CFMoto 650 NK | First Ride

Game Changer

By Alan Cathcart, Photography by Stephen Piper

They say: “Meet China’s first full-sized motorcycle.”
We say: “Comparable quality for less cash.”

The Chinese-made CFMoto 650 NK can’t help but remind you of the Japanese invasion of the 1960s. Just as Honda’s game-changing CB450 was the first Japanese motorcycle Western customers saw as fun as well as functional, sporty in addition to affordable, the naked NK appears to be the first “real” bike to emanate from the world’s largest motorcycle market that is the People’s Republic of China.

Powered by a parallel-twin, 649cc engine that matches Kawasaki’s ER-6n in almost every respect—there’s little denying that this is a knock-off of a proven Japanese design—the NK is still the first motorcycle to come out of China with an engine larger than 250cc. And after riding the NK, I’m convinced that it’s worthy competition for any budget or beginner’s bike from Asia or Europe, and available at a significantly lower price. In Australia, the 650 NK will sell for just more than half as much as its Kawasaki competitor.

CFMoto’s parent company, Chunfeng Holding Group, was founded in 1989 but didn’t start making complete motorcycles until 2000. Development of the 650 NK began in 2009 and the bike was launched in Asia early in 2011. Pending EPA homologation, shipments of China’s first middleweight motorcycle will begin steaming for America.

Because the bike hadn’t passed Australian homologation yet, my test ride took place on the Broadford circuit in Victoria. I admit I approached the CFMoto armed with every possible prejudice against Chinese-made motorcycles, all born from hands-on experience riding various poorly made 250cc singles.

So from the first moment I first saw the CFMoto 650 NK, I was ticking mental boxes. Styling: hmm, not bad, in fact pretty sharp with its stubby R6-type exhaust, bright red frame and black bodywork that’s so reminiscent of the ER-6n. The paint depth and overall finish look equal to any Japanese-made budget bike, though the plastic switchgear still seems a little low-rent, and unpolished aluminum brake and clutch levers look rather drab.

But the whole bike has an air of substance—it feels solid and well put together, not flimsy. It starts and idles smoothly, with a fairly meaty exhaust note and an effective counter balancer that does a better job of eliminating engine vibes than the Kawasaki mill it’s modeled after. The riding position is rational, and the footrests are low enough to provide room for taller riders without limiting cornering clearance.

The transmission clicked precisely into gear and during some 45 laps of the Broadford circuit I never missed a single shift. For what’s sure to be a very inexpensive bike, the 650 NK works better than it should. The parallel-twin engine is torquey, free-revving and smooth. Acceleration is determined rather than assertive, but it’s sufficiently strong to be satisfying, and the torque peak is spread widely enough that there’s no point in revving it anywhere near redline. The motor pulls from 3000 rpm upwards, with power building all the way to the rev limiter at 10,800 rpm.

With Kayaba’s Chinese affiliate providing the 41mm telescopic forks and centrally mounted shock (not offset, as on the ER-6n and Ninja 650), the 650 NK’s suspension compliance was frankly much better than I expected, with good ride quality and the ability to absorb bumps and ripples in the road surface without affecting the steering. And the way the bike steers is indeed excellent, delivering poise plus stability and allowing me to pick lines that would avoid the oil patches left by the previous weekend’s vintage bike races. Equipped with Cheng Shin tires labeled simply “Radial,” I was quite cautious entering corners on the NK. The tires stuck, though, and as I added speed and lean angle, the long hero tabs began dragging and soon I was using the toe sliders on my Kushitani boots.

The brakes on other Chinese bikes I’d ridden were awful, and to begin with the NK’s twin-piston calipers and 300mm petal discs simply didn’t work very well. When I pulled in after a dozen laps, I could smell fumes coming off the brakes, and assumed I’d glazed them. I continued riding, and the brakes began to improve to the point that they worked as well as any comparable setup from Europe or Japan. I hadn’t glazed the brakes, I was bedding them in!

Which leaves just one key aspect I couldn’t answer in my one-day Broadford bash—how well will the 650 NK wear the passage of time and miles? It’s impossible to guess after even a thorough test ride, but if it’s as well manufactured as it has been engineered, then this bike may have the same impact on the marketplace as the Honda CB450 did 47 years ago, becoming the bike that introduces Chinese motorcycles to the Western world. The NK could well be a game changer.

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WE have just ridden the new CFMoto 650 TR across China (12,000 kilometers). Review at our site  Also review of the KTM 990 Adventure that we rode from South Africa to UK
It will be interesting to see how this bike is priced when it hits the US. Australia MSRP is $5990, $6990 for the TR, the fully faired touring version. With the ER6N pulled from the US (seems we don't like nakeds unless they are dual purpose), the direct comparison is to the $7600 Ninja 650 or the similarly priced Yamaha FZ6R. With no apparent dealer network, no known history of reliability, and a bias against nakeds, it may be a tough sell, and the faired version is not a deal compared to a discounted (and much sportier looking) Nina or Yamaha.
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