Camchain and tensioner seen up close in a cutaway bike engine

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Build Quality Frustrations

Blog Date 3 May 2022

"Cheap Chinese rubbish...", yeah, right, OK, whatever. 

When we purchased Sharon's Keeway way back in BC (Before Covid) 2013 we both had concerns about Chinese build quality. We figured the bike was cheap enough to tolerate any problems. It didn't make sense to spend a fortune on a "quality" 125 from the big four, she might have hated riding motorcycles and decided being pillion is much better. She might have dropped and damaged the bike and the more it costs to buy the more it hurts to scratch. Oh, that and the Keeway RKS125 was the only bike small enough for Her Worshipful Hobbitness.

In 2016 she purchased a genuine, bona-fide Kawasaki Z250SL. Kwakker you see, it's Japanese build quality, not of this cheap Chinese nonsense. Hmmmmm... it's certainly not as simple as you'd think. There is good and bad on both vehicles, it's not simply a case of chalk and cheese or black and white. 

For example the engine. The Keeway's engine is covered in some kind of finish as yet unnamed in my world, I'm sure one of the smarter BAT readers will be able to tell me what it's called. Whatever it's called it's very good. It seems hard, totally heat-proof, durable and even after 9 years there's barely a blemish upon it. It's also worth noting that I was very impressed with the quality of the castings and finish inside of the engine.

The Keeway motor seems very well finished
The fit and finish on the Keeway seems very good.

Whereas the Kwakker has a thin film of rather ordinary looking paint on the engine. This is working fine on the outer cases, the bits most often seen. Yet the section where the spray from the front wheel hits the paint has been entirely eroded. This is not a disaster in terms of the function of the motorcycle but it shows where corners are cut to save pennies.

The front of the engine has most of the paint removed from road spray
There's not much paint left of the front of the Kwakker's engine these days.

The paint on the frames of both machines is, errrm, "acceptable" as opposed to excellent. The Keeway's frame is I think powder coated which is normally considered an excellent finish. However there's places where the thickness of the coating is too thick and places where it's too thin. Considering the age of the bike now and the miles and where it's stored there is rust appearing in the corners of the welds and exposed areas. This is as good, or as bad, as I'd expect on any other bike.

The Z250SL's frame appears to be spray painted. This has given a much more consistent finish and looks the part when new. Paint is not as durable as powder coating though, beneath the panels and trims there's bald patches where things rub and the first signs of rust around some welds. Once again it feels as though "sufficient" work has been carried out to protect the frame, "sufficient" rather than "a lot". 

In the joint of the frame rust is just starting to show through the paintwork
It's not bad, but it's far from perfect.
The bottom of the fork has a chunk of paint missing exposing the metal to the elements
This shouldn't happen should it?

As I look around the rest of the 250 the signs of aging are there to see. Flakes of paint missing from the bottom of the fork, the first signs of rust on the unswept portion of the stanchions and rusty nuts and bolts, that kind of general aging. 

Speaking as someone who's owned and lived with a few motorcycles over the years I find the Z250SL's build quality to be acceptable and as expected as opposed to wonderful or really good. The problem is Sharon. Having owned the supposedly poor quality Chinese bike she had misguided expectations for the Kawasaki. She finds it frustrating to see the paint flaking off and the rust mites starting to take a hold. 

This has (partially) lead to a change in her attitude. While she's still taking good care of the bike she's frustrated that in spite of all her efforts it is deteriorating. You can clean and preen and polish and scrub from dawn till dusk but if you're going to ride your motorcycle in both summer and winter, in both the wet and the dry then it will deteriorate. This, alongside the fact the novelty has somewhat worn off, means she's cleaning the bike less often.

This was always my own frustration. I have to accept that even a motorcycle built to the highest of specifications and with the utmost care will still deteriorate, nothing is permanent and entropy will always win. The best you can hope for is to slow entropy down to a manageable level. I used to preen and polish, I got bored and I got frustrated. I also realised some part of the bike seemed to last longer covered in oily dirt. 

That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

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Reader's Comments

ROD¹ said :-
When we looked at buying new Chinese bikes we looked at how the 3 -4 year old bikes were standing the test of time.
We saw some rough examples and we saw rough examples of Japanese bikes too.
As you say Ren, when you use a bike all year the winter gets to them. My wife's bike a Lexmoto Riot seems to have better components than my Lexmoto Assault, but that was reflected in the price £1900 Vs £1400.
Only thing I was disappointed in was the original chain. I also have a fork seal leaking after this last winters salty roads,but at around £5 for pair of fork seals I am not complaining.
03/05/2022 17:41:06 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Hey ROD. One thing I've noticed with the Keeway versus Lexmoto is Lexmoto's abundance of readily available spares. Finding just a fork seal for Sharon's Keeway was difficult and the UK importer could not source the dust seal above the fork seal at all. Lexmoto seem to have everything covered particularly on

One point Sharon noticed is how the owners of some Chinese models bring the reputation of cheap bikes down. If you're a poor yoof you'll buy a cheap bike. In your yoof you may not have learned the value of a well adjusted chain, how to check if your pads are worn out, the worth of servicing the engine or the benefits of a darn good looking at. You're also more likely to ride it hard, real hard. You're more likely to be trying to learn how to wheelie or get your knee down on a roundabout. This level of daily abuse metered out onto the bikes soon renders them "broken" all of which gets blamed on poor quality rather than the abuse.

I'll be curious to see how your presumably well maintained and sensibly ridden Lexmotos age.
03/05/2022 19:05:42 UTC
Snod said :-
Of course the 250SL isn't very Japanese, more Thai.. The motor probably comes from Japan, as do the Enkei wheels, but the rest seems to be Thai. Mine had rust on the welds after 1 year and 3200 miles, these days at 6 years old (4 spent living outside) and 26K it looks like a shed. Though that was reversed a lot when I put some newer forks on it after running into the side of a huuuge DPD van that decided to do a U turn.

Still, Sharon's care routine seems to be saving her work in other areas - I've had the wiring fall apart, the rear shock linkage has seized solid twice, the swingarm needle bearings have worn scores into their races, steering head bearings were quick to notch and have since been replaced when they got hilariously bad.. Sometimes the bike feels totally disposable. Oh and the can broke off the rest of the exhaust, and the replacement is now blowing quite badly.
03/05/2022 19:11:24 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
I know it's boring....
If you want quality buy a Honda. This is true in both cars and bikes. They're just built right.
One bike that always surprises me is a BMW, the amount of discoloured exhausts and rusty fastenings on nearly new bikes is alarming. I do wonder if people buy them and just ride them, hence the lack of pristine secondhand examples. They're not pretty.
But when it comes to cheap (?) Chinese bikes, we surely can't expect Japanese quality when they're half the price. You get what you pay for........sometimes.
Remember, polish your nuts.
03/05/2022 20:35:33 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
Upt',I think the point that Ren was making, is that there is not a great difference in the quality of new Chinese and new Japanese bikes.
I found some very rusty Honda 125s, just as bad as the Chinese brands.
I think Honda were a better quality bike when your pan was built, but quality seems to have dropped over recent years.
As for BMW I think the same applies, the new bikes do not seem as good as their older bikes.
03/05/2022 20:59:00 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Snod - in all seriousness I think there's 3 factors between you and Sharon.
1 - Sharon got her bike new, it didn't suffer the indignity of a "bad" owner.
2 - Your bike sounds terrible, maybe it's a Monday morning or Friday afternoon bike.
3 - Sharon weighs very little and on a light bike there's norra lorra stress on the parts.

Yes, I very much doubt much of Sharon's Kwakker or my CB500X ever crossed the land mass of Japan. My 500 is definitely made in Thailand, my 125 was made in India. It matters not where a bike is made, what matters is quality control and efforts put into making the product.

I still believe Honda are oh-so-slightly more careful in making their machines but they are no longer "outstanding" against the competition. It "feels", I don't know this as a fact but it feels like the Z250SL was built to a price where the bigger more costly Kwaks contain more care in their construction. That's just a gut feeling I have no experience to back this up.

Were older bikes better made? Errr... Honda's NT600/NT650 range was made in the homeland and built like a tank because Honda were still recovering from the disaster of chocolate camshafts on their early V4s and camchain chaos on their CX500s. Yamaha XS250s were so unreliable Yammy designed the motor to self disassemble at high revs. Suzuki's GT750 2 stroke was known as the kettle because it would "brew up" ie overheat. You only need to read old copies of The Used Motorcycle Guide to see that old bikes were not better!
04/05/2022 06:41:19 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
I would agree, there has always been good and bad from all vehicle manufacturers but sometimes the myths are way bigger than the issues ever were. With the interweb thingymabob those myths can be exaggerated in the click of a mouse. Do you remember mouse's, haven't used one in ages.
But......when you see how much some of these bikes sell for in their home markets before taxes, greed, profit, taxes and a bit more greed you surely must question the quality in the first place.
Ed, you make a very valid point (keep it up, it suits you) that a bike that is polished, cared for, regularly serviced and arguably lightly used can't compare to the one bought and killed by a spotty teenage oik whose idea of a service is to kick the tyres once a year.
The greatest myth ever was that the screws on Japanese bikes were made of cheese when folks were using the wrong screwdrivers for 30 years!
As an aside are Chinese bikes JIS or Phillips?
But to go back to BMW, if I were to spend 30 grand on the 18 thingymabob I'd be very annoyed at rusty fastenings after 12 months, not so much on a 2 grand Chinese runabout.
04/05/2022 09:26:20 UTC
Bogger said :-
My three year old 6,000 ml C125 Super Cub is holding up very well. Once it's washed it could nearly pass for a new one. Oh and I am commuting on it 25mls a day.

Oh one more thing, it's definitely faster than a Kymco 125 or a Lexmoto 125 (CB125 Wannabe).

04/05/2022 20:59:04 UTC
Snod said :-
Ren, since your CB500X is built in Thailand, how much of it is Thai? On the Kawasaki the electrical loom is Thai (says so on its label under the tank), as is the radiator (nice label on the top of it explains this, which I found when replacing it) and the forks. Just wondering if Honda source things locally like this or if it's just a place to bolt together Japanese parts?

Also I'm only 65-70kg depending on how many chips I've been eating recently so I'm not hammering it that much harder..
04/05/2022 22:50:15 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I have zero idea HOW much of the actual 500X is made in Thailand. The engine might come from Japan or India or, who knows, Skelmersdale? The Voge 500's engine is so ridiculously similar I suspect they're made in the same factory.

Let's face it a motorcycle might be screwed together in Thailand but the parts came from all around the world. A wiring loom might be "made" in India but the copper was mined in Chile, smelted in China, drawn into wire in France, insulated in Tunisia before finally being put together in India. Think of all the components on a motorcycle that will have been through a similar global process.
05/05/2022 09:09:38 UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
My new to me 2021 CB125F was bought at 6 months old and with 850 miles on the clock in March. It's made in Italy I believe. It had been ridden through the winter and still looked like new from a few paces away. Closer inspection however revealed a pretty shabby looking exhaust and some fasteners very tarnished. The exhaust seems to be a week spot, with flaking paint on the downpipe and Silencer, and the bracket which is welded to the Silencer and bolts it to the frame was very rusted. None of this couldn't be sorted out with a tin of hammerite and a bit of elbow grease though. In the 300 miles I've done on it so far it's averaging 170mpg!

My 11 year old Jawa 350 was quite cosmetically challenged when I purchased it and had obviously lived outside. Again, a day's work made it presentable with silver paint on the rusty spokes and some touching up of the frame. I smother it in Acf50 in the autumn and clean it of in spring, and then go through touching up paint chips etc again. I'm one of the few that's not actually that impressed with Acf50 as it still takes me a days work to clean the bike in the spring and touch up the paint. I'm going to change my regime next year to something similar to Sharon's method and to speed the process up I've just bought a 3000 watt pet dryer so should be putting away a clean, salt free, dry bike after every ride next winter.
05/05/2022 17:32:50 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
I have used ACF50 and some'at else, the name escapes me.
I really do think it's how the bikes are used and cleaned more than any chemical magic.
I know the history of my Pan going back around 20 years and I know one owner used to commute 12 months of the year on it in Cleveland. He did it for yours and apparently you couldn't see the bike at all for spray grease for 6 months of the year before a blast off in the Spring. The fasteners are generally extremely good and other finishes not bad at all for a 24 year old bike.
No magic chemicals were used.
I know WD40 has a love it or loathe it following but if used correctly before a winter layup it does an OK job and is as cheap as chips. So £5.00 a bag anytime soon!
I don't ride in the winter anymore and won't ride if the roads are covered in brine, my normal cleaning regime now is spray it with Aldi all purpose household polish and wipe it off. It'll only see water after a tour or if caught out in some crappy weather. Which isn't that often. But if it is wetted then it'll be ran until thoroughly dry. Probably ridden too to get the damp out of it.
But, I suppose we do have to remember they are there to be ridden not washed. Unless you are the show type of owner who prefers to show than ride.

05/05/2022 18:43:08 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
170 mpg!! I could forgive a lot for that, impressive. My CBF125 has dropped a little on the mpg, presumably as most of the combustion process bypasses the combustion chamber via the rings and finishes off in the crankcase. I'm working on some cool acronym to turn this failing into a feature. "Pressurised Crankcase Piston Return System" - PCPRS. Not quite catchy enough yet.

As for preserving a bike. Oil and dirt. Get it oily and dirty, leave it in the oil and dirt. Sorted.
06/05/2022 07:51:18 UTC
Henrik said :-
170 mpg ,...

A typo ? or just only downhill ?

07/05/2022 18:00:11 UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
Actually, I'm a little bit disappointed with 170mpg as Honda quote 187mpg!
07/05/2022 18:33:54 UTC
Henrik said :-
Crazy ,.. I am struggeling, close to moped-speed, layd down over the tank, just to reach around 90 mpg on the Inazuma 250, guess around 92 mpg was my record, just to test it

Normal trip on small and slow roards will avarage around 70-80 mpg

Motorway, full speed, will be compareable to a small car
07/05/2022 23:09:27 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Following lorries along the motorways my 500 regularly achieves 97 mpg. Everyday gentle riding returns 90 mpg.

CrazyFrog, all I can suggest is that you're thrashing it like an excitable teenager, you ought to be slowing down a bit at your age.
08/05/2022 06:25:17 UTC
Henrik said :-
Nice with some IRL numbers

I can compare approx now

Behind lorries it is 75-80 mpg here

How can I afford a bike half size
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08/05/2022 15:45:39 UTC
Ross said :-
Hi Henrik, nice to see the Inazuma still looking tidy. Looking back at my notes for when I had one, the last year I owned it I covered 3126 miles at an average of 84mpg. That would be only occasional motorway work and mainly back roads or around town. By comparison, my current Honda 500X is averaging in the low 90's mpg with similar riding! I had a small Puig screen on my Inazuma that may have helped a bit more than the 'barn door' on yours!?
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09/05/2022 09:22:40 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
My Inazuma would get 70 - 110 mpg.
See link.
09/05/2022 12:04:43 UTC
nab301 said :-
Quote "As an aside are Chinese bikes JIS or Phillips?"
Apart from switchgear I haven't seen phillips type screws on motorcycles since working on my Honda S90 and my brothers 1972 Yamaha 80 back in the day... See photo below of my Chinese built Honda , hex heads on the engine covers .
On Petrol consumption ,I've recently joined the 1/2 litre club and on mpg, mine is matching or bettering my gently ridden DL250 Suzuki. Warm weather definitely makes a difference ( for the better, maybe I should partially block the radiator in winter?). 250 runs between 70 and 100mpg , and I can imagine it would be worse if held for long periods on the throttle stop. 1/2 litre averages 80mpg at higher speeds with a recorded 70mpg minimum travelling into strong headwinds and 90 mpg the best return. ( All figures are from litres added to the tank although they generally match the dash readout )

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09/05/2022 23:14:18 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Nab: There is a difference between JIS and Phillips which is one reason many of the JIS screws on older Japanese bikes were butchered as people used Phillips (or even worse pozidriv) screwdrivers on the. I think I wrote a piece here regarding the differences some years ago and our friend in the North also alluded to them recently.
10/05/2022 10:14:58 UTC
nab301 said :-
I am aware Ian , my first two special tool purchases back in the 70's were a T handled screwdriver and an impact driver , my later Em zeds had standard "flatblade " type screws . I did come across secondhand bikes with butchered screws but back then (not so much now) one tap with a hammer and a cold chisel always worked for me (assuming there was room)
10/05/2022 19:46:05 UTC
RobEll said :-
I love the finish on most every Honda crankcase... In fact I, until recently owned a Honda CB650R, long live the Tracer700 eh. We'll I did intend on keeping said Yamaha but I'm a sucker for a good trade in deal and I'd stopped into the local dealership to spend my lunchtime ogling the shiny Hondas. I made a few hundred quid in that deal oddly enough and kept the Honda for almost a year.

The finish isn't what I see on older Japanese bikes (largely excellent), and I was seeing rust and corrosion at play on a 2020 Honda, similarly to my old Keeway RKV 125 in parts. I'm now the proud owner of a 2008 Hyosung Aguila GV250 which is ugly or characterful depending on your own taste. I love the brute, and picked it up (foolishly, as it was then running on only the rear cylinder) for £500. That's not to gloat, I know I had only just dodged misery by an inch but luck prevailed, and two shiny spark plugs later, she was running on two cylinders.

Since then the Honda gathered dust and I'm getting around 80+MPG from the Hyosung, and loving the little v-twin engine. The previous owner had changed the silencers and after fitting Baffles and wadding it sounds wonderful to me. The original aim was to sell it in Spring but, we'll see. Parts are difficult to source but the wee Korean bike is demonstrating persistent reliability in all weathers and air temperatures. Mine has carbs thankfully, I have read some horror stories of the fabled EFI models online and lack of parts availability.

Time will tell on that. The original finish was repainted after a slide by said previous owner, but the original wheels and forks are bearing up well so far with 10k miles completed. I intend to try and at least double that if I can as I'd not be able to trade it in (a blessing I feel). I hope you're all in good health. Rob
Posted Image
22/01/2023 00:38:43 UTC

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