It’s difficult to write a successful story. A failing Italian brand that has been owned by Chinese company Qianjiang since 2005 and produces a 500cc parallel-twin that costs £5,000 and weighs as much as 235 kilos (according to some reports) will never have you battling for the keys. Expectations, on the other hand, are a funny thing. You’re either pleasantly shocked or pleasantly surprised, and despite a scathing two-star rating in one-quarter of the motoring press, this budget adventure tourer is a remarkably good machine when ridden on UK roads and in UK riding conditions.
Swinging a leg over this gaudy grey machine, on loan from Benelli dealer Cooper in Northampton, shows a peachy free-revving engine, planted sharp handling, and an overall value proposition that is unmatched by competition such as the Honda CB500X provided that it comes with pannier bars, rear rack, handguards, 12V charger, and touring screen as usual. You might also argue that this is a direct competitor to Suzuki’s V-Strom 650, Kawasaki’s Versys 650, and Honda’s NC750; all of these bikes have stronger motors, yet aren’t measurably better for commuting and mid-distance touring in any way, other than reputation.
The Benelli is valued at £4995 plus taxes and fees. The TRK 502’s closest rival, Honda’s CB500X, has increased its official retail price to £5,949 for 2018, making the TRK 502 appear to be even better value for money. The Benelli feels like you’re getting a lot of bike for your money, not only in terms of its size, but also because it comes with a large screen, 12v charger, rear rack, handguards, side pannier frames, and engine guards as standard, which, if you specked all of that for the Honda, would probably set you back another thousand pounds and get the bike up to speed.
In contrast to the likes of the V-Strom 650 and Versys 650, the Benelli makes good financial sense; bikes with climbing costs, now topping £7,000, but not really offering too much more for the dollar, mostly the extra 20 horsepower or so. The Benelli also undercuts Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300 and is just a few hundred pounds more than Suzuki’s V-Strom 250, so it’s difficult to disagree with the value, particularly since the fit, finish, and built quality appear to be respectable for this price range.
The TRK 502 appears to be influenced by large-capacity European adventure bikes like the Ducati Multistrada and BMW R 1200 GS in terms of styling. While styling is always subjective, I don’t think it’s a bad-looking bike in person, with its puffed-up panels and tall screen belying its smaller-capacity engine. If only to give a better balance between the heavy bodywork design and the current small front wheel, I assume the incoming spoked 19-inch front wheel ‘adventure’ edition due for 2018 would strike a better balance.
Torque and power
The engine is a 499.6cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin, which also drives the Leoncino scrambler. It’s a brand-new engine with four valves per cylinder and a power output of 47bhp and torque of 45Nm. It’s a surprisingly powerful engine, particularly in the low to mid-range, and it revs freely, more like an inline-four rather than a twin. At 6,000 rpm, peak torque is reached, followed by peak power at 8,500 rpm and a redline of 9,000 rpm.
The brake callipers are Benelli-branded, and the twin 320mm discs up front are twice the size of the CB500X’s, which shows in the braking efficiency. The Benelli has a powerful front brake with one-finger stopping and regular ABS, which, unlike the CB500X, can be turned on and off through a handlebar-mounted button on the left control cluster. The front brake lever can also be changed in length (but not the clutch lever).
The seat for the rider is flat, broad, and firm. I rode 300 miles on it on the first day of testing and by the end, I could just feel a tingle of discomfort, but for long journeys, a sheepskin cover or Air Hawk would suffice, though commuting would not be a problem. The riding role is similar to that of the big adventure machines. The tapered bars are tall and big, reminding me of an R 1200 GS. The low seat height of 800mm means a slightly tighter triangle than on the bigger engined adventure machines, so taller riders over six feet can find the leg space a little tight.