Now here’s a seemingly good idea: one so simple and obvious you wonder why no-one’s thought of it before.
Your average Chinese learner 125 is, shall we say, a tad basic and budget, right? Invariably powered by an old school, Suzuki-clone, air-cooled, four-stroke single and with cycle parts and general quality more in keeping with the stereotypical image of the Middle East than with that of the West End. Am I not right?
That much I haven’t got a problem with. There’s a place for basic (as long as it’s cheap) just as much as there’s a place for posh, if you’re prepared to pay for it. It’s when one tries to masquerade as the other that gets my goat.
And that, enfuriatingly, has often been the case with Chinese bikes – until now: cheap and basic machines which have tried to pass themselves off as Honda CBR125Rs and the like.
They’re not always bad but they are usually mutton dressed as lamb and, however cheap, there’s always a sense of disappointment, of underachievement that comes with it.
This, however is different.
Called the HMC Classic, it’s the latest import from Chinese bikes specialists Zing Bikes and while technically nothing new, and its style anything but, it all somehow adds up to a cute, refreshing, breath of fresh air.
By being a retro-styled roadster – a mini Triumph Bonneville if you like – the HMC isn’t over-reaching technically or pretending to be anything it isn’t while at the same time remaining true to its budget price.
Whichever way you look at it, 1750 quid for the basic version or another 200 sovs for the posher ‘S’ model (see box-out) is chickenfeed compared to £3400 currently being asked for a Honda CBR125R.
That’s all well and good and straightforward. The lucky bit on top of that is no-one else is currently producing this sort of bike – a retro 125 or ‘Baby Bonnie’. And the genius bit on top of it all is that, for the money, the HMC is so well done where you’d normally expect plenty of corners to cut.
So the Classic has a ‘proper’, retro-style ‘teardrop’ fuel tank, complete with knee pads; ‘proper’ wire wheels; a ‘proper’ ‘peashooter’ style exhaust and more.
HMC had no real need to equip it with rubber fork gaiters or chromed shocks or a styled seat – but they have and it all makes the experience so much more pleasing and rewarding.
On the move, of course, the Classic is nothing to get excited about – but in this context, in being a retro 125cc roadster rather than failing to be as good as a CBR125R, that’s absolutely fine.
The switchgear is modern, the fuel tap and choke lever on the single carb quite the opposite yet quaintly appropriate; it started on the button first time every time during our test and it’s a doddle to ride with an impressively slick gearbox and light, crisp controls.
In town it wriggles through traffic with the best of ‘em and easily keeps up with the flow right up to around 60-65mph (it’s hard to be sure, the cable speedos on our two bikes hadn’t been recalibrated for the different front wheel sizes!).
Faster roads takes either patience or bravery, but then that’s true of pretty much all 125s and, while the brakes are markedly better on the bigger-disked S version and the suspension on both a bit boingey and basic, there’s nothing here really that unduly concerns.
Instead I buzzed around town imagining I was some kind of deluded ‘Fonz’ before realizing, sadly, at 6’3” I more likely looked like a gorilla on a monkeybike. Oh to be a waif-like 17-year-old once more…
Ultimately, at £1750, the HMC, fake or not, is charming, effective enough for around town or short hops and, at less than a QUARTER of the price of a £7199 T100 (which, let’s not forget, is something of a fake and made in Thailand anyway) eminently custiomisable.
For example, I’d quite happily spray one up and fit all sorts of goodies to. And if your gang of mates had them too, so much the better.
Oh, and think on this: if you wanted to be really, REALLY cheeky, you could even peel off those HMC tank stickers (‘cos they’re not lacquered in) and glue on a pair of proper Triumph of Norton tankbadges (40 quid off Ebay) instead. How cool would that be?
Yes, I know this is silly. But it also shows how cute, affordable and appealing this bike is. Personally, I’m tempted…
The ‘S’ version
If you’re enticed by the classic but want something a little better equipped and more modern, the solution could be the Classic ‘S’ – a higher spec version of the Classic costing £200 more.
For your £1950 you get different wheels (wider, 18in anodized alloy rimmed wire rims front and rear in place of the base version’s 19/17in chromed steel combo); fatter inverted forks and accompanying chunkier alloy yokes; bigger brakes (with the rear switching to a drum; extra chrome (on the headlamp nacelle, clock base, lift handle and more) and different front mudguard.
At a standstill it’s all-round more pleasing (although the standard version only seems a little lacking when parked alongside) if actually a little LESS authentically retro due to those modern touches.
While on the move, though feeling a tad more ‘planted’ with slightly less twitchy steering and reassuringly more powerful brakes, in truth, there’s not a lot in it – the biggest difference is cosmetic.
If it was me – and if it was possible – I’d do a mix-and-match: keep the conventional teles and gaiters; slot in the ally 18in rims (but ideally silver not black) and better front stopper and swipe a few of the S’s chrome goodies, too. Then I’d have the best of both worlds. You pays your money you takes your…
HMC Classic, £1750
Engine: Air-cooled, 124cc, sohc, single. 5 gears, chain drive.
Claimed power: 10.7bhp
Frame: Tubular steel cradle, tubular steel swing arm
Suspension: telescopic forks, no adjust, front, twin shocks with preload adjust, rear
Claimed dry weight: 107kg
Front brake: single wavy disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear brake: drum
Fuel capacity: 12litres
Seat height: 780mm
Colours: orange/black or black/gold