FIRST RIDE OF THE 2015 Benelli BN302

We talked about new models of bikes that would catch the attention of younger generations during the economic downturn that devastated the motorcycle industry. In 2011, we praised the Honda NC700, fun and functional motorcycle that welcomed new riders. And we have another reason to be happy in 2015: the Benelli BN302.

The BN302 is reasonably priced at 3,890 euros, and it offers excellent value for money. A Vespa Sprint 125 3V costs 3,980 euros in Italy. The BN302’s extreme competitiveness stems from Benelli’s affiliation with QianJiang, a massive Chinese motorcycle conglomerate. The BN302 was developed in response to a request from QJ’s top management to concentrate on the booming Far East and Pacific markets’ needs, where price and durability are critical.

The technical team in Pesaro, Italy, headed by Chief Project Engineer Stefano Michelotti, has all the right answers. The BN302’s 300cc engine is a parallel twin derived from the BN600’s four-cylinder engine. It has the same bore and stroke dimensions of 65.0mm by 45.2mm and the same compression ratio of 12:1. Similarly, the valve size remains the same, with 25mm intakes and 22mm exhausts set at 14.8 degrees and 14 degrees to the cylinder axis, respectively, for a total angle of 28.8 degrees. As a result, the BN302’s combustion chamber is a little less compact in profile than is typical today.

The Morse-driven DOHC valve operation is new, with a very mild 9 degrees of overlap and 7.5mm of valve lift across the board. The Benelli engine uses 37mm throttle bodies, which are one millimeter smaller than the BN600’s. The 302 engine has an oxygen sensor per cylinder and uses the same Delphi integrated injection-ignition control system as the 600 four. According to the manufacturer, the new Benelli twin produces 38 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and 20.2 pound-feet of peak torque at 9,000 rpm. The Kawasaki Ninja 300 is claimed to produce 39 horsepower at 11,000 rpm and 20.6 pound-feet of torque at 10,000 rpm for a meaningful comparison.

The Pirelli Angel GT tires, which are a step above what you’d expect as original equipment on a bike with this price tag, are also worth noting in the running gear department.

Shorter riders will appreciate that the seat height is under 800mm, but even taller riders like myself will find the riding position comfortable. As you’d expect from a naked bike, the reach to the handlebars is relaxed, and the pillion perch is generous. Unfortunately, after about 45 minutes, the nice-looking seat did not feel as good as I had hoped.

And, unfortunately, what should be a perfect commuter due to its maneuverability is let down by a mirror height that always matches that of the cars you’re trying to filter between. There is a slew of aftermarket fixes for the minor annoyance.

But, in the end, the BN302’s biggest issue has nothing to do with the bike and everything to do with the fierce competition it faces in this segment, Particularly the recently released and much-anticipated BMW G310R, which is only $100 more expensive.

The needs of Asian markets are once again at stake. There, a motorcycle is a utility vehicle that must scoot around filled with people and heavy bags while experiencing bad road surfaces. The trellis structure appears to be structurally lean and cutting-edge, but it is constructed of incredibly thick gauge mild-steel tubing. It’s also low-carbon mild steel, as it maintains much of its plasticity after welding and has a thick gauge that allows it to withstand heavy loads. The swingarm was built in an over-under style.

Although the frame’s structural design is traditional, its steering geometry is cutting-edge, with 24.5 degrees of rake and a mild 91.7mm of the trail. The static weight distribution is 51/49. An inverted 41mm fork handles the front suspension, while a cantilevered shock absorber handles the rear. Front and rear-wheel travel is 5.3 inches. The BN302 rides on cast-aluminum wheels with front and rear tubeless radials of 120/70-17 and 140/70-17, respectively. The front brakes have twin 260mm rotors with four-piston calipers, while the rear brakes have a 240mm rotor with a floating caliper.

Thanks to a well-shaped tank and bench, as well as beautifully coordinated accessory components like the radiator cowl and under-engine spoiler, the Benelli BN302 appears svelte and elegant overall. The engine is small and clean, with elegant side covers and a fully obstructive exhaust device tucked neatly under the hood.


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