Zontes 350R first ride review
To bring you up to speed with things, Zontes motorcycles is a Chinese manufacturer that's come to India via the India by Adishwar Auto Ride India group. You know... the same guys who brought in Keeway, Benelli and Moto Morini into the country. The manufacturer currently has five variations of a 350cc motorcycle out here in India, and this, the 350R, is Zontes' naked streetbike model is one of them. It is priced at Rs 3.15 lakh (ex-showroom India) and shares its underpinnings and engine with its 350cc siblings, including the 350T ADV, the adventure tourer version we reviewed recently. Its competition comes in the form of the KTM 390 duke and BMW G 310 R. So should you consider this Chinese offering over its established European rivals? Let's find out.
Like the other bikes in the Zontes 350cc range, the design of 350R is radical. There isn't one flat panel across the bike and it looks really sporty with its sharp radiator shrouds, contoured tank with deep knee recesses. It's forward lunging stance is accentuated by the mean looking LED brows on the headlamp unit. The broad tail section has to be one of the biggest we've seen on a motorcycle in this category and the tail lights and the twin pipes look really cool. But there are some odd bits as well like the exhaust manifold that sits lower than the bikini fairing. The fancy diamond-cut 17-inch alloy wheels are a bit of an overkill for me as well.
The main USP of the Zontes bikes is the long list of electronic features that they all comprise. The 350R comes complete with keyless operation, dual-channel ABS, and a TPMS, and it also gets a 5-inch full-colour anti-glare LCD unit, with a screen-mirroring function that can be useful when using navigation. There are different screen layouts which all give off this arcade video game vibe.
You even get buttons that release the fuel filler lid and release the seat lock features that even more expensive bikes don't get. But then you have to think are these features really beneficial? I mean, yes, they will give you some bragging rights aver your peers, but if you have battery issues, if that oddly placed rectifier gets damaged, you're going to be in a real soup. Some plastic bits like the fuel filler lid feel really flimsy too.
The 350R, like the others is powered by the 348cc, single-cyl liquid motor as the other 350cc Zontes bikes. The output of 38PS and 32.8Nm is the same too. As is the 6-speed gearbox, albeit with slightly altered gear ratios. The motor is a real highlight of this machine. It loves to be revved and there's plenty of power all across the rev range and twists of the throttle feel rewarding. The exhaust note, which sounds a tad KTM-ish to me, sounds nice and the bike feels doesn't feel out of its element above 6,000rpm, and you'll have a real heap of fun revving this bike all the way to the redline. If you don't feel like riding hard, the engine proves to be quite tractable as well, allowing you to cruise along perfectly at low speeds in high gears. The engine encourages you to go fast whenever you can, but once you're up there, at high speed, things feel a little bit unsettling.
The front end gives you a decent amount of feedback, but the weight of the bike feels off leaning into a corner especially if you've topped up the 15-litre tank full of gas. You'll have to spend some time getting used to riding the bike before chucking it into a corner. A nice feature I noticed was that the mirrors don't vibrate like crazy once you reach higher speeds, and you can clearly see everything behind you.
The 43mm upside-down fork up front is stiffly setup and it works well to absorb bumps at all speeds, but the preload adjustable mono-shock at the back is set up a little too soft for my liking. Strangely, with a pillion aboard, the bike can tend to bottom out over speed breakers a bit too easily. The 320mm front disc and a 265mm rotor at the rear perform well, but over loose surfaces, the ABS configuration behaves inconsistently, which can be quite scary if you're carrying speed, and have to brake hard over undulated surfaces.
All said and done, the engine has to be the strongest point of the Zontes 350R. It urges you to ride hard and fast, but the thing is, once you actually do, it feels a bit risky. The radical design looks very catchy to, but the build quality leaves a little more to be desired. And that doesn't really work in its favour when you consider the extablished, more refined competition in the form of the BMW G 310R and the KTM 390 Duke, which also cost a lot less. Me personally, I'd give this one a miss.
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