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Road test Benelli TRK502 | Bike Tests | Latest Tests

Benelli’s Chinese owners are serious about developing a range of well- priced models comparable with anything from Japan or Europe

The global debut four years ago of the four-cylinder Benelli BN600 range, manufactured in China by the historic Italian marque’s owner Qianjiang (pronounced ‘Chin-jung’, but called simply QJ by its staff), kicked off the long-awaited revival of Italy’s oldest existing motorcycle brand. After purchasing Benelli in December 2005, QJ’s ambitious plans to relaunch the Italian marque stalled in the face of the global economic downturn, which put the brakes on new products. But the BN600 changed all that. The first all-new bikes jointly developed by QJ and Benelli technicians are manufactured in China to reduce costs and offer a crucial edge on price. This marked the first fruit of QJ president Lin Hua Zhong’s acquisition of Benelli and his strategy to position QJ as a contender in the global marketplace by acquiring an existing Western brand, then using its R&D expertise to producea more sophisticated range of bikes for Chinese manufacture. This was preferred to concocting something less satisfactory in-house, which would have required a big step up in engineering terms from anything QJ had produced before.

It’s a strategy which is paying off, and the BN600’s success in both the Chinese market and abroad has encouraged QJ’s management to kickstart production in its modern 670,000m2 factory at Wenling, 500km south of Shanghai. Several more Benelli models will be built there by QJ’s workforce of 14,000, who produce a claimed 1.2 million motorcycles and scooters annually.

After the global debut two years ago of the BN302, the kickoff model in a family of twin-cylinder bikes using spinoff technology from Benelli QJ’s four- cylinder range, it’s now the turn of the TRK502 adventure tourer. Shown at last November’s EICMA Show in Milan, it has entered production in Euro 4-compliant mode, complete with ABS. A non- ABS version without Euro 4 compliance has been sold in China for a year, so any bugs in the all-new mechanical package have hopefully been ironed out.

The new bike is available in three colours, red, white or black, the new Benelli has all the makings of a genuine bargain. The chance to ride it over a rugged 120km route leading inland from Benelli’s Pesaro base to the foothills of the Appennine mountains, answered most of my questions.

The TRK502 is the first of a range of new middleweights to come from Benelli using the all- new liquid-cooled eight-valve parallel-twin BN502 engine measuring 69 x 66.8 mm for a capacity of 499.77cc. According to Benelli’s R&D Manager Stefano Michelotti, this motor has no relation to the abortive 756 Leo parallel-twin prototype which he and his colleagues developed a decade ago, soon after the QJ takeover. Instead, it’s the second in a family of three all-new designs which were conceived in 2012, with the smaller BN302 variant the first to reach production in 2015 and the 750cc version intended to rival the Yamaha MT-07, still to come. That’ll be launched at November’s EICMA Show in Milan, according to Benelli CEO Ms. Yan Haime.

While the TRK502’s engine shares no essential components with the smaller BN302, it’s effectively a larger-scale version, sharing the same overall design with a 360o crank with both pistons rising and falling together, like a classic-era Norton or Triumph. “In determining the layout of our twin-cylinder family of engines, we first had to decide between a V-twin and a parallel-twin,” says Michelotti.

At a Glance

  1. The wide screen is well integrated to keep wind and weather off the pilot. A bar on the top mounting lends itself to mounting a GPS or similar
  2. Subtle crashbars surround the radiator and will guard the tank too, in the event of a low-speed bingle
  3. The seat height is low enough for lightweight, less experienced riders, yet accomodates taller people with generous dimensions
  4. The quality Givi luggage has a capacity beyond generous, and offers the real prospect of overwhelming the bike’s modest power output when full

Read the full story in the current issue (Vol 67 No 07) on sale now!