There may now be an overabundance of scrambler and retro styled motorcycles coming out from various companies at the moment, yet somehow the Benelli Leoncino has managed to stand out from the crowd. Sporting a 500cc inline twin and gorgeous looks, it could well mean that a resurgent Benelli has a major hit on its hands.
While it’s not a powerhouse, it should still prove to be a lot of fun. The all new engine produces 35 kW @ 8500 rpm and very impressive 45 Nm of torque @ 4500 rpm. We’ll be interested to see more details on the engine as the torque of it looks mighty impressive and should prove to be brilliant out in the mountains.
Front suspension is an adventure like 50mm in diameter with 135mm of travel. Rear travel is 145mm. Stopping power is provided by way of two 320mm rotors with radial 4 piston calipers and ABS. A single 260mm disc sits at the back. The front wheel is 19 inches in diameter as well. Stick a bash plate on to protect the headers and we’re actually seeing a potentially truly off-road capable scrambler.
Yes, we’re really excited about this bike. Not only does it look amazing but if other recent Benelli’s are anything to go by, it will ride well too. About the only negative we can find is the weight which at 170kg dry is tipping the scales slightly more than we’d like. That said however, it’s only 3kg more than the Ducati Scrambler Sixty2, while having more power and no doubt will be a few thousand dollars cheaper.
While Benelli might be coming to the USA soon, riders in Europe and Australia have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sample their products for a while now. And despite the fear many have from the now Chinese owned company, everything we’ve seen so far has been very positive – and the prices are hard to match, too.
That’s what makes the Benelli TRK 502 so interesting. From a look at the specification sheet, there’s probably nothing to get overly excited about. Performance wise it looks very similar to Honda’s CB500X. The 500cc inline two cylinder engine produces 35 kW @ 8,500 rpm and 45 Nm @ 4,500 rpm. While it gets spoked wheels, the front is 17 inches in diameter as standard, but optionally comes with 19 inch rims. Front suspension travel is a disappointing 145mm, as is the rear. Weight is also up there at 210kg, although we’re unsure of if that includes the panniers and rear box. The fuel tank however is a whopping 20 litres.
But what is exciting will be the price. No official prices have been made available yet, but given recent history, Benelli’s are generally many thousands of dollars better price than competitors – both in asking price and in standard equipment on the bike.
Benelli have been working their way back into western markets for the last few years with a strong presence in both the UK and Australia and have now confirmed that sales of at least some of their motorcycles will begin from October this year. SSR Motorsports has been announced the distributor in the USA.
SSR Motorsports has been in business since 2002 and currently sell a variety of pit bikes, ATVs and buggies along with scooters, dirt bikes and dual sports. Initially, SSR Motorsports will just be importing the BN 302 and BN 600i. We’re big fans of the BN 302 and would rate it as the best entry level naked bike currently on the market and at a price of $3,9999 in the US will match the price of the Honda CB300F while providing far better specifications. While we haven’t personally ridden the BN 600i, we have taken it’s touring focused sibling – the BN 600GT for a spin and it’s also an excellent value for money machine.
According to a report in Dealer News, former chief marketing and sales executive for Suzuki, Mel Harris, is leading the sales push for Benelli in the US and that once the brand is more established, larger displacement bikes will be imported. All bikes will come with a 12 month warranty.
We all love to dream about buying the latest top of the range Japanese or Italian sportsbike but when it comes to reality, something more practical is often the wiser choice. The Benelli BN 600GT is the type of motorcycle you choose using your head rather than your heart. It’s not the prettiest bike built, its specifications while strong aren’t extraordinary and you could hardly say it carries the soul of a traditional Italian bike. But we’d argue it was never trying to.
The Benelli BN 600GT is only the second bike from the Italian marque to use their all new 600cc inline four cylinder engine (the first being the naked BN 600R). Designed as a sports-tourer, it’s probably fair to say the BN 600GT won’t win any beauty pageants. There’s a lot of styling cues from the Kawasaki Versys here (the previous model, not the current decent looking one) such as the front stacked headlights and the laydown rear shock absorber. Despite being designed and developed in Italy, it looks more like something from Seoul than Pesaro.
That said, it does actually look better in person than in still images. Even in the metal, one wouldn’t call it elegant but at least it is different and doesn’t look like a cookie cutter version of every other bike out there. We’d probably choose the darker colours over lighter options in the interest of appearances.
The fit and finish of the bike seems excellent. While only long term ownership of the bike would reveal any flaws, we’ve spoken to owners in India and parts of South East Asia which have had access to the BN 600GT since last year and according to them, it’s performed flawlessly.
Negatives from a design perspective include the dated dash (as used in the Benelli BN 302), fairly cheap feeling controls on the bars (another Benelli BN 302 flaw) and the stupidly shaped rear view mirrors which taper off where your actually want to see – a clear case of form over function.
Despite it being a 600cc, don’t take it for a ride expecting supersport performance. Producing a fairly modest 60 kW (82 hp) at 11000 rpm and maximum torque of 55 Nm at 8000 rpm, it would seem Benelli has very conservatively tuned the engine. It’s not a rocket, but then it isn’t a complete slouch, either. Its performance is roughly comparable to the Kawasaki Versys 650 or Suzuki V-Strom 650, though unlike those two bikes the engine feels more mature and grown up.
By that we mean that it seems Benelli has decided to build a refined machine rather than a sports bike masquerading as a tourer. In this respect the engine is smooth and vibration free and dare we say a little bit quiet. We sometimes struggled to hear the engine note over wind noise. Being a four, the engine comes on strong higher up in the rev range, though there’s enough flexibility that you don’t need to downshift for most overtaking manoeuvres.
That refinement extends to the chassis and suspension. A very rare feature for this segment (and price range) is the inclusion of big 50 mm front Marzocchi forks. In theory, bigger diameter forks provide better front end feel and in practice, that’s the case with the BN 600GT. Despite lugging around a fairly hefty 223 kilograms of weight, the bike handled without a fuss and we never had any uncertainty as to what was happening up front.
Both the front and rear has adjustable preload while the rear suspension also allows for rebound adjustment so you can tweak the setup to your liking. Another big plus are the brakes – big twin 320mm front discs with a radial mounted four piston callipers – again something that’s rare to see at this price. There’s unfortunately no ABS available as an option, but initial bite and feel is good – both front and rear.
The seating position was fine for my 6’2″ frame and even after a day of near constant riding, the seat was actually pretty comfortable. And you can go for long trips without stopping if you so desire – the tank holds an enormous 27 litres of fuel – enough for probably close to 500 kilometres of travel if you’re up to it. You’ll probably need a toilet break before a fuel stop.
We’re sure the Benelli BN 600GT isn’t a motorcycle most will dream about and lust for. But that’s fine, because as we said at the outset this bike is for those who buy with their head rather than their heart. As a sports-tourer is achieves its goals – refined engine, nice ride, good mileage. Outside of India and Asia, the Benelli BN 600GT is currently only available in Australia both in unrestricted and LAMS versions for $9,990.
It will be available within the next few months in the UK for £6299 and in the USA at the end of the year when Benelli returns stateside.
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.
Benelli has made its presence known in the UK and Australia and has announced plans to return to the US market by the end of this year. But from reports leaked today, it’s just the beginning. Benelli is apparently planning on releasing five brand new motorcycles next year, three of which will feature brand new engine platforms.
A report from Autocar India (where Benelli is also aggressively expanding) explains that Chinese owned company is looking at releasing the following five machines in 2016 (or earlier):
Entry level sportsbike based on the BN 302
Entry level adventure bike based on the BN 302
An adventure bike based on an all new 500cc twin-cylinder engine
Two motorcycles, one naked, one sportsbike and based on a brand new 750cc twin-cylinder engine platform
It’s not a hard stretch to imagine Benelli is already well underway on bringing out an entry level sports bike, especially given the early positive reception of the BN 302. We’d absolutely love to see an entry level adventure styled bike – a niche that is yet to be filled by any of the major motorcycle manufacturers (we’re still holding out hope for a Honda CB300X).
The choice of a 500 cc twin-cylinder adventure bike has peaked out interest. Given that Benelli produces the BN 600GT which is a adventure/touring machine, we hope this upcoming bike is a truly off-road capable motorcycle. If so, it could prove extremely successful in that engine configuration.
Perhaps even more intriguing is the report of a 750cc twin which would finally give Suzuki’s GSX-R750 range some company, albeit with two less cylinders. If these and the other motorcycles come to fruition, we’ll applaud Benelli for trying to expand into uncharted territories that so many other manufactures are afraid to enter.
Yan Haimei, CEO of Benelli has announced that the Chinese-owned motorcycle brand will return to the United States before the end of the year. The formerly Italian marque has had a tumultuous history over the last few decades, with multiple attempts to revive the historic brand ending with less than successful results.
The Qjian Jiang group purchased Benelli in 2005 but it hasn’t been until the last few years that the company has progressed to the level of tempting western interests. Benelli has had a presence in both the United Kingdom and Australia for a number of years now where it’s main focus has been on small to mid-capacity machines, although it does offer larger bikes under the TNT badge which haven’t been updated for a number of years.
In an interview with Bruno dePrato, Yan Haimei revealed that not only will Benelli return to the United States before the start of 2016, but that the company is working on a new range of three cylinder engines. Haimei didn’t elaborate on how Benelli’s return to the USA will take place, though as it has done in Australia and the UK it will probably be by way of a licensed importer.
In the last few months, Benelli has released the BN 302 naked learner bike and the BN 600GT – the latter of which has been getting some excellent reviews. As you’d expect from a Chinese made machine, price is a huge selling point. The BN 302 sells for $5,590 AUD (US $4900) which is over $400 AUD less than the Honda CBF300F and Kawasaki Z300, but comes with more sophisticated suspension and front forks.