The dragon has become a very formidable force to reckon with in the past decade. We might not like this fact to an extent, but the Chinese are getting in bed with everyone. By dangling cheap manufacturing rates as a bait, they’re luring western manufacturers set up their manufacturing plants. Moto Morini, an iconic Italian bikemaker is also one such manufacturer. Moto Morini has been living the life of a foster child, shuffling homes from time to time but in the current scheme of things, they’re owned by the Zhongneng Group hailing from you guessed it, China!
The reason why we are rambling about Moto Morini and its connection to the land of the dragon is because it has unleashed four new motorcycles on the Indian streets: The Seiemmezzo Street, Seiemmezzo Scrambler, X-Cape 650 and X-Cape 650X. Is this the renaissance of Moto Morini or just another loop in its rollercoaster of a journey? https://youtu.be/cqEb4HlpmjM China might be the place where they’re getting assembled at the moment but the company claims that its roots are still authentically Italian. They’re designed and developed in Italy and guess what? Their Italian headquarters are in a close proximity to Bologna – Ducati’s home turf.
X-Cape 650 X was the first Italian dish that we tasted. Before you can even pronounce Seiemmezzo, it becomes stark clear that the X-Cape twins have what it takes to be competitive and riveting. The overall design of the X-Cape is undoubtedly Italian, with smooth characterful lines and just the right amount of curves thrown in the mix. The X-Cape’s design is rather uncluttered and absence of unnecessary visual drama makes it look even more purposeful. Up front, it looks like an angry bird which has gotten even more pissed off. The only difference between the X-Cape 650 and the 650 X is that the latter gets a taller seat height (825mm vs 810mm) and gets tubeless wired-spoke rims.
Not only does it look good but the X-Cape also scores very high in the features department. For starters, it gets LED lighting all around accompanied by backlit switchgear which is a very neat touch. Moreover, the 7-inch TFT screen is not only a piece of art to look at, but also comes loaded with Bluetooth connectivity. Moto Morini has utilized the real estate of the screen in a very clean manner, with smooth animations and intuitive layout. The X-Cape 650 also gets TPMS which will definitely come in really handy out on those long highway jaunts. Moto Morini has pulled out all the stops while developing the X-Cape, because the cycle parts are top drawer affair. For instance, up front we get a fully adjustable 50mm Marzocchi USD fork and a preload and damping adjustable KYB monoshock at the rear. Sweet stuff, no? It gets better. The braking equipment are sourced from Brembo with the safety net of dual-channel ABS. Even the hoops that Moto Morini has selected for the X-Cape is going to plaster a smile on your face. Should we drop the name? Pirelli Scorpion STRs at both ends! Sweeter stuff, no?
The X-Cape 650 looks and feels humongous once you swing your leg over it, courtesy of the 18-litre fuel tank and a wide cockpit view. You would expect it to have the aggressiveness of a rottweiler but as soon as you get going, the X-Cape transforms itself into a beagle. The rider seat is nicely tapered off, countering the tall seat height and providing some mental relief to the rider.
The X-Cape 650 is powered by a CFMoto-sourced 649cc, liquid-cooled, inline-twin engine that is good enough to put down 60 HP at 8250 RPM and 54 NM at 7000 RPM. In terms of architecture, this engine is very similar to what we see on Kawasaki 650s. The powertrain feels very friendly and inviting, something that newer riders would definitely appreciate. There’s enough grunt in the lower end of the rev spectrum to keep the momentum going out on the trails. We would have loved to push the X-Cape out on the tarmac to get a better understanding of the potential this powertrain has but narrow broken roads accompanied by frequent showers played the role of an antagonist in a near perfect manner.
The 19-inch front wheel is a good compromise between road-oriented agility and the ability to transverse over rough surfaces. The X-Cape tips the scale at 230 kg ( with fuel ) , making it the heaviest motorcycle in its class. On tighter sections and while manhandling the motorcycle, the heft is definitely felt but the X-Cape still comes out as a manageable motorcycle. The Pirellis deserve a special mention here because they inspire a lot of confidence when you’re hanging on to your dear life, hustling a 230kg behemoth on slushy terrain. The suspension department also impresses as the X-Cape glides over rough surfaces with finesse. 173mm of ground clearance might not be the best in the segment but it gets the job done just right.
The Seiemmezzo 6 ½ range is quite interesting as well, which consists of the Retro Street and the Scrambler. The differences between both is that the scrambler runs on wire-spoke wheels instead of the alloys on the retro street model and gets a beak-style front mudguard and a small tinted windscreen. Once you’ve figured out how to pronounce the moniker, you will definitely appreciate how these motorcycles look. There’s a hint of Triumph Trident here and there but there are many visual elements to lend the Seiemmezzo with its own individual identity.
The Seiemmezzo twins are also powered by the same 649cc engine albeit in a detuned state as they put out a lesser 55hp and the same 54Nm as the ADVs. Just like the X-Cape, the 6 ½ twins also impress with their modern-day tech like a round, full-LED headlight, a 5-inch TFT screen, tubeless tyre with spoke wheels and backlit switchgear. The Scrambler gets a wider and taller handlebar as compared to the retro street, making it more manageable on the trails. It doesn’t get the same bells and whistles as the X-Cape like fully adjustable suspension up front but it is still good fun sliding it around on the trails. We are keen to discover more about these motorcycles because if priced right, they have all the ammunition to put up a good fight against their rivals.
Chinese automotive designers are notorious for copying the designs of some of the most prominent and already existing motorcycles. Over the past few years, we have witnessed blatant chinese ripoffs of motorcycles like the Ducati Panigale V4, Kawasaki Z1000 and even Royal Enfield Himalayan for that matter. But Zontes is different. Instead of picking the pages out of other prominent automotive designs, this chinese bikemaker is writing its own book! Zontes has announced that it's going to launch 5 motorcycles in India - 350R naked bike, 350X sportbike, GK350 cafe racer and the 350T tourer, and the 350T ADV. We got to sample the 350R and the 350T ADV and our findings were quite interesting.
The major talking point about the Zontes 350R has to be its styling because it looks like a wild imagination of a dystopian artist! It's the flagbearer of Zontes designers going all crazy with their digital pens. It looks very extra-terrestrial with sharp creases splattered all around. The front end looks like it is staring right at you, announcing on top of its voice that it just wants to bite your head off.
The 348cc liquid-cooled, single-cylinder engine is good for 38hp at 9,500rpm and 32Nm of torque at 7,500rpm. Braking duties are handled by a 320mm disc up front and a 265mm disc at the rear paired to a dual-channel ABS unit.
The 350T ADV is the only machine here to get spoked wheels with tyre sizes of 110/80-19 at the front and 160/60-17 at the rear. The 350T ADV also boasts of the highest ground clearance of 173mm while on the other hand, the 350R gets a ground clearance of 152mm. Features like a full-colour TFT screen complete with smartphone connectivity, full LED lighting and two USB charging ports are common across the range as well. Zontes also offers keyless ignition and a tyre pressure monitoring system, which are features we haven’t seen before on motorcycles at this price point. Dedicated buttons have been provided on the switchgear to access the fuel tank, underseat space as well as to lock the handles on these machines. Moreover, the windscreen on the 350T ADV is also electronically adjustable.
But this is where the good stuff ends. The engine feels a little gruff as prominent vibrations start spoiling the fun as soon as you start giving these motorcycles some beans. Out of the two Zontes motorcycles that we rode, the 350R felt like a better proposition because unlike the 350T ADV, it isn’t a sheep in a wolf’s clothing. The reason why I’m saying this is because the 350T ADV might look like an ADV-tourer at first but it would be better if you restrict your endeavours with the 350T ADV on the tarmac. The road-oriented tyres keep struggling for grip, making the rider lose all the confidence. The top-heavy feeling is hard to ignore either and what makes the matter worse is the suspension department. Even when you just ‘think’ of pushing it a little more, they start bottoming out.
The 350R on the other hand, is the more likeable of the two. The fact that we haven’t seen anything like this in this particular segment, also appeals to the 350R’s appeal. The grunt low down in the rev range is surprisingly better than the 350T ADV. Our first impressions made it stark clear that Zontes motorcycles might look the part and are loaded to the T with features, but they could have done away with a bit more polishing. Th overall ride experience doesn’t fall in line with what the spec sheet and impressive looks suggest. But still, if they price it right, they might be able to rake in good sales numbers, based on their looks and gimmicks alone.