Chinese bikes at the Manchester Bike Show
Chinese bikes at the Manchester Bike Show (and other oddities)
Once upon a time the mere mention of a ‘Chinese bike’ would send shivers up the spine of any British rider. Fast forward 8 years or so and we now find Chinese 2 wheelers heavily represented at northern England’s premier bike show with Lexmoto, Herald and AJS all showing that Chinese bikes have properly arrived and are here to stay.
Our own charity Veterans’ Garage Motorcycles had a stand there so I took advantage of the perfect opportunity to question many riders as they visited us and was pleasantly surprised by their answers. One of the Mancunian bikers told me “I have been riding for 30 years but put my bike away in the winter conditions. At these prices it’s worth buying a Chinese bike to ride just to save for the winter. I’ve seen well put together dual sports for under 2 grand and wondered how they could make a bike at those costs and still make profit.” One of the British Legion bikers commented “lots of the riders that I know have a second bike, something to pop to the shops or to work on and they generally buy a second hand Honda or Yamaha for around 1500 quid to 2 grand. With these Chinese bikes you’re looking at a brand new bike for around 2000 pounds with a 2 year warranty, it’s a bit of a no-brainer really.”
It has to be said that in the past Chinese bikes have suffered a bad reputation, not only for being poor quality products but also for the lack of parts available when anything goes wrong. This has all changed now as Daniel Frost from Llexeter (the biggest importer of Chinese bikes into the UK and dealer of the Lexmoto brand) explained. “It’s true that years ago you just had to pray that nothing went wrong with your Chinese bike as getting parts was a bit of a nightmare. You could contact the manufacturer in China but they really weren’t interested in serving someone with a single chain or sprocket. Many commuters bought themselves a cheap Chinese bike off the internet and soon regretted it as it arrived semi knocked-down; now if you’re just a commuter looking to beat the traffic you are not going to know how to put together a motorcycle. Also, the internet bikes came without guarantee and finding parts for them was next to impossible. Fast forward a few years and it’s a completely different story with Chinese bikes becoming part of the mainstream motorcycle industry market in the UK; in fact a few years ago there were more new Chinese bikes sold in the UK than Japanese! Quality has vastly improved as well as Chinese factories realised that there was money to be made in Europe. They sell fewer units in Europe than in say South America but the margins are much higher for them and so they place importance on the likes of the UK market now and the average British commuter is reaping the rewards of it.”
One thing is evident though, Chinese bikes are never (or at least for a long time) going to challenge the Japanese in the bigger displacement market despite all the “the Chinese are coming” headlines from the motorcycle media of years gone by. The Chinese attitude was best summed up by Ruby Zhang of Fuego motorcycles when she said “The Chinese motorcycle industry has really found its niche and is not really gearing up for much more development. There are certain companies that will try to produce something different but the problem is that they will always be regarded as ‘Chinese bikes’ and unless you are producing a commuter model which has been tried and tested- and is cheap- you might as well forget it. I have a friend who used to work at the Jialing factory who has partnered with some designers, got some investment capital and is making a 500cc adventure bike but he is asking over 3 thousand pounds for it. I told him that very few customers would be willing to part with so much money for an unknown brand. He replied that it was that price because he had used European parts and Pirelli tyres but I told him that that is not what motorcycle customers expect from China and that for all the improvements his product would still just be regarded as a ‘Chinese bike’ and that they wouldn’t trust the brand. China has a few exceptions like CFmoto but on the whole it’s a bit of a waste of time trying to compete with the Japanese to any great extent on any market except for the commuter 125cc-600cc and for us even the higher end of that range is a problem.”
For advice on the Chinese motorcycle industry contact David McMullan at email@example.com