Mite is Right
Let's start with the price: the Sachs 150 Express is $1995 new and is comfortably on road with all expenses paid (dealer charges and registration) for less than $2500. It's inexpensive because it is built in China, not at Sachs' base in Germany.
THE CHINESE CONNECTION
The Sachs Express is built by one of China's giant industrial conglomerates, FYM, better known locally as Guangzhou Panyu Huanan Motors Group. A Sachs engineer (the designer of the Madass) spends around six months of each year there monitoring and developing the production process and the Australian distributor, Stoney Creek Powersports, has also had an input with subtle changes including the front headlight/indicators arrangement and minor mechanical changes to address issues arising from durability testing. Typical of China-produced bikes, the Express is a combination of parts produced by a variety of suppliers rather than what we're used to from Japan: a paddock-to-plate exercise where there is an organic connection from the drawing board to the product which rolls off the end of the production line. Despite potential engineering compatibility risks the final result is perfectly acceptable for the price.
THE BEAUT COMMUTE
The 150 is essentially a commuter. It's powered by a 149cc, four-stroke, single-cylinder, air-cooled engine which produces a claimed 8.8kW at 8500rpm. It revs easily to redline at 10,000rpm and wants to go harder, so slightly taller gearing would work and lift the current top speed from 100km/h to perhaps 110-115km/h. Standard gearing is fine for country town work and inner-city riding, but it's just a tad too slow for freeway adventures. As part of MT's "durability testing", we regularly ran the engine at redline for 20 minute spells during which it remained oil-tight, quiet and composed. An advantage of the current under-gearing is a friskiness around town that allows you to cut the traffic up with confidence and, if none of the cars are trying, to be first away from the lights.
The engine itself is old-school with pushrods rather than an overhead camshaft but it's quiet and efficient. The 62.4 x 49.5 bore and stroke encourage revs but with a modest 9.2:1 compression ration, the engine runs happily on standard unleaded. It's smooth, overall, with some light tingles felt through the seat from 8000rpm upwards but it's in no way disturbing. Ignition is electronic so no maintenance is required, there are five speeds in the gearbox (and an indicator to tell you what gear you're in) and there's a kick starter in the event that the electric starter fails. During MT's 1000km custody of the Sachs, the engine never hesitated in firing at the first stab of the button. There's a choke on the carb body but gossip suggests this will be moved to a handlebar control for the next shipment.
FROM THE RIDER'S SEAT
The ergonomics of the Express are, for its price, sensational. Our test bike has been flogged by two staff members who are well over six foot and used as a training hack for two 5'4" new riders. It was immediately comfortable for both body sizes. Despite the low, 760mm seat height, the relative position of the bars and pegs made it comfortable for taller riders. It always feels like a real motorcycle. An added bonus is that there's plenty of room for pillions and they have a comfortable riding position as well. The seat itself is on the firm side but it's 670mm long, equaling the length of the legendary BMW /6 seats which have always been a benchmark. The view of the analogue speedo and tacho and beyond is uncluttered by fairings and wires. There's a fuel gauge which gives reliable readings and the usual collection of lights for indicators, high beam and neutral. The tank holds 12 litres.
ON THE ROAD
With its 18 inch front wheel and 16-inch rear, the Express is a genuine motorcycle, not a glorified scooter. Its 118kg weight makes it easy and light to ride and it will no doubt be a favourite at learn-to-ride schools. The front disc brake has very good feel and performance which is fortunate given the wooden performance from the rear, drum stopper. It can only be a good thing if it teaches learners to use the front brake more. All small, light, low-powered bikes provide the experience of good handling and the Express isn't an exception. The stock tyres are Chinese "Duro" brand, though, and at no stage gave me the confidence to fling the Express into corners. It concerns me that after 1000 relatively hard kilometers, we haven't been able to wear the little rubber spikes off either the front or back tyre. In the interests of economy, you'd probably wear the originals out (could take years!) and replace them with known, quality brands. The suspension is similar. The Express' front end has been criticised for being too soft but I found it fine for commuting conditions. Slightly heavier fork oil would improve damping if it became an issue. The rear spring/dampers, on the other hand, can't be saved and should be replaced as early as you can afford it. Adjustment is available for spring pre-load but damping is a lost cause. In stock form, the suspension is functional but that's the best that can be said about it.
Despite a few oddities like unused frame mounting points, the Express is a good looking bike. The coating on the engine cases and their thinness suggest the engine will be a challenge to keep tidy as the kilometers build up and I'm not sure the seat cover will stand up to many seasons of outback sun. Time will tell. Despite our best efforts, we haven't been able to blue the chrome header pipe with just a faint stain appearing at the welded join with the muffler and at the end of the muffler where noise constrictions trap heat. The steering lock is on the lower triple clamp and MT's on-line editor, Guy Allen, said riding it made him feel like Gough Whitlam was still Prime Minister. Nowhere can cutting-edge technology be observed but there's some charm in its retro, proven design and fittings.
WHO WILL BUY IT?
Newcomers who think they might like a scooter should ride an Express. It's a real motorcycle and might lead them down the long and satisfying path many other MT readers have travelled. If you have a Ducati in your inner-city shed, it could be a useful second bike for commuting and general running around. If you live in a large, country town, it will be about the cheapest transport option available. With the cost of sports shoes these days, it's cheaper than walking. It's also a great bike to learn about motorcycling on. Simple, accessible mechanicals mean you can maintain it yourself and this will encourage you when you inevitably decide to step up. Our test bike came from FX Powersports in Brunswick St, Melbourne. It's the biggest Sachs dealer in the country but there's an extensive dealer network attached to the importer, Stoney Creek Power Sports. Not all Chinese bikes will go the distance but signs for the Sachs brand look very promising. Value for money? You bet.
- Rider-friendly ergonomics
- Great front brake
- Smooth, willing engine
NOT SO GOOD
- Ordinary rear brake
- Marginal rear shocks
- Tricky choke location
|SPECIFICATIONS - SACHS EXPRESS 150|
|Type: Air-cooled, four-stroke, single-cylinder|
|Bore x stroke: 62.4 x 49.5mm|
|Compression ratio: 9.2:1|
|Fuel system: Carburettor|
|Type: Five-speed, constant mesh|
|Final drive: Chain|
|CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR|
|Frame type: Welded tubular steel|
|Front suspension: Telescopic fork, non-adjustable|
|Rear suspension: Twin shockers, adjustable for preload|
|Front brake: Single disc|
|Rear brake: drum|
|DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES|
|Dry weight: 118kg|
|Seat height: 760mm|
|Fuel capacity: 12 litres|
|PERFORMANCE (Measured at crankshaft to DIN 70020)|
|Max power: 8.8kW at 8500rpm|
|Max torque: N/A|
|Price: $1995 plus ORC|
|Test bike supplied by: Stoney Creek Power Sports|
|Warranty: 12 months or 6000km - whichever comes first|
ON CHINESE BIKES
New motorcycles from China are coming onto the market here under many brand-names and wearing a multitude of badges. They're being offered for sale by everyone from backyarders to respected dealerships. We've all heard the horror stories about faulty bikes, poor backup and non-existent spares. We've also talked to buyers who are very happy with their new Chinese purchases. The problem for the intended buyer is the sorting and sifting that's required to home in on a good bike and avoid buying a bag full of problems.
One thing is pretty clear. If you buy a Chinese minibike for $400 from the front of someone's house, you'll get exactly what you pay for. You can forget about parts and product information. Even the Australian importers who have gone down the ADR route will have trouble providing you with service information in English. Certainly don't expect an owner's manual.
If you're tempted by the Chinese food currently on offer, you need answers to these four questions:
- Who are the Australian distributors for the particular bike and how established are they?
- Is there a dealer network that allows you local access to competent service and a parts supply?
- Are there indications that the bike will become a volume seller in its niche to ensure that good product knowledge develops?
Does the seller's warranty at least match the Japanese competition?
If the answers you get about your intended purchase aren't reassuring then it really is a case of 'buyer beware'. If on the other hand the case for the purchase looks pretty strong, then you're making an informed decision.
The arrival of these inexpensive Chinese bikes has already produced some indirect benefits for Australian buyers. Part of the impact of their availability has been to drag down the prices of the established importers' bikes that they line up against.
Conservative buyers may decide to delay the purchase of a Chinese bike until a service reputation is established, but early-adopters can now take advantage of very low prices that apply at this stage.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRY THIS ONE?
When the Sachs Express 150 arrived on the scene we recognized the brand. Sachs in Germany has made some nice bikes over the years and it's currently a supplier of top quality bike suspension components. So the willingness of Sachs to hang its badge, and its reputation, on a bike from a Chinese factory is a good sign for buyers.
The Sachs measures up pretty well against our four 'buyer beware' questions too. If as we expect it sells in reasonable numbers, the growth in product knowledge and dealer network size should follow.
So, following our own guidelines, we have chosen Sachs as the first of our Chinese road bikes for a full test...