2023 CFMOTO 450SS Review – First Ride
Features and performance for a reasonable price
To most North American motorcycle riders, China-based motorcycle maker CFMOTO is a newcomer when it comes to street bikes. Elsewhere, it’s a familiar face, especially in Australia, the Philippines, and the UK, where CFMOTO’s sub-300cc motorcycles and scooters have been sold for decades. But CFMOTO is now making a play for a share of the street bike market in America, and the new 2023 450SS is one of the high-profile new “bigger bikes” beginning to arrive at over 300 CFMOTO motorcycle dealerships across the nation.
Besides its own line of street bikes, which tops out with the 799cc Ibex 800MT Touring adventure bike, CFMOTO also builds engines for other brands, notably KTM, which has had a cooperative agreement with CFMOTO since 2011. CFMOTO makes most of the small-bore engines for KTM, but in 2020, KTM also charged them with making the parallel Twin 799cc LC8c motors. The company, also known as Zhejiang Chunfeng Power Co., Ltd., formed in 1989, and its U.S. headquarters are in Minneapolis. It has been selling powersports machines, mostly ATVs and such, in the U.S. since 2002.
I was able to secure a review bike from a local dealership, Sargent Motorsports, located near my home in Portland, Oregon. Sargent’s is the second-oldest CFMOTO dealer in the U.S., dating back to 2004, according to the owner.
450SS Overview – Tech and Design
The $5,495 CFMOTO 450SS is powered by a short-stroke 450 cc liquid-cooled Parallel-Twin that makes a claimed 50 horsepower at 9,500 rpm and just over 28 lb-ft of torque at 7,600 rpm. Fed by a cable-operated Bosch fuel injection system (not ride-by-wire), it sports four valves per cylinder, double overhead cams, and a 270-degree firing interval. The close-ratio six-speed transmission includes a slipper clutch as standard. For comparison, those performance numbers are just a tick better than the specs for Kawasaki’s $5,599 Ninja 400 Twin-cylinder offering. Fueled weight is stated as 370 pounds. According to a CFMOTO representative, all 2023 CFMOTO motorcycles are EPA/CARB compliant, including the 450SS.
A steel tube cradle frame holds unbranded 37 mm gold anodized USD forks with no adjustability. The rear monoshock is preload adjustable via a collar. Brakes are by Brembo with a 320mm single front floating disc and radially mounted two-piston caliper and a fixed rear single-puck 220mm setup. The 450SS includes dual-channel ABS, stylish LED lighting with a startup animation, and a five-inch TFT color display with two primary display modes. There are no ride modes, but the display does show speed, tachometer, temperature (coolant and air), trip and odometer, fuel level and gear position, music track info, phone comms data, and GPS turn-by-turn directions while connected to a phone and the CFMOTO app.
A T-pad on the left bar navigates the menus, changes music tracks, and toggles phone calls and such, including while riding. Front turn signals are on the crest of the long mirror stalks, and the headlight array features a white LED trim scheme somewhat reminiscent of the front of a KTM. The front turn signals also fold upward easily if you have a crowded garage. They do not function as marker lights, but there is a hazard flasher function button. The mirrors afford a decent rearward view and are easy to adjust.
My review 450SS came in a contrasting matte black and silver scheme with red striping and faux carbon sections. Wide winglets are sculpted into the front of the nearly full-coverage bodywork, which was penned with input from CFMOTO’s Italy-based design bureau. Thumbnail style review: Sharp looking, cohesive, and attractive.
Thumb the starter, and the 450SS comes to life with a surprisingly robust exhaust note and, once warm, idles with a lumping cadence that sounds burly for a mere 450 Twin. Both brake and clutch levers are adjustable, and the gearbox was slick and precise from the start, despite being a new, zero-mile bike. At 6-foot 1-inch tall with a 34-inch inseam, I’m a bit cramped on the 450SS, but only just. The reach to the clip-on style bars, which rise just above the top triple clamp, is comfortable. However, I need a tick more leg room, something likely fixable with eventual aftermarket support for footpeg placement options.
With a new engine not yet broken in, I keep the revs reasonable on my initial rides, but it’s not easy. The little Twin likes to spin up quickly and real urge only arrives above 4,000 rpm, although it will rev out cleanly from as low as 2,500 rpm in lower gears - but it takes a bit. Redline is 10,000 rpm. Fueling is even and predictable with a tiny lack of finesse off idle. With over a hundred miles on the clock, I allow myself some trips to redline, and given some room to run, the 450SS can easily crest triple digits and then go a fair bit into lose-your-license territory.
After I felt more familiar with the 450SS and adding in some rear shock preload using a small toolkit under the rear seat, I headed out for a day ride that put the 450SS to the test as the route includes pretty much every paved riding scenario from highway droning to sweepers to tight, technical uphill switchbacks. After an unusually wet spring that limited my outings, a warm June had the Pacific Northwest in bloom, and I rode through corridors of tall firs and tree tunnels of outstretched maples. Road conditions ranged from billiard-smooth new asphalt to bumpy stretches with more patched pavement than actual bitumen. The suspension performed well on all surfaces, but I would have liked a bit more preload in the forks, mostly due to my size and weight.
Riding along Washington’s twisting two-lane Highway 14 along the Columbia River Gorge early on a Sunday morning, I connect with a clutch of sportbike riders strafing the popular route, which is rife with sweepers, elevation changes, and short passing sections. The 450SS keeps pace for a while, aided by its comparative light weight, willing motor, and even handling manners. But eventually, the pack’s aggressive riding surpasses my safety meter, and I focus more on moving the 450SS through the corners on the race line at my own pace, tapping apexes and dialing up speed on the short straights. While it feels small to me (at least compared to my spacious 1152cc Honda Blackbird), the 450SS is willing and able. Rolling on the throttle in third, a very Ducati-esque exhaust note builds as the revs and speed climb.
Rounding a corner while heading into a long downhill, a fawn trots out onto the highway, which is deserted at the early hour. I have plenty of time to brake and avoid Bambi, but the forest critter seems unsure of where to go. Where there's a fawn, momma and poppa deer are typically nearby. As a test, I lean hard into the rear brake, and ABS activates after a tiny chirp that sends the tiny deer scampering up a hillside. Family members do not materialize, and after I creep by, I roll the throttle to the stop and click up through the gears on the downhill straight until license-suspension digits appear. Still, he 450SS feels stable and composed, even though the road is less than perfect, with small heaves and tar strips. Winter weather in the Gorge is not kind to these busy highways.
The rest of the ride remains deer-free, and I enjoy the twisting Highway 14 out to the Bridge of the Gods, which crosses the Columbia River and connects me to Oregon’s busy Interstate 84, a four-lane, 65 mph (minimum) ribbon of superslab crowded with semi-trucks, RVs, Subarus loaded with mountain bikes, and tourists relying on lane-keeping tech as they ogle the waterfalls along the Gorge’s soaring cliffs. In 6th gear cruise mode, the 450SS is turning 70 mph at 5,000 rpm. The small winged fairing does a good job of keeping wind off my lower torso, and the small windscreen does not buffet my helmet. The seat is reasonably comfortable, but while there are passenger pegs and a perch, it seems only big enough for gymnasts or children under 10 years old. I can’t tell if the stylish wings are doing anything substantial in terms of downforce, but suffice to say, they do look quite sporty.
I exit the Interstate at the small town of Corbett, which requires a high rpm, low gear climb up a steep and technical serpentine connecting road that was recently paved. I keep my cornering enthusiasm more at 8/10s, but the 450SS is certainly game for more. The bike is wearing Adreno HS AS5 tires from Chinese tiremaker CST. While they seem up to the challenge,I refrain from testing the chicken strips’ traction limits. Still, it’s a fun climb, and at the top in Corbett, I get a splash of fuel and enjoy curling along the clean and smooth country roads back into Portland as the summer sun heads for the hills behind the city.
While I’m just a smidge big for the CFMOTO 450SS, it was still a fun, stylish, and capable motorcycle. If I were 5 foot 10 or under, the 450SS would be a better fit and natural draw, with its sharp looks, capable engine, and quality componentry. The plucky P-Twin feels like it makes an honest 50 ponies, and the deep syncopated exhaust note under acceleration belies its true size. There was only enough vibration to remind the rider it’s not an electric, and every system, except the UI on the TFT, performed as expected and without issue.
However, the color TFT display, which is perhaps a bit too packed with information and could use larger fonts, sometimes seemed to have a mind of its own. Very often, I would come to a stop at a traffic light, and it would inexplicably switch to what I can best describe as “music mode,” with the track and artist I had on comms overtaking much of the screen, displacing the tachometer and relegating the speed and other data points to the margins. Upon movement, it remained in this mode instead of returning to the normal speedo/tacho display. A couple of button pushes on the left bar pod returned things to normalcy. It was more annoying than anything else. Another UI nitpick: When the tachometer needle swings by a digit (5 for 5,000 rpm, etc.) the number enlarges slightly (and needlessly), but if the tach needle sits between two digits - as it can while cruising at highway speeds - both would go into a spasmodic jitter that makes it seem like the display is glitching.
On the plus side, the TFT is sharp and clear, and the two display modes both look nice, with the “concision” mode more touring-oriented and the “classics” mode better for sport riding. When paired with the app, it can also display turn-by-turn navigation, but I could not get that aspect to function. The app also needs some polish around the edges, especially in naming conventions and phrases that are clearly coming from a misguided translation, but they are simple enough to figure out. In time, CFMOTO will, of course, suss out these minor annoyances.
On balance, the CFMOTO 450SS is a fun and feature-packed motorcycle with a performance envelope that delivers fun with a feeling of precision and stability, even for this jaded experienced rider. For a beginning rider, the 450SS would be tough to outgrow.
- Surprising power for a 450 Twin
- Good handling, easy to ride fast
- Quality components, many features as standard
- TFT UI needs some tweaks and a bigger font
- A bit cramped for taller riders
- Adjustable forks would be nice
2023 CFMOTO 450SS Specifications
2-cylinder inline, liquid-cooled, DOHC
Bore x Stroke
77mm × 55.2mm
50 hp at 9,500 rpm (claimed)
28.8 lb-ft. at 7,600 rpm (claimed)
6-speed, wet, multi-plate, CF-SC slipper clutch
Upside down telescopic fork
Brembo M40 320mm single disc radially mount 4-piston caliper
220mm single disc, single-piston floating caliper
3.0 x 17/4.0 x 17 MT, Aluminum alloy
Front: 110/70 R17, Rear: 150/60 R17
Length x Width x Height
370 pounds (claimed)
Nebula Black, Zircon Black
LED headlights, taillights, and signal lights; 5" TFT display with Bluetooth and CFMOTO Ride App connectivity