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Zontes 350R Review: Cool Features & Radically Designed

It’s surely dressed to kill, but does it fail to thrill?

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There’s a theory called the ‘country of origin effect’. It underscores how the country where a product originates from can have a positive effect on a consumer’s perception of it. For example, if I asked you, who makes the best watches? You’d probably say the Swiss do. Similarly when we think of motorcycles, ‘Japanese’ stands for reliable, and ‘European’ stands for exotic. But, what if I said ‘Chinese’? I sense your hesitation, I feel it too. However, in recent times our neighbours have bagged the rights to make bikes for well known brands like KTM, Harley-Davidson, BMW and more, and the recent crop of motorcycles from China have been impressive too. Hence it’s surprising that the Zontes 350R feels more like a Chinese bike of the past and not the present. 

But before we begin, we must tell you, this particular media unit of the Zontes 350R was not in the best shape due to the lack of care at the Pune service centre. After its last outing, it was benched, the battery had drained, the engine and gearbox felt gruff from the lack of TLC. Later, we encountered another problem which was pretty frightening to say the least.

The Zontes 350R is a pretty stunning motorcycle to look at. The Streetfighter design is so overtly stylised, it looks like an evil Transformer in its vehicular form, and it gets that kind of attention too. Everywhere we went, we’d catch heads turning for a second look, and some curious bystanders even asking us if it was a new EV. Be it the sharp upswept lines and creases, or the MV Agusta inspired double barrel exhausts, or even those chunky dual-tone alloy wheels, the Zontes 350 R certainly looks exotic. Hence, in that sense, the 350R looks just as radical as we have come to expect from modern Chinese machines.  

Features is another area where the Chinese are blowing the competition into the middle of last week. While most sub-500cc bikes are just about getting LCD screens, Bluetooth connectivity and USB charging, the Zontes 350R is a smartphone among landlines. It gets a 5-inch colour TFT screen with a screen mirroring feature. The display is customisable like a smartphone and has multiple themes to choose from. Not impressed yet? Operating the 350R (like all its siblings) is a fully keyless affair. You have a key fob instead of a conventional key and buttons on the handlebar for virtually everything. From locking/unlocking the bike, to ignition, to opening the fuel filler cap and seat, it’s all keyless and convinient. Lastly, the lighting is all LED too. 

While all these features and design elements can be enjoyed best at standstill, the Zontes 350R isn’t as exciting when in motion. And that’s the disappointing bit, because on paper this 348cc motor is packing nearly 39PS and 32.8Nm, which is way more than the BMW G 310 R (35PS and 28Nm). In fact, the Zontes 350R makes just as much power and the Kawasaki Ninja 300! It’s the closest rival to the KTM 390 Duke. However, on the road, the 350R’s motor feels more like a 250cc and what makes matter worse are the gear ratios of its 6-speed gearbox. 

We’ve so far ridden the Zontes 350ADV, GK 350 and the 350R and all three behaved the same way— short- first and second, tall- third, short- fourth, tall- fifth and sixth. While holding triple digit speeds is easy, shuffling through the gear box for quick overtakes is simply annoying because of that flat fourth gear. City riding is pretty effortless and most of the slow crawling can be done in second and third, but at this point it must be highlighted, the poor upkeep of the bike took a toll on its fuel efficiency- just 20kmpl in the city and 27kmpl on the highway. When we tested the better maintained GK 350, the city fuel efficiency we got was 26kmpl, so maybe the 350R was just a victim of negligence.

In terms of hardware, the 350R gets a 43mm upside down front fork and a monoshock at the rear. The suspension setup is on the softer side and while that results in a comfy ride over our city roads, at highway speeds, the bike feels wallowy. We also managed to bottom out the front fork a few times over sharper pot holes at slow speeds. The lack of suspension adjustability really robs you of seeing what it’s truly capable of because the CST tyres on 350R are grippy and up for some corner carving fun. 

Alright, let’s come to the bit which left us a little unsettled in our boots. In order to determine a motorcycle’s braking strength, us road testers will slam on the brakes at various speeds. This gives us a fair understanding of the feel, feedback and urgency with which a bike will anchor under emergency braking. And while out on our braking run, the handlebar mounting stems became loose pushing the handlebar forwards and the rider further over the fuel tank. The 350R gets a single 325mm and 265mm disc at the front and back paired with dual-channel ABS. The ABS is not well calibrated and the motorcycle hops to a full stop, even the lever feel and feedback was vague.   


Of late, the Keeway motorbikes, another brand under Adishwar Auto Ride umbrella offered a new perspective at how refined engines from China had become. Sure, they had their flaws, but there was always something exciting we took away from those bikes, unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Zontes 350R. We cannot justify its Rs 3.25 lakh (ex-showroom) price tag to anyone given that all these test bikes had clocked nothing over 1,000km on the odo. Even with abuse which test bikes undergo, the number of issues which cropped up simply left us disappointed. The Zontes GK 350 was nicer in comparison and our review of that will drop soon. 

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