Triple threat: Zontes plan to use three-cylinder engine for large capacity models

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China have been producing small-capacity bikes for decades but the nation’s motorcycle industry has shifted gears recently to put an increasing focus on large multi-cylinder machines. Zontes are the latest brand to join the rush with plans for a range of three-cylinder models.

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The firm have revealed the first images of the engine that will power the new bikes, which is expected to span a variety of markets including naked and adventure models, mirroring the existing line-up of 312cc singles marketed under the Zontes name.

Zontes are just one part of the much larger Tayo company, which also sells bikes under the Haojiang and Kiden banners. Zontes are being positioned as the firm’s contender in the large-capacity segment.

Having previously been criticised in China for having no twin-cylinder models in the range, creating a triple will mean Zontes can leapfrog rivals focusing on twins in the 400cc-650cc arena.

Although some details of the engine haven’t been announced, the firm say they will make a variety of capacities and a 1000cc version has specifically been mentioned in social media posts by the company boss.

Zontes triple crankshaft

While the engine has been created in-house, with elements including the crankshaft and camshafts seen bearing the ‘Tayo’ name in teaser video, the design takes after Yamaha’s MT-09 in several respects, with clear similarities in the overall structure and layout.

Indeed, in a rendering showing possible styling for the bike, released last year, the firm’s designers used the Yamaha motor as a placeholder.

However, Zontes have put much more focus on performance than Yamaha, with a far higher compression ratio (13.5:1) and the adoption of superbike-inspired elements such as finger-followers in the valvetrain.

The outcome of all this, Zontes say, will be an engine with more power and torque than 80% of 1000cc four-cylinder rivals. Where some Chinese engines are part-for-part copies of existing Japanese designs, the same criticism can’t be aimed at the Zontes triple.

Zontes triple engine

Compared to most inline four or parallel twin engines, which have flat-plane crankshafts, most triples have a 120-degree angle between the crank throws and the Zontes design is no exception.

That means it’s similar to the Triumph Street Triple and MV Agusta three-cylinder engines, with the crank turning 240 degrees between the firing of each cylinder for smooth power delivery.

Zontes say they’ve worked hard on the balance of the crankshaft to make sure the engine is smooth-running, and the shape of the cases suggests there’s a balancer shaft helping that cause.

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Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis