The $7,000 Question: How Much Motorcycle Do You Get?

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

We test the CFMOTO 700 CL-X, Honda CB500F, Kawasaki Z400, and Royal Enfield Continental GT to see what seven grand can buy

Photography by Evans Brasfield

Current generation motorcycles are increasingly complex and expensive, and motorcycle journalists are attracted to new, exciting things like bees to honey. So, if you look through many motorcycle sites, and not just this one, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that there aren’t many budget-focused motorcycles available. Yes, there is a burgeoning lightweight class (of which we have a representative here), but given the lack of media coverage, the mid-range budget bike has begun to sound more like a unicorn every year. Well, we are here to tell you that this is not true! And to prove it, we set ourselves to finding four bikes priced at under $7,000 to illustrate the breadth of motorcycling fun available in this category.

The $7,000 Question

These four motorcycles vary in price from $5,399 to $6,799 and offer a wide range of riding options for under our set limit of $7,000. Their differing looks, characters, and performance capabilities illustrate the wealth of budget-friendly motorcycling options available in these days of increasing prices.



  • Surprising fit-and-finish
  • Largest engine
  • Fully featured


  • Inconsistent fueling
  • Strange ride modes
  • Awkward peg position

Honda CB500F


  • Relentlessly competent
  • Great urban motorcycle
  • Best gas mileage


  • Relentlessly competent
  • Plain vanilla engine
  • Soft suspension

Kawasaki Z400


  • Engine punches above its weight
  • Quick steering
  • Good for smaller riders


  • Cramped riding position
  • Suspension lets down the chassis
  • Wooden brakes

Royal Enfield Continental GT


  • Retro styling
  • Soulful engine
  • Pleasant riding companion


  • Slow revving
  • Uninspiring brakes
  • Slow steering

To accomplish this feat, we brought in two Friends of MO to help out Troy and me while Ryan is on forced hiatus from riding. Hailey Arnold has written for us before about women’s riding gear, and we would have continued to use her talents had she not gone and gotten a real job at REV’IT! Joe Jackson is a new friend who Ryan met and instantly liked at Mosko Moto’s Dusty Lizard event earlier this year, and circumstances have finally aligned to get him to ride with us. With me (resident old guy) and Troy (staff fast guy) organizing the ride, we hit the MO Test Loop for a couple of days riding these bikes shortly after the recent hurriquake. Fuel was burned, meals were eaten, bike characteristics were debated, and the results are below in the order of engine displacement.

The CFMOTO’s graph shows the uneven fueling, but it doesn’t illustrate the V-TEC-ish change in character between 6-8k. The Honda just goes about its business, as does the Royal Enfield – just at lower rpm. The Kawasaki likes to be revved to the moon.
Exhibit 2 in the CFMOTO’s wonky fueling. The Royal Enfield makes a case for short shifting, while the Honda, again, goes about its business. The Kawasaki illustrates that with torque, there’s nothing like displacement.

The popular consensus about the Kawasaki Z400 was that the little 399cc liquid-cooled DOHC parallel-Twin is a ripper. It loves to be wrung out in the high rpm range – which is a good thing, since that’s where it makes most of its power. In its essence, the Z400 is everything we love (and hate) about the Ninja 400, sans bodywork and clip-ons. Our dyno graph agrees with this assessment, to the tune of 43.7 hp at 9,500 rpm. So, what was it like on a group ride with three larger companion motorcycles?

2019 Kawasaki Z400 Review - First Ride!

I’ve lived with the Z400 in my garage for several months, and it has been my regular errand runner for much of that time, with the occasional trip to the mountains. Beating traffic is an activity handled quite handily with the easy-to-modulate clutch and smooth fuel metering. I never felt underpowered the way I do on some other less performance-oriented 400cc bikes. When I let the engine sing, it never disappointed me. Of particular note is the smooth on/off throttle transitions, something I value in a motorcycle.

The mighty 399cc Z400 cranks out more horsepower than both the Honda and the Royal Enfield.

Hailey had some nice things to say about the little Z: “This little bike surprised me! Despite having a tiny 399cc engine, the Z400 had no issues keeping up with the bigger bikes. In fact, it consistently outperformed the larger bikes in power delivery and tractability in the twisties. The engine is smooth and consistent, but has just enough engine braking to allow for micro adjustments in speed without touching the brakes. I had quite a lot of fun throttling out of corners in the twisties, and it never felt ‘gutless’ due to its comparatively high-revving engine. Even a novice rider should feel in total control of power delivery at any speed.”

Joe stepped in with mixed praise: “Next to the CFMOTO the Z400 has the second most character which isn’t particularly high praise considering the rest of the field. Where it excels compared to the others is the extremely linear power delivery on throttle. The vibration through the bars is noticeable across the entire rev range, but only buzzy enough to be annoying at the very top of its RPM range. I love the tractability of the Z, particularly off throttle. Modulating the power to change your cornering radius was easy and confidence inspiring.”

Troy, was the harshest in his assessment of the Z400, jaded horsepower juke that he is: “The little 400cc Twin loves to rev, even if there’s not much to show for it. That said, it’ll still move you along quickly, and faster than the pace of most car traffic.” Yes, compared to the CFMOTO, the Z400 was down on power, but given the price delta and displacement difference, my feelings are a little more generous towards the little Twin. It has proved to be an entertaining companion in a wide variety of conditions.

The same, however, can’t be said of the Z’s suspension. Here, the bike garnered well-deserved criticism from all four of us testers. Simply put, the suspension’s capabilities reflect the bike’s low price. With nary an adjustment on the spindly 41mm fork and just preload on the rear, you really can’t do anything to make the stock suspenders better except spend money on upgrades, and the simple reality of a naked bike in this price range is that nobody is going to do it. Admittedly, we were pushing the bikes pretty hard, as we are wont to do. In the more urban environment that the bike is designed for, the suspension did its job of filtering out road irregularities. The truly sad part about this, though, is how capable the rest of the chassis is.

Calling the little Z “possibly the most sporty of the bunch,” Troy was a little more forgiving in his comments about the handling: “Being so light and nimble, it naturally gravitates towards twisty roads. Hang off a little and keep the momentum up, and you’ll glide your way through corners as well as any other bike in this price point.”

Joe, a former Ninja 400 owner, knows what this chassis is capable of, given the right changes: “What a heartbreaker. The chassis, balance, and engine in the Z400 are all tragically let down by an undersprung and under damped front end. Despite very good fueling, riding the Z400 at even a moderate pace in the twisties required the most diligent attention to hold its line. The second you so much as start to crack the throttle or breathe on the front brake you can feel the geometry completely change, and it leads to a lot of muscling the bike through the corners. I was lucky enough to have a Ninja 400 for a while with upgraded cartridges, rear shock, and brake pads, and it was an entirely different animal.”

Hailey had a taste of what the chassis could do and wanted more – to no avail: “The bike gives mixed signals; while the quiet whine of the engine at high RPMs and the capability of the brakes makes it feel sporty, the front end suspension under delivers so badly that it feels sketchy to ride aggressively.”

The brakes, mentioned twice above, were a topic of much discussion. The initial bite was good, but after that, well… You just never quite know what’s going on at the caliper. Should I mention that different pads might alleviate the issue? In the end, the brakes are perfectly fine, as a bike in this price range should be. The buyer for this bike is probably not a canyon carver, unless you mean concrete ones, but every rider benefits from the ability to trail brake effectively.

This time, Joe had the most to say: “The Z400’s initial bite blew the competition on this shootout out of the water, which is particularly impressive, considering the CB500F was the only one with twin front rotors. Unfortunately, this doesn’t transmit to confidence, as once you get past the initial pressure, the feel goes right out the window. I had to drastically change my braking style in the twisties to keep the front end composed in part due to the wooden feel at the lever. If you like to trail brake light and early, this won’t be a problem and it’s something you will get used to.”

Hailey, a supporter of the trail braking cause, was a little less aggressive on the brakes than Joe, and this probably explains the slight difference in opinion: “Initial brake bite could feel a bit grabby, but once I got used to it, I thought the brakes were precise and effective. In the twisties, trail braking felt so natural. I found myself building corner entry speed consistently throughout the ride, knowing I could trust the brakes to ease on and ease off with accuracy. Brake pressure built consistently with lever pull. I could tell the brakes weren’t very strong, but a little preparation dispelled any concerns about stopping.”

Troy’s opinion largely echoes what everyone else has said so far, “The Z400’s brakes definitely can’t be described as strong or overpowering, but what do you really expect from a bike at this price? There’s good initial bite, not a lot of stomp after that, but keep on the lever. It’ll slow you down confidently.”

One area of the Z400 united the riders in universal ire. The riding position is quite cramped. Yes, the bike is between 1.2 in. and 2.6 in. shorter than all of the other bikes. Additionally, it tied for the lowest seat height with the Honda, at 30.9 in. Next, the seat shape isn’t doing the bike any favors, as it angles forward, causing the rider to slide up against the tank. Coupled with high and slightly rearset pegs, and you have a prescription for discomfort. All efforts to scooch back were thwarted by the separate pillion and the seat angle. The handlebar does put the rider’s upper body in a nicely sporty position, though. In my time with the bike, my 32-in. legs would get cramped on extended freeway drones that didn’t give me an excuse to move around on the bike.

Joe gives us a great look at the Z400’s riding position. Note the bend in his 32-in. inseam legs and how far back on the seat his butt is.

I’ll let the gang put in their comments:

Joe had many thoughts about this: “I struggled the most with the ergos on the Z400, and that’s saying something when a continental GT is sitting next to the Z in a parking spot. The foot pegs’ height is a bit on the tall side for a naked bike, but I sort of prefer that. What I didn’t appreciate was how even my modest size 10.5 riding sneakers constantly found the exhaust behind my right heel.

“The seat cowl, subframe, and seat all intersect right where most riders will try and move their butt off the seat for spirited riding – or even tight u turns, making lower body movement, at best uncomfortable, at worst jarring while taking mid corner bumps. The seat material combined with a mushy front end led just about everyone in the group to slide forward into the tank at every tap of the brakes.”

While the narrowness of the seat front is great for reducing the reach to the ground, the shape of the seat as a whole had us all sliding forward into the tank.

Hailey concurred: “The Z400 has terrible ergos for sporty riding! Due to the butt-cupping shape of the saddle and intrusive bodywork, it was damn near impossible to move around properly on the seat. The only comfortable option is to sit dead center and lean your upper body into corners, which is a dangerous habit on such skinny tires! My right heel annoyingly bumped the exhaust guard until I conceded to rest it there permanently.”

Troy wonders who would like the position even less: “The footpegs are pretty high and back for a street bike. It definitely lends to the sporty feeling, but if you’re not moving around and attacking apexes, it starts to take a toll on your knees after a while.”

As is quite typical of Kawasaki’s designs, the Z400 split opinions, with me on the positive side, Troy indifferent, and the rest on the negative. One feature that got universal condemnation was the hard-to-read LCD instrumentation, which is quite dark (though not as bad as the Honda), and that’s all that needs to be said about that.

Let’s remember this shootout isn’t about choosing the best bike under $7,000. This is an exercise in seeing what riders, most likely new ones, with little money can get for it. So, I asked everyone to tell me who they thought this bike was for. I think it is for an urban rider who plans to do some commuting and maybe even use it as primary transportation (as I did with my first bike). The cost is the lowest of the bunch, meaning it will be easier to pay off and possibly move up to a bigger bike more easily.

Hailey’s thoughts turn to a rider focused on streetfighters: “The Z400 would be perfect for someone who aspires to own a super naked, but has the good sense to start with something small and approachable. Compared to other 300-400cc options, it is exciting and capable. This is a great bike for short or lightweight riders - including women entering the sport.”

Joe, who I think was ruined by his upgraded Ninja 400 and knows what it is capable of, couldn’t hide his disappointment: “The Z400 has the most potential out of every bike in this shootout, which almost made it the hardest to enjoy. Where the other bikes here take ownership of their flaws, the Z always felt like it greeted me with excuses ready to go.”

Troy, who initially suggested this bike for an earlier iteration of this shootout, surprised me: “I know we’re not picking winners or losers in this test, but for 7 grand, I can think of better ways to spend my money and get a more complete motorcycle.”

Every time I rode the Honda CB500F, the phrase “Relentlessly Competent” kept running through my head. With the exception of the LCD dash, the CB500F was neither the best, nor the worst, at any task we set it to. I know that motorcycles are supposed to be about passion (and I’ve got plenty of that for my personal street bike), but there is something to be said about facing every situation and just getting the job done, and done reasonably well. The Honda is just that type of motorcycle, but don’t take my word for it.

2016 Honda CB500F ABS Review

Troy cuts to the chase: “Overall, the Honda doesn’t shine in any particular area. But as a collective whole, it’s pretty great for being honest, dependable, fun, and cheap transportation. In typical Honda fashion, the CB500F’s boringness disguises just how brutally easy and efficient this bike is. And all for under $7000.”

Joe sums it up, thusly: “The most sensible bike with the most sensible tires with the most sensible engine with the most sensible rider in mind.”

Hailey’s views seem to align quite closely with mine: “The best bang-for-the-buck under the $7k budget. Excellent beginner bike for almost anyone. If I had $7k and I just wanted a zero-drama two-wheeled vehicle as either a stepping stone or a basic commuter steed, this is the bike I would buy.”

Now, let’s back up a bit and see how we got here. The Honda’s 471cc liquid-cooled parallel-Twin has an almost perfectly square 67.0mm x 66.8mm bore and stroke and delivers 43.5 hp at 8,100 rpm, placing it almost tied with the Kawasaki at the middle of the pack. The Honda holds that middle-ish position almost entirely through its rpm range. While the Royal Enfield starts out higher until about 6,700 rpm and the Kawasaki doesn’t pass the 500F until it runs out of revs at 8,700 rpm, the Honda has the most consistent horsepower curve and the flattest torque curve (with a mid-pack peak of 30.6 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm). Relentlessly competent, no?

That said, the engine’s power delivery when experienced from the saddle, is purposeful but not exciting. As an urban vehicle, it’s hard to beat the practicality of the CB, and according to Troy, “Normal riding is a breeze, there’s enough power to easily beat cars at traffic lights, merge on freeways, pass slower traffic, etc.” Hailey’s assessment was a little harsher, as she initially said the 500F has “as much character as a bowl of oatmeal,” but she ended up espousing the practicality: “It thrived in the city, hopping from stoplight to stoplight. The Honda took absolutely zero effort or thought to operate…. I see the CB500F as a mode of transportation: a tool, not a toy.” “For newer riders,” Joe thinks, “this engine provides the most forgiveness I’ve ever experienced.” And that is likely the whole point of the CB500F.

What the CB500F engine lacks in excitement, it compensates with reliability and the best miles per gallon.

This averageness carried over to other aspects of the ride, too. As with all of our bike testing, the route we judged these $7k specials on was a mixture of city, highway, and winding road. Given the city-focus of the Honda, none of us were surprised by the results.

Hailey considered the rider demographic in her comments: “The suspension is too soft. The bike did not like to be ridden aggressively! It was smooth and comfortable running over bumpy pavement, though. The plush suspension is a smart compromise, considering the target customer is probably an urban rider, not a track day enthusiast.”

Joe did find a notable flaw in the CB500F’s urban manners: “At commuting speeds the CB500F delivered by far the most supple ride. Hit any potholes a little too fast, however, and you will blow through the stroke in a heartbeat. [Opinions differed on this, though. - Ed.]”

Troy also noted the city focus: “Neutral would be the best term I could think of to describe the Honda’s handling. Yes, the suspension is soft and could use more damping, but it’s clearly geared towards normal street riding. In that regard, it’s very comfortable – yet still well damped to handle your typical city road.”

When it comes to braking, the functional, get-it-done approach is the focus here. “Well suited to the bike’s purpose,” Troy notes, “There’s good feedback at the lever, and everything just works the way it’s supposed to.” Here, I think, Joe hits the nail on the head: “Honda seems to be rounding sharp edges to make newer riders feel more confident in the saddle, and honestly I don’t think it’s such a bad idea.”

One area where the Honda did shine a little brighter is the riding position. As you might expect from an urban-focused, practical bike, the bar-to-peg relationship has the rider in a comfortable, upright position, for maximum comfort and view ahead. According to Hailey, the Honda was “just right - fits like a glove,” and Troy expands on this a little: “The seating position is roomy for a little bike, and the seat itself is nicely padded, with enough space to scoot yourself forward or backward. This should appeal to a wide range of body types.” However, it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. Troy’s notes concurred with Joe’s, which said, “The only thing that felt unnatural to me about the riding position of the Honda were the narrow bars. I can see why that might make the bike feel smaller and more approachable to new riders, though.”

The LCD garnered universal condemnation in every lighting condition. The tinted cover over the dark, mostly black-and-white information had us all struggling to read it. Maybe at midnight under a new moon the LCD is readable, but I even wonder about that. Overall, the comments gave the Honda points for its fit and finish. Joe speaks for all of us: “The combination of gloss and matte blacks across the bike might be controversial, but where there was paint, it looked really wonderful. The tidiness of the controls and seat comfort really made the Honda feel so much more expensive than it actually is, and for that, I give it extra credit.”

Though we have mixed feelings about the Honda, I just realized that I shortchanged the CB500F. It did win one testing category. It tallied the highest mpg, with an average of 57.7 mpg, besting the others by 3.4-16.1 mpg.

The Royal Enfield Continental GT, with its lack of a handlebar and, consequently, more stretched riding position, is kind of the odd duck in this shootout, and that’s on me. I was so smitten by the Continental GT from when I had it on extended loan in my garage back in 2021 that I wanted to recapture the magic. To some degree, I have, and the reunion has been a pleasant one. Still, when looking at these bikes in a group, the Interceptor’s handlebar would have made more sense. However, the riding position is the only functional difference between the two. So, these notes apply to both the Continental GT and the Interceptor.

2019 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 And Interceptor 650 Review - First Ride

However, we really need to start this section of the shootout with a short story that involves four motorcycles priced under $7,000 pulling out of a Denny’s parking lot in Santa Clarita, CA. As we rolled out from our gourmet lunch, a guy walking across the lot yelled at me and the Royal Enfield, “Hey, nice Triumph!” After a pause, he followed with, “What is that?” Since I was already past him, Troy got the duty of explaining what he had just seen. You should have heard the laughter over our Cardos. And that’s the thing, the Royal Enfield Continental GT is clearly the best looking bike of the bunch. While being a thoroughly modern motorcycle, you can’t shake the retro look and feel. And that’s entirely the point of the GT.

Slow revving but deceptively powerful, the 650 Twin ranked last in horsepower but second in torque. The RE’s trick is that it makes the second-most power until it runs out of rpm, and then the other bikes take over.

The 648cc air-oil cooled parallel-Twin has no aspirations of high performance, and the 39.7 hp at 6,600 rpm confirms this. Everything about it, from the slow rev-building to the low redline, reveals an engine that is under-stressed and happy to just get along at its own pace. However, the mill represents a big step forward for the manufacturer, with the parallel-Twin’s inherent vibrations quelled by a gear-driven counter-balancer, erasing the memory of RE’s previous generation of vibration-prone Singles.

A look at the dyno chart also reveals something interesting. Notably, the Continental GT makes the second most power for almost the entirety of its rev range, and only once it hits its peak at 6,600 rpm do the smaller Japanese Twins pass its power output. Additionally, the graphs show a linear horsepower curve and the second highest torque curve, meaning that there is no rush of top-end to give the impression of more power. So, one merely rides one long wave to its crest.

Troy also noticed the deceptive nature of the 650 Twin: “Yes, there’s a lot of cable slop (I guess we could have tightened that up), the throttle turn is huge, and the engine revs slowly. But as the dyno shows, it actually makes similar power to the Honda and Kawasaki, and more torque than the Z400. It’s able to keep pace until about 80 mph.”

Hailey found herself growing fonder of the GT the longer she rode it: “There’s nothing exciting about the power delivery, and I’m sure if this bike could talk, it would calmly assure you, ‘We’ll get there when we get there.’ There is something incredibly charming about the engine character. It feels raw and unrefined, which encourages a sense of connection with the bike. It’s impossible not to personify the Conti GT, imagining it has a little soul inside its thumping parallel-Twin heart.”

Joe, however, was less enthralled: “Imagine an engine with all of the character of a Triumph T120 with none of the performance [At a fraction of the cost. - Ed.]. Wonderful sound, small gobs of torque at the bottom and then never ending vibration at the top. The engine feels as classic as the bike looks, and as long as you are expecting vintage performance, you are in for a treat. Super friendly delivery for beginner riders but those with more aspirations will want to look elsewhere.”

And Joe’s not wrong if you’re running the RE up to its rev limit, like you would with the other three contenders here, but riding the torque curve with shift points just above 5,000 rpm improves the feeling of the performance dramatically by spending less time in the more vibratory upper reaches of its range without sacrificing too much horsepower.

The brakes were another area where the Continental GT required some adjustment from the rider. “It’s a relatively heavy bike with relatively weak brakes,” says the ever-practical Hailey, “so it takes longer to slow down. Brake pressure felt even and easy to control with precision.” Joe was clearly not a fan of the binders, saying, “Yes. There are brakes. This bike is heavy, and with such a numb brake feel, it’s a blessing that it offers so much engine braking.” Troy reminds us of the importance of using a tool for the task for which it was designed: “The brakes aren’t great, you need to brake early, and ideally, use both front and rear discs to achieve the shortest stopping distance. But if you like to find the threshold of braking, what are you doing on an Enfield anyway?” My feelings are that while the brakes are more than capable of a panic stop, they do require a lot of effort. Instead, the Royal Enfield likes to be ridden in a more relaxed way, easing its way into slowing, and as we are about to discuss, cornering, too.

The Royal Enfield’s two 18-in. wheels slowed the steering, and the skinny tires tended to interact with rain grooves on the freeway.

Turning on the Continental GT is similar in tone to the rest of the bike. You can muscle it into corners, and the bike will grudgingly comply – or – you can take a more flowing line, bending the bike into the turn at a slightly lower speed and be rewarded with a stable mount for your backroad enjoyment.

Troy lays it all on the table: “Nobody is going to be fooled that the RE is a performance bike. But if you must know, it tips into turns slowly. The 18-inch wheels don’t help, and you have to put inputs into the bars to really initiate the turn. It holds a line well and feels stable, which is the benefit of the larger wheels.”

Hailey gets it: “Once again, lower your performance expectations, and you’ll be happy. The bike responds positively to smooth riding and proper technique.”

Joe notes that the GT can be good sporting fun, just at reduced speeds: “Once you accept its lack of refinement, the challenge of keeping your momentum and holding your line becomes exhilarating.”

And that other component of handling, the suspension? Troy had the best take on it: “Soft suspension doesn’t do you any favors on twisty roads, but around town and on the highway, the ride was actually pleasant. Small to medium bumps on LA’s crappy roads weren’t much of a bother on the Enfield. And whatever jolts made it through the suspension were mostly smoothed out through the seat, making whatever hit my butt not much of an issue.”

As I initially said about the Continental GT, the Interceptor would likely be the best match for the other bikes in this test, particularly when it comes to the riding position. Both Joe and Hailey commented on how the riding position (and how it enhanced the feeling of engine vibration through the grips) made them think of shorter jaunts. “My only real complaint was the vibration in the bars!” Hailey continues, “If we had ridden any longer, my hands would have fallen asleep and my joints would have ached. This cutie patootie of a motorcycle is meant for cafe runs, bike meetups, and the occasional weekend jaunt - NOT for touring.”

Photo by Joe Jackson

Let’s wrap up the Royal Enfield section with comments on the category where it clearly won, its looks.

Troy summarizes: “It’s just a cool bike that goes about its business. And if you can’t afford a Triumph Modern Classic, which cost considerably more, Royal Enfield is a very suitable alternative.”

Joe manages to make me feel older than I am, while reminding me of my undergraduate degree: “Old men and film majors will LOVE this bike. It's a simple and rewarding ride with overwhelming charm and vintage flair. As much as I didn’t want to be on this bike, it’s the one I’d like to be remembered riding.”

And Hailey twists the knife further through my heart before hitting my exact feelings about the GT: “This is an old man bike, perfect for the guy that used to ride, took a hiatus, and now wants to get back in the saddle to relive his youth without spending a ton of money. It’s the poor man’s Thruxton. The Conti GT 650 does not overpromise, and therefore, it doesn’t underdeliver. If you accept it for what it is, you will have a blast riding it.”

The CFMOTO 700 CL-X entered this shootout as a complete unknown. We’d never had one in any of the MO garages. So, it was a first for all of us. At 693cc, it has the largest engine of the test as well as the most fully-featured. For example, the CL-X was the only bike with adjustable suspension and cruise control. Since the Chinese manufacturer is making a big play for this portion of the U.S. market, we had to get one.

2022 CFMOTO 700CL-X / 700CL-X Sport Review - First Ride

The engine looks quite similar to the Kawasaki parallel-Twin, but it bests the Kawi engine by 44cc. That displacement difference is due to the 4mm longer stroke (83mm x 64mm bore and stroke). Additionally, it had the strangest power delivery of the bunch. A quick look at the dyno charts tells a tale of problematic fueling.

Troy described the CL-X’s engine the best: “Power delivery is weird. It makes a lot of noise below 6000 rpm. After 6000, it bursts to life, as if V-TEC is kicking in. If you’re not familiar with Honda car engines, it’s as if the CF Moto has variable valve timing, or variable intake funnels, or a secondary (or even primary) exhaust valve that opens up.”

While the 700 CL-X made the most power and torque of all the bikes throughout the rev range, its fueling left a lot to be desired.

While the CFMOTO had two ride modes, Troy failed to see the reasoning: “In ECO mode, the bike makes a bunch of noise until 6000 rpm. Then you feel a small surge at 6000 rpm…before it just goes back to making noise. I don’t really see a point in it.”

On/off-throttle transitions were also troublesome. Hailey notes: “The first adjective that comes to mind is ‘lurchy.’ First gear leaps forward with absolutely no introduction like a puppy leaps to lick your face. In the hands of a ham-fisted newbie, this could be a bit treacherous. Second gear was also lurchy and inconsistent, which necessitated total focus in tight corners.”

Joe, however, enjoyed the challenge presented by the parallel-Twin: “This bike had the most exciting power delivery, but likely it’s because of the dopamine reward more experienced riders will get by overcoming the unsteady fueling off idle, and clamoring to keep the bike between 6,000-8,000 rpm. Tractability suffers the second you start to ride at a more relaxed pace.”

One troubling issue that required some garage surgery was the CFMOTO started the shootout with a broken brake lever. How it was broken, we don’t know.  While the lever itself was fine, the piece holding the tensioning spring for the adjustment function was broken, meaning that the lever flopped around if it weren’t constantly held in place by the rider. While this was easily fixed for our second day of riding, it certainly colored our view of the brakes on the first day. Otherwise, the single 320mm front disc provided adequate power.

Troy diagnoses the patient: “The power seems nice and the braking power is adequate, but not super strong. Normally, I suggest a pad change, and while that still applies, I think a master cylinder swap (preferably to a radial piece) is in order.”

The mounting points for a second disc on the other side of the wheel left us wondering about what might have been.

Joe continues to like the CL-X: “Once the broken lever was fixed I actually found the CFMOTO to have the best brake feel, though it lacked much initial bite. A new set of pads would work wonders for that first 5% of braking, but I found it the easiest to modulate and quickly found lots of confidence in trail-braking deep into the corners at a good clip.”

Hailey, with the smallest hands of the testers, was most affected by the floppy brake lever and summed up the experience this way: “Once we fixed the brakes, they worked!” She also noted that with her small hands, she couldn’t operate the clutch and turn signals simultaneously.

Naturally, this type of repair would be handled under warranty if the bike arrived this way, but we were pressed for time. This worked fine in a pinch.

During the ride, we spent a bunch of time discussing the odd choice of front wheel size. While the 18-in. front wheel, Pirelli Scorpion tires, and the Off-Road ABS mode point to some interest in the dirt (but the mode didn’t appear to do anything that we could tell), nothing else seemed suited for light ADV riding at all.

Troy weighs in on this: “The wheel size doesn’t really make sense. Specifically the front. I think it should be a 17-inch instead of 18. Then you can put proper street rubber on the bike. Let’s face it, this isn’t a scrambler or adv bike. It more closely resembles a (significantly) less expensive Diavel, even down to the awkward forward foot pegs. The 180/55-17 rear gives it a ton of tire options. The front is kinda limited.”

His comments also reflected everyone’s feelings on the bike’s handling: “The chassis was surprisingly nimble. Would be even more so with a 17-inch front tire. Still, the 18-inch front turned in nicely.”

Adjustable suspension on a sub-$7,000 bike? Astounding! Joe outlines the good and the bad: “The front preload, compression, and rebound are very easy to adjust and contribute to wonderful front end feel, even with the largest front wheel/tire combo of the group. Unfortunately, accessing the rear preload was a nightmare, so we couldn’t get the most out of the setup in the short time we had. The other surprise? Name brand components! KYB makes excellent suspension on a budget, and being able to dial in a bike this inexpensive (relatively) is a luxury you have to pay upwards of $1500 to upgrade on the other bikes in this shootout.” 

Another area that was the topic of much discussion was the riding position. While the upper body was comfortably upright, the pegs placed the rider’s feet high and somewhat forward. We’ve come to expect this from Harley’s with mid-controls, but the choice by CFMOTO was an odd one.

Joe’s ADV background made the 700 immediately familiar: “The cockpit of the CFMOTO felt like home for me. If you come from a primarily adventure bike background, the upright seating positions and wide commanding bars inspire confidence at every speed. The foot peg location felt like a bit of a compromise, not unlike that of a [Ducati] Diavel, but paired with a comfortable and grippy seat, it didn’t seem to bother me all that much.”

Aside from the pegs, Hailey liked the riding position: “The seat was super comfy, and the riding position felt very neutral to me. I was gently reminded to sit upright with good posture by the 700 CL-X’s ergos.”

We’ll round out our discussion of the CFMOTO with the topic of fit-and-finish. All of the testers felt that the overall quality of the bike’s appearance belied its low price and Chinese origin. Additionally, the LCD instrumentation was the easiest to read (closely followed by the dual gauges of the Royal Enfield).

Although Joe didn’t necessarily like the color, he was pleasantly surprised by the bike as a whole: “The color is reminiscent of a Volkswagen Beetle with giant eyelashes stuck on that your “cool aunt” would drive. That being said, I thought this bike offered looks that far exceed what the price tag might imply.”

Hailey’s parting thoughts are: “Neo-retro aesthetics combine modern lines and colors with an archetypical scrambler vibe. There is nothing groundbreaking about the design of the 700 CL-X, but it offers a fresh take on an overplayed genre of motorcycles. It has a fun and playful look and doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

CFMOTO appears to be serious with its entries into the U.S. market, and the company is clearly going for the value market with its feature-rich, reasonably-priced offerings. The primary challenge faced by the brand is the lack of dealerships and skepticism about the reliability of Chinese-built motorcycles. Only time will tell if they win over new customers, but as Troy says, “For a new player in the game, CFMOTO has definitely impressed me.”

No, your eyes aren't lying. Cruise control, ride modes, and off-road ABS on a sub-$7,000 motorcycle. The cruise worked pretty well. The rest...


Typically in a shootout, we announce the winner. So, here it is: Bargain-focused motorcycle shoppers. In an era where bikes can cost tens of thousands of dollars, it’s nice to know that thrifty options are still available. And we’ve just scratched the surface. Setting your price range slightly higher or lower delivers a cluster of viable entries. We’re glad that the manufacturers are making sure that affordable motorcycling is still a thing.

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Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

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4 of 23 comments
  • Greg Ess Greg Ess on Sep 12, 2023

    I've had the pleasure to put a lot of saddle time on an RE INT 650 -- I had the first prototype in the US that was provided to a journalist in an uncontrolled testing environment and I bought a leftover 2016 CB 500F that sold for $5600.

    Having literally swapped from bike to bike, the RE has a better frame and suspension -- one really notices when the bike is being pushed hard. Enfield didn't buy Harris performance for nothing. The Enfield's 650 twin is easier to ride -- it has a more torque at lower RPMs than the Honda.

    The CB, though, really shines where all Hondas do ... when one revs the p*ss out of it. Get the RPMs up and the Honda is much faster with way less motor.... the sound is a pretty nice howl, too. The styling of the bike is more modern ... the profile of the tank and tail section are actually straight lifts from the RC 213-3V, but the suspension bits are where big H saved the money. There's really nothing wrong with the CB that a RaceTech Gold Valve kit and a shock won't fix - getting one for $5600 means you can also afford it. I've ridden the thing like I stole it since new, and haven't had even the hint of a problem with it.

    • David K David K on Sep 13, 2023

      I had the same year R model. It got great gas mileage, but the rest of the bike was average at best.

  • Oscar Peterson Oscar Peterson on Sep 23, 2023

    I'll stick with my KTM RC 390

    • Steve Alkenbrack Steve Alkenbrack on Oct 25, 2023

      Yeah Oscar I totally agree! I ride a 21 390 Duke which I enjoy more every ride! Never rode an RC but assume it is right there with the Duke! IMO KTM leads the way!