Long travel suspension and 21” front wheel? Tick.
Simple air-cooled engine in a steel frame enabling easy repair should the worst happen? Tick.
Grill over the headlight? Tick.
I could go on of course, checking its compatibility with all the overlanding essentials and thus producing the dullest review in history, but this little bike deserves much more. In our overly-complicated world, this new WK 400 Trail is a great concept, because it looks back to tried and tested ideas and precisely because it doesn’t embrace all the latest gadgets. Technological advancements are all very good and there are many advantages offered by ABS or multiple trip computers, but I am a realist who has ridden in many parts of the world where fuel is poor, roads terrible, supplies non-existent and mechanics eager, but under-resourced. They have hammers and welders.
A bike that ticks the bare essentials; being lightweight, economical, easy to repair and incredibly cheap to buy in the first place, has a lot going for it if you want to ride in ‘the rest of the world’. The big question is, does this Chinese-built machine really satisfy all those requirements?
Well it’s a great concept and in the first 1,500 miles it has certainly made me, and the whole Overland team, smile. At 397cc the single-cylinder engine is a rehash of an air-cooled Honda, but when mated to a chassis with an all-up wet weight of 161kgs, its lowly 27hp is hugely entertaining.
The technological nod to (post)modernity is the Siemens electronic fuel injection which is very smooth even at low revs, allowing you to trickle along through busy market places, but which makes the engine instantly responsive should you need to tackle a steep climb or gun it over a mini-landslide. There is only 24ft lb of torque which will make any 1200GS rider guffaw with laughter, but it seems to be just where you need it. The EFI means that automatic metering adjustments should mean a similarly flawless response even at high altitude.
On the road, acceleration is adequate up to 70mph and surprisingly vibration-free, but this 400 is happiest cruising at 55 – 65 which is certainly all you’ll need once outside Europe. The power delivery and chosen gear ratios are particularly well suited to back roads and urban dicing and the gear selection is super-smooth. Even on cold start-up there is no lurch when first gear is selected.
So far, in mixed use and always with the factory luggage (more of which later), fuel economy has been 71.6mpg. This mixed use has included a long motorway run up to Northumberland and fun on green lanes so demonstrates real-world touring economy. Sadly in this long-term test we won’t be able to include long stretches of Saharan sand, so you’ll have to extrapolate a little, as labouring through sand in lower gears can really impact on tank range.
The fuel tank reputedly holds 18 litres so a good 250 mile range is theoretically possible, however when the fuel gauge is telling me there’s nothing left and the orange light is flashing (after 145 miles), I can only fit 9.5 litres in! I’ve since ridden to 210 miles but still only managed to sqeeze in 13.3 litres, so promise I’ll run it dry just to see ‘what it’ll do’. The tank is steel, so a magnetic tankbag will fit and if you crash it’ll forever bear the scars of some foreign travail; a great talking point down the pub…
The rest of the bodywork is plastic and features the ‘of the moment’ beak above the eminently practical long wrap around front mudguard. Overall the styling is angular and not unpleasant. The small fairing is efficient and if you want to power along at 70mph it doesn’t cause turbulence or undue noise and the mirrors are excellent and vib-free. Even the slim seat is comfortable for over 100 miles, in part because the foot-peg position is so relaxed. My longest day in the saddle has been 260 miles and with the odd photo or tea stop I haven’t even noticed the seat.
The clocks which nestle behind the screen feature a ‘traditional’ rev counter, large digital speed readout, the usual warning lights, time clock, single trip meter and a fuel gauge. Rather bizarrely, there’s another 6-bar gauge which seems to measure battery performance, and yet no charge light. In excessive rain (and there was plenty of that over Halloween) there must be water ingress somewhere as the indicator warning lights flash continuously at various intensities. This doesn’t affect the indicator use at all, but is a little disconcerting.
For me, the best bit about the bodywork is the instantly removable sidepanel – no tools required – to access the air filter. This is perfect for regular maintenance in dusty conditions, or to quickly blank off with a plastic bag and cable ties for an extra-deep river crossing.
The twin silencers are high and sound absolutely wonderful. They aren’t offensive, or overly loud, but I still can’t imagine how they achieved homologation and can’t help thinking that the sound is part of the reason I find the overall package so much fun!
The suspension at both ends is made in Taiwan by FastAce, apparently a suspension and wheel manufacturer of some repute. There’s easy damping adjustment at both ends, but all I can say at this time is that it rides bumps well, on or off road, and certainly adds to the desire to be an urban hooligan. Exactly how robust it’ll be riding corrugations for days at a time is yet to be seen. The ride height is a monstrous 890mm but once you’ve climbed on it falls considerably. Without a rider, the ride height is still a little low for the sidestand, which keeps the bike so unnervingly upright, I’ve found myself making a point of finding a slope or even a small depression to put the stand in. A centre-stand is not provided but the brackets are there, so perhaps in time it’ll become an option.
The other bits that make contact with the road are the wheels of course; attractive black alloy rims with natty red stripes and tyre securing bolts, should you need to run very low pressures. The 21” front and 18” rear are shod with Kenda tyres as standard which are OK in the dry but don’t inspire confidence in the wet. Just reading the traffic and going for a gap on a roundabout in the rain can lead to wheel spin. Even more concerning is the fact that the rear brake is just too good for such a light bike, and without the option of ABS the Kenda has no chance.
At the pointy end the brake feels wooden and is under-powered, with a tiny twin piston caliper grabbing an equally small disc. In itself that’s not a problem and the irony of course, is that in the absence of ‘rider aids’ this is quite useful on loose surfaces, but it’s the imbalance between the front and rear brakes that is the issue. So now you’ll notice this road test is taking a turn for the worse.
As I’ve said, the design concept is a good one and the simplicity of the machine almost a breath of fresh air, but the build quality overall could be better and this is a problem for WK Bikes here in the UK. They are only the importers, so they source different machines from different factories. The WK650 we used recently is a well-made, exceptionally cheap, bargain road tourer and comes from the CFMoto factory in China. This 400 is in fact made by Shineray, a factory also in China. But the attention to detail is not so good.
The throttle cable is snagged beneath the tank for example, meaning it doesn’t sit in its locator above the throttle body and yet the push-pull cable adjustment at the handlebar end has been overly set to compensate. The bolts locating the starter motor have worked loose as have the head-bearings, which admittedly may have been ‘bedding in’. More worryingly the bolts retaining the rear sprocket worked loose too. The neutral light flickers occasionally and one morning it sounded like the battery was flat, but that was all down to a loose connector block. There’s an oil leak on a pipe from the oil tank where a jubilee clip has been incorrectly fitted and this drips on to the exhaust header creating that distinctive aroma when you’re sitting at the ‘lights.
These are all very small things on their own, but they amount to shoddy quality control which could damage the WK brand overall and reflect on bikes like the 650, which deserves a wider audience than it’s currently getting. I have no doubt that the chaps at WK Bikes will up the effort they put into pre-delivery inspections and this particular machine is one of the first they’ve registered, hurriedly released to Overland as we’ve been badgering them. If you’re anything like me you’ll want to prepare your bike for a big trip anyway, upgrading and altering many parts, so you won’t mind making minor adjustments and tightening a few bolts, as this 400 Trail has the potential to make a great overlander.
It sits well all day at 65 – 70 mph and yet the gearing is also good off-road. Bearing in mind that all green-laning was done with full complement of luggage and the tyres are very road biased, it was again, a hoot to ride in the dirt, tackling the sort of thing that the ‘rest of the world’ offers; rocky and sandy trails, pot holes, mud, gravel, leaves and even river crossings. This is not a light KTM trail bike so don’t expect miracles if you want to go and play in a quarry, but a true sporty dirt bike could never comfortably take you the length of the country, and this WK can.
You may well judge that only spending £2,499 in the first place makes minor niggles acceptable, or that it’s a snip to get hold of a machine that doesn’t have a previous owner’s ‘hidden’ past. Yes, you did read £2,499. Whatever you think, consider that the ten grand you’ll save by not buying a 1200GS could take you round the world. And if those little niggles do crop up when you’re on your adventure, they’ll just mean you meet more people!
If it’s depreciation that concerns you, consider this: even if it loses 2/3rds of its value on your first trip, exactly how does that compare, in cash terms, to what you lose just registering a more expensive machine? Ultimately it’s horses for courses of course, but I know there are many times I’ve cursed myself for not having something as simple, light and nimble as this 400 Trail and I’ll say it again, it sounds great!
Spec sheet to follow