Benelli TRK 502 (2018) | Review

 

The success story is a hard one to write. A struggling Italian brand, now owned by Chinese company Qianjiang since 2005, building a 500cc parallel twin costing £5,000 and weighing as much as 235 kilos (according to some reports) is never going to get you fighting for the keys. But expectations are a funny thing. You’re either surprisingly disappointed, or surprisingly impressed, and despite a rather scathing two-star review from one corner of the motoring press, this budget adventure tourer, ridden in the context of UK roads and UK riding conditions, is a surprisingly good machine.  

Swinging a leg over this gawky grey bike, on loan from Benelli dealer Cooperb in Northampton, reveals a peachy free revving engine, planted sharp handling and an overall value proposition – given that it comes with pannier rails, rear rack, hand guards, 12V charger and touring screen as standard – that is unmatched by competition such as the Honda CB500X. You’d also go as far as to say that this sits as a direct rival to the likes of Suzuki’s V-Strom 650, Kawasaki’s Versys 650, as well as Honda’s NC750; all bikes with stronger engines, but for commuting and mid-distance touring aren’t measurably better in any given way, other than reputation.

Could this TRK 502 be the moment that China (with the help of the Europeans) finally competes with the Japanese? In this instance, I’d say they’re pretty much there or close.

 

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Price

The Benelli comes in at £4995, plus on the road costs. That sits on the lower end of the market in terms of value, with the official retail price of the bike’s closest rival – Honda’s CB500X – rising to £5,949 for 2018, making the TRK 502 seem even better value for money. You certainly feel like you’re getting a lot of bike for the money with the Benelli, not just in terms of the actual size of it, but that it comes with large screen, 12v charger, rear rack, hand guards, side pannier frames and engine guards as standard, which, if you were to spec all that for the Honda would probably set you back the best part of another thousand pounds and bring the kitted out weight of the 196 kilogram Honda more in line with that of the Benelli. The Benelli also makes good economic sense in comparison to the likes of V-Strom 650 and Versys 650; bikes with climbing prices, now topside of £7,000, but not really offering that much more for the money, mainly the extra 20 horsepower or so. The Benelli even undercuts Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300 and is only a few hundred pounds more than Suzuki’s V-Strom 250, so it’s hard to argue with the value, especially as the fit, finish and built quality seem respectable for this price of bike.

Servicing the Benelli shouldn’t be too painful, with oil and filter changes due every 4,000 miles, and main valve adjustment service at 14,000 miles. Those intervals are on the low side for a touring bike, but if it’s just oil and filter they shouldn’t break the bank – it’s more the inconvenience that might be an issue. Currently there are 39 Benelli dealers dotted around the UK.

 

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Styling

Visually the TRK 502 would seem to take its styling cues from the large-capacity European adventure machines such as the Ducati Multistrada and BMW R 1200 GS. Styling is always a subjective thing but to my eyes it’s not a bad-looking bike in the flesh, it’s puffed-up panels and tall screen certainly belying its smaller-capacity engine. I think a better balance will be struck with the incoming spoked 19-inch front wheel ‘adventure’ version due for 2018, if only to give a better balance between the heavy bodywork design and current small front wheel. But to an untrained eye you’d certainly be hard pushed to tell it apart from the gamut of European adventure tourers bikes out there, none of which are exactly super-models in their styling.

 

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Power and torque

Power comes from a 499.6cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin that is also utilised in the Leoncino scrambler. It’s an all new unit, with four valves per cylinder, making 47bhp and 45Nm of torque. It’s a surprisingly strong engine, certainly in the low to mid-range, revving up freely, almost in the manner of an inline four engine rather than a twin. Peak torque arrives at 6,000rpm, with peak power at 8,500rpm and a redline of 9,000rpm.

With less than a thousand miles on the engine it was a bit buzzy when pushing beyond 6,500rpm, certainly under acceleration, but was buzz free when sat at high motorway speeds. The assumption would be that the bike’s weight would blunt its performance, but in regular riding conditions the TRK 502 has a fair bit of zest to it, with more than enough acceleration to overtake traffic and hustle along the back roads. For those after a fast Sunday blast then it might not be enough, but for commuting and touring – even with the extra weight of the optional Givi luggage at £439.99 – it would be ample.

 

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Engine, gearbox and exhaust

Mated to the engine is a smooth six-speed gearbox. It’s got a meaty, positive click into the next gear. The gearing feels well suited to this type of bike, giving good drive and low-down power in the rev range, as well as having strong roll-on acceleration in higher gears; great for seeing a gap and going for it without the need for a lot of gear changes. The bike makes a nice rasp from the underslung exhaust, its position certainly negating any off-road work as that would be the first thing to be ripped off on rough terrain. It’s just a shame that the position of the exhaust has ruled out the fitment of a centre stand, as that’s always a handy thing to have on a chain-driven bike such as the Benelli. All in all, the drivetrain is well developed, it’s smooth, tractable and refined in a way that you might not have expected.

 

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Economy

Around 500 miles were covered over the duration of the test, giving combined economy figures of 65mpg. Match that with the 20-litre fuel tank and you’d be looking at around a 250-mile range, which is high for this class of bike.

 

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Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

There’s a bit of discrepancy in the bike’s weight, with initial figures suggesting 235 kilos wet, which is quite portly for a 500cc bike. A new figure of 213 kilos has now been provided, which probably seems about right, but important to remember that the weight of the bike includes all the accessories that would otherwise be bolted on afterwards on rival bikes. It’s fair to say the bike does feel a touch heavier off the stand than a CB500X. It feels like a solid mass for sure, but sat on the machine, especially with the low seat height of 800mm it doesn’t feel ungainly or cumbersome, just chunky what with the big screen ahead of you and enveloping tank and fairing around you. You sit in it rather than on it.

In terms of handling, the weight makes the bike feel quite planted. It has a big bike feel and the upside-down front forks and monoshock rear spring cope well with a mixture of road surfaces. The suspension is perhaps on the firm side, but it has a nice sense of control, with minimal pitch and dive under braking and acceleration. Well-tuned damping means that unlike some budget bikes (the first thing to suffer is always the suspension) the Benelli handles rough-surfaced corners well. Steering is sharp due in large part to the road-focused 17-inch front wheel and the leverage from the wide handlebars, and I get the sense that the bike would cope with the weight of luggage or a pillion rider. The rear suspension is adjustable for preload via means of a C-spanner, while there’s no adjustment on the front.

 

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Brakes

Brake callipers are Benelli’s own branded units, with the twin 320mm discs up front being twice the count of what the CB500X has to offer, and it shows in the braking power. It’s a strong front brake on the Benelli, with one finger stopping and the obligatory ABS as standard, which, unlike the CB500X, is switchable on and off via a handlebar-mounted button by the left control cluster. The front brake lever is also span adjustable (although sadly the clutch lever isn’t).

The rear brake is less effective as it never really seems to bite, along with too much travel in the lever. Perhaps it’s something that just needed a bit of bleeding or maybe a change of pads, but the rear brake on this test bike never gave as much confidence, or stopping power as I would have liked.

 

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Comfort

The rider’s seat is flat, wide and a touch firm. I rode 300 miles on it in the first day on test and by the end I could just feel a tingle of discomfort, but a sheepskin cover or Air Hawk would do the trick for long haul trips, while for commuting it wouldn’t be an issue at all.

The riding position feels very much like the large capacity adventure machines. The tapered bars sit high and wide; it reminds me of a R 1200 GS in that. Taller riders over six feet might find the leg space a bit tight, with the low seat height of 800mm meaning a slightly tighter triangle than on the bigger engined adventure machines.

A decent sized screen provides pretty good weather and wind protection. You might want to fit a deflector if you’re going long distance, but I don’t think you’d need to start looking for a full aftermarket replacement like you do on most budget tourers.

The slight revvy tingle you get when winding the bike out calms when at a cruise, with high motorway speeds sustainable in comfort. Hand guards come as standard and while not the most robust, do a perfectly acceptable job of keeping cold air off your hands. A nice touch on the bike is the 12V charger that comes as standard, although its location, on the outside of the upper left-hand fairing, is a bit of an odd place to put it, with it likely to get wet if used in the rain.

 

Equipment

Refreshingly, the Chinese don’t yet seem to have learned the dark art of the upsell; offering most accessories as standard rather than referring you to the costly accessories catalogue. Other than the optional side panniers for £439.99 or top box for £269,99 (or both for £709.99), there’s nothing extra to spend here.

In terms of the instruments, you’ve got everything you need; easy to read rev counter and speedo, gear indicator (something you don’t get on the CB500X) and basics relating to mileage and trip details. The indicator switch could do with being a touch beefier, especially when operated in bulky winter gloves, but I like that there’s an ABS switch right there on the handlebar, which is something you’re unlikely to disengage given the road-biased nature of the bike, but for the impending dual sport version with the 19-inch front wheel, it’s a nice little touch to have. It’s also good to see quality tyres on a budget bike, the Benelli sporting a pair of Pirelli Angel GTs; Pirelli also coincidently now under Chinese ownership.

 

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2018 Benelli TRK 502 verdict

We’ve probably grown accustomed to writing off these Chinese concoctions on the basis of poor quality and lacklustre performance, but the TRK 502 (as well as the SWM range of bikes come to think of it) proves that the gap between the established brands and the new or reimagined names is closing, if not now closed completely.

This is a good solid bike. It’s practical and versatile, it rides well, is dynamically engaging and offers a value for money that is hard beat anywhere other than the second-hand market. For the person who wants something solid to commute on or do some medium paced touring then it has all the right ingredients.

A few things aren’t perfect, in that it is a touch weighty, that rear brake needs a bit of attention and the service intervals could be longer (even 6,000 miles would do it), but depending on your preferences, none of which are deal breakers. Obviously, the bike isn’t tried and tested in the same way some of its counterparts are, and so there’s always going to be a sense of trepidation – and risk – in going for something different to the norm. But with the TRK 502 I’d be tempted to say that the established Japanese and European brands might be wise not to rest on their laurels (nor keep raising their prices), because the Chinese are quickly catching them, and at the price point they’re able to offer bikes at, the argument for them is increasingly compelling.

On the ride out to Wales I was with a friend on a CB500X. Their opinion on swapping bikes for a bit was that if the Benelli had been out when he bought the Honda it would have been a difficult decision to make. He liked that the Benelli felt more planted, torquier, with a more comfortable on road riding position and that it had a big bike feel and a good level of basic equipment. Clearly, if you’re in the market for something like this, it might be worth giving the Benelli a ride... It might surprise you as much as it did us.

 

 

Three things I loved about the Benelli TRK 502

• The engine gives good torque and is surprisingly peppy.

• Handling is sharp and confidence inspiring.

• You pay the price and you get all the kit as standard. No need to visit the aftermarket catalogue.

 

Three things that I didn’t…

• The rear brake could do with more bite.

• Span adjustment on the clutch lever would help in traffic.

• It’s on the heavier side which makes for a planted bike but a bit of a struggle for pushing.

 

To insure this bike, click here

 

Benelli TRK 502 specification

New Price

£4995

Capacity

499.6cc

Bore x stroke

69 x 66.8

Engine layout

Four-stroke parallel twin, liquid cooled, DOHC

Power

47hp (35kW) @ 8500rpm

Torque

46Nm @ 6000rpm

Average fuel consumption

65mpg

Tank size

20 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

280 miles

Rider aids

ABS

Frame

Steel trellis

Front Suspension

50mm upside down fork, 135mm stroke

Front suspension adjustment

None

Rear suspension

Monoshock, 45mm stroke

Rear suspension adjustment

Preload

Front brake

Twin semi floating 320mm disc, twin piston callipers

Rear brake

Single 250mm disc, single piston calliper

Front tyre

120/70-ZR17 (Optional 110/80 – R19), Pirelli Angel GT

Rear tyre

160/60 - ZR17 (Optional 150/70 – R17), Pirelli Angel GT

Wheelbase

1525mm

Seat height

800mm

Kerb weigh

213 kilos

Website https://unitedkingdom.benelli.com

 

 

A look around the Benelli TRK 502

Nathan Millward takes you around the new adventure bike

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