2009 Johnny Pag Motorcycles Review

American-designed, made in China


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If you turned around the appliances in your kitchen, you'd see several “Made in China” stickers.  Inevitably, the stuff in garages across North America will one day be displaying a similar country of origin.

Chinese-manufactured motorcycles sold in America are typically bikes made for international consumption and rebadged for the U.S. Market, such as the recently tested Qlink XF200. Johnny Pag Motorcycles puts a different spin on the process by designing its bikes at its Orange County, California, headquarters and then having a Shanghai-based company manufacture them around a proven 270cc twin-cylinder engine.

JPM is the brainchild of CEO Johnny “Pag” Pagnini. Pag and his crew have been doing strong business since 2006 selling amazingly affordable cruisers, allowing even casual riders an easy step into the chopper/custom market. Suggested list prices begin at just $3,399.

“I tell ya, we're rocking and rolling, dude,” says Johnny Pagnini about his company's worldwide sales increase of 180% over the first eight months of 2008.

Pag made sure to emphasize the importance of customer service for a company that sells Chinese-produced products. “It's a reflection of Johnny Pag,” he notes. In regard to after-sales support, “I stock everything,” says Pag as he showed us aisles of shelving full of parts. “I promise you, you won't see a parts department like this in other Chinese distributors.”

To assuage any skeptics, each bike includes a one-year parts and labor warranty with unlimited mileage. Optional extended coverage can be bought to cover a buyer for up to four years with no mileage restriction. A three-year extension costs a reasonable $409 extra. The company says it can get bikes and parts shipped from China in just 11 days, with less than three days in port.

JPM-designed wheels and brake rotors look expensive.
The tidy 270cc twin-cylinder engine has finned cylinders that belie its liquid-cooled status. The radiator is partially hidden between the frame downtubes.

JPM describes its bikes as “full size,” but I'd describe them as seven-eighth scale motorcycles, being much more manageable than 100-plus-inch boulevardiers. Combined with their light weights (around 360 lbs) and low seat heights, it's logical that the bikes are often sold to first-time riders. About 18% are sold to female riders, and JPM asserts that a surprising amount go into the garages of guys who already own a bigger cruiser. For the most part, the prices are inexpensive enough that most customers don't need financing.

Pagnini does 90% of the bike design in-house and uses Chinese-made components to finish it off. He also keeps tabs on quality control of the production coming out of a new Lifeng Group Company factory. Along with the cheaper labor associated with China, the cost of Johnny Pag bikes is kept down by the use of an existing parallel-Twin motor from Lifeng.

A 57mm x 53mm bore and stroke yield 270cc, inhaling through dual 26mm Keihin carburetors and a single intake valve for each single-overhead-cam cylinder. Liquid cooling is its one nod to high-ish technology. Not surprisingly, this is no Screamin' Eagle, pumping out a modest 23.8 hp at 6500 rpm, according to JPM. Peak torque of 18.5 ft-lbs arrives at 6500 rpm.

There is enough twist on tap to stick with normal road traffic, and it's accompanied by a droning outboard-motor-like soundtrack. Freer-breathing pipes amp up the tune to gangsta levels and free up a horse or three, but its output will never please the ear like a Harley or Ducati V-Twin. Unfortunately, the carbureted bikes can't meet California emissions regs. With the current engine, JPM claims a rider should be able to coax 65 mpg out of its bikes.

Doing without a counterbalancer, the Lifeng motor can be quite vibey at several different rev zones, blurring mirrors and buzzing pegs. All JPM bikes route power through a 5-speed transmission in which fifth gear is slightly over-driven to minimize oppressive vibration at highway speeds, but it's only marginally successful.

The JPM machines may go faster, but they won't like it. Higher speeds are enabled by taller gearing via a 30-tooth sprocket to replace the standard 34-T rear, but this will also have the side effect of making it feel less peppy around town. JPM claims 100-mph speeds are available with the free-flow exhaust, appropriate jetting and the smaller rear sprocket. 

With only moderate power and considerable vibration, it's best to keep your JPM cruisin' in and around town, or at least under 70 mph. Fuel injection is coming to the Johnny Pag lineup in the future, as this shot of an injected 320cc prototype demonstrates.

Sometime in the near future, JPM will be selling larger-displacement, fuel-injected bikes legal for sale in all 50 states. Lifeng advertises a new engine on its website, using a bigger bore (62mm) and the same stroke to yield 320cc.

JPM's lineup has expanded again for 2009, with all but one of the six bikes being a variation on the cruiser theme. The oddball is the recent FX/3, a naked sportster with undertail exhausts that hits a different demographic. “We want to create a seat for every rider,” says Pag.

The new Barhog is JPM's most adventurous design yet.

Barhog
Rake: 36 degrees
Wheelbase: 64 inches
Seat height: 24 inches
Curb weight (claimed): 360 lbs
MSRP: $4,699

Based solely on appearance, the Barhog is the star of the JPM lineup. It debuted at the Indy Dealer Show last April and has already become a best-seller. Pag's dad built a custom Harley in 1979 called the Barhog, and this hard-tailed bobber is a tribute to that bike. “I can't lie,” says Pag. “I built this bike for myself.”

Available only gloss black, this peanut-tanked retro oozes cool. Electrics are cleverly hidden inside what looks like a bomb-shaped oil tank under the seat, and the hard-tail rear end allows for a closely fitted rear fender. Bump absorption at the rear is handled by a preload-adjustable shock for the tractor-style seat, which you'll notice has no upholstery. Pag says his dealers (numbering around 100 in the U.S.) couldn't come to a consensus for what type and color of seat to use, so it ships only with a contoured plank.

If it's possible to be a bad-ass on a 270cc cruiser, the Barhog is your vehicle.

A ride on the Barhog's unpadded seat proved to be smoother than expected, although you'll certainly want to keep your trips relatively short. The rigid frame proves to be highly responsive, and it has more cornering clearance than most other cruisers. Whipping U-turns requires much less effort than any big custom.

The switchgear functions well enough, and the minimal instruments are readable. Triple disc brakes are used on most JPM bikes, and the dual wave-style front rotors do an adequate job of slowing the Barhog through twin-piston calipers.

A special Barhog with mini apes, red and white paint, and red brake calipers will be limited to 199 examples.

A rider has to stretch forward to reach the controls of the JPM Pro Street.

Pro Street
Rake: 38 degrees
Wheelbase: 65 inches
Seat height: 20-23 inches
Curb weight (claimed): 360 lbs
MSRP: $4,699

Another recent introduction is the Pro Street, a low-to-the-ground cruiser with a Softail-style rear suspension and an inverted fork. Very attractive aluminum-alloy multi-spoke wheels (designed by JPM) are identical to the Barhog's, although here in gold, with the same 80/90-21 front and 160/90-16 rear tires. A 3.5-gallon stretched tank (with an aircraft-style cap) is accentuated by a stripe running the length of the bike. The PS's fenders are no great leap forward, but they are nonetheless aesthetically pleasing.

The riding position is quite stretched out, with a fairly long reach to the beefy-looking foot controls seen on all JPM cruisers – big guys won’t feel cramped on this bike, as there's also a considerable stretch to the bars. Stopping power is decent, but its steering lock is limited and the front end flops a bit during slow-speed maneuvers. Despite the upgraded look of the inverted fork, its action is quite harsh.

The Pro Street, like the others in the JPM family, is afflicted with the same limitations of the underwhelming and vibey motor. But it looks more expensive than it is, so it's logical to hear Pag tells us “it's sold really, really well.”

The Spyder has been a mainstay for JPM since its inception.

Spyder
Rake:
42 degrees
Wheelbase: 73 inches
Seat height: 20-23 inches
Curb weight (claimed): 360 lbs
MSRP: $4,699

The Spyder is the bike that began the JPM legacy. It debuted in '06 and has continued to be a top seller this year. When Pag first started, he originally brought in 400 bikes – they all sold before they even arrived.

The Spyder does a good job of masquerading as a larger, heavyweight custom. Its stretched chassis places the wheels a lengthy 73 inches apart, partly due to the fork's extreme rake. Its adjustable seat can be placed as low as 20 inches and its footpeg brackets can be adjusted for reach, making the Spyder easy to handle for even a 5-foot-tall, 100-lb woman, says JPM.

Key styling touches include a nicely shaped fuel tank with a chrome console, a rear fender reminiscent of a Harley Dyna and a tire-hugging front fender. No passengers allowed, as the standard Spyder has only a solo seat. The success of the Spyder can be measured in numbers – despite being JPM's longest-serving design, it remains one of the company's best-selling bikes.

Unlike the Pro Street, the Spyder doesn't exhibit as much front-end flop at low speeds, and a Softail-style rear suspension with dual under-engine shocks like the Pro Street is aided in shock absorption by the Spyder's longer wheelbase. Like all the JPM bikes, the engine's vibrations cause the mirrors to buzz and can be annoying.

The original Raptor is the least expensive way to get onto a Pag cruiser, but it's also JPM's clunkiest design.

Raptor
Rake: 36 degrees
Wheelbase: 62 inches
Seat height: 26 inches
Curb weight (claimed): 360 lbs
MSRP: $3,399

The Raptor was introduced two months after the Spyder, and it currently is the least expensive cruiser offered by JPM. But its age and price point are showing, as it looks like a refugee from the 1980s and is JPM's least-flowing design.

However, its $3,400 price tag is tough to beat. Helping keep its price low are a greater number of off-the-shelf components than other JPM bikes, such as the gaudy wheels. Plus, instead of the dual wave-rotor front brakes of its brothers, the standard Raptor uses smaller solid rotors that aren't as effective. The Raptor also uses floorboards rather than footpegs, and it's equipped with niceties such as a cushy stepped seat, crash bars and tank-top gauges. A heel-toe shifter is used, but its linkage has a lot of slop in it.

The Raptor we sampled was equipped with the unbaffled exhaust system which adds a slight meanness to the little Twin's character. Dual rear shocks provide passable comfort. The Raptors are the only cruisers in the JPM lineup to include a steering lock and remote choke actuation on the left handlebar.

The Raptor X impresses for its clean and unpretentious design.

Raptor X
Rake: 36 degrees
Wheelbase: 63 inches
Seat height: 26 inches
Curb weight (claimed): 350 lbs
MSRP: $4,299

Bringing the awkward Raptor into contemporary fashion is the new Raptor X. It's basically a blend of the original Raptor and the Spyder, utilizing a nicer tank, radiused rear fender and pleasingly shaped one-piece seat that add up to much cleaner styling than the funky, Chinese-looking original Raptor.

In fact, the Raptor X could be my fave cruiser from JPM. It's got a level of honesty the others lack, being simply an inexpensive cruising motorcycle with pure lines unadulterated with over-reaching flourishes. It looks like cross between a Harley Sportster and a Kawi Mean Streak that was left in the dryer a few minutes too long.

Highlights are the pricey-looking aluminum wheels, the side-mount brake light and license-plate mount, and the aircraft-style filler cap. “It feels the most put-together,” Fonzie comments. The Raptor X's biggest competition might be the reasonably priced Honda Rebel and its air-cooled, 234cc parallel-Twin motor. The 2009 version retails for $3,999.

With a limited supply of power, antics like this aren't easy!

FX/3
Rake: 36 degrees
Wheelbase: 59 inches
Seat height: 31 inches
Curb weight (claimed): 350 lbs
MSRP: $3,399

Standing apart from JPM's quintet of cruisers is the FX/3 roadster introduced near the end of 2008. Still using the 270cc Twin from the others, the FX exhibits a sportier character that is intended to give JPM dealers and customers a distinct option. Like the rest of the lineup, Pag performed the design work on the FX/3 and also smaller-displacement versions for other markets.

The FX is JPM's version of a naked Suzuki SV650 or Honda 599, although with only a fraction of the poke from the Japanese bikes. But if you only glanced at it, you'd figure it to be a much more expensive bike than its $3,400 MSRP. Especially groovy are the twin pipes exiting under the seat in a cut-rate version of an MV Agusta. The revvy exhaust note seems a better fit on the FX/3, popping nicely on the over-run and accompanied by some intake whoop at full throttle. .

The dual rear shocks look cool with their implied remote reservoir sections, but they seem to be nothing more than cosmetic and the damping is quite weak. Spoiling any pretense this could be an expensive bike are the cheesy off-the-shelf wheels that help keep costs down. A remote choke lever on the handlebar is one of the few nods toward convenience.

Check out the undertail exhaust and standard luggage rack of the FX/3.

We'll have more to say about the FX/3, as we've currently got one in our garage. Stay tuned for a review of it.

Summary

Although we only had a chance to put a few miles on the Johnny Pag lineup, it was long enough to learn that there's a lot of style to be had at a modest price. The only thing really holding JPM back from broadband appeal is the underwhelming and thrashy motor. Perhaps a newbie won't mind, but anyone who has ridden a variety of motorcycles can easily identify it as not up to typical Japanese standards.

JPM's mission is to get more riders on the road, saying it provides “top-quality rides for individuals without rock-star budgets.” Although we can't agree with using the term “top quality,” we can say that it's impossible to get a stylish cruiser as inexpensively as those from JPM. 

Designed in America and built inexpensively in China is the formula for success at Johnny Pag Motorcycles.

We shot plenty of video from our time with Johnny Pag – so much that we couldn’t cram it all into one tidy little package. If you’d like to see them both, click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2.

Related Reading
2009 QLINK XF200 Review
2008 QLINK Legacy 250
1996 Honda Rebel 250 Review
2005 Kymco Venox

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2010 Johnny Pag IMG_1129
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