You want a big house in a great neighborhood? Then expect a big price tag. You’d like exhilarating levels of performance and durability in your automobile, but don’t want to pay prices at the top of the market? For the most part you can fugehaboudit.
The motorbike world is no different. Even down in the ranks of small-displacement machines there are sacrifices to make.
|2009 Honda CRF230M Specs|
2009 QLINK XF200 Specs
In recent reviews of this pair of lightweight supermotos we learned that each is powered by an air-cooled Single. The Honda’s ever-so-slightly undersquare 223cc (65.5 x 66.2mm) one-lunger spun off a max of 14.5 hp at 7,200 rpm and 11.6 ft-lbs at 6,300 rpm. That’s about 1.3 horsepower and 1.1 ft-lbs more than the QLINK’s 199cc (66 x 58.2mm) engine produced on the Hypercycle dyno. Many thanks to our pal Carry Andrew for the dyno time.
So, the Honda has around 10% more displacement, and makes about 10% more power. No big whoop, you say, it’s only a pony or so. True. But with engines of this size a 1 hp difference is noticeable. Account for the Honda’s longer stroke, and the sensation that it’s generating more torque off the bottom than the XF200 isn’t just in your head.
"...with engines of this size a 1 hp difference is noticeable."
But more importantly (at least to us), what dyno results don’t convey is how much smoother the CRF-M powerplant is compared to the QLINK’s mill. From wrapped-out freeway speeds to dawdling on surface streets, the Honda’s vibes are notably less despite the absence of rubber engine mounts or a counter-balancing shaft in the engine.
The XF, on the other hand, is numbingly buzzy above roughly 6,500 rpm. However, as we noted in the XF’s solo review, short shifting the 5-speed gearbox to reach top gear as soon as is practical helps quell engine vibes.
Speaking of gears, though the QLINK’s transmission was relatively trouble-free, the CRF230M’s 6-speed felt more taut with positive shifts as routine. We may have become spoiled over the years, but smooth shifts are just what we’ve come to expect from Big Red’s products.
The basic mills in each bike are fed air/fuel mixture by what have also become basic in this age of fuel-injection: carburetors.
The QLINK uses a genuine Mikuni CV carb, a respected brand of fuel mixers, while the Honda uses an equally competent Keihin constant-velocity carb. Fueling from each lightweight motard was good, and we were impressed with how easily both fired up after sitting unused for days on end. Also, we were keen on the Honda’s left bar-mounted choke lever. The XF’s choke is traditionally located down on the carb.
"...we were impressed with how easily both fired up after sitting unused for days on end."
Brake performance, like many of the key areas of interest on these machines, is where the Honda pleased us the most, but not by heaps. Both motorcycles stop the front wheel by way of a single dual-piston sliding-pin type caliper. The Honda’s fundamental front binder offered surprisingly good feel, but not infinitely superior stopping power.
The XF200’s two-pot unit squeezes a wispy wave-type rotor. Despite QLINK's use of a stainless-steel brake line on the XF, the brake has a rather numb, almost “wooden,” feel. Perhaps aftermarket brake pads might improve feedback. Nevertheless, it got the job done and stopped the bike.
The drum rear brake on the XF is an obvious cost-cutting move, but to our surprise it slowed the bike with more authority and better feel than the Honda’s single-piston sliding-pin caliper and 220mm disc out back.
Showa suspension graces both ends of the Honda. The non-adjustable 37mm leading-axle fork provides 9.0 inches of travel while the spring preload adjustable Showa shock gives 6.6 inches of travel. We’re not sure the source of the QLINK’s suspension or the exact amount of spring travel, as QLINK doesn’t list or make readily available such specs.
After having ridden both bikes we’d hazard to guess that the XF’s suspension travel is probably at least as much, if not more, as on the Honda. The clue to this is the QLINK’s claim of 1.3 inches more ground clearance than the Honda’s 9.3 inches. Generic quality aside, we did like the up-spec look on the inverted fork’s gold-colored slider tubes.
The Honda’s clean-looking exterior comes at the cost of all the functional bits being packed in very tightly behind the scenes. Not soothing news for home mechanics.
Each bike’s shock offers spring preload changes via a set of locking rings. However, getting to those rings requires legwork. Removing some hard parts, like the passenger footpeg hanger bracket on the XF200, is necessary. But at least with the QLINK there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. Just getting a visual on the Honda’s shock adjustment point is impossible without first removing the right-side body panel and airbox manifold. Eesh and no thanks!
The thing to take away from this is that both manufacturers think consumers of these bikes either won’t or shouldn’t be fiddling with the shock too often.
What these little Thumpers lack in cubic centimeters they somewhat make up for with spirited handling. The CRF-M’s 52.6-inch wheelbase (2.7 inches shorter than the QLINK) and sportbike-like rake of 23.9 degrees matched with 3.5 inches of trail make for a snappy handling, agile lil’ Honda. A pair of Dunlop Arrowmax tires that provide linear, predictable feel only enhance the little CR’s chassis performance.
As is the case with exact specifics of the QLINK’s suspension travel, the company also doesn’t fully list steering geometry figures. But we didn’t necessarily need numbers to know that the XF200 is also plenty capable of darting through the curvy parts of the road with aplomb — though steering response is slower than the Honda. Folks accustomed to names like Dunlop, Pirelli or Michelin might not be reassured by the unfamiliar brand fitted to the XF, but the Kingstone tires performed admirably nonetheless.
With bikes of these dimensions, weight certainly plays a roll in handling, and again the Honda has the advantage.
The CRF230M is likely the lighter of the two, with a claimed honest-injun fully fueled curb weight of 276 lbs. The QLINK boasts a dry weight of 271 lbs. Factor in about 17 lbs for the 2.8-gallon fuel capacity, and a few more pounds for the battery and whatnot, and a safe guess for a ready-to-ride weight on the XF200 should have it somewhere just south of 300 lbs.
While on the subject of fuel capacity, we observed 57 mpg on the QLINK while the fuel-miser Honda managed 64 mpg from its 2.3-gallon tank.
Despite the Honda’s 0.7-inch taller seat height than what QLINK says is a 31.0-inch seat on the XF, the Honda feels significantly lower in the saddle and makes it a better choice for short riders. Part of the low feel comes from thinner seat foam. Regardless of differences in the saddle, both bikes offer decent comfort for limited, in-town distances.
Still, the Honda simply feels tinier, almost too small for someone with a 30-plus-inch inseam. Otherwise, both bikes have an easy-going, upright riding position, with the QLINK offering a tad more legroom.
The Chinese-made player in this game offers some niceties absent on the Honda, like a kickstarter, for one. We also think the belly pan bash guard on the QLINK is especially thoughtful, as well as the gear position indicator, locking fuel cap and tachometer. However, as noted in the XF’s single-bike review, kilometers-per-hour is the primary display with mph minimized on the inner ring on the analog speedo. (Users of the metric system are having a nice little laugh now, aren’t ya!)
Clean up on aisle 2!
It’s a safe presumption that anyone in the U.S. reading about a Chinese-made motorcycle, ATV or scooter for the first time will have preconceived notions, mostly bad, about quality control. From what we’ve experienced on the QLINK XF200, there’s still reason for some apprehension about machines sourced in China.
In the first review of the QLINK we took issue with some of what we thought were manufacturing strategies aimed at pinching pennies, strategies that could, in the future, prove to be trouble spots, or at least points of annoyance and disappointment. Seems the little QLINK didn’t make liars of us.
Following the publish of the QLINK’s single-bike review, more time in the saddle saw the XF200 shed a couple non-crucial bolts. Also, the rear brake light wire was either not connected in the first place or loosened over time, explaining the failure of the brake light to activate when pushing on the brake pedal as noted in the first review. Unfortunately, the wire landed on the exhaust but fortunately hadn’t yet melted to the point of uselessness.
Photog Fonzie noted the rubber band-type mounts that hold the headlight assembly to the fork legs allows the light to slide down to the point that the lower portion of the light scrapes with the top of fender. “Easily pushed back up in place, but sloppy,” Fonz rightly remarked.
Finally, and most notably, the right-side passenger grab handle, made of inexpensive pot metal, snapped in two for no apparent reason. The breakage apparently occurred during a ride, not while the handle was being, well, handled. And we never carried a passenger or strapped anything to the saddle, using the grab handle as an anchor point. Bummer.
Are other bikes made outside of China infallible? Heck, no! We’ve had our share of little quality-control surprises from major-brand OEM bikes over the years, but not to the degree that we’ve experienced on the QLINK, or at least not in such a rapid-fire progression.
We started off this duel saying life is full of give and take scenarios. With respect to these bikes, the trade-off really comes down to a pair of issues: cost savings or quality?
Factor out MSRPs and we can’t imagine too many legitimate reasons, other than maybe the Honda’s somewhat confined cockpit, that a rider would choose the XF over the CRF-M.
However, as we recently commented in a previous review, we think the Honda is too pricey (and likely will only go up, as will most everything from Japan) when compared to Kawasaki’s KLX250SF. And if you’re willing to spend an extra grand and some change you can get Yamaha’s more powerful, fuel-injected, (partial) aluminum-framed WR250X.
The QLINK’s $3,100 savings over the Honda’s $5,399 price tag creates a lot of room for upgrades to the XF if you’re the mechanically inclined type, or even want to buy a second XF! And a two-year factory warranty (double the CRF's) might help alleviate concerns.
To its credit, QLINK recently stated in a blog on the company’s own website that it isn’t necessarily trying to compete with the level of quality on offer from Japan, but rather to “fill in the gap that people want more affordable price but still acceptable quality and warranty.”
Fair enough! We like some honesty when we can get it.