First Ride Review
The Chinese motorcycle industry’s long march into the global marketplace with a range of full-size models aimed at Western customers finally got under way four years ago with the parallel-twin CFMoto 650NK. An unashamed reinterpretation of the Kawasaki ER6n, with comparable performance but a 45-percent lower retail price, this was the first “proper” bike with an engine larger than 250cc to emerge from the world’s largest motorcycle industry.
Shortly afterward, CFMoto brought a CFMoto 650TK tourer to the USA, which retailed for $6,999 for the 2013 and 2014 model years. So far the bike has not returned for 2015, but the 650NK is still available, and it’s worth reporting on our recent ride in Australia on a 650TK as the bike is likely to reappear in the U.S. at any time.
The CFMoto 650TK fully faired hard-luggage junior bagger is powered by the same 83 x 60mm DOHC parallel-twin 649cc eight-valve motor as found in the 650NK, with a 180-degree crankshaft, chain camdrive and a gear-driven counterbalancer to smooth out the vibes. Its Italian-sourced fuel injection package comes from Ducati Energia, with twin 38mm ITT throttle bodies and Magneti Marelli injectors, while the 6-speed transmission features a Japanese-developed FCC oil-bath clutch. Producing 69.73 horsepower at 8,500 rpm, with maximum torque of 45.72 lb-ft at 7,000 revs, this compact motor sits in a tubular-steel diamond frame carrying non-adjustable KYB/Kayaba suspension, with a 41mm fork and cantilever rear shock. But that can’t even be adjusted for spring preload to take account of a passenger, or a full load in the non-detachable but lockable dual panniers, which offer 60 litres of storage and are surprisingly waterproof.
A 375-mile tour of the Victorian Goldfields northwest of Melbourne, Australia, delivered a proper evaluation of the 650TK’s touring pretensions. The whole motorcycle has an air of substance about it that’s quite out of kilter with its former price tag. The substantial mirrors give an excellent view behind, as well as protect your hands—my leather gloves didn’t get damp in any of the successive springtime showers I rode through. Equally, the non-adjustable screen gave good protection in the rain, as just the right height for a six-footer offering no undue turbulence.
The 650TK’s cast aluminium pullback handlebar is ideally positioned, delivering a comfortable, straight-backed stance, though the 31.3-inch seat height means that anyone much taller will probably feel cramped. But the low seat makes the 650TK ideal for female riders, for amongst its target customer groups that include touring tyros in search of an accessible and user friendly mount, CFMoto markets the model new as a Hers tourer to go with His BMW R 1200 RT or Harley Road King. Makes sense.
The 650TK’s comfortable seat has zero vibration thanks to the engine’s well-weighted counterbalancer and hefty balance weights in the handlebar ends. The twin 300mm front discs gripped by twin-piston calipers work pretty well for budget brakes, especially when using their small 225mm rear counterpart to slow a bike weighing 485 pounds wet. ABS isn’t an option yet, but will be available for 2016 to comply with Euro 4, but the brakes worked well in the wet, too, as did the CST tyres—made by the company in the process of purchasing Pirelli. But it helps to use engine braking to slow from high speeds, which even in the absence of a slipper clutch you can do without chattering the rear tire.
CFMoto’s lusty-sounding 650cc twin-cylinder motor has eager performance, with a distinctive syncopated lilt emanating from the 2-1 exhaust silencer tucked in low down on the right. With the enclosed bodywork there isn’t the same deep, throaty roar from the air intakes as you get on its 650NK naked sister, but for a middleweight twin the 650TK still sounds undeniably muscular. The parallel-twin engine is torquey, free revving and smooth, pulling pretty strongly with zero transmission snatch from 2,500 rpm on part throttle. There’s a completely linear build of power all the way to the 10,800 rpm revlimiter, although it picks up revs a little faster from 7,000 rpm upwards, when there’s an extra spurt of engine acceleration that you wouldn’t characterise as a step in the powerband. The 650TK is a model of rideability, and a key factor in this is the flawless Japanese-quality gearshift and clutch action. This will be an ideal mount for beginners, provided they can handle the width of the panniers, or female riders who may not have the strength to manhandle (womanhandle?) a bike that isn’t as perfectly balanced as this CFMoto tourer.
Paint depth and overall finish of the 650TK are pretty good, probably the equal of a budget-priced bike made in Italy, though the plastic switchgear still seems a little low-rent, and the metal castings’ brightwork finish isn’t very…bright. There are two useful pockets in the fairing either side of the handlebars, with the lid of the one on the left lockable, if a little flimsy—locking it would be a deterrent against a casual thief, not a determined one. The one on the right is deep enough to give space for a folded map, and while there’s room to clamp a GPS to the center of the handlebar, there’s no socket to power it from—an omission CFMoto should remedy on a bike with touring pretensions.
The CFMoto 650TK is as capable, practical and pleasing as any motorcycle costing twice the price, with half the looks. Just how well it’ll wear the passage of time has yet to be proven, but since it’s seemingly as well manufactured as its 650NK sister, this may indeed be that long-awaited Chinese-made touring bike that’ll make the breakthrough in Western markets—if in fact CFMoto choses to bring it back. In the meantime there’s the 650NK. At last a Chinese manufacturer seemingly more interested in quality than price, has developed a pair of functionally excellent products providing exceptional value for the money, which are crisply styled and deliver dynamically. And these are just the first of several such models that CFMoto is planning to introduce on the same 650cc parallel-twin platform, as part of the Chinese company’s far-sighted strategy. Everyone comes out ahead this time around—but especially CFMoto’s customers, because its latest 650TK model is an awful lot of motorcycle for the money.