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Tiny But Mighty: The New Asian Inline Fours




We all thought 400 cc inline four engines in tiny, sporty bikes had gone the way of the dodo. When it comes to Chinese tech, though, apparently what’s old is new again.

Headquartered in Lhasa, Tibet and with business divisions in Chongqing, Tibet Everest (Summit) Colove Motorcycle Co., Ltd already has a couple of adventure bikes, scramblers, rally (dirt) bikes and a naked sportbike in its lineup, but these are all small (by western standards) twins. The inline four is an entirely new development.

Word is, this four-stroke  little-engine-that-could, at 399 cc, puts out 74 horsepower at 13.5k rpm and 32.5 pound-feet of torque just before that, at 12k. Its big bore and short stroke allow for a very high redline. Note that when I say “big bore” here it’s 59 mm, about the size of a lime slice. Its finger-follower valve gears (instead of shim and bucket) allow for a more compact head design, less moving weight and a more aggressive cam profile. This means that higher redline engine remains reliable. Side note: If someone out there has done a valve clearance check and shim replacement on a finger-follower design I’d love to hear all about it.

The Tiny Inline Four Experience

If you’ve been riding a while you probably remember the small-displacement inline fours of our youth, and maybe you rode one. Their high redline, tiny flywheels and bottlecap pistons meant they were real screamers. It always took a moment, especially if you also had something with, for instance, a V-twin in the stable, to remember the little four loved to be wound up. You weren’t hurting it, those were screams of pleasure coming from between your legs. And yes, if you’ve never ridden a tiny-displacement inline-four racing motorcycle, go find someone who still owns a Bandit 400, or a CBR400R, or a FZR400, and will let you ride it for a day.

Even Smaller?

There are places in the world (like the Asian market) where even a 400cc motorcycle is too big. It’s not the displacement, apparently; it’s the tax and licensing burden. Enter Kawasaki’s new(ish) ZX25R. Similarly to the Colove powerplant, it sports an inline four, but this one’s even tinier at 250cc. The engine internals must be breathtakingly adorable.

Here’s a fabulous video that’s mostly motorcycle noises. Keep in mind that the bike has a Yoshimura exhaust mounted. Still, with its 17,000RPM redline, it is reminiscent of 2-stroke MotoGP bikes of old. If these noises don’t give you a shiver, I’m going to recommend you dig up some early MotoGP videos to watch. 

Can I Buy One?

These little fours are currently restricted to Asian markets, and North America won’t see them anytime soon. The preponderance of twins in today’s markets isn’t a bad thing, though. All of us have an embarrassment of riches in the sheer variety of bikes available right now. But tiny-displacement bikes are their own kind of fun, and entirely different from anything else. Their unique internal combustion symphony remains unreplicated, and their extremely zippy engines reward precise shifts.

Will they generate enough interest to make it into the global market? Perhaps Colove’s cute little powerplant will be available as a crate engine, or they’ll supply some other manufacturer with cheap Chinese motors. In the “About Us” section of the Colove website, the company details their beginnings as well as a business partnership with KYMCO, which recently invested heavily in LiveWire. If we can draw a kind-of-straight if slightly-dotted line from Colove in Tibet to Milwaukee, who is to say what’s next?

Vezi sursa


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