MONDIAL HPS125 HIPSTER Road Test: A Little Bike That Thinks Big

First ride on the born-again Mondial marque’s debut model

 

Exactly six decades after its 125 & 250GP World Championship-winning heyday in 1957, and 13 years since the regrettable demise of the Honda-powered Piega V-twin Superbike which was the last model to carry the famous FB Mondial badge on its fuel tank [see History sidebar], the historic Italian trophy brand has been revived once again, but with a very different product than the svelte, sleek, sporty 1,000cc Piega. 

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The new 2017 HPS125 Mondial single was designed in Italy but has now entered series production in China, after its surprise debut in prototype form under the Hipster name at the 2015 EICMA Milan Show. One year later, the customer version of this good-looking Italian neo-retro street scrambler made its global debut at the Intermot show in Cologne last October, albeit now more mundanely rechristened as the HPS125 after it emerged that Taiwanese scooter giant Kymco had registered the Hipster name, without so far applying it to a production model. “Everyone still calls it the Hipster, even if we can’t officially name it as that!” says Cesare Galli, proprietor of Pelpi International in Merone, near Como, the European distributor for Taiwanese scooter and minibike manufacturers Aeon and Over, who’s responsible for creating the born again Mondial. First deliveries have now reached Italian dealers at a competitive price of 3,790 Euro incl. 22% local tax – good value compared to the 4,489 Euro price tag there for the Indian-made KTM 125 Duke and the 4,940 Euro Yamaha MT-125 that are likely to be the Mondial’s biggest marketplace rivals. Future shipments will head to Germany, France, Spain, the UK, Norway, Poland, the Czech Republic and Finland, in all of which importers have already been signed up, says Pelpi’s sales director Gianluca Zanelotto, with more EU countries soon to follow, plus outlets further afield in South Africa, Brazil, India and various Asian markets. Mondial has made a good start in becoming the global brand that Galli declares it’s intended to be.

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Cesare Galli was formerly the Technical Director at Fantic Motor, the successful Italian offroad brand whose Caballero trail bike was every Latin youngster’s dream ride back in the 1980s. Galli worked there until Fantic shut down in 1996 (it has since been restarted successfully), after winning a hat-trick of World Trials Championships with his designs, as well as successive World and Italian Enduro titles. Thereafter Galli took over the importation of Kawasaki dirtbikes and ATVs for Italy, then in 2002 he founded Pelpi in partnership with Taiwanese scooter and ATV manufacturer Aeon Motor. His 20-year friendship with Count Pierluigi Boselli, today’s owner of his family’s FB Mondial trademark, then led in 2014 to the idea of reviving the brand with a range of sophisticated, sharply styled, small-capacity models such as Mondial was noted for producing back in its heyday, but built in China in order to lower costs, using technology developed by Pelpi in concert with its Taiwanese contacts. The Hipster – well, everyone else calls it that, so we may as well, too! – is the first of these to hit the marketplace, with its follow-up 125 Supermoto sister model already unveiled in prototype form at last November’s EICMA Milan Show, alongside the production Hipster. A 125 Enduro and 250cc single-cylinder version of each model will be available next year, with other capacity platforms and models to follow in due course up to a maximum of 600cc, using single and twin-cylinder engine platforms sourced in China, but with European levels of quality and performance, says Galli.

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The Hipster’s fresh, modern styling with period design cues and close attention to detail sets it apart from other neo-retro models emanating from the People’s Republic like the Mash or AJS Cadwell, which are low cost products and frankly look it. By contrast, the distinctive looking new Mondial has a quality of design and finish that far exceeds any comparable Chinese-built small-capacity motorcycle yet available in Western markets, and its modern fuel injected four-valve engine package is much more sophisticated than the elderly carburetted air-cooled two-valve engine designs found in, say, the Mash. The Hipster is powered by a good-looking liquid-cooled single-cylinder 124cc motor with chain-driven dohc measuring 58 x 47 mm that’s been outsourced from the Piaggio Group, and is manufactured at its factory in China that’s a joint venture with its partner there, Zongshen. Apart from its use in various Chinese market-only models built by Zongshen, the same fuel-injected motor with latest-spec Magneti Marelli engine management is already to be found in several of Piaggio’s European products like the Aprilia RS4 125 and various Derbi models, including the GPR sportbike, Senda DRD Supermoto, and Terra adventure bike. Here in the Mondial it produces 11kW/15CV at 9,750 rpm – the upper power limit of the European A1 licence category – with maximum torque of 12.3 Nm at 7,500 revs. This makes the HPS 125 Hipster’s performance more than live up to its looks, as I found for myself during a dull but dry Italian winter day spent dancing around the hills and valleys of northern Italy aboard a pre-production HPS125 – and thoroughly enjoying myself in the process.

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That’s because the Hipster is a little bike that thinks big, conveying a level of comfort and performance that’s some way greater than you’d expect from a ‘mere’ 125. Honestly, if I’d never seen the Mondial before and you’d thrown me its keys and told me it was parked round the corner, I’d have assumed after riding it that it was at the very least a 200cc model, and possibly even a 250. That’s firstly because the sleek styling gives it a sense of substance worthy of a bigger bike than a 125, with the stacked twin exhausts running down the right side of the Hipster and the meaty-looking front end’s 41mm inverted fork both more redolent of a larger capacity model. This pre-production versionl seemed well-made, with a surprising degree of presence for a 125 tiddler. The vaguely vintage-looking brown leather seat with prominent stitching looks quite upmarket and turned out to be surprisingly comfortable, though there’s precious little room for the passenger that it can nominally carry. Probably it’d be OK for short hops around city streets, but not much more.

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Climb aboard, and the impression of substance is maintained – this is a proper sized motorcycle, not a minibike, and for a 1.80m/5’10” rider like myself there’s a sufficiently spacious riding position allowing you to feel comfortable without being cramped, with the quite wide tapered-section handlebar delivering a relaxed but fairly upright stance that doesn’t get tiring, with lots of room to tuck my knees into the recesses of the 14-litre aluminium fuel tank. The water radiator is hidden away high up behind the headlight, and those good-looking stacked exhausts don’t obtrude too much, either, thanks to a longer right footrest which gives room for your foot to operate the linked brakes via a pedal with a combined action that’s if anything a little too abrupt – it’s initially easy to lock the rear wheel until you learn to respect the pressure the pedal delivers, since ABS isn’t fitted to the Hipster as yet – apparently only the 250 that’s coming next requires it, say Mondial staff. Working the single 280mm front disc’s radially-mounted four-piston caliper on its own via the hand lever delivers excellent stopping power, and after a while you learn the best way to blend the two different ways of slowing down. I had no issues with heat radiating off the exhausts on to my right leg, so the heat shield works. The footrests are well positioned, and play their part in delivering comfort consistent with ground clearance. 

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For having already sampled the Hipster’s Chinese-made CST (Cheng Shin, rather than Chinese State Tyre Co.!) street enduro tyres on various CFMoto models, I was well aware that these give a more than acceptable level of grip nowadays, that’s consistent with Japanese or European products. However, it was interesting to see that the tyres fitted to the HPS125 models on display on the Mondial stand at last November’s EICMA Milan Show carried Pirelli stickers, in recognition of the fact that China’s state-owned ChemChina conglomerate purchased the Italian tyre company 18 months ago! [see photos] Rolling on 18-in front and 17-in rear wheels, the Hipster tips the scales at just 130kg dry, and its handling is stable and well balanced, the 18-inch front wheel with its skinny 100/90 tyre delivering light, precise steering that’s slightly slower albeit less nervous than on others equipped with a 17-inch front, and for a small, light bike that’s not such a bad thing, especially as the Mondial’s wide handlebar gives you all the leverage you need to flick the Hipster round tight hairpin turns or city street corners. The 130/80-17 rear tyre delivered all the grip required by the eager-revving motor.

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For the Hipster’s four-valve, four-stroke Piaggio-Zongshen engine is a gem, although you have to use its sweet-shifting six-speed gearbox pretty intensively to extract the sometimes surprising level of performance it’s capable of delivering. This is quite a bit higher than any other Chinese-built 125 I’ve ridden, and wouldn’t be disappointing for a 250, beyond the fact that you have to work hard at obtaining it. It’s fully on a par with a KTM 125 Duke, and arguably slightly more slickly achieved thanks to the well-matched gear ratios and well-chosen overall gearing. Yet after thumbing the starter button to send the twincam motor bursting eagerly into life, you discover that this is quite easy and flexible to use at lower revs, though pulling away requires a good dose of clutch and a hard twist of the wrist to get the engine spinning to obtain some momentum. Compared to most other 125s the Mondial needs to be revved hard, and ideally kept above 8,000 rpm, accelerating briskly from rest and then starting to pull hard once the single round instrument’s tacho reading hits 5,000 rpm, before coming on strong at 7,000 revs. From 8,000 rpm up to the hard-action 10,500 rpm revlimiter there’s a really invigorating sense of performance that’s good for a claimed 130kmh/80mph on the speedo, with 100kmh/62mph coming up at 8,000 revs to the sound of a subdued but pretty satisfying thrum from that twin-pipe exhaust. There’s absolutely no vibration at any revs thanks to the single gear-driven counterbalancer, which with the engine self-evidently capable of delivering more horsepower than EU A1 licence rules harness it to, is a welcome luxury – the inevitable power loss entailed in driving it isn’t missed. The HPS125’s engine is Euro 4 compliant, thanks to the well-disguised catalyst hidden away in the belly pan beneath and to the rear of the crankcase.

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The Mondial’s engine performance made it well capable of keeping up with traffic on an autostrada, so this is not just a good-looking urban commuter – it’s equally at home on faster stretches of road where that lusty little engine can sing along at speed, with the very practical bar-end mirrors delivering a good rearwards view of the traffic you’ve just passed – they’re not as intrusive in real world use as they might seem at rest. But at lower speeds the Mondial is particularly convivial to zap around town on, with the light-action clutch and smooth pickup from the well-mapped Marelli EFI making traffic duty anything but onerous. The non-adjustable Chinese-made suspension irons out road shock quite adequately, even with just 90mm of front wheel travel available from that upside down fork, though the nostalgic-looking twin rear shocks deliver 120mm of travel, giving adequate ride comfort for such a little bike. 

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The Mondial’s large round digital dash offset to the right in front of the upper tripleclamp is well designed and informative, as well as easy to read with the tacho reading shown around its circumference, and the large-digit speedo in the centre, with a gear selected readout above it. There’s just a single trip shown beneath the speedo, with the time at the bottom and the fuel level on the left, with water temp on the right. The good-looking headlight gave good illumination in the many tunnels I rode through up in the foothills of the Alps, where the Piaggio engine’s relatively lusty torque for such a small engine once again impressed – the Mondial offered a level of performance climbing hills that was quite out of keeping with its cubic capacity. 

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But there’s more to come, with a 250cc version of the Hipster arriving at the end of this year as a 2018 model, using an sohc 249cc single-cylinder motor sourced from Zongshen that it’s claimed will deliver 18.5kW/25bhp at  9,000 rpm, with torque almost doubling to 22Nm at 7,000 revs. This will be fitted with ABS as Mondial’s first step up the capacity ladder, with 250cc versions of the Supermoto and forthcoming street Enduro to follow, allowing Mondial to build on the promising start to its latest ride down the comeback trail represented by the HPS125. “In 2017, we plan to produce at least 2,000 examples of the 125 Hipster mainly for our customers in Europe, then in 2018 over 5,000 units as the Supermoto and Enduro versions become well established, and we expand our distribution globally” says Gianluca Zanelotto. “We want to create a small but interesting range of different bikes selling at an affordable cost because they’re made in China, but to European standards. We will build up our range step by step, with the 250s coming next followed by a 400cc range which will possibly be powered by a twin-cylinder engine – we are still evaluating the concept. But we see Mondial going to no larger than 600cc with a complete range of models, always using the same formula of an Italian designed bike made in China, to European standards.” With access to Piaggio/Zongshen’s ever increasing range of engine platforms, that sounds like a good strategy.

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Classy but not costly, the Mondial HPS125 Hipster is a proper-sized bike with a wide target audience, from younger riders on the search for a cool-looking alternative to their mate’s KTM Duke, to older historically minded customers who remember FB Mondial’s glory days. It’s a good start down that comeback trail.

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