After 12 months of fun on the little adventure bike that could, it was time for Nick to hand back the keys from the CFMOTO 650MT. Read his final wrap up below...
There’s something quite strange in our relationship with bikes. They’re an array of various electrical and mechanical components that come together with one real purpose – to transport us from A to B… But sometimes, you get a real special one…
Now before I get too far into this, you’re probably thinking “But Nick, you don’t understand – they’re so much more than that” and you’re right, they are! I only start with this as it’s been on my mind since returning the 650MT late last month. As I rolled it up onto the transport trailer I was rather upset, I’d grown quite fond of the thing as I laughed to my partner, “It’s like saying goodbye to a friend moving overseas, a family home, or family car that you’d had your entire life”. She laughed, “You’ll get another next week!”
See all of Nick’s updates on the 650MT here…
It was this last part that got me thinking – what is it about vehicles that induce such a friendship – such an emotional connection? I didn’t want another bike; I wanted another ride out on the 650! Over the next month I had bikes lined up worth four times the 650MT, with triple the horsepower and far more advanced technology. Why did I even care that it was going?
Several thoughts entered my head as I sipped my frosty Carlton Draught on the balcony, whether it was in memoriam for the passing of my 650MT or I’d had a few too many – you know how we all get… Perhaps you’d worked your ass off for years, just scrounging up enough cash for the car or bike you have always wanted (in my case at the naïve and eager age of 18 years old, a 200kw 2001 Subaru Forester GT). Maybe, you inherited a classic from your grandfather who worshipped the thing with everything he had. There are thousands of possibilities, all with equal merit. I just couldn’t quite grasp how and why the 650MT had the impact it did.
After much deliberation, it came down to experience. There were no prior memories of the bike, I didn’t work or pay for the bike, it wasn’t owned by anyone I knew, and it had no sentimental value. It was simply the experience. As you’d know by now, I’ve owned and tested plenty of bikes here at Bikereview, I’ve also had a few different cars throughout my life. Out of all, the GT Forester and the 650MT were the only two that really meant something, and the 650 wasn’t even mine! They were the only two that I was seriously bummed out about when they were to go.
The Forester I can pin on the fact that I worked my ass off both for and on the car. Many a night I spent out underneath it, covered in coolant and oil, replacing turbos, intercoolers, fuel pumps and injectors all for an extra 5hp! Sure, it wrecked the savings account (I’m sure I don’t need to explain myself here) but I always say I’d do it again if I had the chance. The 650MT, however, I barely worked on it! I fitted the aftermarket parts, but the main servicing was done by the dealer!
There was no blood, sweat and tears for the 650MT! Plain and simple, it was just the experience. I was the first owner, the first rider, and the first to take it out and see what it could really do. I had some fantastic rides on the bike, not to mention the endless hours of M1 commuting rain, hail, or shine. Not once did it let me down and not once did it stop me from getting where I needed to be. Sure, there were some hiccups here and there, but it was damn reliable. Most importantly, it was damn fun.
One of the first, and in my mind, most important upgrades we made to the bike was a decent set of hoops. The factory tyres were honestly a bit of a disappointment. Given the type of bike the 650 is, I was eager to get it out on the gravel as fast as I could. Obviously, being road tyre, the factory rubber had no chance in the dirt. On the road, they didn’t do much for me either.
I’d picked the bike up in a month or two of quite heavy rain and they were not great in the wet. With a low silica content, they felt icy, I could feel them tracking around corners and there were even a few Oh shit moments. The first real ride in the dry up the Old Road, I’d worn at least 70% of the tyre out within a couple of hours. The midline was fine as I had assumed, they were a hard compound. The outside edges, however, were chewed out.
The addition of the Avon Trailriders was a must for me, and a definite recommendation for anyone looking at purchasing the 650. Get them thrown on before you leave the shop, keep the factory hoops as a set of spares if you must. The Avon’s were fantastic on the gravel and light off-road terrain. Obviously, once the tread was full on muck and mud it was like riding on slicks again, but for the most part, and most of the terrain I was tackling, they were wicked! Even on the tarmac, they held together really, really nice.
As a purely functional upgrade for my purposes, the SHAD panniers were tops in my book. Installation was incredibly simple, and for once, took half the time I’d planned. All mounting holes were predrilled, nothing had to be cut, fabricated, bent, or broken! It was a dream. In terms of luggage space, they were fantastic. They were able to hold all the gear I’d normally be packing into my backpack with ease, leaving me far more comfortable on the freeway and with far less back pain at the office desk! The SHAD panniers didn’t come off once, even through the roughest terrain, the locking mechanism was beastly, I’d be surprised if you could manage to knock them off, even fully loaded.
For the taller riders, the bar risers are a must. If you’re planning on riding trails on the weekends, the standing position from the factory isn’t great. We weren’t able to find any genuine bar risers from CFMOTO, however, eBay as usual provided the goods. Fitment was simple… Bars off, risers in, bars back on. The extra inch and bit really helped my standing position. I toyed around with bar angles and lever angles until it was a nice middle ground between seated and standing positions. By the end, it was a seriously comfortable setup I had going…
As it’s a LAMS bike, it’s slightly lacking in the power department, and I was pretty keen on getting as much power out of the 650 as possible. After the first service, one of the only real, and legal options was a high flow performance air filter. Unifilter hooked us up and usual and it was in the bike in about half an hour.
It’s not a particularly easy installation, if you’re familiar with seat and tank removal you’ll be fine, if you’re a newer rider and not keen on ripping the bike apart, reach out, check out our article, or there’s a couple of videos on YouTube that should sort you out. Even if you can’t feel much of a power increase, the bike was certainly breathing better, and the quiet little induction noise is pretty cool!
To be quite honest, most of the bike’s time was spent on the tar in a straight line, despite my propensity to talk about my dirt rides. Even so, it was an incredibly comfortable and secure bike to commute on. I’d spend around 2-2.5 hours a day commuting to and from Newcastle on the M1 and I was always comfortable. With the windshield in its highest position and my SENA system fully charged, cranking tunes, I was in my element. Coming from the sportier CBR500R riding position, the 650 made highway commutes a breeze. If you’re taller than 6’3” I’d suggest a little windscreen extension. My helmet was just under the wind stream, any taller and I think you’d be getting battered.
Performance on the freeway was better than I’d expected up at the higher speeds. I’d say 6th gear could be a little taller, as it was revving higher than I’d have liked at 120-125km/h. Regardless, I’d sit at that speed for 45-50 minutes without issue. While it was revving high, it wasn’t shaky, rattling or anything of the sort, it still felt silky smooth and capable of much higher speeds if required. I do hope they bring out a 2023 model with cruise control though!
When pushing it a little harder in the twisties, the bike was seriously a whole lot of fun. It’s always great being able have a bike that is comfortable in all situations. Commuting, it was akin to a decent lounge chair, smooth and comfortable. In the twisties, it was ready to throw whatever you had at it.
One of my personal requirements/wants in a motorcycle is whether not it inspires a sense of confidence. If it’s saying to you “yeah man, hit this corner a little faster, crank it over a little more, I got you”, I love it. It really is a confidence inspiring bike, you feel safe on it, you feel like it’s capable of what you want it to do. Whether that’s a knee down or simply a corner you’ve always been a little scared of, the 650 wants you to give it a go. Some of my favourite rides up the Old Road were on the 650, it has just enough power to be seriously fun, and there’s something about cranking over a big adventure bike on a hairpin that is just special.
The guys would laugh about how ridiculous it looked, me in full road gear in the twisties with a bunch of sportsbikes… I didn’t care. They were the ones surprised when I was able to keep up!
On the dirt is where I really enjoyed the bike, and this is where the majority of the questions came from you guys. It’s probably best to preface this, it is not an adventure bike, despite what the photos show and how it tends to be marketed. Out of the factory, it simply doesn’t have the suspension setup and height to be super functional off-road. You’re not going to buy this to go cross country, you’re going to buy this to hit the local dirt roads on the weekend.
If your buddies are out on WR450’s or KTM 350’s most of the time, and you think this will be the only time you’ll get out on the 650, get a dirt bike. We found this out the hard way… I had a few decent rides out in the local state forests with a varying array of accompanying bikes. From WR250’s, KTM’s and Harley Pan America’s it became clear pretty quickly that I couldn’t keep up.
Trying to stick with the bigger bikes had the suspension bottoming out every second rut, mudguards and seats falling off while the coolant reservoir caps goes flying off into the bush. Let me get this clear though, this is through no fault of either the bike, or CFMOTO. The bike was not meant for this! We just wanted to see what it could do. After about 4-5 spine shattering landings, I wanted to be able to walk the next day and slowed it right down, let the roosts clear ahead and began to pick my lines carefully.
The Avon Trailriders were wicked in this terrain and the 650 was purring along the fire trails. I managed to catch up with the WR and KTM and stick with the group for the rest of the rides. With a decent suspension set up and some solid 80/20 or 90/10 hoops, you’ll have a blast in the local national park or state forest. Just take it easy and stick within the limits of the bike, it’ll thank you for it!
Read how the 650MT handled the Aussie bush here…
Over the course of the 12 or so months we had the bike, there were a couple of minor issues. Like I mentioned earlier, the intense off-roading caused a few problems that were totally avoidable. Maybe, if you’re planning on heading to some gnarly tracks, just check the fasteners and maybe even a little thread lock. I also lost the fuel level sensor, and it was stuck on a constant empty, this was a bit of a pain, but after a few thousand K’s I knew how much was left in the tank based on how many trips to Newcastle I’d made. I assume again, that this was a result of some of the more severe landings, possibly just the float stuck against the side of the tank, or a loose or muddy connection.
Aside from the self-inflicted off-road issues, that would be totally non-existent if you rode it sensibly, there was only one other thing worth mentioning. I can probably attribute this to some bad fuel that fouled a plug, but I did have an intermittent issue where I’d lose a cylinder after a freeway commute. It only ever happened a couple of times and it was only ever after a constant maintained speed. The first time I simply shut it off and let it rest for a bit and it would be fine, the second time, I wasn’t able to get both cylinders firing again and it just so happened I was a minute from home, so I limped it back into the basement. Having returned the bike to CFMOTO late last month, it turns out a new plug and lead solved the issue, and she was purring again like old times.
It’s this last thought that brings me to the end here, it was a reliable bike. Having read some reviews on past models and similar bikes, reliability was certainly a factor looming in my mind as I was cruising the bush 250km from home. But damn, no matter what I threw at it, it took it. I could feel it laughing at me every time I worried about it “You reckon that’s all it’ll take to kill me?” It was reliable, it never once stopped me from getting to where I needed to be.
If you’re tempted on the CFMOTO 650MT you’ve probably already weighed up your options. For the price, this thing is a bargain. In the simplest of terms, I was impressed. If you’re a new rider it’s safe yet confidence inspiring, if you’re an experienced rider looking for a bit of weekend fun while still being able to commute to work in comfort, it’s sporty enough for the twisties and hard enough for the dirt. If you’re on the verge of purchasing one, just do it. You won’t be disappointed. The 650MT is without a doubt one of my favourites. I’ve got the big brother 800MT coming in for review soon, so let’s hope it can hold its own against the little LAMS machine.
2022 CFMOTO PROJECT 650MT ABS Specifications
Price: $7490 Ride-Away
Warranty: Two years/unlimited kilometre (currently extended to three years)
Colours: Athens Blue or Nebula White
Claimed power: 41.5kw [55.6hp]@9,500rpm (LAMS Restricted)
Claimed torque: 62Nm [45.72ftlb]@7,000rpm
Dry weight: 213kg
Fuel capacity: 18L
Engine: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, eight-valve, parallel-twin four-stroke, 180-degree crankshaft, 649.3cc, Bosch Fuel injection, dual 38mm throttles bodies Gearbox: Six speed
Clutch: Multiplate wet Final drive: Sealed chain, Unifilter airfilter.
Chassis: Tubular steel diamond frame employing engine as fully-stressed member, extruded steel swingarm with tubular steel bracing, alloy ‘bar risers, SHAD panniers.
Suspension: USD fork, adjustable, travel 140mm, cantilever monoshock, preload adjustable, travel 145mm
Brakes: Continental ABS, dual 300mm steel rotors, twin-piston calipers, 240mm rear rotor, single-piston caliper
Wheels & Tyres: 120/70ZR17, 3.5 x 17 MT alloy (f) and 160/60ZR17, 4.5 x 17 MT alloy (r) AVON Trailrider Adventure tyres.
Seat height: 840mm
Instruments: LCD display