Tag Archives: zongshen nc450 engine

Quick ride: Fantic 500 Caballero Scrambler review

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See also: Chinese travel bikes
FTRally
fantold

Fantic is another revived Italian brand who’ve lately produced a trio of retro-styled Caballero singles: the Dirt Track, Scrambler (above) and taller Rally (left) in 125-, 250 and 500cc variants. Fantic also produce skinny, dirt competition bikes (plus MTBs and eBikes in the US), but with the nine Cabs, they clearly believe that capitalising on the current retro fashion – based rather thinly on their 1980s trials and dirt-racing legacy – is a way forward. Good luck to them; just as long as they don’t revive that hideous two-stroke 125 chopper.

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The 500s use Zongshen’s NC450 449-cc engine, tuned, we’re told, to Fantic’s specs. Along with Shineray, Zongshen is one of China’s leading moto manufacturers who don’t just pump out 125s and 250s, and have their eyes on bigger capacities still.
With the DR-Z400 unsold in the UK for over a decade, the disappointment of last year’s Honda 450L and my recent Himalayan filling a different niche, I wondered if the Zongshen motor might be the missing link between 250 trail bikes and 500+ twins?

The 4-valve SOHC water-cooled NC450 isn’t yet another clone based on a late-80s XBR Honda motor as found in the old WKs, the Mash and many other Chinese 400-cc bikes (under various brands) including the now-discounted SWMs 440s. The NCs are a cut above that and in 2017 Zongshen entered five NC-engined bikes in the Dakar. All DNF’d, but mostly due to crashes.
No surprise then that the compact six-speed NC engine looks more like the 450R in the CRF450L. Could this be a travel-friendly Goldilocks motor CCM should have used in their GP450 (had it been around), and with more realistic service intervals than Honda’s 450L? A quick spin on the Fantic Caballero Scrambler might provide answers.

• Oil capacity: 1.6L
• Oil and filter change intervals: 5000km/3000 miles
• Valve check inter
vals:5000km/3000 miles
• Alternator output: 300w
• Power / torque: 40hp @ 7500rpm / 43Nm @ 6000rpm
Source
Zong450
ZRX4-2019-2In the US, CSC directly import the Zongshen RX4 (right) which uses Zongshen’s NC450. It sells for $6000 but like many Chinese bikes, with prices now exceeding what we’ll take a chance on blindly, manufacturers seek to add value with a lot of clutter extras and bulked-up bodywork which with the RX4 whacks the weight up to over 200 kilos, more than a stock CB500X. More here
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cabspecs

Going for around £6400 new, my Fantic Scrambler had under 600 miles on the clock and riding out of Horley, at low rpm felt a bit cold-blooded, with hesitant fuelling spitting pops and bangs out of the pipe. This wasn’t a softly tuned, rattley old plodder like my recent Enfield Himalayan.
I realised: OK, so this is how it’s going to be. The Scrambler 500 likes to be gunned and the noises spitting out of the pipe are part of its character. What a shame then that I was stuck among the leafy, 40-50mph-limited byways of Sussex and Kent, with vans pulling out of driveways, tractors flinging crap in all directions crap and hatchback mums tootling about on errands.

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Providing you were a few thousand revs above idle, the motor responded instantly to the heavily sprung throttle and the snicky gearbox and taught drive train drove the bike forward. The fat-profile 17/19-inch Pirelli Scorpion Rally STRs stayed well inside their comfort zone while 150-mm of travel on the 41-mm USD forks occasionally thudded over sunken manhole covers. The twin canned Arrow pipe managed to hit just the right balance between obnoxious din and an over-muffled parp. But high pipes need intricate routing to avoid both cooking and dislodging the right leg. The burning sensation at my right ankle soon cleared once the thermostat opened but stood up, the panel pushed the shin out like a Triumph Scrambler. Looking underneath, there’s room to route it low with chassis rails to take a sump guard.
The
Bybre brakes worked as well as they looked, with little pressure needed to haul on the 320mm ø front disc. A quick stab at the back proving the ABS works like it should.

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The Caballeros are said to weigh about 160kg with ~12-litre tanks brimmed and the minimal nature extends to the switchgear and a tiny speedo. I must admit I missed a gear-position indicator – there you go, I’ve come out and said it! – but also the not-working (or disabled?) rev counter. It’s integrated a little too cleverly into the periphery of the dial, overlapping the fuel and battery level indicators. Blundering about with the display scrolling came up with trip meters and maybe remaining fuel range and battery charge (again). Even stood still it was hard to tell, but there must be a way to adjust the clock and hopefully flip to kph. Also, the unit looked set a couple degrees off in the housing.

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I pulled over onto a village green for a closer look at the Scrambler. It’s a good-looking machine and the black, all-19-inch, black, Flat Track version (below) is even better (though I might spec the Scrambler’s fatter seat). Big chunks of CNC machined alloy were bolted to the black Cro-Mo frame, the brake pedal tip is replaceable and the gear shifter folds in. I like the rectangular route of the long header with integrated catalyser; a clever way of extending the pipe (long pipes = better torque). It mirrors the big radiator above, capped with a header tank that’s not just tacked on the side for once.

FMCabFT
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There’s a feeling of solidness which matches the ride, only spoiled by the odd flaw like the oil filler cap right under the scalding header (right), the pillion footrest under the bulging sidepanel /exhaust guard, and some scruffy wiring on the left side of the engine (left).

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At the bars the ABS is intuitively disabled with a button, but the non-self-cancelling indicator rocker switch took a bit of getting used to, and the high/low beam switch is not one I’ve seen before and might be tricky to flip quickly at night. While doing that it’ll also be interesting to see how that multi-bulb LED headlamp lights up the night. On the back, the tail light must be the legal minimum size, as is the front fender. Get over it; that’s the look! The top of the plastic tank cover has an inset panel and strap slots which I’m guessing is there to evoke the enduro scorecard holder from a 1970s Cab’, but will hold a BLT just as well.

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It was time to head back to Horley, only now with a little more gusto. I’d already decided that in this state of tune, Fantic’s take on the NC450 was a bit too fruity to make an agreeable long-range travel bike. I’d trade a bit less top-end surge for some low-end grunt, plus cleaner fuelling. It reminded me of a hot-cam’ed TT500 with an over-sized slider carb which all only works towards WFO.
But for the moment, let’s just enjoy squirting the Scrambler from bend to bend, van to van and 30-mph-village to Kentish village. Out on Britain’s lonely moorland roads the Scrambler or the Tracker would be a blast. I got up to nearly 80 and the bike and engine still felt as solid as a bell and with more to give. Retuned and in a less Spartan, low-pipe configuration like the Him, it might just plug the hole for a light, dirt able travel bike which Honda’s 450L failed to do.

Many thanks to T. Northeast in Horley for the test ride.

The Chinese travel bikes are coming

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

chinee

Since this page was originally researched 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 and familiar motorcycle marques have been manufacturing in China for years, even if some high-end models 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: this long article condensed into one page for AMH8.

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, Sinnis 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 and even Francis Barnett which older bikers will accept more readily, even if it’s all just a badge on 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 getting spares and 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 the 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 article, the 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 (or younger selves) 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 Chinese marques said to specialise in trail and off-road machines. 
In 2014 they bought the Italian SWM name, last heard of in the 1970s. Around the same time Shineray also acquired an old factory off KTM in Italy with a batch of Husky models. 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 monthly 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 (above) 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 left 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 250 Retrostar from Sinnis (left) bore a very close resemblance to the Mash 400 retros, but, Sinnis is now using Zongshen (see below), not Shineray.
In 2020 Sinnis announced the Terrain T380 Adventure twin, which is more or less a CSC

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 a Mash 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.

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 it’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 briefly being one of the few Chinese bike makers to produce a ‘big’ 650 road bike which, bodywork aside, looked based on a Kawasaki ER-6/Versys. But neither that bike, nor anything over 125cc, still features on WK’s website.

wk400
mashadv1

From 2015 there was an initially over-priced WK Trail 400 (above) but within a year it was going for under £3000 and is now no longer listed.
It was the same as the slightly longer selling Moto Mash 400 Adventure (left, quick road test), except the luggage and crash bars were optional. Read how UK WK owners are getting on.
Mash in France are now also selling off their retro-styled 400cc Scramblers and Cafe Racers from as little as 3000 euros. The retro-styled Mash Roadstar (below) has the same 400-cc engine is the same as the Adventure and Trail). I took one out for a day: more here.

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At 400cc you’d hope these bikes have potentially plugged the gap between the heavier and pricier twins and an over-extended 250. 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 (below) actually works much better because despite it also being heavy, the torque is substantially greater. That’s the whole point of a 400 over a 250.

In 2019 Mash also introduced the X-Ride Classic 650 air-cooled single (below), with unmissable cues to the much-loved XT500. With low compression, the injected motor makes a claimed 40hp and 45Nm of torque @ 4500 (the heavier Himalayan is 25hp and 32Nm at the same rpm). Gearbox is 5 speed, the tank holds 12 litres, wet weight is about 187kg and wheels are fat 17s, though it looks like there’s room to lace in a 21″ up front.
Since the announcement no one appears to have actually ridden the X-Ride.

SWM 440
Shineray 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.

4-swm
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. 
These early models were sold off then restyled, and it’s unlikely that SWM will produce an adventure model as that clearly didn’t work for Mash or WK. In this capacity there’s much more demand for retro-styled machines.

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.

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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 on the full luggage option.

cscrx4

Tank is 20 litres (5.3 USg), the alternator puts out 300w, seat is a friendly 32 inches (813mm) and all for $5795 delivered.
In France, Cyclone Moto sell the Zongshen RX3S 380-cc twin (below). Power, weight and styling are similar to the 450 single; price is from €5000 and in 2020 Sinnis in the UK introduced the near identical bike as the Terrain 380 Adventure.

RX3S