Make no bones about it, Chinese bikes are getting better. A lot better. A vast array of firms have been manufacturing bikes, engines, parts and accessories that are being lapped up by western customers in great numbers. One such factory is Zontes. Simon Meyer tells us of his time with the ZT350-GK
It’s been selling in Europe since 2009, and over the last few years has built up a pretty decent reputation for its bikes that neatly balance quality and price with a focus on value for money rather than outright low cost. The current generation of models are better than ever before – and while they might not quite match up to some of the more established Japanese and European competition, there’s plenty to like about its diverse model range of 125s, 310s and 350s.
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We recently got our hands on one of its flagship models, the funky ZT-350GK, and took the chance to put it through its paces over the course of a few weeks. Here’s how we got on.
First off, there’s no denying that the Zontes ZT350-GK is a great-looking bike. Blending retro scrambler and conventional naked bike styling into a lean, mean package that’ll turn heads wherever you go. That’s a good start, right?
Okay, so the first thing that you need to do is unlock the bike. To do that, just make sure the remote key is in range and tap the lock/unlock button to release the digital steering lock. To lock it, you simply turn the handlebar and push the button until you hear the lock engage. There’re even separate buttons for the fuel tank and the seat. They’re nice touches, that help the Zontes feel pretty premium.
The quality of a bike’s lights is an important consideration, especially at this time of year. The good news is that the GK comes equipped with a great set of lights. The large auto-levelling LED front headlight is fantastic and bright, proving itself capable of illuminating the road ahead. There’re also LED indicators and an LED rear light.
The dash is a TFT full-colour number, which again helps the Zontes feel like a top bit of kit. These are the sort of things that can make a bit of a difference to potential punters, and with four different display styles to cycle through, plenty of information (including the always welcome gear indicator), and the ability to hook it up to your phone to screen share navigation, flick through your music and answer your phone (when used in conjunction with a communications system), the bike’s as well kitted out as any number of much more expensive machines from some of the biggest names in the game.
The dash also makes it easy to see which of the two rider modes you’re in – either E for Eco or S for Sport. To flick between them, it’s a simple and straightforward tap of a button on the right handlebar. There’s no mucking about in sub-menus to fine tune either – Eco mode slightly limits performance and helps to save fuel, but if the engine goes past 7,000rpm then it’ll automatically switch to the more aggressive, full-fat Sport mode. And it goes pretty well. While it might ‘only’ be a 350, the GK has plenty of punch to make good, solid progress and has enough in the tank to dispense with slower moving traffic quickly and efficiently. It really is a great little bike to ride. In fact, I’d probably say it feels like a small bike that’s had a bigger engine fitted. Which is certainly no bad thing in my book.
Most of my miles on the GK were as part of my daily commute to the office. It’s only 20 or so miles, but it takes in wide-open fast A-roads, tight and twisty sections, heads up and over hills, around roundabouts and passes through towns and villages (offering opportunities for cutting through traffic). Essentially, it’s the perfect route to put a bike through its paces. And the compact little Zontes held its own. I had a blast flicking through the corners, nipped past lorries with ease and never once struggled to get up the steep inclines. The pokey 348cc water-cooled single cylinder motor kicks out a respectable 38bhp at 9500rpm, which is more than enough to put a smile on my face. The six-speed gear box is slick and responsive, making it simple to flick through the gears and get the most out of the engine. And despite working it hard, I didn’t have to stop for fuel all that often either – that’s because the GK comes with a whopping 17-litre fuel tank, which means you’re good for well over 200 miles before your next trip to the petrol station.
It stops well, too, thanks to the large single 320mm disc up front and the 265mm disc at the rear. The gripping’s looked after up front by a radial-type four-piston calliper produced by the popular and proven Spanish firm J. Juan, and it also boasts a plastic shield that you wouldn’t usually find on a bike like this. Oh, and there’s also a quality dual-channel Bosch ABS system. It’s a godsend when the roads are greasy and the conditions are less than favourable, but in truth I never once troubled it.
The suspension set up’s pretty good, too. The 43mm USD forks are strong and capable, while the centre-mounted monoshock (which uses a high-pressure nitrogen cylinder with 50mm damper body) offers a good balance of comfort and performance. It probably sits slightly towards the stiffer end of the spectrum, but it still proved itself more than capable of soaking up and smoothing out smaller bumps in the road. And despite that stiffness, I found it pretty comfortable. The seat is good – and even on longer rides I had no aches or pains materialise.
What don’t I like? Well, I’m not the biggest fan of the bar end mirrors. Vibration from the single cylinder motor made it somewhat difficult to get a clear, undistorted view when the bike got up to speed. It’s a pretty common problem though – and there’s probably very little Zontes could do to solve the problem once and for all. Another thing to mention is the electric steering lock. I didn’t have any issues, but my colleague nearly dropped the bike after it locked on him unexpectedly. If the button is pressed and the steering is not put into a position where it can lock, then it’ll wait until the next opportunity. I’m sure that if it was your bike, you’d quickly get used to it, but I’d be remiss for not mentioning that it nearly caught us out.
I really like the GK. The funky retro-cum-naked looks good, sounds good and is pretty perfect for those who are working their way up through the licence categories and who want something slightly different that’s capable and cool but still affordable.
I know Chinese bikes aren’t exactly renowned for their build quality, but the Zontes actually looks pretty good, and I’d be fairly confident it’d stand the test of time with a bit of looking after. I know plenty of you will be sceptical about the Zontes ZT350-GK, but if you’re in the market for a new A2-friendly bike that’s fun to ride and great to look at, then you should go out and try one for yourself.
Engine: 348cc watercooled DOHC single
Power: 38.8bhp (29kW) @ 9500rpm
Torque: 24.1lb-ft (32.8Nm) @ 7500rpm
Transmission: Constant mesh 6-section transmission
Suspension: (F) USD forks (R) Monoshock with high-pressure nitrogen cartridge
Brakes: (F) 320mm single disc and J.Juan radial calliper (R) 265mm single disc and J.Juan radial calliper / Dual Channel Bosch ABS
Tyres: (F) 120/70ZR17 (R) 160/60ZR17
Fuel tank: 17 litres
Fuel consumption: 88.2mpg (claimed)
Seat height: 795mm
Price: £4499 + OTR
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