Author: Jim Lindsay Posted: 22 Jul 2015
They might be cheaper than some Japanese bikes, but are the stories about poor reliability and spares availability on Chinese motorbikes true? In this article we look at a number of Chinese motorbikes including those from Lexmoto, Zontes, Sinnis and more.
To start with, it is about the size. If you want over 125cc, the choice from Chinese motorcycle brands is limited.
Then it’s about money. Yamaha YZF125, £4000 new, looks cool, is cool, able to stand hard use but who has that much to spend on a 125? A Lexmoto Venom, on the other hand, is new for 2015 and new to you for £1,350. It looks cool too.
Say you’re paying cash and your salary after tax comes to £15 an hour; it will take 266 hours of work to buy the Yamaha but just 90 hours for the Lexmoto. A strong argument don’t you agree?
But who do you trust? What brand is best? There are over 30 brands of Chinese made two-wheelers in the UK. Are the bad stories about reliability and spares availability true? Do you buy dirt cheap online or spend a bit more to get dealer backup? It looks pretty now but what will it look like after a salty winter?
Quality varies. If you are a serious importer who visits your suppliers in China, you will be offered different levels on component specification. For example, you can have 3, 6 or 10 dollar switchgear. Serious importers will ask for a better spec, take a bit less profit, and end up with satisfied customers.
Lexmoto (www.lexmoto.co.uk) are currently the sixth biggest selling brand of motorcycle in the UK. They have a strong dealer network. They have big spares backup. Must be worth a look.
Two dealers I spoke to swear by Zontes (www.zontes.co.uk) for value and reliability, one even saying you could spend double and not do any better. They have a big dealer network too.
How about Sinnis? (www.sinnismotorcycles.com) If you like retro style, their Cafe 125 looks the part. They have a lot of dealers and parts availability for most items is next day, according to Northern Area Sales Manager, Geoff Skipsey.
WK Motorcycles (www.wkbikes.com) have been importing Chinese goods for 14 years and running the WK brand for the past four years. Most of their range is made by one factory in China, which they visit two or three times a year. Henry Maplethorpe of WK says they have seen a big improvement in quality in recent years. WK are also one of the few outfits to offer a bigger bike in their range – the £4,199 WK650i, which looks a lot like a Kawasaki ER6 with its 650cc twin cylinder engine which is controlled by a Ducati ECU coupled with Magneti Marelli injectors.
Buying Direct v. Through a Dealer
At the other end of the scale, you can buy direct from China for a few hundred pounds. Check out www.made-in-china.com or www.alibaba.com. For your money you get the bike delivered in a crate to a shipping port in the UK. The rest is up to you – transport home, assembly, registration, the lot. You should not even consider this unless you are a competent mechanic and know what is required in the way of documentation to register your new machine. If you are willing to deal with all that, it’s not a bad way to get a cheap motorcycle.
For peace of mind, most people should buy from a dealer with a decent reputation. Backup is important. My local Chinese bike dealer, www.peterboroughmotorcycles.co.uk, offers a 7 year warranty on all road legal bikes provided that you have it serviced by them. It’s not a trick either. They charge £95 for a full service on a 125, which is a fair price. 24 month warranties are usual and you should not settle for less.
Internet only traders with no premises or backup are best avoided unless the price is way below a bricks and mortar dealer and you know one end of a spanner from another.
When you take delivery of the bike, check it. If the fuse box takes cylindrical fuses, change it for a blade type. Cylindrical fuses do not cope with vibration and you’ll need a bagful of spares with you wherever you go. If the spark plug is Chinese (usually a Torch), laugh for a minute then change it for an NGK. Change the oil for a decent brand. Keep an eye on the paint and the chrome, especially in winter. They need more pampering than Japanese brands.
Expect adequate performance but do not expect to match Japanese levels of speed and handling.
Fancy setting up your own brand?
You’ve got a huge choice of Chinese factories that will provide you with what you want. You can buy existing brands in consignments as small as 10 machines and change the graphics to your own design in the UK. If you want to go the whole hog and you are willing to do some research and travel, you can have one or more factories style machines to your own requirements so they arrive in the UK ready branded, but you’ll need to start talking in thousands rather than hundreds of units to make that worthwhile.
If you don’t feel up to dealing with Chinese factories direct, there are trading specialists who will act as your go-between for a fee. Be aware, it’s a crowded marketplace and if it were that easy, everybody would be at it.
Finally, will the Chinese motorcycle brands come to dominate the world market, edging out the Japanese and European brands like the Japanese did in the 1960s?
The answer is no, not unless they change their approach. Japan started out by copying, but they soon began to innovate, building machines that were technologically far in advance of any production machines made elsewhere. The Chinese approach is different. They copy, usually with no regard for copyright laws, patent infringement and the like. They produce high volumes at low prices but none of the machines coming from China get close to pushing design envelopes. They will remain part of the scene, but Chinese motorcycle brands will not dominate it. What they are doing is making getting on two wheels more affordable, and that’s brilliant.