Last summer I traveled to Minnesota, home of the CFMOTO U.S. headquarters, to test the company’s new lineup of motorcycles. On a flat, paved, tar-snaked road course at the Minnesota Highway Safety & Research Center, about a dozen journalists and influencers buzzed around on bikes ranging from the 125cc Papio minibike to the 800 ADVentura adventure bike.
Launches featuring multiple bikes are like eating at a buffet: You get to taste a little bit of everything, but you don’t get the full experience of a dedicated entree. After the day at the track, I logged 350 miles on the 650 ADVentura, an affordable, middleweight adventure-styled touring bike with saddlebags, and I got to know the bike better.
But the CFMOTO I kept thinking about was the 700CL-X, a feisty middleweight naked bike with scrambler styling.
At the end of the trackday, when all the photography was done and we were given free reign, I hopped aboard the 700CL-X and played cat-and-mouse with two of my fellow scribes. John Burns was on the 800 ADVentura, and Ron Lieback was on the 650NK naked bike.
Our bikes were like the Three Bears. Papa Bear was the 800 ADVentura, with a 799cc parallel-Twin that cranks out 95 hp with a curb weight of 509 lb. Mama Bear was the 700CL-X, with a 693cc parallel-Twin that makes 74 hp and weighing 426 lb. Though hardly a toddler like CFMOTO’s Papio, Baby Bear was the 650NK with a 649cc parallel-Twin that makes 60 hp and has a weight of 454 lb.
Try as we might, with pegs scraped and boot soles beveled, we could not break ranks. We’d bunch up in the corners, but John and I protected our lines so there were no chances to overtake. We’d draft each other heading onto the front straight and then pull three abreast with the throttles pinned, but there was no fighting the displacement advantage. Burns would pull ahead of me, and Lieback would be on my six, filling my mirrors.
Chasing buddies around a track for bragging rights over beers is always fun, but beyond that, I was really digging the 700CL-X. A wide, upright tubular handlebar gives it good steering leverage, and its light weight made it easy to throw into a corner or weave around the chicanes made of traffic cones. The real kicker was the 700CL-X’s throttle response. In Sport mode, giving it the whip revved up the Twin, and at around 7,000 rpm, there was a loud below from the exhaust and a surge in thrust, almost like V-Boost on the old Yamaha V-Max. Having a $6,499 motorcycle deliver that sort of thrill took me by surprise, and I wondered, What is this thing?
Although well-established in the U.S. market in the ATV and side-by-side segments, CFMOTO is not a familiar brand for most American motorcyclists. Founded in 1989, the Chinese company’s first decade was focused on supplying parts, components, and engines to major powersports manufacturers. In 2000, CFMOTO began building motorcycles, scooters, and off-road vehicles.
CFMOTO has been selling its off-road vehicles in the U.S. since 2002, and after gaining a solid foothold in that market, it established its U.S. headquarters near Minneapolis. In 2012, CFMOTO began importing motorcycles to the U.S., but it met with limited success and pulled out a few years later. Reviews of CFMOTO’s motorcycles were generally positive, but American buyers are averse to new brands. Furthermore, many view Chinese-made motorcycles as being of inferior quality to those made in Japan, Europe, or the U.S.
Thanks to its well-established production expertise and capacity, in 2014 CFMOTO entered a strategic partnership with KTM and began manufacturing 200 Dukes and 390 Dukes for the Chinese market. In 2018, the two companies started a joint venture that allows CFMOTO to license and manufacture some of KTM’s engines. CFMOTO’s 800 ADVentura is powered by the 799cc LC8c parallel-Twin from KTM’s 790 Adventure. Starting in 2023, KTM’s parent company Pierer Mobility will distribute CFMOTO’s motorcycles in some European markets, an arrangement similar to the recent announcement that KTM North America will soon take over distribution of MV Agusta motorcycles in the U.S.
While brand or country of origin are important for some buyers, others place a higher priority on style, performance, price, reliability, and dealer experience/proximity. With an MSRP of $6,499, the 700CL-X offers good value and is less expensive than other middleweight naked bikes like the Honda CB650R ($9,299), Kawasaki Z650 ABS ($8,249), Suzuki SV650 ABS ($7,849), Triumph Trident 660 ($8,395), and Yamaha MT-07 ($8,199). The 700CL-X is covered by a two-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, and CFMOTO has about 200 motorcycle dealers in the U.S.
Here’s Lookin’ at You
Through its partnership with KTM, CFMOTO’s motorcycles are styled by Kiska. With its minimalist profile, tubular handlebar, bobtail with a one-piece seat, Y-spoke cast wheels with an 18-inch front, and Pirelli MT60 semi-knobby tires, the 700CL-X has the stance of a street tracker. Retro touches include a round headlight, a round gauge cluster, a single front disc, and a stubby exhaust shaped like a Foster’s Oil Can. One can see hints of the Ducati Scrambler in the 700CL-X’s tubular-steel frame, brushed aluminum tank panels, swingarm-mounted license plate carrier, and machined finishes on its engine’s faux cooling fins.
With the exception of its switchgear and the layout of its LCD instrument panel, the 700CL-X doesn’t look cheap, and its fit and finish are on par with more expensive bikes. It is illuminated front and rear by LEDs, and it has a unique, bright-white headlight surround shaped like one of those Craftsman four-way flathead screwdrivers I used to have on my keychain. The turnsignals are self-canceling, the clutch and brake levers are adjustable for reach, the brake lines are steel braided, and the cleated footpegs have removable rubber inserts.
Motorcycles at this price point are usually limited to basic features, but the 700CL-X has throttle-by-wire with two ride modes (Eco and Sport), a slip/assist clutch, standard ABS, and cruise control. Most notable, in a class where the most one can typically hope for is spring preload adjustment, often only at the rear, the 700CL-X has a fully adjustable 41mm inverted KYB fork and a linkage-mounted KYB shock with a progressive spring rate and adjustable preload and rebound. Brakes are supplied by J.Juan (a Brembo subsidiary in Spain), with a radial-mount 4-piston front caliper squeezing a 320mm disc and a 2-piston rear caliper pinching a 260mm disc.
Time to Ride
The 700CL-X is very approachable. Its dished seat is 31.5 inches high and provides decent support. The bike feels compact and light, and the tall handlebar allows the rider to sit mostly upright. Thumb the starter, and the CFMOTO’s 693cc DOHC parallel-Twin burbles to life, settling into a syncopated rumble. The engine compresses fuel and air with forged pistons that move up and down via fracture-split connecting rods.
Roll on the throttle, and the engine spins up quickly with no drama. Concerns about vibration and heat never crossed my mind, and the throttle-by-wire delivers crisp response without any vagueness or abruptness. When we rolled the 700CL-X into Jett Tuning’s dyno room and John Ethell ran it on the big drum, it sent 62 hp at 9,200 rpm (redline is 9,500) and 41.6 lb-ft of torque at 7,400 rpm to the rear wheel. The dyno curves show a notable bump above 7,000 rpm that corresponds with that boost sensation I mentioned earlier – a little extra kick in the pants to keep things lively.
Lightweight, modestly powered bikes like the 700CL-X are some of my favorites to ride. Unlike today’s liter-class fire-breathing beasts, I don’t feel any guilt about not being able to use the bike’s full power, nor inadequacy for not being able to exploit its capabilities. I mostly kept it in Sport mode because the milder throttle response of Eco mode felt like a letdown. If I were commuting or taking a weekend escape, then I’d use Eco and cruise control to conserve fuel.
But all I did on this test ride was flog the darn thing – I couldn’t help myself, and my fuel economy suffered accordingly. Pushing the 700CL-X hard through a series of curves was a blast, taking me right back to the fun I had last summer chasing John Burns and outrunning Ron Lieback. Some bikes just bring out my hyperactive inner child.
While the 700CL-X was solid and responsive and its suspension took a hammering without complaint, the single-disc front brake wasn’t quite up to the task. Stopping power was decent, but feedback at the lever was numb, and it exhibited some fade after repeated hard stops. A second front disc would probably help – or an upgrade like the setup found on CFMOTO’s 700CL-X Sport, a cafe racer version with top-shelf Brembo Stylema front calipers and an MSRP of $6,999.
After logging hundreds of miles on the 700CL-X on city streets, freeways, and winding backroads, there were a few things that left me wanting. The first is the small fuel tank, which holds just 3.5 gallons. (Other bikes in this class have fuel capacities ranging from 3.7-4.1 gallons.) During this test, I averaged 41 mpg, which works out to 143 miles of range. Exhibiting more throttle restraint is the sensible solution, but where’s the fun in that? I’d rather have more fuel to burn.
The second is the instrument panel. When less expensive bikes like the KTM 390 Duke – which CFMOTO builds for the Chinese market – have color TFT displays, the monochrome LCD display on the 700CL-X seems like an unfortunate way to save a few bucks. Other than the road in front of us, the instrument panel is the main thing we look at when riding. The 700CL-X’s gauge provides plenty of info, but the perimeter tachometer is hard to read, the text for some of the info functions is too small, and I couldn’t figure out how to reset the tripmeter without also advancing the clock by one hour. If I didn’t do the time warp again with each fill-up, I had to press the “Adjust” button 23 more times to correct it.
Lastly, the self-canceling turnsignals shut off too early. Hit the button and they’ll flash four or five times and then stop, which sometimes happens before the turn is executed.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve ridden and tested hundreds of new motorcycles of nearly every size, configuration, and style. Because my passion for motorcycles runs deep and my tastes are omnivorous, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every motorcycle I’ve ridden. Some aligned with expectations, some fell a bit short, and a few went above and beyond, exceeding expectations because something about their styling, character, or performance – or all three – felt special.
That happened to me last summer. As I worked my way up through CFMOTO’s eight-model lineup, the 700CL-X caught my eye because I like scrambler styling and I’m a sucker for gold wheels (which come with the Coal Grey colorway; the Twilight Blue colorway has black wheels). Then I rode it and was surprised by how responsive the engine was, especially that extra kick above 7,000 rpm, and it had a nice bark to its exhaust. It was also light, agile, and fun to ride.
The 700CL-X exceeded my expectations – not just for a motorcycle built in China, but for any motorcycle at this price point.
2022 CFMOTO 700CL-X Specs
Base Price: $6,499
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel-Twin, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.Displacement: 693ccBore x Stroke: 83 x 64mmCompression Ratio: 11.6:1Valve Insp. Interval: 24,800 milesFuel Delivery: Bosch EFI w/ throttle-by-wireLubrication System: Wet sump, 2.3 qt. cap.Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet slip/assist clutchFinal Drive: Chain
Frame: Tubular chromoly-steel trellis w/ cast aluminum swingarmWheelbase: 56.5 in.Rake/Trail: 24.5 degrees/4.3 in.Seat Height: 31.5 in.Suspension, Front: 41mm inverted fork, fully adj., 5.9 in. travelRear: Single shock w/ linkage, adj. spring preload & rebound, 5.9 in. travelBrakes, Front: 320mm disc w/ radial-mount 4-piston caliper & ABSRear: 260mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper & ABSWheels, Front: Cast aluminum, 3.50 x 18 in. Rear: Cast aluminum, 4.50 x 17 in.Tires, Front: Tubeless, 110/80-R18Rear: Tubeless, 180/55-R17Wet Weight: 426 lbLoad Capacity: 368 lb GVWR: 794 lb
Horsepower: 62 hp @ 9,400 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)Torque: 41.6 lb-ft @ 7,400 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)Fuel Capacity: 3.5 galsFuel Consumption: 41 mpgEstimated Range: 143 milesThe post 2022 CFMOTO 700CL-X | Road Test Review first appeared on Rider Magazine.