2015 Benelli BN 302 Review

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.

 

 

Honda CB300F vs Kawasaki Z300 vs KTM Duke 390 – Beginner Naked Bike Comparison

Didn’t you hear? Naked bikes are the new sportsbikes. Well, not exactly but the demand for naked bikes that offer virtually the same performance levels as their faired brethren has rocketed in recent years, so much so that many of the major bike manufacturers have begun offering naked entry level machines. After recent testing, we’re going to take a look at whether out of the Honda CB300F, Kawasaki Z300 or KTM Duke 390 there’s a clear winner, or if each offer something different for a new rider.

Appearance

Let’s get the most subjective measure out of the way. The Duke 390 is probably the most polarizing of all three bikes based on its orange and black paint scheme alone. This is no shrinking violet – the Duke (like so many KTMs) screams “Look at me!” The bright orange frame and wheels are certainly recognizable, but otherwise it’s a fairly standard looking naked.

KTM also seems to pay attention to the smaller details including the design of the swingarm, engine covers and underside exhaust which all demonstrate that this is a quality machine and not a cheap runabout.

At the other end of the scale, Honda’s CB300F is certainly the most conservative, a typical Honda trait. It’s by no means ugly, in fact it looks quite handsome but it certainly isn’t anything special to look at. Honda has also appeared to save on costs by using a lot of black plastics on the bike, most notably on the half fairing at the front of the bike and the belly pan. It just seems a little bit underwhelming.

The Kawasaki however seems to straddle the line perfectly between classy and ostentatious. Its design isn’t restrained but it still looks attractive, with lots of angular and muscular lines really drawing your eye across the bike. The styling takes cues from its bigger naked brothers, the Z800 and Z1000 but we think the baby Z nails the look. Colors available on the bike also look great, especially the matte grey. In fact, out of the three bikes here, we say that the Kawasaki looked a great deal more expensive than the Honda and KTM just by the way it’s put together and finished off.

Comfort and Ride

None of the three bikes here are overly deficient in how they ride which is a credit to the three brands at this end of the price scale. You won’t get razor sharp superbike handling but given the price range we’re playing in, they all do an admiral job at carving through corners.

The Z300 has the most aggressive seating position of the three bikes, you sit further back and lean forward more than the other two. It’s all relative though – it feels very casual compared to say a Triumph Daytona 675 and you certainly won’t get a sore back from the ergonomics.

The suspension on the little Kawasaki is fairly good, though definitely dialed towards the firm side but the damping is spot on. So while the slightly more aggressive seating position creates a small sacrifice when it comes to weaving through traffic, it comes ahead on the ledger when tacking the corners.

The Honda is definitely tuned to a softer setting than the Kawasaki. It makes for a more pleasant ride on poor surfaces but it’s not as sharp. The seating position is more upright and relaxed as well, with slightly more legroom available too thanks to the pegs being slightly lower than that of the Z300’s. Trail and rake is 98 mm/25.3° compared to 82 mm/26° for the Z300 and it’s definitely apparent.

The Duke is a whole other story, though. You sit upright like the CB300F but much further forward – you get a feeling of sitting over the bike rather than on it. Riders of dirt bikes and motards will feel right at home while newer riders may be a little intimidated about how much you sit over the bars.

But if you can get your head around it, it’s a thoroughly rewarding experience. You feel in command while going through both traffic and canyons on the 390 Duke. It almost demands to be pushed through corners at silly speeds. I’d put forward an argument that the Z300 would be potentially more capable in the the corners, but the 390 Duke just feels that more willing.

Braking

Of the three bikes, only the 390 Duke comes with ABS as standard worldwide. Certain markets offer both the Z300 and CB300F with or without ABS which we have a strong dislike of. This is an entry level bike for learners – let’s ensure they have the best safety and get ABS as standard.

The Kawasaki has the smallest brakes of all three bikes, with a 290 mm single front disc compared to the 296 mm of the Honda and 300 mm of the 390 Duke’s. That said, the Z300 provides more bite and feedback than the CB300F by quite a margin and surprisingly so. On paper there shouldn’t be much between them, but the brakes on the little Honda just feel squishy and lacking in power.

I’d argue that even compared to the 390 Duke, the Z300 provides better feedback and it feels like it grips the disk better. In testing though, the Duke definitely comes to a complete stop quicker thanks to its four piston caliper as opposed to the two on the Kawasaki – but it does so in a less confidence inspiring manner. At the rear of the bike, the Z300 maintains a 2 caliper arrangement while both the KTM and Honda make do with 1, though you’d struggle to tell the difference.

Power

Looking at the specifications, you could probably guess that the order from best to worst when it comes to speed is the 390 Duke followed by the Z300 with the CB300F taking up the rear. And you’d be right, but the difference between the Duke and the Z300 is actually a lot closer than you’d think.

In fact, it almost comes down to personal preference.  There’s no denying the KTM 390 Duke will go from stop to go quicker than the Kawasaki in a straight line. It’s 373cc single produces 43.5 hp (32 kW) @ 9500 rpm and 35.3 Nm  @ 7000 rpm while weighing 154 kg wet. The Z300 and it’s 296 cc parallel twin makes 38 hp (28.3 kW) @ 11,000 rpm and 26.9 Nm @ 10,000 rpm while mated to a bike that tips the scales at 168 kg with all liquids. There’s a clear performance advantage to the KTM.

But because the KTM employs a single and the Kawasaki a parallel twin, it becomes a closer story in real life than on paper. Riding the Kawasaki, you’ll definitely hit the power band quicker and more easily than the KTM which really only gets going once you clock up about 6,000 rpm. It means that you’ll be downshifting far more on the Duke, trying to keep power delivery up while the Kawasaki is happy to stay in gear more often.

That parallel twin is also much nicer to live with – vibration from the engine is less than that of the Duke. My hands got sore from vibrations after only 30 minutes with the 390 Duke – and that wasn’t even at overly high speeds. That said, the Z300 isn’t as smooth as I would have guessed and in fact, the Honda with its single is probably the best of the bunch when it comes to vibrations.

But that’s probably largely in part to the engine not doing as much. While it weighs 10 kg less than the Z300, it’s just too far down on power to compete with it or the 390 Duke. The 286 cc single manages to produce only 30.4 hp (22.7 kW) @ 8 500 rpm, albeit with a respectable amount of torque 27 Nm @ 7 250 rpm. That means the Honda is willing if not always able.

Equipment

At this end of the price spectrum, there’s little difference between the three machines. All offer only preload adjustment on the rear shock and the most sophisticated piece of technology shared between them are ABS brakes.

The dash on the Duke 390 is fully digital and provides by far and away the most information including even a gear shift light. But it’s awfully difficult to read and I much prefer the mixture of analogue and digital displays as used by both Honda and Kawasaki.

One big card the Z300 can play is the inclusion of a slipper clutch. This is usually only offered as standard on higher end superbikes so to be included at this price point is a big deal. It’s definitely something that comes in handy at the track and in the mountains and is a welcome feature. It was recently announced the the 390 Duke will also be fitted with a slipper clutch this year bat as things currently sit, the Z300 takes the lead here.

While not really a piece of equipment, the Z300 has the largest fuel tank by quite some measure – 17 liters (3.6 gal) compared to the CB300F’s 13 liter tank and the Duke’s 11 liters – which gives some indication as to why the Kawasaki weighs the most of the three (and the KTM the least).

Overall

From a performance perspective, the fight really is only between the Kawasaki Z300 and the KTM 390 Duke. But given this is an article on naked machines and not sportsbikes, perhaps that’s not a completely fair way to make a decision.

The Honda is no doubt the most placid machine to ride as a daily and we don’t mean that in a negative way. Despite being down on power and handling, it’s the most comfortable of the three to ride and still manages to be enjoyable when pushed hard. It’s most at home in surburbia as opposed to twisty roads though so it depends on where you itnend to spend the most time riding.

The 390 Duke is almost the polar opposite to the Honda. It’s quick (for it’s capacity), it demands to be ridden fast and feels more motard than entry level machine. But for that, you do sacrifice comfort and practicality and as stated at the beginning, it’s aesthetic appeal is definitely debatable.

The Z300 however manages to stay close to the 390 Duke when it comes to both straight line speed and cornering, but without sacrificing too much in the way of comfort or practicality. It’s also (in our view) the best looking of the three tested her and we feel that from a long term perspective it is the machine that most riders would be satisfied with.

 

Honda CB300FKawasaki Z300KTM 390 Duke
Engine
Engine Type286cc 4 stroke, single-cylinder296cc 4 stroke, parallel twin373 cc 4 stroke, single cylinder
Bore And Stroke76mm x 63mm62mm x 49 mm89 x 60 mm
InductionPGM-Fi, 38mm throttle body32 mm x 2 keihin with dual throttle valveBosch EFI (throttle body 46 mm)
Compression Ratio10.7:110.6:112.6:1
Valve TrainDOHC; four valves per cylinderDOHC, 8 valvesDOHC, 4 Valves
Horsepower30.50 hp @ 8,500 rpm38.89 hp @ 11,000 rpm43.5 hp @ 9500 rpm
Torque20 lb ft @ 7,500 rpm19.91 lb ft @ 10,000 rpm26.03 @ 7000 rpm
Drive Train
TransmissionSix-speedSix-speedSix-speed
Chassis / Suspension / Brakes
Front Suspension37mm fork; 4.65 inches travel37 mm telescopic forkWP-USD Ø 43 mm
Rear SuspensionPro-Link single shock with five positions of spring preload adjustability; 4.07 inches travelUni Trak with gas charged shock and 5-way preloadWP-Monoshock
Front BrakeSingle 296mm discType Single 290 mm petal discSingle 300 mm disc 4 piston radial caliper
Rear BrakeSingle 220mm discType Single 220 mm petal discSingle 230 mm disc 1 piston caliper
Front Tire110/70-17 radial110/70-17 M/C 54S110/70 -17
Rear Tire140/70-17 radial140/70-17 M/C 66S150/60-17
Dimensions
Rake25.30 degrees26 degrees25 degrees
Trail98mm (3.9 inches)82 mm / 3.6 in98mm (3.9 inches)
Wheelbase54.3 inches55.31 inches53.8 inches
Seat Height30.7 inches30.9 inches31.4 inches
Wet Weight348 lb383 lb340 lb
Fuel Capacity3.4 gallons4.5 gallons2.9 gallons

Kawasaki Z300 Review – Is The Naked Ninja A Worthy Addition?

Within the space of less than a year, new riders have gone from having the choice of no naked motorcycles to having three, the latest of which is the Kawasaki Z300. Based on the long lived Ninja 300 platform, does the baby Z bring anything new to the field or do the existing low capacity naked bikes from Honda and KTM do the job better? Read our world first review of the Z300 to find out.

If you happen to live in South East Asia, then you’ll already be familiar with the appearance of the Z300. Released a few years ago there, the Z250 as it was known was based on the Ninja 250. It’s proved quite successful in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia where a naked sportsbike from the big Japanese brands is virtually unheard of.

So the western world gets the goods a little bit later but in doing so, the Z has been upgraded to use the same engine as the Ninja 300. In fact, there’s very little difference between the two bikes other than the obvious visual changes. Losing the fairings saves the Z300 about 4 kilograms of weight.  Ground clearance is up fractionally by 5mm and the rake and trail is modified from 27°/93mm to 26°/82mm, giving a slightly more upright riding position – though still slanted more towards performance than comfort in comparison to Honda’s CB300F.

The first thing that came to mind when looking over the Z300 is how it looks far more expensive than it actually is. Kawasaki has done an excellent job with the fit and finish on this bike and the metallic grey paint scheme looks fantastic. Plastics are of good quality and I honestly couldn’t find any areas of the bike where there were obvious gaps or poor alignment.

 

The dash on the other hand is a bit of a mixed bag. At a basic level it does what it should do very well – the tachometer is nice and large and easily readable both day and night. However the digital display doesn’t really give you much information – speedometer, odometer and fuel gauge is all you get. No information on average fuel consumption or even remaining mileage.

The aesthetic appeal of the bike is carried over when you pull away and begin riding. The gearbox is a great unit, regardless of what price bracket you’re look at. It’s smooth and direct and I even managed to do clutchless upshifts from 1st to 2nd gear without any issue. Not bad from a bike that had done only 6 kilometers when i hopped on it. Like the Ninja 300, it also comes standard with a slipper clutch – an addition that might save a few newbies who accidentally downshift multiple gears too quickly which would normally cause the rear tire to break traction.

If you’ve ridden the Ninja 300 before you’ll know that it’s parallel twin engine, which pumps out 29.0 kW (39 PS) @ 11,000 rpm and 27.0 N.m @ 10,000 rpm is a great little motor and performs well given its capacity. You’re not going to win any traffic light drags against bigger bikes on the Z300, but you’ll still easily hit the speed limit before 90 per cent of cars on the road.

The great thing about this engine is that unlike the singles of both the CBR300R and the Duke390, power delivery is far more smooth and linear – there’s not as much need to keep revs up high when rolling on the throttle at speed. This translates into an easier bike to live with for everyday riding. Like the Ninja 300, expect a 0-100kph (62mph) time of just under 5 seconds. Counter intuitively, there’s still a bit of vibration from the engine that travels through to the bars. Not as much as the two aforementioned thumpers but more than I would have expected from the twin.

Suspension is pretty stiff and I would l have liked to have seen Kawasaki dial it down for the Z300 in comparison to the Ninja. You definitely feel the bumps in the road, though I found the damping to be pretty spot on so that it didn’t bounce around when hitting those bumps. Don’t really on the seat to help absorb these bumps either – it’s a pretty hard pew but in comparison to the competition it’s no better or worse.

Our test bike was the ABS version and stopping power was fine. There’s a good amount of feel from the brake lever and we found the ABS to be pretty unobtrusive, too. I’m nitpicking on a bike of this price level but it would have been nice to have included adjustable levers – those with smaller hands might struggle a bit to comfortably pull in the brake and clutch levers.

 

Steering however is great. This is a tremendously flickable bike and it reacts very quickly to your input. Given the more upfront riding position it’s probably even easier to turn that its faired brother as you can more easily leverage the bars in the direction you want to go. This translates into a fun ride in the corners which is what bikes like this should be aiming for. But there is a limit to this and it’s probably the only major negative to this bike.

It’s the tires. We’ve mentioned before how much we loathe the IRC Road Winner tires that are put on both Kawasaki’s entry level machines and Honda’s as well. Not only are these old style bias ply tires, they’re made for longevity and not grip. We’ve heard stories from riders that have managed to do 20,000 kilometres (12,500 miles) or more on the IRC’s. In order to have such durable tires, it means you need to sacrifice grip.

Not only are you sacrificing grip, but these tires just don’t communicate enough with you. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to low side on these tires by going around corners, but they don’t allow you to fully exploit the bike and feel what it is doing underneath – they sell short what is a great machine for the price. I’d highly recommend you include in your budget a replacement set of Pirellis that are designed to fit these smaller bikes as soon as you can. You’ll enjoy the bike a lot more and you’ll be safer for it.

On the practical side of the equation, the Z300 has a 17 liter tank and due to it’s excellent fuel consumption you won’t need to refuel very frequently. Again, the riding position makes filtering in traffic nice and easy, though I was consistently keeping an eye on the mirrors which stick out a little bit too far for my liking.

If you’re in a country that restricts new riders to lower capacity/lower horse power motorcycles than you can’t really go wrong with the Z300. It has Kawasaki’s reliability, it’s the best looking (in our opinion) entry level naked currently for sale and its got enough zip to provide an enjoyable ride.

Pricing hasn’t been announced in the US yet, but in Australia, the Z300 retails for $500 less than the fully faired Ninja 300 and for $500 you’re certainly not missing out on anything.

Special thanks to Wayne and the team at Team Moto Kawasaki Bowen Hills for the use of their bike.

Pricing

AUS: $5,999
USA: N/A
UK: £4,349
CAN: N/A

Kawasaki Z300
Engine
Engine Type296cc 4 stroke, parallel twin
Bore And Stroke62mm x 49 mm
Induction32 mm x 2, with dual throttle valves
Compression Ratio10.6:1
Valve TrainDOHC, 8 valves
Horsepower29.0 kW (39 PS) @ 11,000 rpm
Torque27.0 N.m (2.8 kgf.m) @ 10,000 rpm
Drive Train
TransmissionSix-speed
Chassis / Suspension / Brakes
Front Suspension37 mm telescopic fork
Rear SuspensionUni Trak with gas charged shock and 5-way preload
Front BrakeType Single 290 mm petal disc
Rear BrakeType Single 220 mm petal disc
Front Tire110/70-17 M/C 54S
Rear Tire140/70-17 M/C 66S
Dimensions
Rake26 degrees
Trail82mm
Wheelbase1,405 mm (55.31 inches)
Seat Height785 mm (30.9 inches)
Wet Weight170 kg (383 lb)
Fuel Capacity17 L (4.5 gallons)

Kawasaki Z300 – A Baby Naked Ninja

Kawasaki has today unveiled the Kawasaki Z300 – a naked version of the venerable Kawasaki Ninja 300 sportsbike which will go head to head with the Honda CB300F. Specification wise, there’s absolutely nothing different between the Ninja 300 and the Z300 save for standard handlebars rather than the clip-ons of the fully faired bike.

The looks of the Kawasaki Z300 are based on it’s bigger brothers – the Z800 and Z1000. It was inevitable that a naked version of the Ninja 300 would makes it’s way to western markets. The Z250 – based obviously on the previous Ninja 250 has been available in south-east Asia since last year and therefore Kawasaki actually beat Honda to the entry level naked market – at least in some markets.

Like the Ninja 300, the little 296cc parallel twin pumps out 39hp @ 11,000 rpm and 20 lb ft of torque @ 10,000 rpm. Weight with ABS is 374lb which we’re assuming is dry, as the wet weight of the Ninja 300 is 383 lb. It seems unlikely that the reduced amount of fairings and smaller windshield would shave that much fat off.

Official pricing and release dates to be announced.