Before I got my KLR 650, I almost bought a cheap Chinese dual-sport. While the KLR has taken everything I've thrown at it better than I have, I've still wondered how the less expensive alternative would've held up to my use and abuse. Bikes and Beards has been buying a bunch of these, including the Hawk 250 I was considering at the time, and putting them through their paces to see if they're any good.
This time they've bought a pair of 125cc pit bikes, the cheapest and most expensive examples Amazon offers. That's still not saying much, since both bikes still sell for under $1,000. On the top end, we have a Kawasaki-green Apollo 125 for $950. On the dirt cheap economical end, there's a TaoTao 125 for $775. For these prices, you get crated bikes of dubious quality where you have to finish the final assembly yourself. The TaoTao arrived in much more assembled condition, yet the Apollo was still finished first in a bit over two hours. For no extra charge, you get scratches, dings, and rubs from packaging and shipping, as well as missing bolts for both bikes.
The Apollo included a certificate of origin in the shipping crate, which is important if you want to register the bike as an OHRV and hit the trails. The TaoTao did not, but from what I've seen, these are often mailed separately from the crate for security reasons. That way, someone can't steal your crate and register your bike as their own, so let's not hold that against the TaoTao.
Once assembled, it was time to test these bikes at the local gravel pit. The Apollo was the clear winner in the hillclimb and drag races. It also had an unfair advantage, a $30 aftermarket carburetor that really brought the engine to life. From what I've seen, most of these Chinese bikes are jetted poorly from the factory, perhaps to pass emissions tests. Either an aftermarket carb or rejetting the stock one goes a long way toward opening up the full potential of these bikes.
Then the TaoTao broke. The kick starter just spun and spun, with no resistance at all. It could be a simple loose connection, or the engine may have blown on its first outing. We don't know from this video what happened. What we do know, though, is that a three-year extended warranty is available for purchase on Amazon along with the bike. Considering that the quality of what you get bears a striking resemblance to Forrest Gump's mythical box of chocolates—¡t might break like the TaoTao, or it might be unstoppable like a KPR Lifan 200—it's probably an excellent idea to splurge for it.
To me, the most surprising part was not that the bikes worked at all, nor that one of them broke. It was that during the coronavirus times in which they made this video, Amazon delivered these bikes in five days, while household necessities like toilet paper were taking 24 days. It seems that Amazon has motorcyclists' priorities straight.