words & photos - Rod Chapman
A look at three little Chinese bikes from one giant Chinese manufacturer…


- Price - how on earth can these things be made for so little?
- Practicality - despite that low price, they still have quite a few features
- Fantastic fuel economy

- The quality is still below that of Japanese offerings, but it's getting closer
- Longevity? Only time will tell

Make no mistake, Chinese motorcycle manufacturers are hungrily eyeing Western markets. With China already the world's powerhouse of manufacturing, from children's toys to furniture, electronics to clothes, the domestic Chinese motorcycle industry is staggeringly large, and its main protagonists are now exploring well beyond their own nation's borders.

Based in mainland China, the Qianjiang Group is one of the heavyweights, and now its products have made it to Australian shores in the form of the QJ brand. Obviously a shortened reference to its manufacturer's name (and easier on Western ears), QJ is brought into Australia by Sydney-based Motorsport Importers, which began selling QJs in September 2009. Motorsport Importers also distributes Megelli and Benelli, the latter of which is in fact now owned by the Qianjiang Group.

Motorsport Importers' Paul Nobbs gave the Bikesales Network an idea of the sheer scale of Qianjiang's operations. "The Qianjiang Group produces over 1,500,000 motorcycles each year," he told us. By way of comparison, in Australia last year a total of just under 116,000 motorcycles, scooters, dirt bikes and ATVs were sold.

While the QJ marque may be new to Australia, these bikes have been sold in the UK under the name 'Keeway Motor' for four or five years now, while Keeway Motor America was established in 1999. Motorsports Importers currently brings four models into Australia - the Flash 50 moped, the Speed 150 commuter, and the Cruiser 250 and Silvershadow 250 cruisers - and it's those last three models we're taking a look at here.

The sharpest sword in the QJ armoury is price, and these budget machines are bound to appeal to anyone on a tight budget. The Speed 150 retails for just $1990 (plus ORC), while the Silvershadow retails for the $3990 (plus ORC) and the Cruiser 250 for $4490 (plus ORC). That makes the dearest QJ around $1800 dollars cheaper than Yamaha's equivalent air-cooled 250 cruiser, the XV250 Virago.

The Speed 150 is a basic single-cylinder commuter with an upright ride position and relatively flat 'bars. The Silvershadow 250 is a cruiser with chopper-esque lines, high 'mini-ape'-style 'bars and a pillion pad with a backrest. The Cruiser 250 is powered by the same air-cooled 248cc V-twin as the Silvershadow, but is lower, has flatter 'bars, highway footboards, Harley-Davidson-style switch blocks, a screen, soft panniers and comes with more bling in general, plus a rear disc brake as opposed to the Silvershadow's rear drum. The Cruiser 250 has a heel-toe shifter arrangement, as does the Speed, while the Silvershadow has a standard shifter. The Speed also comes with a kickstart, in addition to its electric leg.

Despite the budget price tag, all three come with a few practical additions. The Speed has a centrestand as well as a sidestand, and each machine has a steering lock and provision for a pillion. All of them have a handlebar-mounted choke, and a fuel tap (remember those?). All three have lockable fuel filler caps, while the Silvershadow and Speed also have helmet locks, and the Speed a small rear luggage rack.

Suspension is basic across all three, as you'd expect. The Speed's suspension is non-adjustable front and rear (although you do get fake moulded gas reservoirs on the rear shocks!), while the two cruisers come with preload adjustment at the back.

The Speed 150 is available in blue and the Cruiser 250 in two-tone black/white, while the Silvershadow 250 comes in either red or black. All three machines come with a 12-month, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Let's take a squiz at the two cruisers first, then we'll go for a quick blat on the Speed 150. We've all heard the horror stories of cheap and nasty Chinese imports, especially when it comes to unregistered gear like mini bikes and pocket bikes. Happily, these bikes don't fall into the 'nasty' category, and it's worth noting that the Qianjiang Group has achieved ISO (International Standards Organisation) 9001 for its design, production and distribution practices. This company means business.

However, the old adage 'you get what you pay for' still rings true, and you won't be getting Japanese quality for your money. Having said that, the finish of these bikes is really pretty decent, with good paint and plenty of chrome - and more chromed metal, instead of chromed plastic, than I expected. If you're a beginner or a commuter who's into the cruiser style, then you'll undoubtedly be happy with the looks on offer here, especially given the price tag.

When I rode these bikes each had no more than a few kilometres on the clock, so I really was getting the 'new QJ owner' experience. I started out on the dearest of the trio, the Cruiser 250, and got down to business. The first revelation came while attempting to start the thing - ignition cut-outs mean it'll only start in neutral (fair enough - handy for learners), but only with the sidestand up too. This is a bit of a nuisance, as it means you have to be sitting on the bike to warm it up, and each of these bikes likes a decent warm-up before they'll hold a steady idle.

Once underway, the Cruiser 250 gets the job done in a workmanlike manner. The single-disc brakes at each end are on the wooden side, but they're adequate for the bike's 170kg dry weight and the speeds the model's capable of. We're talking 100km/h here, and not much more, although even at 100km/h I felt like I was flogging it a bit. I regularly take a 140km round trip commute, 90 per cent of which is on motorway. It managed this without a worry, but it's really a little too slow for these environs - the engine feels far more relaxed at 80-90km/h.

Performance is fairly sluggish from a red light too, and while the suspension does an entirely adequate job - it's actually pretty nice through a corner, where decent ground clearance helps - the gearbox wasn't much chop. It may well loosen up with further kays, but I found the best way to find neutral was to slip into it before actually coming to a stop.

On the plus side, everything worked to a greater or lesser degree, the seat was nicely shaped, and the fuel economy was fantastic - about 28km/lt. That means you're good for around 220km between fill-ups. Still, it's no touring machine, despite the standard inclusion of a screen and panniers (strangely missing from our test machine). The ergos, indeed the bike in general, will suit riders of average height and below - certainly my 188cm frame was a little cramped, and I found the low 'bars meant my hands would hit my knees during tighter turns.

Next up was the Silvershadow, which - at $500 less than the Cruiser - has less bling and a drum rear brake. The first thing I noticed was the way-too-short sidestand - at rest the bike lists at an unnervingly sharp angle. However, any concerns over this or its identical warm-up procedure to the Cruiser were soon forgotten once I was underway. The higher seat and ride position better suited my lanky frame, and with its high 'bars and chopper lines, I found a big grin creeping its way across my dial - I hadn't had a laugh like this since I tested a Ural 750 Wolf several years back (if you haven't seen one, think choppers, Russian mafia style!).

The gearbox was far better in the Silvershadow, and finding neutral at a standstill posed no problems. The brakes were decent, the suspension too, and its performance in general was noticeably better than the dearer bike, which, as the specs reveal, is 21kg heavier. Sure, it's not as fancy as the Cruiser, but I actually preferred it, and its looks received quite a few compliments from non-motorcycle folk over the few days I had it.

With both these cruisers there are, however, a couple of traps for the unwary. The steering locks are located on the fork, so it's entirely possible to ride off with the lock on - fine if you want to ride in small, anticlockwise circles, but hair-raising if you don't. And the headlight circuit is separate to the ignition circuit - so you can easily flatten the battery in the daytime, if you walk off with the headlight switched on (as I did).

If I bought one I'd double check all the nuts and bolts are tight, too. One of the Silvershadow's mirrors fell off as I went around a corner, and a rear indicator nut worked its way loose, leaving the indicator dangling. Stuff like this should be picked up in a pre-delivery inspection, but there's no harm in double checking everything yourself.

Finally we have the Speed 150, which I only took for a quick strop across Melbourne's CBD and back. Although this made the Cruiser 250 look fast, it still ticks plenty of boxes for those looking for cheap, short-distance, inner-city transport. It weighs bugger all and it's got a brilliant steering range, so slipping through peak hour hell is a piece of cake. The brakes, however, are poor, despite the disc at each end. The front was weak, the lever soft, while the rear pedal was a hard as a rock, with about as much feel.

I hadn't seen a self-retracting, spring-loaded sidestand since Ducati last played with the idea 10 years ago, and I hate them just as much now as I did then. It does, however, have a centrestand. It's tricky to hook, but I used this instead. I didn't get a fuel economy reading, but with a claimed 9.5kW on tap, you can bet it's going to be pretty phenomenal - as is the Speed's $1990 (plus ORC) price.

A motorcycle only represents good value for money if it's priced well in the first place and it provides faithful service. The jury is out on longevity here - we're just going to have to wait a few years to gather QJ owner feedback - but I can't help but think these models have their place. If you're after an urban commuter or an unintimidating learner machine then motorcycling's never looked so affordable, and the 12-month warranty should go some way to offset any reliability fears. Motorsports Importers has rolled out a dealer network across the country (bar Tasmania and NT), so help shouldn't be far away should you require it. And, with the might of the Qianjiang Group behind QJ, spare parts availability shouldn't be an issue, even if you have to wait a bit longer for anything out of the ordinary. Yep, the juggernaut of the Chinese motorcycle industry is rolling on - look out Japan Inc!

Type: 228cc, air-cooled, OHC, four-stroke V-twin
Bore x stroke: 66mm x 49mm
Compression ratio: 9.4:1
Fuel system: Carburettor

Type: Five-speed
Final drive: Chain

Frame type: Tubular steel cradle
Front suspension: Conventional telescopic fork, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: Twin shocks, adjustable for preload
Front brakes: Single disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear brakes: Single disc with twin-piston caliper/drum

Dry weight: 170/149kg
Seat height: N/A (low)
Wheelbase: 1520/1530mm
Fuel capacity: 9lt

Max. power: 13.2kW at 8000rpm
Max. torque: 16Nm at 6000rpm

Price: $4490/$3990 (manufacturer's price before dealer and statutory costs)
Colours: Cruiser - two tone black/white; Silvershadow - red or black
Bike supplied by: Motorsport Importers, tel: (02) 9772 3393
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited kilometres

Type: 149cc, air-cooled, OHC, four-stroke single-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 62.0mm x 49.5mm
Compression ratio: 9.2:1
Fuel system: Carburettor

Type: Five-speed
Final drive: Chain

Frame type: Tubular steel cradle
Front suspension: Conventional telescopic fork, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: Twin shocks, non-adjustable
Front brakes: Single disc with single-piston caliper
Rear brakes: Single disc with twin-piston caliper

Dry weight: 128kg
Seat height: N/A (low)
Wheelbase: 1320mm
Fuel capacity: 11lt

Max. power: 9.5kW at 8500rpm
Max. torque: 10Nm at 7500rpm

Price: $1990 (manufacturer's price before dealer and statutory costs)
Colours: Blue
Bike supplied by: Motorsport Importers, tel: (02) 9772 3393
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited kilometres

To comment on this article click here Published : Tuesday, 9 March 2010
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