2022 CFMOTO 700CL-X Review

With just about every Chinese motorcycle I can remember riding, there’s nearly always A Problem. Sometimes they look great on paper, and sometimes they even look pretty good in the flesh. But then you hop on and start riding, and are met with a powerband that’s more a powerhole. Or an ADV bike with two inches of rear suspension travel, or cast iron components that weigh 60 pounds more than the competition. If it’s not one glaring thing, there’s usually a combination platter of weirdnesses that make you question whether the monetary savings are worth the sacrifice for any but the cheapest of contrarian skates – even if reliability isn’t much of a concern any more.

From where I sit, on an Airbus 319 on the way back from Minneapolis, CFMOTO seems to have changed that all up. Fresh off two days of riding six of their seven models, I experienced almost zero wonkiness – and the only glaring thing I uncovered was a case of too much performance rather than too little on one bike. For today, let’s look at the bikes I spent most of my time on, CF’s top of the line 700CL-X and 700CL-X Sport.

700CL-X

Say, who’s the fat old guy? Oh that’s me.

What’s going on here is kind of a combination of a Ducati Scrambler and a Kawasaki Versys 650. CF has been supplying major manufacturers with major components for decades, and if the DOHC parallel Twin in this bike isn’t the Versys one, I’ll eat my bamboo ballot. Except that this one’s been stroked by 4mm, to 83 x 64mm dimensions – a thing Kawasaki’s never had the decency to do. That takes it to 693 cubic centimeters, and a claimed output of 74 hp at 8,500 rpm and 48 lb-ft at 6,500 revs. It feels almost as fast as a Yamaha MT-07 blasting down the front straight at the race track CF took us to on day one of our little press junket.

I’m getting kind of a half-off FTR1200 vibe from the right rear…

CF had said something about a presentation of their bikes and lunch at their small test facility; I was picturing a parking lot with lots of cones and a few MSF instructors in safety vests dragged out of retirement. In fact, after only a few laps we were seeing 100 mph on the 700CL’s speedometers at the end of the  not-so-short straight, and questioning the wisdom of going that fast in my new Rokker jeans and Spidi textile jacket. Luckily, there were plenty of fresh tar snakes to keep us honest whenever the pace started to pick up. But it picked up anyway.

Say, this could be fun after all. Chris Johnson is one of about 60 employees up there in Plymouth, MN, and they’re expanding. The company, not the employees. Chris wields a wicked carbon-fiber driver at Topgolf.

Seventy-four crankshaft horsepower feels like kind of a conservative estimate, really, and though you don’t have a quickshifter, you do have a perfectly adequate, slightly long-throw six-speed trans just like the one in the 650 Versys and Z650 Kawis, that gets the job done. CF’s not-so little test track is a flowing job it shares with the local gendarmerie and a truck-driving school, and it’s all about blending acceleration with lean angle and trail braking. Whacking open the throttle at exits, the 700CL-X serves up linear, smooth power from right off the stop – which is a good thing as you strive to combine the best line with the least tar snake exposure. It feels, well, downright Japanese. You could be riding a Z650 if maybe not quite an MT-07.

Behave yourself or you’ll wind up in the St. Cloud state pen, built in 1889. I feel even worse for those prisoners if any of the Moe Cason bbq smoke from our lunch wafted over that way.

Unlike the Japanese version, the Chinese one gets Bosch electronic fuel injection and two ride modes, Sport and Eco. Maybe the Chinese economize a bit when it comes to safety, but not in an unsafe way: On most motorcycles you change modes with a button, then shut the throttle for it to take effect.

What? Cruise control on a $6500 motorcycle? They said it couldn’t be done. Also ABS, slipper clutch, LED lighting, daytime running lights… Weirdly, the 700CL-X is the only model that does not currently support the CFMOTO Ride App, but the 700CL-X Sport does.

On the CF, you just hit the button. Swapping from Eco to Sport on the track is almost like hitting a nitrous button; the engine comes alive and puts out a burst of speed. Not uncontrollably with only 74 hp, but definitely noticeable. Also unlike the Versys, the CF’s fuel map gives it another burst of speed at about 7,000 rpm and all the way into its 9,000-rpm redline. It’s a spunky, fun little engine.

Linkage-mounted rebound-adjustable KYB shock controls the rear wheel.

Suspension is completely up to the task also, as it comes from KYB: a fully adjustable inverted fork with 41mm sliders in front, and a link-mounted adjustable shock at the rear, both tied together by a pretty steel frame. CFMOTO says the whole deal weighs 432 pounds when its 3.4-gallon tank is full, which is 20 pounds more than the Z650 Kawasaki weighed in our Middleweight Naked Bike Shootout last June, and 5 more than the Triumph Trident 660 that won it (on our scales).

Those suspenders do fine work keeping the bike on an even keel around the mostly smooth track, faster and faster, right up to the point where group dynamics and hot sun on tar patches have you beginning to feel the limits of the scramblery Pirelli MT60 tires the 700CL-X rides on. Did I mention it rained, and there were still a few wet spots?

700CL-X Sport

The Sport, on the other hand, rides on 17-inch Pirelli Angel GT rubber, has clip-on handlebars (high-ish ones) instead of the X’s aluminum handlebar, and slightly rearset footpegs. It gets not one but two 300mm discs up front, clamped by real live Brembo Stylema calipers. What the?

As such, it tears around CF’s test track even better than the regular X, right up until you grab a handful of Stylemas. I’m pretty sure the settings in the 41mm inverted fork the X and X Sport are the same, and the bite the dual-disc setup provides has the Sport diving like das Boot. It’s not really a problem when you’re riding casually, but when the pace picks up (and it always does), and especially when you’re trying to brake leaned over, it’s really hard to modulate pressure and therefore your trajectory, with the front end rising and falling, even using just one finger on the lever.

Cranking up the damping to max helped a little; we could’ve increased spring preload, too, but did not. Our CFMOTO reps think the 19 pounds more than the X that the X Sport weighs on the spec chart (451 lbs wet) is almost all in that extra front disc, caliper, and wheel – which would also explain its more flighty path around the test track. I’m guessing part of the weight difference is also in the Sport’s different subframe.

The Sport’s subframe and seat are different, too, and not really in a comfortable way.

Meanwhile, the single J.Juan caliper and 320mm disc on the regular X seemed to have plenty of power, and worked better with the rest of the package, given that 74 horses isn’t going to rocket you up to 150 mph unless you go off a cliff maybe. I’m thinking there’s an easy solution if you like the rest of the X Sport package. Just take off one of the front discs/calipers and sell it on the eBay.

Both bikes were a blast around CFMOTO’s sweet little track, way better than expected, with all systems working well together except for, again, the Sport’s too-strong front brake. Which is a way better problem than not enough brakes. Not too many buyers of these will be doing many track days, I’m guessing, but it’s nice to know you can.

On the street

Day two saw an intrepid band of us taking a spin around Lake Minnetonka via Wayzata, and I can’t remember when I had a more pleasant motorcycle ride. We didn’t really hit any twisty high-speed roads like we usually do on press junkets, but we did hit plenty of nice, sweeping two-lanes winding in and out of some beautiful places packed with big trees and beautiful lakes under scattered clouds. Strangely a California level of bug strikes, as in none.

The 700CL-X Sport, with its clip-on bars, is a bit more committed than the plain X, but not enough to complain about at all. The Sport also has a different tail section and seat, and I’m going to have to give the comfort nod to the non-Sport. In fact, its seat is excellent, along with the rest of its perfect, standard style ergonomics.

The KYB suspenders are on the firm side for street use, a thing you only notice through the bumps, but most of us prefer that to spongy (it’s why they worked so well on the track). Taking some time to dial back the adjusters would probably soften things up. 

X on the left, X-Sport right.

We dropped into Paisley Park to pay our respects to Prince. We knew the museum was closed that day, but the gate to the parking lot was open so we cruised in to shoot a quick picture. Just as I was observing to my compadres how disgustingly happy everybody up here seemed, while we were reading the plaque about peace and love, a very large angry man rushed out of the building and told us to GTFO right now! What a world. So what, I got my iPhone pic.

This is a great place to sit, 31.5 inches above the pavement.

The other kids had to catch a plane out, but I did not, and was happy to take off on my own for the rest of the day. Naturally, that was when my Cardo communicator decided not to, so I got good and lost but really didn’t mind. The 700-X is a big friendly puppy, happy to just get out of the house and go anywhere. Eventually I bumped into the Mississippi River and followed the river road to St. Paul and through it on Grand Avenue.

Tree ruins shot of my bike on Cretin Ave. in St. Paul.

Places with cold winters enjoy their green, leafy summers more. Everybody and literally their kids and dogs were out riding bicycles along the river path, and the ones without kids were soaking up the rays and suds all throughout the city. The 700CL-X is perfect for this kind of exploratory work, happy to putter quietly along; its twin will chug down to 2500 rpm in top gear no problem, and the clutch is nice and light too. With those blocky Pirellis, it might even get you through a St. Paul winter.

At any point in the proceedings when the road is clear ahead, feel free to switch on the cruise control with your left thumb to give your right paw a rest. 

Details

If our fit and finish isn’t quite top shelf, it’s damn close if not equal to the middleweight Japanese competition; NVH – noise, vibration, and harshness (lack of) – is right there too. Aside from that, these motorcycles brandish some equipment you just wouldn’t expect to see on sub-$7k machines – including cruise control, adjustable KYB suspenders, great brakes, nice wheels, premium tires. And to my orbs, they don’t even look cheap. The X sports some very nice brushed aluminum side panels; the Sport gets some faux carbon fiber covers, but it’s nice faux fiber, with no gaping gaps or exposed wires. The chrome-moly frame is tasty and nicely welded.

As for myself, I’ve passed the age where I care much about my public image, but I can vaguely remember the time when that wasn’t the case. And in those days I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen on either of these motorcycles. In fact I was feeling quite swank as I rolled through downtown St. Paul, right up until I’d catch sight of myself in a storefront window. Hey, hi-viz is safe!

Business is good

That’s the word from CFMOTO’s 60-ish employees in the US HQ up there in Plymouth, outside Minneapolis. Chris Peterman, motorcycle director, worked for Yamaha for 20 years from the dealer level up before joining CF not long ago, and thinks the company gets it. They’ve been at it since 1988 in Plymouth importing ATVs and side-by-sides, and did something like $400 million in sales last year. Currently there are 550 dealers of those offroad vehicles in the US, and 190 motorcycle ones. And these aren’t new motorcycles; they’ve been selling them overseas for quite some time now. In the UK, they offer a four-year warranty; in the US, it’s two years.

And now for the bad news: You can’t get CFMOTO motorcycles in California. Not yet, anyway. But Peterman says the paperwork is in the works right now, and he’s confident for 2023. That might not be a bad thing; I’m not allowed to say anything about the all-new bike I also rode around on til August 1. Ooooo…

Next week: a little about the other five bikes CFMOTO is importing for 2022.


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