it is a big country and unless you live in an area like the West where domestic ‘adventure motorcycling’ (aka: off-highway touring) offers near-infinite possibilities, getting to the good spots in a short amount of time is better done on a big, comfy machine, and one that might have some off-roading pretentions once you get to the sharp end. Even then, you hear of people on the other side of the country getting their big  GSs trailered over to Utah by the poor sod who drew the short straw, while the rest fly in after them for just a few days. So perhaps they do really have a thing for big machines to go with big everything else. Anything else might be classified as regular ‘dirt biking’.

hu3

Brits might be classified as more experimental and eccentric. The picture on the left in the camping area shows a Tenere 660, a Guzzi Griso (a great looking machine!) and the venerable Africa Twin. Just out of shot is a Varadero (‘XXL Africa Twin’) and lined up at the back is a GS12, possibly a Suzuki DR-Z, maybe a Katana, a Serow-like small trail bike and a BMW F800GS. We have to remember of course that many of the bikes just mentioned are not even sold in the US, and many of these are not necessarily travel bikesElsewhere at HU I saw Huskys, twin-lamp Teneres, X-Countrys, Bonnies, but definitely a dearth of the big bikes that we are told define adventure bikes (I didn’t see one NC700X or Crosstourer hub99*but perhaps I should have gone to SpecSavers). There was even an old airhead BM (right) done up like my old late-70s black and gold 900SS, right down to the full clip-on and rear-sets treatment. Can’t be many of those to the pound.

Other bikes that caught my eye at the show were several KTM690s. I wonder if I missed a trick not listing the 690 more prominently in the book among the ‘Ten Overlanders’ from p44 (not the 10 best overlanders). I still think people are buying them not because they’re a super duper Tenere, ideally suited to overlanding, but because they fill the gap left by the 640 Adventure, while the current 660 Tenere is too heavy. With cars I’d compare the gap between your average Land Rover/Land Cruiser and hub4Unimog type vehicles – there is precious little in between. Out of the crate a 690 is indubitably a well-built machine that’s brilliant in the dirt, but  requires a fair expenditure to set up like a 640 or an XTZ (as the Rally Raid stand at HU showed). I’ve never ridden one but I view the 690 as a rather highly strung machine that like many KTMs is too good to waste on long-range travel.

hub5The 690 is of course light and that’s the direction you’d hope travel bikes are taking, now that power and economy are well covered. So not surprisingly there was a lot of interest in the imminent CCM GP450 previously mentioned here.

I must say in the flesh just as in the promo pics it looks more of a KTMish rally racer than a travel bike to me, though as a flashier rally bike will probably attract more attention and presumably greater sales. It’s said that Rally Raid (also at the show) had a hand in designing the bike and there’s even talk of Dakar entries in a year or two. Many commented on the fuel filler (17-litre tank) beyond the back of the seat which would get obscured by luggage. That, along with the £8k asking price and the one-litre engine oil capacity were what other onlookers questioned from an overlanding PoV, though I believe fully synthetic oil would last the recommended 5000-mile oil changes and if you can’t do that then change sooner. hub6Plus, as someone observed, one litre of good oil is not so much to carry. If that’s the worst criticisms garnered from looking at the GP450 then it’s a pretty short list. The CCM guy told me the gearing had three close and low ratios, with 4th and 5th more stretched out. Seems like agood plan on paper as once you’re in 4th or more you’re rolling along.
ccmframe4The square beam alloy rear subframe (above right) certainly looks more substantial than my last bike and the frame itself uses literally ‘cutting edge’ technology for a production machine as demonstrated on this video. Short sections with complex joints are finely cut from billet and are then bonded and  bolted together (left). No welding required. I noted the other day some Jap frame used a similar arrangement.

In fact the overall build quality and attention to detail appears far better than your average Jap bike. All that remains is to find out how the GP450 performs and more significantly, what it is like to actually live with.

hub7There was another CCM at the show, the SR40 which I admit slipped under my adv radar. Apparently CCM only built some 80 of these twin-shocked DRZ-engined ‘street scramblers’ a few years ago and Zen Overland had a couple prepared for an imminent big trip (left). Don’t quite know what they have been doing in the meantime but for CCM the jump from an SR40 to the snazzy GP450 in just a few years is nothing short of a Neolithic Revolution out of the Stone Age. Has some secretive but patriotic oligarch invested in the Bolton-based company?

hub8The SR40 was nice and low but looked a bit short for me and had a few design compromises for overlanding – all easily got around as far as I could see. Nevertheless I suggested to the bloke on the CCM 450 stand that a bike like this was more of a real world adventure bike than the flashy 450 and it would be great to see something like this again – a simple, low-saddled overlander harking back to the XT500 era, but with a modern efi engine and all the rest. Have to say I’m not convinced CCM get ‘adventure overlanding’ as I understand and define it, but then neither do most other manufacturers. Quite rightly they all have their eyes and aspirations on what might actually sell to the majority of bikers who have no intention of crossing a continent, but like biking and ‘the adv look’ all the same.

All that remains is to say thanks to Iain H. and Sam M. for organising a great HUBB event at the new venue.

hutent