Review: 2023 Moto Morini X-Cape

Review: 2023 Moto Morini X-Cape

The motorcycle was red, with a low handlebar and a chrome front fender. From a distance, it resembled a Yamaha RD400. As I got closer, I noticed its V-twin engine, then the Moto Morini nameplate on the fuel tank, and finally, the single digit “3” followed by the ½ fraction on its side cover. The peculiar nomenclature took a minute to sink in. When it did (3½=350cc), the Italian manufacturer began to intrigue me. I read up on the brand’s storied past to expand my growing understanding of motorcycling history.

Since that first encounter, the likelihood of Moto Morini’s triumphant return ebbed and flowed with each new owner. Lacking a U.S. presence and a devout American fanbase, reactions to the company’s success or failure was muted by an ocean-wide divide. Moto Morini’s fortunes seemed to have changed for the better in 2018, when the brand was purchased by the Zhongneng Vehicle Group. In 2023, Morini’s U.S. headquarters were established in Irvine, CA, and three models were made available at a growing number of dealerships. Five new models were presented at EICMA in 2023.

The Time Has Come

I’ve waited more than half a lifetime for the opportunity to ride a brand-new Moto Morini. Here it is, in the form of the 2023 X-Cape—a mid-sized adventure bike priced at a reasonable $8,299. Launched in 2021, the X-Cape has been around for a couple of years in foreign markets, but it’s new to us here in the U.S. So, let’s first celebrate the fact that Morini has a stateside presence with the X-Cape, as well as two other models: the Seiemmezzo SCR and STR.

Beauty is subjective, but compliments about the X-Cape’s styling were something I grew used to while riding the bike.

My test bike is dressed in Italian Red, a color not too different from that of my first encounter with the 3½. Whether viewed from the front or the side,  angularity is the X-Cape’s design motif. It looks sharp, both figuratively and literally. The crispness of its profile should help it stand out among the throngs of adventure bikes, while also attracting those unfamiliar with the brand. The fit and finish are equal in quality to similarly priced motorcycles from any of the established name-brand manufacturers.

The 33.3-inch seat height didn’t go unnoticed as I mounted the X-Cape. An optional 32.3-inch low seat is available, but I’m tall enough not to mind the additional inch and the extra legroom the stock seat provides. The rider triangle and width of the motorcycle between my knees were comfortable. However, the passenger footpeg brackets tended to force my ankles outward. When on the freeway, I simply placed the heel of my boot in the bend of the bracket, but when riding aggressively or standing, the encumbrance grew increasingly annoying.

The windscreen has two inches of vertical adjustability, but the release mechanism slowly became loose as I experimented with its positioning. It eventually got to the point where I had to pull over and tighten the knob with an Allen key to stop the growing intensity of the windscreen’s vibrations. At that point, I left the windscreen in the high position and never gave it another thought, because the wind protection it provided together with the fairing didn’t cause any adverse buffeting.

The windscreen provides two inches of adjustment. The mechanism for securing the screen’s placement needs better engineering, though.

What Electronics?

The cockpit is dominated by a seven-inch-wide TFT display featuring all the information you’d expect in a nicely arranged format. A toggle switch mounted on the left grip makes navigating the various menus, such as phone functions, easy—if you can get the system to work. When trying to connect my phone and helmet to the bike for the smartphone functionality, I experienced the same difficulties with Moto Morini as I’ve had with other manufacturers. For example, I could get my music to play, but then I couldn’t answer phone calls. In the end, I disconnected my smart devices from the bike and used the buttons on the side of my Schuberth helmet.

Being an adventure bike, it’s no surprise the X-Cape features an off-road mode. What is surprising is that besides making the tachometer on the display look like a knobby tire, the off-road setting does nothing more than allow you to switch off rear-wheel ABS. You must stop, select off-road mode, and then turn the ABS off. You’d think selecting the off-road mode would automatically disable ABS, but it doesn’t. Also, when keying the motorcycle off, it will restart in off-road mode, but then you must again switch off the ABS (using the kill switch avoids this extra step).

There is no difference in the amount of power or power delivery between on-road and off-road modes, or changes to traction control (because the X-Cape doesn’t have traction control). The X-Cape has no cruise control or quickshifter, either, but the switchgear does feature a backlight. There are also two USB outlets located to the left of the TFT screen.

Power and Performance

Powering the X-Cape is a liquid-cooled, eight-valve, DOHC, 649cc parallel-twin. The engine produces a claimed 60 horsepower at 8,250 rpm and 42.5 lb-ft of torque at 7,000 rpm. The curb weight is a claimed 469 pounds, 29 pounds of which are from the 4.8-gallon fuel tank.

The fuel capacity of the X-Cape is a respectable 4.7 gallons, good for around 200 miles between fill-ups. Color choices are Italian Red (pictured), Anthracite Smoke, and Carrara White.

While these performance figures are commensurate with other motorcycles of the same displacement, the difference between many of the newer parallel-twins and the X-Cape is going to be in the Morini’s 180-degree crank rotation. The X-Cape’s engine gets the job done with vibration-free, linear power production, but it lacks the torquey punch associated with 270-degree crank rotations in motorcycles such as Yamaha XSR700 or Suzuki V-Strom 800DE.

The suspension components include a fully adjustable inverted 50mm Marzocchi fork and a Kayaba shock that’s adjustable for preload and compression. During my time aboard the X-Cape, I managed to dial in the suspension close to my liking, which greatly improved its handling from the first time I rode the bike. The X-Cape’s tubeless, spoked 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheel combo, outfitted with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires, lend it some real-world usability in the dirt, but most of my riding took place on the pavement.

With the suspension working well, it was easy to reach peg-scraping lean angles on mountain blacktop. The X-Cape doesn’t hide its weight as well as some other motorcycles, but the Morini was capable in the twisties and comfortable on the freeway.

The X-Cape’s six-speed transmission is a smooth shifter. Passenger footpeg brackets get in the way of the rider’s ankles.

Slowing the X-Cape are a pair of two-piston Brembo calipers gripping twin 298mm discs up front, with a single two-piston Brembo caliper at the rear. Braking performance was adequately strong, but feedback at the lever was opaque. And speaking of levers, both the brake and clutch lever are adjustable, but the mounting location of the front brake lever had me gripping the bend instead of the lever’s customary flat area. This is probably easily changed by moving the mount inward, but it was so bothersome that it’s hard to believe the bike comes from the factory with the lever positioned this way.

Can’t Wait For More

Considering my self-inflicted excitement and anxiety about having never ridden a new Moto Morini, I managed to retain my objectivity while testing the X-Cape. I came away from the experience convinced the motorcycle is a solid first attempt since the brand was purchased by Zhongneng.

The X-Cape is missing some electronics we’ve come to expect, but it also offers niceties such as the adjustable suspension and backlit switchgear that even some more expensive motorcycles fail to deliver. The off-road mode is certainly a head-scratcher, but considering its modest power output, different engine mapping isn’t that important—especially when in the hands of a competent rider.

If Morini was demanding a premium price for its motorcycles, I’d struggle to see the value, but at the X-Cape’s $8,299 MSRP, it’s definitely a motorcycle worth considering. For me, I’ll continue experiencing an underlying giddiness with an eye toward the company’s forthcoming new models, and whatever lies beyond.

Technical Specs

+ backlit switchgear, fully adjustable fork, distinct appearance lacking commonplace electronics,
– purposeless off-road mode, passenger footpeg bracket interference

Distributor: Moto Morini USA
MSRP: $8,299 ($6,999 with rebate offer)
Engine: Liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 8-valve, DOHC, parallel-twin
Displacement: 649cc
Power: 60hp @8,250 rpm; 40.5lb-ft @7,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, wet multi-plate clutch, slip-assist, chain final drive
Rake/Trail: 25°/4.8in
Weight (dry): 468lbs
Seat Height: 33.3in
Fuel Capacity: 4.7gal
Fuel Grade: premium
Colors: Italian Red, Anthracite Smoke, Carrara White