Escape TO EXCELLENCE - MOTO MORINI X-CAPE 650
Bike SA|January 2022
On and off-road test in Italy of the first new model produced by historic Italian marque Moto Morini since it was acquired by Chinese manufacturer Zhongneng in October 2018
Alan Cathcart

Five years ago Italian trophy marque Moto Morini came pretty close to being deposited in motorcycling history’s trash bin, joining the many other defunct brands from all our two-wheeled yesterdays. But the company’s then owner Ruggero Jannuzzelli was able to invest sufficient capital to keep it afloat while searching for someone with the resources and commitment to bring Morini back to the big time on a permanent basis, and in October 2018 he cemented the deal that saw Chen Huaneng, the owner of Chinese scooter and minimoto manufacturer Zhongneng Vehicle Group, acquire 100% ownership of Moto Morini.

In my exclusive interview with him that month [see attached] Chen stated his intentions to immediately develop a range of Moto Morini models with 500-800cc parallel-twin engines. These would financially underpin the high end 1200cc V-twins which the company has manufactured exclusively for the past two decades since its 2003 revival – having been killed off in 1996 by American finance company TPG after it acquired Ducati, then owner of Morini [see History sidebar]. Well, he’s been as good as his word, and exactly three years later the Moto Morini X-Cape 650 go-anywhere adventure bike has entered production right on schedule at the Zhongneng factory in Taizhou, 400km south of Shanghai, for sale all over the world.

The X-Cape is powered by the well-established liquid-cooled DOHC 8-valve parallel-twin motor with 180° (so, one up/one-down) crankshaft, offset chain camshaft drive, and a single gear-driven counterbalancer produced by Zhongneng’s neighbours CFMoto, which has been in production since 2011. Tens of thousands of examples of the four different models so far in CFMoto’s growing roster of midsized motorcycles (the 650NK roadster, 650TK hard-case bagger, 650GT sports tourer and 650SM supermoto, all powered by this motor) have been sold all over the world since then, in the process acquiring a fine reputation for performance and reliability. But those four models haven’t yet included an adventure bike with genuine offroad capability – and Moto Morini has now delivered that with the X-Cape.

Available in a choice of three colours – Red Passion, Carrara White or Smoky Anthracite - at a price of €7,090 in Italy incl. 22% local tax for the version with cast aluminium wheels, or an extra €200 if you specify wire wheels with alloy rims, the X-Cape is actually priced slightly higher than the comparable €6,240 Benelli TRK502, which is Italy’s bestselling motorcycle of any kind this year, usurping the BMW 1250GS from its throne. This price difference reflects the fact the Morini has a 649cc engine producing 59 bhp/44kW at 8,750 rpm at the crank, rather than the 47 bhp/35 kW at 8,500 rpm of the likewise dual-purpose Benelli’s 499cc motor. This means the Morini X-Cape shows all the signs of being a pretty good bargain versus the market-leading Yamaha Tenere 700 at €10,249 in Italy, or the equally new Aprilia Tuareg 660 getting on for double the price at €12,270, both including tax. However, that’s provided it lives up to the expectations aroused by that historic badge on the fuel tank, so the chance to spend a gloriously sunny autumn day riding it through the vineyard-clad hills of the Oltrepo region south of Milan, gave me a chance to check out its credentials.

Production of the X-Cape may be taking place in China, but it was entirely designed and developed in Moto Morini’s 3,000m€ factory at Trivolzio, near Pavia, in the risotto rice fields south of Milan. That’s according to Morini’s R&D Manager, Massimo Gustato, who was hired by Jannuzzelli in 2015, and still heads up its five-man inhouse development team under Chinese ownership. A passionate offroad rider in his spare time, Massimo previously worked in Bimota’s technical office, where he was entirely responsible for creating the Ducati desmodue powered DBX – arguably the sexiest-looking dual purpose motorcycle yet made.

“We began working on the X-Cape project in December 2018, almost as soon as Zhongneng acquired the company,” says Gustato. “We were given a completely free hand to design the bike, just using the CFMoto 650cc parallel-twin engine as the basis – everything else was up to us. Our Chinese colleagues took care of adapting the engine and its electronics to suit the X-Cape application, although we designed and patented the seven-inch full-colour TFT dash ourselves. Otherwise, everything else was done in Italy, well-balanced we also have components from local suppliers like Marzocchi and Brembo on the bike as standard, and our Head of Design Angel Lussiana styled the model here, too.”

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