Last week, we ran through some of the most popular 125cc motorbikes from some of the biggest manufacturers. In the second part of our look at this growing sector of the market, we turn our attention to the rise of the Chinese market.
When they first began appearing, Chinese motorcycles developed a bad reputation. And, to be fair, this was not entirely undeserved. Cheap materials and components resulted in machines that looked decent but didn’t last.
However, Chinese manufacturers have made rapid progress in improving quality, and there are now a few manufacturers creating some very reasonably priced machines which benefit from competitive insurance costs.
While most of these bikes won’t have quite the same level of polish as the products of the big manufacturers, the price difference is large enough to make a few of them worthy of consideration.
It’s often difficult to find reliable information about these bikes. Ask for information on one of the many motorcycle forums on the net and you’ll instantly get a bunch of dudes materialising to tell you that they’re all bad, end of. Dig a bit further and it turns out that most of them are either passing on outdated information or stuff they’ve learned second-hand.
There is information from people who actually own them but it takes a bit of research, and most of their advice can be boiled down to “as long as you keep it serviced it’ll be fine.” And, certainly for beginners, knowing a little about how to maintain a bike is a useful skill to develop. Even after replacing the stock tyres with something better and replacing a few components here and there the price will still be significantly less than a bike from a more established brand.
It’s worth bearing in mind that when Japanese companies started selling bikes over here they had exactly the same criticisms directed at them, but within a few years the quality had improved and Japanese bikes were some of the best and best-selling in the world.
While European and Japanese brands remain at the top of most bikers’ wish lists, for anyone looking to get a foothold into the wonderful world of motorcycles, a Chinese bike costing a fraction of the price will look extremely tempting.
The 125 owner’s group on Facebook is a good place to start looking for information from owners of any bike you may be interested in. There are also groups for many specific bikes too.
One of the largest Chinese brands, Lexmoto, offers a range of motorcycles and scooters in a variety of styles, in what we shall generously call loving homages to classic styles, along with more modern variants, too. One of the larger manufacturers, it has a growing network of dealers and a solid supply chain for spare parts so there’s less of a worry if you’re planning on keeping the bike for longer than it takes to pass your test.
Lexmoto has a good range of bikes available for less than £1000. Models like the Arrow , Vixen and the ZSA are specifically marketed as entry-level bikes, with super-reliable pushrod engines to limit the potential for hilarious breakdown shenanigans.
Scooter fans are not left out, with a range that offers both recreations of classics and more modern styles for prices closely orbiting a grand. For anyone feeling that spending less than a grand on a new motorcycle would bring dishonour to their family, there are models that cost in the region of £1,500 like the Venom.
This particular model includes an MP3 player with USB or microSD card, one of those features that will seem very quaint in a few years time, rather than just a little quaint as it does now. Still, in terms of slightly awkwardly implemented extra features it may be the thing that tips the scale for you.
While all Chinese manufacturers are the new kids on the block, Zontes is one of the newest. First arriving in the UK in 2010, its products have quickly garnered a passionate fan base.
Zontes’ newest machine, the Mantis 125, is an appealing fusion of classic and modern aesthetics. With a price tag of £1099 it’s sure to be a popular choice. At £1299 the Tiger seems like another strong option for beginners, with a more traditional classic style. Meanwhile the Panther and the Monster have the purely modern end of things in the bag.
Sinnis uses technology licensed from Yamaha and Suzuki. The bikes are slightly pricier than LexMoto’s offerings, but they’re still great value especially when you compare the recreations of classic bikes to the cost of getting an original and the ongoing maintenance costs.
Purists may scoff at the very thought of buying a pre-made bobber, and you may lose hipster points with your new/old Cafe Racer, but you can always counterbalance that by growing your beard a few more inches, or perhaps another tattoo?
Keeway is part of the QianJiang group, the second largest motorcycle manufacturer in China. It is also owner of the oldest Italian manufacturer, Benelli. Its current roster includes the RKS125 and the RK125, incredibly reasonably priced bikes that may well be exactly what you’re looking for if you’re a little on the short side.
Keeway also has a rather gorgeous Cruiser for less than two grand which it went and called the Superlight STD. Chortleworthy name aside, it’s a rather groovy-looking bike.
A UK-based company aimed at supplying learner-legal bikes, X Blade takes Chinese bikes and rebrands them for the UK market. The X6 is a mean, sleek-looking beast that could be ready to slide into a dark gritty reboot of Streethawk. £2000 is a pretty good price, although the lack of a nationwide network of dealers might make sourcing spare parts more difficult than those from other Chinese manufacturers.
Although one of the largest motorcycle manufacturers in China, Lifan is one of the less well-known Chinese brands over here. Its current range includes the Mirage, a classic sportsbike with naked styling. The Mirage is yet another satisfyingly chunky-looking custom-styled cruiser. For people who feel nostalgia for the 1980s rather than the 1950s, Lifan has the Grit and the Edge, which are supermotos that look like they could transform into robots at a moment’s notice.
The company also has a selection of scooters, from the vaguely Vespa-shaped Beat to the more contemporary lines of the Aero.
Honley is the UK brand name for Zongshen motorcycles, renamed after the Yorkshire village home to its UK distributors, Earnshaw’s Two Wheel Centre. Specially designed for the UK market, the bikes have great fuel economy and have established a good reputation for quality despite some of the cheapest prices on the market.
The HD2 is a modern, sporty commuter bike. It’s capable of an impressive 173 miles per gallon (with careful driving, naturally). The HD3 meanwhile is a bike with hints of classic café racers in its DNA, and comes in striking black and gold trim. Both cost less than £1000, and are almost certainly worth a go to see if they’re right for you.
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