You’d have never bought a big bike from China 15 years ago. The little bikes from there had such a bad reputation, that even now you’d be hard pressed to find anyone with something positive to say about the machines imported from the most populous country in the world. That’s all changing though. They’re getting better and better every year – and CFMOTO’s 700 CL-X could be just the bike to convince you.
No matter how you feel about buying Chinese, you can’t deny that with each passing year the gap has been
closing (just a little) on the bikes built by the favoured European and Japanese firms. They’re no longer the
cheap, cheerful and quickly corroding copies they once were. CFMOTO’s the perfect example of this. It’s been knocking out sportbikes, naked bikes and tourers powered by a copy of Kawasaki’s venerable ER6 motor for a good few years now.
The bikes might not have set the world alight, but they proved solid, reliable and well-built enough to tempt plenty of riders to make a move away from the bigger and more established brands. But now the growing brand has decided it’s time to up the stakes with a new crop of small and mid-capacity machines that take a serious step forward; they’re better looking, better built and more refined. The perfect example of the leaps and bounds the factory has made is the latest addition to its growing range, the Italian-designed, Chinese-built 700 CL-X.
It’s got a big challenge on its hands though. The middleweight roadster market is a busy, busy place. Each of the biggest manufacturers has got its own take available on the market, be it a pseudo-scrambler or an out-and-out naked sportbike. Thankfully, the 700 CL-X has got plenty going for it. Looking at specification and styling alone the 700 CL-X is similar enough to Yamaha’s XSR700, Ducati’s Scrambler and Kawasaki’s Z650RS that it should be sure to get a look in if you’re in the market for a new bike that blends modern retro looks with agile handling and punchy performance.
We got our hands on one for a few weeks just before the weather took a turn for the worse and spent some
of the last sun-soaked afternoons of the year hooning around on A and B roads, cutting through town traffic and tackling a bit of motorway for good measure. This is what we found out.
Firstly, let’s talk about how good it looks. I reckon it’s one of the best looking bikes of the past year, finding
just the right balance between clean lines and sharp angles. The exposed chassis cradles the fuel tank, while the chunky front end is set off by an LED headlight sitting inside a cleverly designed X.
The gold exhaust headers feed into a short and mean end can and the alloy wheels help the CFMOTO stand out from the crowd. It’s built well too… far better than I expected it to be. No doubt many of you will have a
bee in your bonnet about bikes built in China. You’ll be ready to dismiss this bike right off the bat, having
seen a handful of learner legal rides in sorry states owned by teenagers who don’t know (or don’t care) about what it takes to properly maintain a bike, but in reality the 700 CL-X looks as good as any of its European or Japanese or American competition.
The finish is spot on, with clean welds, quality parts and a lovely level of finish. Okay, there’re probably a
few question marks about how it’ll hold up over time, but we’ll just have to wait and see about that. The proof is in the pudding, after all. But after giving the bike a close a inspection, can’t see that it’d be any more likely to suffer corrosion or quality issues than the competition. Like I said, it’s well built and has been built to last.
By its very nature, the 700 CL-X is a stripped-back and simple machine, devoid of any fussy and over-
complicated technology. That said, it does get a few nice bits and bobs that you probably wouldn’t expect to come as standard on a big bike with a sub- £6500 price tag, including a slipper clutch, one-touch cruise control, fully adjustable KYB front suspension and Pirelli MT60 RS rubber. Less unexpected, but still nice to have, are the digital instrument cluster, the Bosch EFI system, the two-channel ABS, the LED lights and indicators front and rear (with LED Daytime Running Lights). So far so good, right?
It’s comfortable too, with a well padded seat and relatively upright (but still focused) riding position,
aided by the wide bars and slightly set-back footpegs. I stand at 6ft 1in tall and looking at the photos of me on the bike, it doesn’t exactly appear as though I’ve got bags of room for my long legs, but during some long stints in the saddle I don’t recall ever feeling cramped. Equally, there were very few vibrations even when the engine was under strain. In short, I would be very happy to cover some big distances on this bike no questions asked, but I would make sure to avoid any prolonged motorway miles (good practice on any bike, but especially on this one), because as soon as I passed the 75mph mark, I really started getting bashed about by the wind.
You can forgive that though. It’s not exactly been designed for covering long distances at those sorts of speeds and is much happier firing along Aand B-roads looking for some twists and turns to get stuck into.
It’s powered by a 693cc liquid-cooled dual-overhead-cam parallel twin motor that’s essentially a reworked and refined version of CFMOTO’s tried and tested 650cc engine from the 650NK. It retains the same bottom end but gets some forged pistons and split connecting rods (and has been bored out by 4mm to achieve a larger capacity).
It might not be new or cutting edge, but that doesn’t matter, the 693cc powerplant has enough punch to kick out peak power of 74hp at 8500rpm and 50ft-lb of torque at 6500rpm. It’s not a rocketship, but that’s a more than respectable spread of power which is akin to Yamaha’s range of crossplane twin-powered 700s (and is a little bit more than Kawasaki’s Z650RS).
In practice it’s smooth and slick with plenty of punch right through the rev range. There’s ample low-end torque to make nipping around town in and out of the traffic a joy, while the power available in the middle of the rev range makes overtaking fast-moving traffic a breeze.
Unsurprisingly, it likes to be ridden hard – with the light clutch and quickshifter coming into their own as
you knock down the box and push on into corners. But it’s comfortable when things are a bit more sedate, too. It is very, very easy to ride thanks to the short first gear and unintimidating throttle response. If you’re working your way up the licence categories, I reckon the 700 CL-X would make a cracking first ‘big’ bike (and if you’re stepping down off something bigger and faster, I reckon the bike’s got plenty going for it that’d keep you smiling).
There’re a couple of riders modes to choose from: an Eco mode which gives the CF a slightly muted throttle response (perfect for the more heavy handed among us when the weather takes a turn) and a full-fat Sport mode too, which are easily flicked between using the dedicated mode button on the left-hand switchgear. While many other bikes in the middleweight market might have a whole host of electronic tricks up their sleeves, the relative simplicity of the 700 CL-X is one of its biggest strengths.
There’s none of that faffing about scrolling through multiple menus to find that elusive perfect setting… it’s just two buttons. Simple. Stopping is looked after by a J.Juan radial-mounted 4-piston calliper which grabs a 320mm double disc up front and a J.Juan 2-piston floating calliper which grabs a 260mm single disc at the rear. There’s dual-channel ABS on hand too, if things start to get a bit hairy. They work well, offering plenty of bite with lots of feel, even at the rear, and stopped me quickly with no trouble even from high speeds.
The levers are adjustable too, which is another nice touch. I did get a bit of dive from the front end under particularly aggressive braking though, but with the aforementioned fully-adjustable KYB 41mm inverted forks, I’ve no doubt you could dial a bit of that out without too much trouble. At the back there’s a slightly less sophisticated preload adjustable monoshock which was more than up to the job.
Overall, the 700 CL-X felt stable and secure with more than enough grace and grip to allow me to make consistently good progress, even when the road surface started to take a turn for the worse. Credit to the
Pirelli MT60 RS rubber, too. Coming in at £6299 + OTR fees, there’s few brand-new bikes that can
offer as much bang for your buck as the CL-X.
Suzuki’s SV650 is probably the closest when it comes to price alone, but the dated design of the iconic Japanese bike just doesn’t do it for me in quite the same way as the CF. Would it last as well as the SV?
Onlv time will tell, but there’s no doubt the CL-X is a cracking bike that ticks all the right boxes, and should
definitely be in with a shout if you’re in the market for a new middleweight motorcycle that looks good and goes well. I can’t wait to see what CFMOTO come up with next.
Words: Ross Mowbray. Photos: Gary Chapman
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