The Benelli BN 302 is the latest motorcycle to enter the now ultra-competitive entry level motorcycle segment. And while Benelli has decided to enter the ring with a naked instead of faired sportsbike, the BN 302 is poised to shake up the pecking order with a bike that’s not only priced competitively but is equipped with features that haven’t been seen in this price range before.
Before we go anything further, let’s address the elephant in the room – the fact that the Benelli BN 302 is manufactured in China. The common point of view is that anything built in China is rubbish (though that doesn’t stop millions of people buying iPhones every year). While I only had two days with the BN 302, there was nothing I could obviously see that would cause me any concern if I was spending my hard earned cash on this machine.
Keep in mind also that while the Benelli is manufactured in China, the bike was designed and developed entirely in Pesaro, Italy where the company was founded over 100 years ago. While Benelli was bought out by the Qianjiang Group in 2005, operations remain in Italy and the factory in Wenling, China uses manufacturing machinery imported from Germany, Italy and the USA. This is no different to the fact that Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and so forth are headquartered in Japan yet a number of their motorcycles are manufactured in Thailand, Indonesia and India.
The specifications of the bike read like something from a class level above. The BN 302 gets dual front floating 260 mm discs with 4 pistons calipers instead of a single disc as is so common for learner bikes. Rear suspension allows for not only for preload adjustment but adjustable rebound too and front preload can also be adjusted up front – many entry level middleweight bikes don’t even offer that.
But for us, the biggest plus is the fact that Benelli have chosen to fit the BN 302 with quality tires. Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha all choose to put on lower quality bias ply tires on their learner bikes and we’ve been highly critical of their choosing to do so in previous articles. Thankfully, Benelli have shod the bike with Pirelli Angel GT tires. We’d always recommend new riders immediately replace the tires that come standard on the likes of the CBR300R and Ninja 300 with quality rubber which would cost at least a few hundred dollars – with the BN 302, it’s already done for you.
The fit and finish of the bike for the most part appears excellent. Paint quality looks great and all the nuts, bolts, harnesses and so forth appear top quality. There’s some ‘premium’ looking touches to the bike as well, such as the chrome engine cover plate with the Benelli logo on it and the embossed Benelli logo on the seat with which also features exposed red coloured stitching. My only complaint in regards to the appearance is up front – the dash and the switchgear.
Both components are taken from the spare parts bin of earlier Benelli models and it shows. The dash already looks outdated and features some rather uninspiring back-lit icons. Thankfully its functionality is better than its looks with the analogue tachometer and digital speedometer both easy to read and garner information from. It’s very basic however as you only get a trip computer, fuel level indicator and engine temperature display – no gear indicator or even distance to refuel readout. The controls on the handlebars for lights, indicators and the kill switch also feel a little cheap – certainly not up to Honda or Kawasaki standards.
That’s mostly forgotten once you’re out and riding on the Benelli BN 302 though. Thankfully, this isn’t a bike with great parts that are bolted together in a haphazard way. The BN 302 rides as well as it should do as indicated on paper.
The engine powering the BN 302 is a brand new liquid cooled inline twin and it’s a real surprise packet. I wasn’t expecting a small engine from an Italian motorcycle company (Chinese owned or not) to be this good. It produces 28 kW @ 10,000 rpm and torque of 27.4 Nm @ 9,000 rpm. That compares very favourably to the Kawasaki Z300 (29.0 kW @ 11,000 rpm and 27.0 Nm @ 10,000 rpm) and the Honda CB300F (22.7 kW @ 8,500 rpm and 27 Nm @ 7,250 rpm).
Like the Ninja and Z300, the BN 302 delivers most of its power higher up in the rev range. Once you hit around 7,000 rpm it really comes alive, rapidly accelerating and emitting a great sound. Benelli have really put some time into tuning the exhaust – in our opinion making it the best sounding learner bike.
Straight line performance is blunted slightly due to the weight of the BN 302. The wet weight (all fluids but no fuel) is a 182 kg – pretty portly for a bike of this size and displacement. Part of that is due to Benelli using thicker and stronger steel for it. In a recent interview, Qiangiang CEO Yan Haimei stated that Benelli over-engineered the bike to make it solid and durable and able to withstand the poorer road surfaces encountered in many South East Asian nations where Benelli already has a big presence.
The engine is mated to a good little gearbox as well. The clutch action is bang on and easy to use – a definite plus for new riders. The action is smooth and crisp although I did get a few false neutrals in my ride when going from 2nd to 1st gear upon slowing to a stop.
Braking is another highlight and dare I say the BN 302 is best in class when it comes to both brake feel and stopping power. That’s no surprise given the aforementioned front twin discs. The front brake lever is adjustable (unlike the clutch lever) and provides great initial bite with nice feel and progression. Unfortunately, ABS isn’t currently even available as an option but may be introduced for the next model year – in fact given Benelli’s presence in the UK and Europe it will have to be in order to meet upcoming mandatory ABS laws in the EU.
Handling is also top notch. While the feel of the suspension isn’t amazing (what is at this price point?), the fact that you can adjust both front and rear preload plus rear rebound is a huge plus – enabling the bike to accommodate a wide range of rider preferences and sizes.
Overall the Benelli BN 302 is a fantastic bike and should be given serious consideration for anyone wanting to purchase a small displacement naked motorcycle. Perhaps the greatest praise I can gifrom a Japanese marque would probably cost $1,000 more given its features. Benelli is planning a massive increase in models over the next few years and if the BN 302 is any indication of what the Italian brand is capable of, then bring it on.
The Benelli BN 302 is priced at $5,590 in Australia and £3,699 in the UK. Benelli returns to the USA later this year and it is expected the BN 302 will be available at launch.