Home » I Bought A Wicked Motorcycle With Less Power Than Your Lawnmower, Here’s Why It’s So Crazy Fun

I Bought A Wicked Motorcycle With Less Power Than Your Lawnmower, Here’s Why It’s So Crazy Fun

Cfmoto Papio Ts2
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In 2023, CFMoto began production of an awesome variation of its Papio Grom-like bike. The 2024 CFMoto Papio SS is a street-legal pocket bike with some of the greatest hits of retro-futuristic styling. This little motorcycle makes half the horsepower as many ride-on lawnmowers, yet it’s so silly and incredibly fun. I put my money where my mouth is and bought one, now I can’t get enough of rolling on my own little circus.

Writing about motorcycles is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, there really is a motorcycle for everyone out there, from burly muscle cruisers to cheap electric runabouts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, now is perhaps the best time ever to get into motorcycling. Well, so long as you can put up with the trucks and SUVs towering over you on the highway. On the other hand, I end up wanting a lot of the motorcycles I write about. Last year, I brought home a Royal Enfield Classic 350 and now this year, I bought another new motorcycle.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

There have been small-bore motorcycles for as long as the motorcycle itself has been around. Honda’s most famous motorcycle, the Super Cub, has sold over 100 million units and each of them has come with an engine you can lose between your couch cushions. For many around the world, low displacement steeds have served as trainers, commuter vehicles, ways to avoid regulations, and in many cases, even the family car.

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I’ve been excited about the Honda Grom for years. In 2014, Honda captured lightning in a bottle with its tiny bike, now a part of the brand’s MiniMOTO lineup of pint-sized fun. The magic of the Grom isn’t that it’s a 125cc motorcycle, but it’s a small bike that delivers big doses of fun for riders of all skill levels. People learn how to ride on Groms, others turn them into micro stunt bikes, and others turn Groms into modding showcases. You’ll often find that Grom owners have bigger bikes in their stables, but the Grom is too darned cute, too darned cheap to ride, and too darned fun to pass up.

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One Grom owner once told me he bought a Grom because he’d rather screw up a wheelie at 30 mph than 130 mph. Years ago, I rode my neighbor’s Grom and I suddenly understood why Honda says the Grom is one of the most popular motorcycles in the world. I’m not sure you can ride one with a frown on your face.

2023 Minimoto Gallery 2400x1350
Honda

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that several companies have responded to the Grom’s success with their own interpretations of the same formula. The Kawasaki Z125 Pro is the Honda Grom’s most direct competitor, but there’s also Honda’s own Monkey, the Kymco K-Pipe 125, and frankly countless Chinese motorcycles.

Many of the Chinese bikes, like the X-Pro 125 and the Tao Tao Hellcat, look like clones of the Grom, but for a third of the price. They also show that reduced price with cheaper plastics, carburetors, and a lower build quality. There’s also the SSR Razkull 125, also sold under various brand names, which looks like a Ducati Monster that spent some time in a cold pool. There are so many bikes out there trying to be a Grom that there’s even a term for it: “Grom-Like Bike.”

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SSR Motorsports

Admittedly, I’ve never been that much of a fan of the Grom’s styling. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Grom looks great! But the Grom didn’t do anything for me. Back in September, I learned that CFMoto, which already had its own Grom-Like Bike with the Papio, was releasing the retro-themed Papio SS. Suddenly, I found the bike I wanted to buy.

Little Papio

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CFMoto has been chasing the Honda Grom with the Papio since 2017. Until now, the biggest reason to go with the Papio was its MSRP, which was $600 lower than a Grom. Now, it’s a bike you might want to choose above a Grom, and not just for pricing reasons.

Until 2023, the CFMoto Papio was more or less just a cheaper competitor to the Grom, but now CFMoto has decided to take the Papio line in a different direction. The powersports manufacturer has decided to blend the trend for retro vehicles into the small-bore revolution, making some attractive machines you won’t find anywhere else. The first was the CFMoto Papio CL, which is supposed to remind you of vintage enduros. Take a look:

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The one that really caught my attention was the CFMoto Papio SS, a sport model that looks like a Best Hits album of racing motorcycles of old. You can’t quite point out any single model in there, making it a bit like something you’d see in a Grand Theft Auto video game. I’ve most often seen the front cowling of the 1985 Suzuki GSX-R750:

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Now, here’s my Papio SS:

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CFMoto is a brand I’ve already had previous experience with. I used to own a 2008 CFMoto Fashion 250, which was an infuriating clone of a Honda Helix. I also played with a CFMoto V5, which was a scooter trying to be a motorcycle. Both of those bikes were a bit crude and you can tell they were built to fit a price point no matter what cost-cutting was required to get there.

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The Papio SS is so much better that it’s hard to believe it came from the same company. The plastics are thick and sturdy with finishes that feel about on par with what you could get from America, India, or Taiwan. The overall quality of the motorcycle followed a similar theme. Everything on the bike felt pretty robust and looked like some care was taken in design and assembly. The instrument cluster looks like it could have come from a Yamaha while I was legitimately surprised to see illuminated switchgear.

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The fuel-injected engine starts instantly and purrs quietly, the LED lighting is crisp and bright, and nothing feels like it would fall off in a stiff breeze. I know I shouldn’t be surprised that a new motorcycle doesn’t have parts falling off, but that’s how bad Chinese bikes used to be. My Fashion 250 was already rusting despite having just 800 miles on its odometer.

It was mindblowing the leap in quality in this new CFMoto was compared to what the company was making just 15 years ago. Do I think it’ll last as long as Honda? I’m not sure, but I doubt I’ll ever put enough miles on it to find out.

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Underneath the plastics sit a standard CFMoto Papio, which means an engine that makes more power than a Kawasaki, but a little less than a Honda, from my previous piece:

It’s powered by a 126cc single making 9.4 HP sipping fuel through an EFI system. That knocks on the door of the 124cc, 9.7 HP Grom and squeaks past the 125cc, 9.3 HP Z125 Pro. However, the CFMoto is heavier than both as it weighs 251 pounds to the 223-pound Honda and the 224.9-pound Kawasaki. CFMoto also does a one-year warranty just like the Japanese brands. Of course, Honda and Kawasaki are known for their quality machines while CFMoto is still improving in that area.

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This is supported by inverted forks up front and a monoshock in the rear, perfect for a little motorcycle wanting to look like a racer. Braking is handled through a 210mm disc up front chomped on by a dual-piston caliper and a 190mm disc in the rear stomped on by a single-piston caliper. The bike has an accessible 30-inch seat height, but it’s also so skinny that even short people will have no problem planting both feet flat down at a stop.

I’ve noticed the U.S. version of the Papio SS has some changes compared to the international version. The U.S. version has standard LED turn indicators while the international version has those lights integrated into the fairing. Our version also has the brake light toned down a bit. The international Papio SS has cool louvers on its brake light while America wasn’t clear enough to get them. I’m sure there’s some regulation that CFMoto figured it couldn’t meet with the louvers.

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Still, I’m in love, especially with the headlights and their asymmetrical daytime running lights. I’m glad those did make it over to America. The low beam headlight isn’t as bright as I would expect an LED unit to be. It puts out about what a cheap aftermarket LED headlight does, but it’s still better than a halogen unit. The high beam is great.

Speaking of LEDs, my bike came with a sweet option. On the sides of my fairing are LED dot matrix displays. You can make them display a custom drawing, scrolling words, emojis, or whatever else you can fit on a pair of small square displays with huge pixels. These fit the retro-future vibe of the Papio SS perfectly.

Your Personal Circus

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Look how small it is!

The big thing you should know about riding a tiny motorcycle like this is that you don’t straddle the bike so much as you sit on top of it. You will look silly riding this motorcycle, but that’s part of the fun. A part of me wants to get gear that looks like a racing suit just to crank up the absurdity. Or, maybe I’ll find gear that makes me look like a clown. Either route would fit a motorcycle like this so well.

Once you get past how silly and small the motorcycle is, riding it is pretty easy. The clutch is light, as is the transmission lever, front brake lever, and rear brake pedal. It’s hard to stall a motorcycle like this, which is great for beginners.

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Early on, you find out that the gears in the six-speed transmission are pretty short. This means you’ll be banging through the gears just to reach the speed limit. That alone is great fun. The engine makes its peak power at 8,250 RPM, so you have to rev it out to get anywhere with anything resembling speed. Ride the motorcycle like you’re a MotoGP racer and you’ll feel like Marc Márquez, but look down and see that you’re doing only 50 mph. If that doesn’t make you giggle, you might need to see a doctor.

Handling is similarly a giggle. You’re not going to be setting any hot laps, but you can get some very good lean-in while not breaking a school zone’s speed limit. Once you have enough miles under a Papio SS, you’ll realize the best way to ride it is to ignore the brakes. You’re not breaking the sound barrier here, and the tires have plenty of grip for the morsel of machine you’re hustling through a turn. Just take the turn and have a laugh. Besides, if you do apply the brakes, acceleration is slow enough that it might be supper before you reach 50 mph.

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The suspension will carry you through, too. Don’t expect the Papio SS to handle Midwestern potholes, but hitting regular bumps won’t shake your fillings. I also don’t expect many people to buy a Papio SS for doing stunts. The motorcycle gives you more of a sporty riding position with rear-set pegs and lower bars. I’m sure people will be able to wheelie one of these, but the Grom has a way better riding position for that purpose.

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Acceleration times? Well, I’m pretty sure it reaches 60 mph slower than the time it takes for a package to reach New York from California. That is if you can even reach 60 mph. I’m a bit over 200 pounds and have a pretty wide body. My Papio SS tops out at 61 mph indicated. Granted, I’ve been told these do get a touch faster after the factory break-in period, so one day I’ll have to try a top-speed run again. At any rate, I rode into a strong headwind and my top speed dropped to 55 mph. Said another way, the size of your lunch can impact your top speed.

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This motorcycle embodies the mantra of “slow car fast,” but on two wheels. Go ahead, bang out every gear, and ride the piss out of it. You basically have to unless you’re riding the Papio SS in a city. You’ll be rewarded with a riding experience filled with giggles. But, I also hope you’re a bit of an extrovert because kids and adults alike will point, stare, and ask you questions about if the cute little guy is actually road-legal.

There are some downsides to riding the Papio SS and I think they start with the bike’s bar-end mirrors. They look great but are practically useless if you’re a bigger person. To be fair to CFMoto, I had the same problem with a new $30,000 Harley-Davidson LiveWire some years ago. It seems few manufacturers make bar end mirrors that are actually functional for larger riders. For another complaint, it’s that CFMoto expects you not to exceed 4,000 RPM for the first 300 miles of riding. Given how short the gears are, that gets you about 30 mph. I’d also like to see a defined redline in that instrument cluster.

For some, the bad news will be the size of the engine. That 126cc displacement locks all versions of the Papio out of the A1 motorcycle class of Europe, which means people with the most basic motorcycle license in Europe can’t ride it.

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So Much Fun For Not A Ton Of Money

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Last year, I bought a Royal Enfield Classic 350 to bring me back to what got me into motorcycling in the first place. This bike? It’s now my smile generator. The 2024 CFMoto Papio SS might become my go-to bike for clowning around.

That’s the magic motorcycles like these. A motorcycle like this doesn’t take itself seriously and you shouldn’t take it seriously, either. You aren’t buying one of these to storm down the highway and you aren’t buying one to impress your friends, either. You’re buying one of these motorcycles to make yourself, and maybe the kids in the neighborhood, have a ton of laughs.

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Now, before you head to a dealer, you should know that these bikes do come with some caveats. The starting price of a CFMoto Papio SS is $3,299, a few hundred bucks off of the $3,599 price of a new Honda Grom. Add the optional tank screens and you’re right at the price of a Grom. Then comes additional fees, including freight and setup.

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Oh, and some dealerships seem to think that these will be popular enough to warrant a markup. A dealership in Milwaukee quoted me $4,700 out the door for a CFMoto Papio SS. That quote did not include tax, did not include registration, and did not include the optional tank screens. A salesman told me the over $1,000 markup came just from freight.

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I ended up going with a dealer closer to me and paid $4,500 all in. The bike was $3,599 with the tank screens and the other $900 was eaten up by Illinois’ taxes and registration fees, plus a destination fee from the dealer. Big thanks to Randy’s Cycle of Marengo, Illinois!

The other thing you may run into is a dearth of dealers. I found a lot of CFMoto dealers in Illinois, but just a few that sold and worked on motorcycles. So, depending on where you live, getting service on one of these could be hard.

If you get around all of that, I think you’ll have a little motorcycle that will make you smile from ear to ear. It would be awesome to see this same bike as a 150cc or a 250cc unit, but a gal can dream. I just love seeing motorcycle manufacturers offering up cheaper fun bikes and I hope it continues.

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(Images: Author, unless otherwise noted.)

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No Kids, Just Bikes
No Kids, Just Bikes
1 month ago

Looks rad! Unsure how I would like living with mini-sportbike ergos as I race into middle age, but this rivals the Monkey for best looking small motorcycle.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
1 month ago

That is a VERY cool little machine!

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 month ago

The joy with which this was written made me smile. These articles tempt me sorely—but then I remember my poor impulse control, and continue to live vicariously through these pages.

Anthony Magagnoli
Anthony Magagnoli
1 month ago

I have been tempted to move from my Sachs MadAss 125 to a Grom (for fuel injection and build quality) or this little guy (because it looks so cool). Seeing as how much prices have gone up, though, especially when you look at the out-the-door price, I can’t justify it for how little I use it.
I originally bought the MadAss from Larry Pegram (AMA Superbike racer) who was sponsored by Sachs and they got new ones as pit bikes every year. It had 25 miles on it. I used it as my pit bike for years, but since I no longer run my own race program, it’s just been a runabout that I can’t bear to get rid of since it is a dose of fun and garners lots of looks and questions when I ride it the 3/4 mile into town!
https://cdn-0.motocrossactionmag.com/Uploads/Media/News/madass125-012.jpg

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
1 month ago

I have something similar to the Vader 125 that Ive been playing around with in the garage. It was supposed to be the clutch training bike for my wife but I may have talked her into getting a Royal Enfield. I might through a set of knobbies on the Venom X20 and take it trail riding

Younork
Younork
1 month ago

Thanks for taking the plunge on this bike, I too spent entirely too long looking at the CF Moto website, specifically at this bike. Hopefully, there are more stories to follow about use, reliability, and other items of note. My one hope is that its styling is enough to move units despite its price, which seems a little too close to the grom.

Last edited 1 month ago by Younork
MrLM002
MrLM002
1 month ago

Honestly what I’d want is a 50CC Honda Navi style Grom moped.

(Steel wheels, cable brakes, carburetor, kick starter, etc. while still keeping the manual transmission)

Last edited 1 month ago by MrLM002
Electronika
Electronika
1 month ago

It’s good to hear the quality of the Chinese bikes is getting better. Had a neighborhood kid find my open garage last spring when I was wrenching on my Japanese bikes. His Chinese mini dirt bike (I don’t remember the brand) had died near my house and he was looking for help. This bike was the biggest piece of crap I have ever worked on. Sharp edges, thin plastic, bad welds and the worst copy of a Honda cub motor I have ever seen. Ended up having to replace the carb for this kid. Nice think it was only 20 bucks but still, I was very disappointed with the quality.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 month ago

Just noticed that the faring is the ’70s/’80s “bikini” style.

Very cool and hope these make a bigger comeback generally. It’s a nice split the difference look between a naked bike and a full race replica.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
1 month ago

Now I just want to take one of those to an outdoor gokart track and ‘race’ it.

Hi, I'm Danny Ganz
Hi, I'm Danny Ganz
1 month ago

How is it possible that David Tracy is supporting piles of rust with varying off-road capability, yet Mercedes Streeter can afford three motorcycles and a bus?

Isis
Isis
1 month ago

She has waaaaaaaaaay more than 3 motorcycles and a bus. . .

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 month ago

Where does she redline? 9 or 10k maybe?

Isis
Isis
1 month ago

I like my Monkey. But a lot of that is the Honda engineering and quality. I’m not sure I could justify putting out the same money for an off-brand motorcycle. If Honda didn’t exist? Maybe, but they do.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
1 month ago
Reply to  Isis

I’ve been looking at little motorcycles, and decided the monkey is for me. Why? I’m all for the looks. The dealer near me has one in red with a plaid seat. Just my style

Isis
Isis
1 month ago

Mine is a 2019 Banana Peel Yellow. I put an Akra header and muffler and a reflash and it’ll run my 185 lb butt up to like 63 mph on a flat.

No Kids, Just Bikes
No Kids, Just Bikes
1 month ago
Reply to  Isis

This. Honda is a rock-solid known quantity for just a few hundred dollars and 55 style points more. I am super stoked, though, to see how her experience is on the ownership side of things. CFMoto has some neat dual sports I could be interested in.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
1 month ago

I don’t know if this is a nationwide phenomenon, but around here it is impossible to use MSRP to make a price comparison between Chinese and Japanese (-branded) motorcycles. The dealers of the Japanese-brand bikes add assembly fees of $400+ and a similar figure for shipping/delivery, whereas the dealers of Chinese bikes just add tax and title. You’d have a tough time getting a Grom out the door for under $5k, and you could get this CFMoto for around $4k.

Last edited 1 month ago by Eggsalad
Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 month ago

For my money, and a mere $1,300 premium over the Papio, I’d go with the very excellent Royal Enfield Classic 350 in Halcyon Green.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago

Instead of buying a new Chinese bike, I’d spend the money on a good used Japanese bike.

Last edited 1 month ago by Shooting Brake
Buzz
Buzz
1 month ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

That’s the problem I come up with when I start thinking about buying one of these. I got my 2008 klr 650 for $3500. This thing looks like so much fun, but is there something even more fun out there on the used market for less? Almost certainly.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago
Reply to  Buzz

Yeah, I can see where the temptation is. At these low prices you get a Brand New Bike, but alas, reality sets in I realize that you get what you pay for!
( You buy cheap, you’ll buy often!)

Last edited 1 month ago by Shooting Brake
Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 month ago

Ooh! How is it? I’d read a review on it. 🙂

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 month ago

Thanks!

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