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Buying a cheap new motorbike – part one

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There are cheap motorcycles and there are good motorcycles. They both exist, but rarely do the two qualities meet in one bike, especially a new one. However, the pricing of new bikes from places like China and India is very tempting, and the bikes are getting some decent reviews, too. So, could this be the Holy Grail of a cheap bike that’s decent quality too? To find out, we bought one. Here’s how that went…

Like many bike purchases, this one started with a beer and a text from a trusted mate. The text was a link to a webpage with rather tempting bikes on sale. There were more texts, and more beers… although it didn’t actually take too many of either to convince me that I needed one in my life.

 

buying-a-motorbike

 

The bike I was looking at was a CCM MT230 trail bike. No, I had never heard of one either, but there it was, as clear as day. It soon transpired that this was a bike CCM had built to fulfil an order of motorcycles for the military, to be used in demanding terrain all around the world. Somehow a few bikes were surplus to requirement, and available at a bargain price to some lucky civilians. These bikes were about as basic as basic can be, powered by a 230cc single-cylinder engine with a measly 18bhp on tap. But they were light (only 135kg) and had a relatively low seat height (845mm), so they would make perfect novice trail bikes. They were no lookers in their drab army green, which was the only colour option available. Yep, these were military workhorses rather than showroom beauties, and clearly CCM didn’t feel they fitted with their current brand image as purveyors of stylishly crafted motorcycles. So, they sat in a warehouse for years, until Nathan Millward, a supporter of big adventures on small bikes, bought the lot off CCM and sold them on to people who wanted simple, small and easy to ride and maintain bikes to explore the roads less travelled. I was one of those people. I wanted big adventures without the hassles and expense of big bikes. I was in.

 

motorbike-dash

 

What the MT230 is, in essence, is a Chinese copy of a Honda CRF230L. As far as I can see, it is as identical to the Honda as budget components and a relaxed quality control will allow. You could argue that the bike has pedigree, as the Honda still has a good reputation as a simple trail bike, and you would think that something of the Honda quality must trickle through even when it’s squeezed through the low-cost funnel. Here’s hoping!

The MT230 was a brand-new, zero-miles bike, even though it had spent some time in a warehouse before Nathan rescued them. And this was a genuinely cheap bike: it cost me £2300. That’s not a lot for a new trail bike. Not very much at all. If you wanted to buy the Honda CRF300L, the current incarnation of Honda’s gentle trail bike, it would set you back £5799, although admittedly it has been much improved from the old CRF230L. But even if you went for a cheaper Chinese brand, smaller capacity, and moved further away from a trail-focused bike, you would be looking at a lot more money. Take for instance the Sinnis Terrain, a Chinese 125cc adventure bike that really isn’t particularly good on green lanes, and which costs £3599 plus on the road charges.

 

green-army-coloured-motorbikes

 

Picking the pike up at Nathan’s place in Devon was a joy. It looked like a real bike, not a toy. And it looked purposeful and capable. Maybe it was just the utilitarian army colour scheme, but to me this looked like a machine to be reckoned with. When I first sat on it, it felt light and easy to manage. On the small side perhaps, but I thought that was a good thing in a trail bike for a novice like me. It also came with a rear rack and some brackets at the side of it for a rifle holder and other military gear. Might be handy… I generally don’t take a gun when I ride, but they might do as a makeshift luggage frame?

I couldn’t wait to get the bike home and test it on the road and trails. But first, I wanted to get it checked over by someone who knows their bikes. That wasn’t me. That was Carl at my local bike shop and service centre MIS UK LTD in Newark. I gave him a call before I got too carried away riding my new bike so that he could have a look and see if it would actually stand a chance of surviving if I took it to the lanes.

But that’s a whole new story, which we can pick up in another instalment!

Read part two of this feature here.

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