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Common Tread

CFMOTO: First impressions of the U.S. motorcycle lineup

Jul 11, 2022

When I got the nod to go to the CFMOTO press event and ride seven different motorcycles all day on the track, I felt like a "kid in the candy shop," as they say. But I did have some concerns, and if you know anything about where these bikes are manufactured, you probably know why.

I’m not sure, who wouldn’t want to go test ride a full line up of bikes (plus a secret bike I’m not allowed to talk about yet) on a private track all day long, eat some killer BBQ, and then have another full day to yourself on the bike of your choosing? But knowing that CFMOTO is a Chinese manufacturer, I wasn’t expecting too much. Every Chinese-built motorcycle I’d ridden previously was a bit subpar, to say the least. 

At any rate, I arrived at the track and tried to keep an open mind.

CFMOTO 700CL-X
CFMOTO is offering a line of affordable motorcycles in the U.S. market, up to this 693 cc parallel-twin 700CL-X. CFMOTO photo.

Who is CFMOTO?

If you’ve yet to hear about CFMOTO, I wouldn’t be too surprised, as its bikes are fairly new to the U.S. market. The company is well established elsewhere, however, and I don’t think it’s going to be long before they gain market share here.

CFMOTO was established in China in 1989 and began importing ATVs and side-by-sides to the United States in 2002. CFMOTO USA was established in 2007 with a new headquarters in Plymouth, Minnesota. The company's four-wheelers have made a significant impact in the U.S. market, but while CFMOTO has been manufacturing motorcycles and scooters in China for a long time, only recently has it decided to make a push in the United States with two-wheeled machines. It's not surprising that the "bang for the buck" factor is part of the appeal. The U.S. lineup ranges from a 126 cc single to a couple of 693 cc twins and with most of these bikes it's pretty easy to see which Japanese competitor CFMOTO is aiming at.

Since I was riding seven different models in one day, I knew I wouldn’t be able to provide an in-depth review of each. If you want more specs on any individual bike, you can visit the CFMOTO website or find a dealer.

What I really wanted to do in the short time I had with each bike was to go beyond the specs and see how they felt and performed. How would a new rider feel on this bike? Is the power approachable? Is it buzzy? Are the controls and dash functional or lacking refinement? Does it have enough power?

So let's start with a ride on some pocket-size fun, the Papio.

CFMOTO Papio

The Papio is a whopping 126 cc and will have you grinning from ear to ear. I think it’s nearly impossible to ride these tiny bikes without giggling the majority of the time. I also think it’s pretty obvious which bike CFMOTO is aiming for with this little number. Just in case it’s not, check out the Honda Grom for a comparative model. At $2,999, the Papio undercuts the Grom by $500 on price.

The CFMOTO Papio is small but mighty.
Getting a little sassy with the Papio. Photo by BeRadMoto.

Outside of just being pure fun, the Papio was incredibly easy to ride and maneuver. Frankly, my only real criticism is the brakes. They simply weren’t quite as good as what I’ve experienced with the Groms. While I don’t think that’s a deal breaker nor do I think the average rider will notice the difference, it’s still worth noting. Overall, I think the performance difference between the Grom and the Papio is minimal.

The Papio tops out around 55 mph, has a seat height of 30.5 inches, weighs 251 pounds wet with 1.9 gallons of fuel. By comparison, the Grom has a top speed of 58 mph, 30-inch seat height, weighs 223 pounds and holds 1.6 gallons. For me personally, that difference is negligible for the Papio's intended use. Stunters will still be better off going with the Grom for the readily available aftermarket parts and the better brakes, but for zipping around town, the Papio could save you a few bucks without sacrificing any fun… well, maybe three mph of fun.

If a top speed of 55 mph isn’t going to cut it and you’re looking for something that can handle a bit of highway travel, the CFMOTO 300NK and the 300SS will be a significant step up in size, power, and speed.

CFMOTO 300NK and 300SS

I really enjoy riding the lower displacement bikes at the track. You really get to wring them out and I feel more confident pushing them harder through the corners than I would with more powerful machines. The 300SS is the sport bike version and was a lot of fun to ride at the track. The cockpit felt a little different from what I am used to with alternative sport bikes of similar displacement, such as the Kawasaki Ninja 400 or even the KTM RC 390. The riding position was very comfortable but felt a bit more upright than I remember on some other models in this class. 

The 300SS is very comfortable sport bike that makes perfect power for riders just getting started on two-wheels.
I wish I could say I wasn't pushing the 300SS too hard at the track and therefore I didn't really need my race suit but that wouldn't be entirely true. Photo by Leviathan.

The 300NK is essentially the same machine but with more of an everyday commuter type of riding position. Both handled well on the track but I found the front brake on these two models to require a lot of effort and just felt a little off. A few other riders had the same experience, which was comforting to know it wasn’t just me. I wonder if dual discs up front or possibly a different master cylinder would make things better. Keep in mind that we were pushing these bikes pretty hard on the track, and I doubt that the average rider scooping up a 300SS or 300NK will be riding them quite the same way on a daily basis. 

The TFT dashes work very well. We rode on a very sunny day and I could see everything perfectly.
Even on a bright sunny day, the TFT dashes were easy to read. CFMOTO photo.

The TFT dashes on the 300NK and 300SS worked incredibly well. They both feature five-inch TFT displays that automagically adjust the brightness depending on the surrounding ambient light. They also can connect to the CFMOTO Rider App, which provides navigation, self-diagnostics, and a few other features. The dash has different displays for the two riding modes available on each model. The 300SS gets a Sport and Rain mode while the 300NK gets a Sport and Eco mode. 

Both bikes are powered by the same liquid-cooled, 292 cc single rated at 29 horsepower and on top of that, excluding the Papio previously discussed, every bike, including the 300NK and 300SS, is equipped with a slipper clutch and ABS — Yahtzee!

With their approachable power, relatively light weight (claimed 364 pounds) and 30.7-inch seat height, the two 300s are a solid option for new riders or short riders. The 300NK costs $3,999 and the 300SS is $4,299.

While the 300s were a good time at the track, I’ve found that having a bit more power to get out of sticky situations on the street can be a very good thing to have around the overly aggressive Northeast drivers I have to deal with on a daily basis. That’s where the 650NK and the 650 ADVentura enter the scene.

CFMOTO 650NK and 650 ADVentura

These two bikes are powered by a 649 cc, liquid-cooled, parallel-twin engine. The 650NK was one of my favorites for the comfort, handling, and its overall sporty feel. A definite step up from the 300s, it not only had more pep but the dual front disc brakes were also more effective and operated more smoothly. The 650NK fits right in the middleweight naked sport bike category. The ergonomics provide all-day-riding comfort with a playful engine that’s happy to boogie through the corners. I wouldn’t hesitate to use this as a daily commuter or for a weekend trip on twisty back roads with my buddies. 

The CFMOTO 650NK was a perfect competitor for the Kawasaki Z650. The engine had some punch to it but never felt out of control because of the very linear power delivery.
I really liked how the 650NK handled the track. It was very comfortable to ride but felt nice and stealthy in the corners. Photo by Gary Walton.

The power delivery was linear and the 650NK felt stable around 100 mph without feeling like the bike was going to fall apart beneath me. The dash was easy to read and well laid out. I had ABS brakes, a slipper clutch, and two riding modes (ECO and Sport). I had a hard time finding some critiques for this one.

The 650 ADVentura shares the same powerplant but is outfitted for riders looking for comfort while putting in more miles. It comes stock with a large windscreen, which is adjustable, I might add, and sizable panniers, so it’s easy to see this bike is geared towards the touring segment. While I didn’t get a chance to take it off-road, with a set of knobbies, I think it could hold its own, even though it rolls on 17-inch tires front and rear. I’d love to get our very own Mr. Spenser Robert to take the 650 ADVentura out for a spin to see how it stacks up against his true love, the Kawasaki Versys. 

The 650ADVentura is a sport touring motorcycle that comes stock with an adjustable windscreen and panniers.
CFMOTO, I'd be happy to take this across the country for some long-term testing. CFMOTO photo.

All in all, the 650NK and ADVentura were far better than anticipated, which was really the theme of CFMOTO's entire lineup. The 650NK costs $6,499 and the ADVentura is $6,799, compared to a base Versys at $8,899.

And just in case the 650 isn’t enough power, the 700CL-X and the 700CL-X Sport have a bit more punch with similar amounts of comfort, features, and performance. 

CFMOTO 700CL-X and 700CL-X Sport

These 700s felt like they had a few different influences with the overall design. The 700CL-X felt like a cruiser mixed with a touch of sport bike with a splash of scrambler. The 700CL-X Sport was similar with the cruiser and sport combo, but instead of a splash of scrambler, it felt like it had a bit of cafe racer. I’d say that’s mainly due to the clip-ons and the lines of the bike. Regardless, the 700s felt unique to ride and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

The 700CL-X was incredibly comfortable with that low end torque I like to have with my sporty bikes.
CFMOTO 700CL-X. CFMOTO photo.

CFMOTO refers to the 700CL-X as a bike with “neo-retro classic style.” The riding position is upright, the power has a nice sporty punch, but the stock tires are Pirelli MT60s, which have a hint of knobs to them and give the bike a bit of a scrambler vibe. Overall, the ergos feel a bit like a cruiser, mixed with a standard but with a sporty power delivery. It’s a bit challenging to explain, but after a few minutes in the saddle, this one and the 700CL-X Sport ultimately won me over. Additionally, like the 650s, the CL-X and the CL-X Sport, have Sport and Eco rider modes that you can easily toggle between. And trust me, there is a significant difference between the two.

The CL-X Sport's clip-ons give it a more aggressive riding position, and while it may look a bit like a cafe racer at first glance, it’s nowhere near the aggressive (arguably uncomfortable) riding position found on a typical cafe racer. Again, it’s a little unique. 

The CFMOTO 700CL-X Sport feels like 3 different styles of motorcycles, a cafe racer, a sport bike, and a cruiser all mashed into one.
It was a tough call as to which bike was my favorite. It was a bit of a toss up between the 650NK, the 700CL-X, and the 700CL-X Sport, shown here. Photo by Gary Walton.

The CL-X Sport is CFMOTO's flagship model and one of the major upgrades I noticed on this bike was the Brembo brakes. While it may not be something I would always notice or necessarily look for if I’m using a bike on the street, since I spent most of my time on the track, I certainly appreciated the Brembos as soon as I started trail braking through corners. 

The two 700s are powered by a 693 cc, liquid-cooled, parallel twin engine that CFMOTO claims puts out 74 horsepower. I noticed a pretty aggressive punch at the top end of the rpm range. It wasn’t out of control but a lot of the riders attending the event noticed this little kick, too. Don’t get me wrong, I like some extra spice but… I’d also like to see the dyno chart.

I’d also like to add that both the 700s come equipped with electronic throttle cruise control, which is very easy to use and certainly beneficial for those highway miles. With the CL-X at $6,499 and the CL-X Sport at $6,999, I can't think of another motorcycle that offers cruise control at a similar price point. I think it would be nice to offer the same feature on the 650 ADVentura, since that is a bike designed for logging miles, but nonetheless, it’s a perk you get with the 700s.

Final thoughts on the CFMOTO lineup

As I mentioned before, I didn’t really expect too much from these bikes and I was pleasantly surprised by the overall performance and features these machines came equipped with at their price points. They lack a little of the low-end torque I’ve come to love from some of their competitors and I had a few nitpicks here and there, but they feel leaps and bounds better than some of the other Chinese-manufactured bikes I’ve ridden in the past.

The mirrors actually function properly. I don’t feel an excruciating buzzing through the bars to my teeth. The front ends feel solid and planted versus feeling like someone jammed mashed potatoes into the forks. And again, all the bikes have ABS (minus the Papio), excellent dash displays, rider modes, approachable and linear power delivery (that 700CL-X has some extra kick up top but nothing too wild), and the prices are excellent. 

While I can’t speak to the long-term reliability, it appears there is plenty of praise from customers and fellow riders who have owned CFMOTO bikes for a while. If the motorcycles hold up like the ATVs we've seen, I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot more CFMOTO bikes on the road before long.