In my search for an optimal 400-450-engined travel bike that isn’t a CCM450 I remembered the Honda CB400 SS grey imports I’d seen on ebay.
These Japan-only SOHC 400cc singles from the Noughties (about 2002-2009) look very similar to the Chinese Shineray-built 400 retros (branded ‘Mash’ in the UK) which I rode a couple of weeks ago and which go new in the UK for around £4000.
Even more than the Chinese versions, the CB SS really is 70s or 80s technology, right down to a carb. It too has a pleasing retro look and low seat that someone new to a full license might like. But are they worth from £3200 upwards? I nipped over to the shop in west London that sells all sorts of exotic Japanese stuff, including several CB400s for a closer look.
As you may have read, the CB’s engine is a version of the XBR500 we got here in the late 80s – an unusual kick and electric motor that made 43hp. With time and money to spare that might be a motor worth sticking into a trail bike frame. Why not just get an XR600-650? The subframes are too skinny for travel loads. Meanwhile, the 400SS makes a claimed 29hp, the same as claimed by the newer, injected Chinese versions.
I was hoping to see if the 8-year old Jap original might have more poke than the near-new Mash I tried but instead of a burn up along the Westway to Perivale I was limited to a 2nd-gear run alongside the railway arches – my progress further hampered by speed bumps. It’s hard to be certain but even then I did detect a bit more pull from the Honda than I recalled from the Chinese-made Mash. Other differences on the CB include a better operating front brake, a smaller tank, a box-section swingarm and – from the exterior castings at least – a different motor.
ENGINE Engine: Air cooled, four stroke, single cylinder, 85 x 70 OHC, 4 valve Displacement: 397cc Bore and Stroke: 85 x 70 mm Compression ratio: 8.8:1 Max Power: 29hp 21.2 KW @ 7000 rpm Max Torque: 31 Nm @ 5500 rpm
DRIVETRAIN Transmission: 5 speed Final drive: Chain
CHASSIS Front Brake: Single disc Rear Brake: Drum Front Tyre: 100/90-19 Rear Tyre: 110/90-18
DIMENSIONS Seat Height: 790 mm (31 inches) Dry weight: 139 kg (306 lb) Fuel capacity: 11 Litres (2.9 Gal)
But like the Chinese-built bikes, they’re just asking too much for these decade-old CBs. My red example had just had about £500 dropped from the price down to £3200, but here and elsewhere in the UK they’re asking around £3800 – nearly the same as the new Shinerays which themselves aren’t bargains.
I got the feeling these CB400SSs weren’t exactly flying out the door, nor would I expect them to. Look at my 2009 ABS Versys bought for effectively £2100. So while I’m still not sure about the Chinese bikes, at current prices and with locally available XR400s, the CB400SS is not a contender, even if it does have the benefits of native Japanese engineering.
Other 400-cc bikes in the similar category include the more modern, Brazilian made Honda NX4 Falcon (left). They do pop up occasionally in the UK dealers going from between £2200 and an optimistic £3700.
Or how about the HondaBulldog 400 – only a concept and likely to stay that way, just like the 250 Ryoku Yamaha from a couple of years back. That’s a down-sized CB500 twin engine, in case you’re wondering. Round and round it goes.
For a while there was a bike I was curious about: the French-branded, Chinese-made Mash Adventure 400 (left) that was briefly available in France and the UK alongside other 400s. It was near identical to the similarly short-lived WK Trail 400mentioned here. Both use the same Shineray XY 400 engine from Mash’s Roadstar retro. In the UK you can pick up low-mileage WKs from £2500 and end-of-line Mash Advs were going new from £4750, complete with panniers, as shown above.
Other than the engine, those two Advs were quite different to the Mash 400 Roadstar I tried out (left). The frame’s monoshock back-end and bigger front forks made a much taller machine; both ends were said to be fully adjustable; the wheels are 18/21 and both run discs. There’s a bash plate, screen, handguards and digital clocks plus the mandatory beak.
The WK Trail 400 (left) was briefly sold in the UK and a couple of magazines, including Overland Mag and Rust Sports tested it. Its price dropped from around £4k to a more realistic £2999 £2499 before they all went.
I spent about four hours on the Mash Roadstar provided by T Northeast, a small bike shop in Horley, near Gatwick. The bike only had about 150km on the clock and I added another 120km riding the back lanes of Sussex and Kent.
Some specs Engine: air-cooled 397cc SOHC 4 valve, EFI, electric and kick Power: 26–29hp (sources vary) @ 7000 rpm ** Torque: 22 ft lbs (3.05 Mkg) @ 5500rpm Weight: 151kg claimed Alternator output: unknown Seat height: 78cm/31″ Fuel tank: 13 litres Wheel size: 18″/19″ Brakes: drum rear, hydraulic disc front Suspension: twin shock with preload/35mm fork
**For comparison • XR400 has about 31hp and 26 ft lbs torque at 121kg dry. • XBR500 43hp, 31.7 ft/lbs and 157kg dry. • Yamaha SR400 lists 23hp @ 6500, 18 ft lbs @ 3000rpm, but 174kg • Himalayan is 24hp, 32 torques and 180+kg.
To me the Mash Roadstar is a great looking machine with an idealised Brit-retro ‘T120’ profile that’s just as cool as the originals it’s imitating. The flat bench seat, fork gaiters, peashooter pipes all set off the right cues.
You’d think it’s small but that’s mainly because it’s low. It fitted me (6′ 1″) fine: the footrests felt farther forward than normal with my thighs almost horizontal and me sat midway on the seat. I didn’t get a picture of myself sat on the machine – had I done that the proportions may not have looked as flattering as they felt. The gear lever was a bit short for my boots, but changing was light and near-silent compared to the granny-startling clunk into first on my Versys or my previous XCountry. Though it’s not a habit I’ve ever managed to adopt, clutchless changes up the ‘box were similarly effortless with no backlash.
The switchgear didn’t quite give off that intangible feeling of solidness and quality you get from your Japanese or European machines, though all I really used were the indicators. The headlamp is always on, though you slide a switch to turn the back light on.
The Mash Roadstar resembles Yamaha’s recently UK-reintroduced but 2017-dropped SR400 (left). The mini SR never caught on, despite the retro trend. First time round in the late 70s the original SR500 wasn’t such a big hit either, while the XT500 with which it shared its motor had already become the classic it remains today. Alongside the Roadstar the £5200 SR400 merely looked overpriced and heavy. What it needs is some of this!
Back at T Northeast I was warned the front brake was poor – a braided hose is said to be in the works. It was lame but over the hours I found applying more pressure than I’m used made the thing work like a normal brake. Of course you lose finesse yanking on a brake like that and I’m not sure that can be purely down to a cheap rubber hose. The rear, rod-operated drum was fine and I dare say would lock up with a panic stomp. One old trick we used to do was remove the brake rod and put a light bend in it to reduce the over-direct actuation. Wheels are your classic 18/19 combo and the Kenda Cruiser tyres hardly got stressed on my ride. There was a downpour on the way back but riding with the conditions, they didn’t skip a beat.
Initially riding away from the shop the bike felt as skimpy as a 125. This lack of bulk and the airy front end detracted from the planted feeling on my Versys, but that can’t all be down to an extra 70-odd kilos of weight. It could be an assumption produced by the spindly 35-mm forks alongside the proportionally hefty front wheel.
The suspension is basic on the Roadstar. Out of the shop on notch 2/5, my dressed-to-ride 100 kilos bottomed out the back-end on country lane potholes until I cranked them up to 4/5 with some pliers I happened to have on me (no tool kit that I could find). It’s possible the steering feel improved on doing this too, or maybe I was just getting used to the bike. It takes some effort not to compare a new bike to your normal ride, even if it’s another type of machine entirely.
I know the Roadstar is low but the bike does feel very light and I wonder if that claimed 151-kg figure could be wet. My XCo was supposedly just a few kilos over that weight before I layered on the travel clobber, but the Roadstar felt more like my CRF250L (144kg wet).
And it’s not like the Roadstar goes out of its way to save the kilos. Just like the bikes from the period it evokes, sidepanels, mudguards and the chain stay are all metal. Even the oil tank sat behind the gearbox (above right) looks like an unusually hefty casting and the chain this bikes runs is much heavier than what’s on my Versys with more than twice the power. It may well be a Chinese cheapie, but once that’s shot and you slap on a DID I can imagine it would easily last 20,000 miles with something like a Tutoro drip luber. Along with the low seat height, this lightness has great benefits in doing a quick u-ey to nip back for a photo or follow a lane that looked like it went in my direction. I had a delivery in Kent, but as there was no 12-volt plug to run a satnav I was navigating the old-fashioned way with a cryptically scrawled roadbook taped to the tank (above left).
Running along Kent’s lanes at up to 50mph (clock and odo in km with mph scale on the speedo) the bike ran well, though I’m not sure I was doing the indicated speed. Push it to 60 and you start to ponder the limits of the brakes and suspension.
The five-speed gearing felt wide and tall: top gear was more of an overdrive rather than something with which you could usefully pull. It could be the very low mileage, but the Roadstar didn’t feel like it could have outrun my CRF250 or the XR250 Tornados we use in Morocco. And I’d expect to feel that power right off the bat, not by wringing the bike’s neck like it was a mid-80s two-stroke triple. For me the point of tracking down a 400 over the much more prolific 250s is either gaining a lack of balls-to-the-wall revviness or the ability to pull in lower gears with fewer gearchanges, but all without the weight penalties you get once you exceed 500cc. I was changing gear around 4000rpm – to rev much further would have felt a bit frenetic and unnecessary, but the 26-hp Roadstar’s motor felt closer to a Jap 250 than an XR400, let alone my old XT500 (left) which is listed as 27–31hp but 29 ft/lb torque at broadly similar rpm. Another few hundred kilometres on the engine may have changed that, or it could be down to flywheel weight or the stroke of the motor. Mash don’t mention it, but the WK lists an identical bore and stroke to an XR400 just 0.4 bar less compression (8.9 vs 9.3). These are all just numbers off the internet where I found claimed power and weigh figures can vary by over 10 per cent for the same bike.
Add it all up and as a low-tech adventure tourer I think the Roadstar is a bit too basic for the money. The Mash Adventure caters to that need of course, and Mash UK have a ‘Dirt Star’ version of the Roadstar now (see bottom of page). That’ll probably be just the limited edition Von Dutch special (left) but without the custom paint job, leatherwork and bandages.
Whatever the style of bike, one big attraction is fuel injection combined with a low-compression, air-cooled motor onto which it would be easy to graft an oil cooler. That might not be necessary or all that effective as with 8.9:1 compression ratio and the lowly power output as this 400 ought not get that hot in normal conditions. The low compression also means the motor ought to tolerate low-octane fuel out in the world, though I’ve found the efi systems on big singles like the XCo and Tenere can handle detonation from low octane fuel, whatever the engine’s CR. Another benefit of all this is should be fuel consumption. I filled up at the start but forgot to fill up again at the end to work out what I used, but surely the retro Masher will return at least 25kpl or 71mpg. With the 13-litre tank that would deliver a fuel range of some 325 kilometres or 200 miles – about 80% of what I’d consider optimal for a travel bike.
You might get used to the modest power but the main thing that would limit an adventurised Roadstar would be the suspension. At 35mm the unadjustable forks look skinny even if the preload-only twin shocks could be swapped out. The metal chain guard and front mudguard would be better in plastic too and the low-slung pipes as well as the under-engine oil lines (left) would need protecting or moving over the top like an XBR. Without crash bars the foot controls might suffer in a fall too; the gear change could be easily swapped for a folding-tip item, but doing the same with the brake pedal would be tricky to pull off.
One good thing about being twin-shock is you could get away with using throwovers without a rack to keep them out of the wheel. The little racklette (right) that comes with the bike is neither here nor there – I’d sooner take it off and fit a wide sheep rack as I did on the XCo. I couldn’t work out how to remove the seat other than with an awkwardly accessed 12mm, and only managed to remove one side panel, but the subframe does seem well up to the job compared to 250 trail bikes like the CRF and Tornado where it’s their biggest weak point. The Roadstar chassis has thick gussets inside the triangulated sections and, though slender by monoshock standards, the long swingarm looks solidly mounted via the back of the gearbox.
I did something on the Roadstar I’ve not done on a bike for many, many years: swung a kickstart. I assumed the Mash would kick into life like a CG125 with one swing, but it seems I’ve lost the knack and it took a few stomps to the point where I lost interest in doing it ‘for old times’ sake’. I recall how we lamented the dropping of kickstarts from motorcycle engines, but then and now a button just gets the your motor running. And should the Mash not start on the button I bet it would take a lot of huffing and puffing to fire up an engine with a kick. It’s been discussed before but a weak battery is likely not to have the spare juice to power up the efi and fuel pump as well as fire a juicy spark across the plug.
My parting impression of the Roadstar was of a bike whose welcome lightness makes it effortless to ride along quite roads and in town, but which on the open road looked a bit better than it went. I miss this agility with my current Versys but compared to a 250, I didn’t get a sense of any added grunt from the 400cc motor, even if it wasn’t a revvy machine.
In 2018 I finally got to ride an XR400 (left) – you definitely know you’re not on a 250. And that’s as it should be and why 400s are an overlooked ‘missing link’. Actually no so ‘missing’ as not here: bikes like the Brazilian-built carb’d NX4 Falcon (above) go for £4000 new in Mexico, or the 250 Tornado never officially imported to emissions-conscious western markets. The Roadstar’s widely spaced gears would need working to move along, though you’d want to get that front brake sorted first. The saddle probably wouldn’t sustain a day’s riding, but then even with a screen, the Roadstar isn’t intended for that sort of use and there are much more sophisticated bikes with truly terrible seats.
As for the price [at the time of testing]? Even with the warranty I still think nearly four grand in on the high side for a basically equipped Chinese 400 single. If it follows the UK imported and branded Honley 250 Venturer, that price may well drop after a while [hasn’t as of 2020), because as things stand the depreciation on a used Chinese branded bike will surely be monumental. Otherwise, for that money I can take my pick from a used CB500X or buy any 250 I want.
Motorbikes capacities come with certain expectations and on this test ride it was the 400cc engine I was keen to assess. In terms of more-than-250cc grunt, the Roadstar was a bit disappointing or perhaps just needed more running in. You can pick up used Roadsters from £2000. In 2019, my same-priced Himalayan ticked more boxes.
Thanks to Ian at T Northeast for the test ride on the Roadstar
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2014 French Moto Mash announced their 400 Adventure (left, quick 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.
The conclusion I came to reading short tests of the WK400 in Bike, Overland 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The Zongshen RX4Cyclone 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.
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.