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CFMOTO 800MT TOURING REVIEW | OFFROAD ON THE LOW PRICE ADVENTURE TOURER

The CFMOTO 800MT on a dirt road
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The CFMOTO 800MT on grassy hill
Away from the blacktop is where the best riding begins

STORY AND PHOTOS – DAMIEN ASHENHURST

Few 2022 releases have attracted the amount of curiosity as the CFMOTO 800MT and few have garnered the level of cynicism.

To a degree, this is understandable. The 800MT is a Chinese-owned and built adventure tourer; a rare formula that doesn’t conjure up images of intrepid explorers on faithful motorcycles travelling distant lands.

The fact is, it doesn’t conjure up any image at all, so unaccustomed are we to that particular formula.

CFMOTO is setting itself as something of a trailblazer in this segment. This is the first Chinese bike offered to the adventure market showing decent specs on paper.

However, if you took a poll of riders as to their feelings on a Chinese adventure bike, they’d almost certainly and in the majority state that they believe it would be poorly built.

So, how can CFMOTO change stubborn minds?

CFMOTO 800MT WITH THE LOT

The aluminium panniers are optional, but the mounting racks are standard

Well, first of all, CFMOTO is a massive manufacturer, and you could well be riding a bike built in its factory for another brand, or on one of its many in-house models. If not, you may have seen one of the more than 600,000 ATVs and side-by-sides they produce a year.

But CFMOTO surely knows that the 800MT will be judged in a vacuum and in a market that’s stressful on equipment. To get your attention, this bike has to offer something that others don’t.

And to address that, the company has thrown an awful lot of standard equipment at the bike and are offering it at the tempting price of $14,490 for the Touring model ($12,990 for the road-biased Sport model).

To put that into perspective, Suzuki’s V-Strom 650XT is $13,490 Ride Away, the Kawasaki KLR650 is $11,350 and Honda’s CB500X is $10,940 (check local pricing). The Yamaha Tenere 700 that was just over $15 grand in 2020 is now an eye-watering $19,399 with zero updates.

Suzuki’s V-Strom 650XT is a well-proven adventure tourer

These are all well-proven motorcycles, yet none offers anything like what the CFMOTO does when it comes to standard equipment.

Let’s go through the impressive list.

  • Tyre pressure monitoring
  • Heated seat
  • Heated grips
  • Two ride modes
  • Centre stand
  • Bashplate
  • Crash bars
  • Fog lights
  • Steering Damper
  • Dual charging points
  • Cruise Control
  • Quickshift
  • 7-inch TFT display
  • Handguards
  • Spoked wheels
  • Adjustable screen
  • Luggage rack
  • Rear grab handles
  • Length adjustable gear lever

You have to go searching well above $20,000 before you’ll find a stock bike approaching this much onboard from day one.

The value proposition is that the bike is on the cheaper end of the scale and that the engine is the same as found in the KTM 790 Adventure (built by CFMOTO), and the suspension is by Japanese company, Kayaba. To top that off, it comes with that massive amount of farkles that others either charge extra for or in many cases, don’t offer at all.

CFMOTO has built a bike that offers more ‘on-the-floor’ value than its competition to offset the fact that it won’t have the resale value they offer. Given at the lower prices these are often marginal numbers, this is a smart strategy.

The 800MT in its happy place

This is how Korean cars infiltrated the motoring market. It’s a proven method, but there is still a need to prove the product and in these first 12 months, little issues can take on epic proportions on the internet. Have you seen how upset grown men and women get on Twitter about what shirt a newsreader is wearing?

And those issues can feed into the anti-Chinese-made sentiment, which isn’t rooted in fantasy but can be overblown. There was a time when ‘Made in Japan’ was the punchline to a joke. In time, it became the bar set for others to match.

But let’s put the country of origin aside for a moment and look at the bike for what it is. Let’s go for a ride.

Damo in his happy place

TAKING A WARM SEAT

I found the ergos to be comfortable straight away and never moved a lever nor the ‘bars. The seat is softer than most and comfortable, with a noticeably elevated step-up to the pillion seat (which is not heated as standard but there is a heated option).

The bike feels reasonably narrow down to the pegs and a little wide at the tank, but not uncomfortably so.

The ‘bars are not quite as wide as is the fashion of the moment while the switchblocks are very basic but easy to reach and operate. On the left side you have the horn, blinkers, cruise control and two rocker switches that control the menu system.

There’s also a fog light switch and a decent amount of room left on the ‘bars to mount a phone or GPS.
The handguards aren’t particularly effective beyond being windbreakers, but the windscreen is pretty good and adjustable which is a nice touch. There are two charging points on offer with one presenting a dual USB and the other a standard 12-volt outlet. Full marks to that set-up.

The TFT screen is good and the menu system is pretty simple to use – the free app seems junky though and offers nothing you absolutely need

The 7-inch TFT screen isn’t as graphically flash as a KTM’s but it’s a good effort that’s easy to read in all light. The bike’s electronics are relatively simple and this permits a clean display with less of a feed of info demanding your attention.

Down below, the footpegs are OK. The brake lever is massive, the gear lever is length adjustable and while we’re looking at the bottom bits, the bashplate is welcome but fairly lightweight.

ON THE DIRT

This is what it is all about and we got a lot of this on the 800MT. Obviously before it started raining biblically in NSW

The engine note is reminiscent of the 790 Adventure but not identical – nor is its output. It’s very quiet and governed strongly by the stock exhaust (the catalytic converter on the 800MT is huge) which I’m told can be swapped out for any, unit that fits a KTM 790 which opens up a lot of options to boost the mumbo.

The early fuelling isn’t spot-on and given the 800MT doesn’t offer traction control, pulling from a stop in the dirt the early jump breaks traction unless you’re precise with the throttle. It’s not dramatic and I suspect a future ECU update should fix the issue, but it does become more of an issue in technical terrain.
On my first few rides, I took a long-ish road section that wound out of the suburbs and onto the freeway, back into the burbs, then rural areas and out onto dirt roads.

Staying on the dirt roads and at a reasonable pace, the 800MT excels and doesn’t leave you wanting more in any department

The bike’s road manners are pretty sharp. The engine has enough spark to be fun, to pull happily at 110kph and it’s so quiet you rarely hear it at work. The suspension was firmed a little from standard and it sat well in corners.

It’s clear early that the 800MT would be a very nice weekday commuter which is imperative for this model to thrive and a more than a little bit of fun on twisty road sections.

Upon hitting the dirt, I found that the front end was pretty well planted. CFMOTO got the suspension right by fitting Kayaba but if the chassis was a mess, you’d find the front tucks or in the case of the Benelli TRK502X, understeers like an ocean liner.

The 800MT isn’t what I’d call precise, but more often than not it goes where you point it and holds traction.

You can explore far and wide when you’re comfortable and confident with your bike

The top-heavy feel of the bike impedes an easy tip-in to a degree, but you’ll lament this mostly if you ride aggressively and the 800MT isn’t about that life. It’s a traditional adventure tourer that isn’t here to sky off drainage humps, but to offer a platform for multiple surfaces and long days.

The chassis/suspension combo extends enough feel to work the rear end and bring the back around which is important on any bike that weighs over 200kgs, but if you hit anything square edged while you’re getting all Jason Crump, the bike will get upset. In this way it behaves a lot like the 790 Adventure with WP Apex suspension.

The six-speed gearbox offers Quickshift for clutchless shifting and as you’d expect it feels a lot like it does on a KTM. It’s fairly sensitive to the touch and prone to missing the occasional shift between 5th and 6th (again, familiar for KTM riders), but overall it is a good thing to have when you’re riding offroad.

The 799cc is licensed from KTM in a joint venture that seems to be working well for both companies

Power delivery from the 799cc engine is smooth across most of the rev range. It’s an easy engine to spend a day with, never threatening a scare but not boring. I found the bike to be well suited to the open dirt roads and that was as much down to the engine as the handling package.

It’s a bike that likes to keep a constant flow and can do so at a decent speed with confidence and comfort.

It doesn’t show its limitations until you get more technical.

There are two ride modes to choose from in Sport and Rain. Sport is where you would spend 95% of the time. Rain is greatly dulled and I only used it when I entered a pretty rough and slippery section of trail.
After a couple of days on flowing dirt roads, I headed into a tricky, wet and rocky section of the bush to see how the 800MT performed when things got more difficult.

Fog lights and crash bars are standard

On the day, the conditions were pretty horrid and it became clear quickly that this is not the natural habitat of the CFMOTO, nor would it be another half dozen adventure bikes I could name off the top of my head.

The main issues stem from the top-heavy feel that makes it a wrestle to shift the balance point and not let it go too far when it comes time to prevent a drop. The rough early fuelling made it tricky to maintain traction and pick through slower snotty sections.

And while the J. Juan brakes are good, the ABS is non-switchable and the 19/17-inch wheelset isn’t at home in this type of stuff.

Essentially, nothing about the 800MT says let’s go riding here, so it should be no surprise it’s not comfortable and to persist is only tempting failure of componentry. This isn’t a KTM clone so don’t ride it like a 790 Adventure.

That sounds like a good idea to us…

And a lot of riders may never see a trail like this. It’s an enduro trail (literally at the back of an Aussie enduro champs house), and not representative of the average adventure ride.

It shows the limits of the bike but, to be honest, I don’t think I’d have a blast in there on my Africa Twin AS which cost twice the price.

So, I headed back to the dirt roads for another full day. And I had a blast because the fundamentals are all there for you to enjoy that kind of riding, with some special touches that make it even more pleasing like the heated grips, heated seat and cruise control.

The basic switchblock is a gift after using an Africa Twin’s monstrosity

You know what else is best suited to these types of rides? A Ducati Multistrada V4s is. So is the Harley Davidson Pan America. These are bikes that cost over $30,000 and top out at about $40,000. They would be no fun in that technical section either and feel best on the same terrain the CFMOTO does…for $14,490.

And would I have had a $25,000 better day on one of those pure-bred machines?

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

It cuts a decent figure and the build quality seems to be above the level we expected to find

The lack of switchable ABS but the addition of tyre pressure monitors seems silly. I can certainly live without one and very much prefer the other. The ABS does allow an amount of lock-up at the rear but to gain back full control, a fuse bypass switch will be needed.

Including very mild traction control would help get more out of the engine and at least raise the fun factor with something of an electronic safety net.

The air filter access is OK (again, better than my Africa Twin), but the way it’s seated in the airbox is a little…odd. It could be better secured than it is with some simple clips at least.

CFMOTO is looking to become a household name in the west and it’s off to a solid start

And finally…will it last?

This is a big question, and it will determine the long-term viability of this model. The build quality exceeded my expectations and absolutely nothing broke or seemed stressed from the 1000-odd kilometres I did test riding.

The honest answer is that I don’t know. While there will no doubt be niggling issues found, I believe the 800MT is a good thing. I didn’t see any reason to doubt that this bike will last and succeed and believe me, we need it to before we price new riders out of the adventure market altogether. Even used bikes have been mental prices for a while.

The 800MT offers more than the price-competitive models and bolt-ons are being introduced faster than Marvel sequels. There’s a lot to like here.

Taking in another sunset before heading home

It’s the rethink of a Chinese offering that will be the pain point for a lot of buyers. This will only be overcome through time and seeing other riders enjoying their time on the bike without hearing horror stories. And it’s worth remembering that a lot of people are riding Chinese-built bikes with Japanese or European badges without even knowing it.

The bike is selling well in Australia and I reckon it will continue that way. I genuinely enjoyed my time on the 800MT Touring. Staying on the routes that suit the bike the best, it was a pleasure to ride with no glaring or unrepairable flaws.

SPECIAL DELIVERY

CFMOTO has recently announced its limited-edition 800MT Touring in a Sandstone Yellow finish that will be offered in Australia at $16,490 Ride Away. Only 50 bikes will be made available for Aussie buyers and each will come with aluminium panniers and top case as well as Barkbuster handguards.

CFMOTO 800MT TOURER PHOTO GALLERY