The history of Benelli is an eventful one. In 1911, Mamma Benelli opened a workshop for her six sons in Pesaro, Italy, so they could earn a living doing car and motorbike repairs. They often made parts themselves, so in 1921 they took it a step further and built the first Benelli motorcycle from the ground up.
The factory was bombed during WWII but the brothers didn’t give up. In the 1950s Benelli gained a name thanks to several racing successes, highlighted by winning the 250 cc world championship with pilot Dario Ambrosini.
In the 60s and 70s, Benelli did well, but the strong Japanese competition brought the brand to its knees in 1988. In the 90s, Benelli came into the hands of the Merloni group and released legendary bikes such as the Tornado and the TnT 1130. But again the success didn’t last.
The Chinese group Qianjiang took over Benelli in 2005 and the brand disappeared off the radar. At least, in Europe. Benelli focused on growth markets such as India and even Iran. At EICMA 2015, Benelli unveiled the Leoncini and the TRK 502. The beginning of their resurrection?
The Benelli TRK 502 is a middleweight adventure bike but it looks like a big adventure bike: it has a tough appearance, with a wide built, standing tall on its legs. There’s a double headlight above the characteristic beak and the crash bars stick out quite noticeably.
If you want spoked wheels with a 19” in the front, you’ll have to go with the TRK 502 X. The regular TRK has 17” wheels and is therefore much more road-oriented. With the latter I did a four-day trip to the Eifel and the Mosel, curious to find out if the TRK 502 could be a worthy alternative to the more popular adventure bikes.
The weirdly shaped handlebars are the first thing I noticed. They’re not wide and the grips have an odd angle. The seat is soft and has a height of 800 mm which isn’t particularly high for this type of bike. 213 kg dry weight however, is kind of high. The 20 litre tank even increases the weight to the level of the big adventure bikes, but it’s also is a good thing for the TRK’s autonomy.
This Benelli has exactly three setting buttons: one on the handlebars and two on the dashboard. With the first button you switch the ABS on and off, which is useful if you want to do some off-road. But it was never clear whether the ABS was activated or not: when idling, the ABS light always blinks. With the second button you can operate and reset the two trip meters. If you want to switch between miles and kilometres, you just need to press the third button. A sign that Benelli wants to conquer the world with this TRK.
The dashboard is simple but very clear and complete. A nice, analogue tacho sits next to the LCD display with the most important information. Only the outside temperature is missing.
The TRK 502 is powered by a 499 cc parallel two-cylinder with four valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts. This results in 48 hp and 46 Nm. The injection is engineered very well: the throttle reacts flawless to subtle inputs and never gets jerky. The six-speed’s flawless too but doesn’t shift very smoothly.
If you want to travel, you need luggage. No problem for the Benelli. I got one with panniers (Givi TRK33 with the Benelli logo) which were easy to use. The rear luggage plate and the seat create one long flat surface, making it easy to install a tail bag.
To be honest, before I left for the Mosel and Eifel, I wondered if the TRK would be any fun in those endless corners. However, I soon discovered the advantages of its limited power: halfway through the corner you can go full throttle without having to fear a rear wheel slide. The engine revs smoothly and the gearbox doesn’t mind some clutchless upshifting.
The suspension is a compromise between comfy and sporty. If the road’s in good condition you corner the TRK very hard. It keeps its line surprisingly well and the excellent tires offer tons of confidence: the Pirelli Angel ST tires is Benelli’s smart standard choice for the TRK.
With quick load changes, the Benelli rapidly reaches its limit. Neither does it love poor road surfaces and hard braking. Smooth rides are what the TRK prefers, and then it doesn’t mind some speed either.
The speedometer often told me I was going faster than in reality. At 130 km/h on the counter for example, my GPS only measured 106 km/h. And to reach 120 real kilometres per hour, the counter had to indicate more than 140 km/h. Too big a difference if you ask me.
At those speeds, the non-adjustable windshield offers acceptable protection although there’s too much buffeting around your head, so highway rides quickly become tiring. Lowering your speed a little is the message, and then the TRK is back in its element. Still, you’ll always feel vibrations: depending on the speed, they’re in the handlebars, in the foot pegs or just everywhere. Luckily it never disturbed, but it took some getting used to.
The seat initially seemed to soft but turned out to be very comfortable. Additionally there aren’t any additions: no traction control, no cruise control, no mappings, no electronic gadgets.
It certainly wasn’t love at first sight with the Benelli TRK 502. But it grew on me and eventually I just had a blast with this Italo-Chinese bike. Benelli seems to re-enter the game again and does so with simple, beautiful and cheap motorcycles that certainly can claim a spot among the household names. The TRK 502 costs € 6,499 in Belgium without the optional panniers and luggage rack. That’s a small price for a lot of motorcycle.
The TRK has very mature looks and gives you the idea that it can bring you to the other end of the world. So why don’t you take it for a test ride in the Mosel, with its perfect roads and long, fast corners? I can highly recommend the B259 starting from Cochem.
Photography: Kenny VH
+ Budget bike
+ Very mature looks
+ Surprisingly good road holding on good asphalt
– Budget bike, which you’ll notice when riding it
– Load change unstability
– High weight
Type: In line 2 cylinders, 4-stroke, liquid cooled , 4 valves for cylinder double overhead camshaft
Displacement: 500 c.c.
Bore x stroke: 69 x 66,8 mm
Compression Ratio: 11,5:1
Rated output: 35 kW (47,6 Cv) @ 8500 rpm
Max. torque: 46 Nm (4,6 kgm) @ 6000 rpm
Lubrication: Forced lubrication with wet sump
Fuel supply: Electronic fuel injection with double throttle body ø 37 mm
Exhaust system: With catalytic converter and oxygen sensors
Clutch: Multidisc wet clutch
Gearbox: 6 speeds
Final drive: Chain drive
Ignition: ECU – TLI
Spark plug: NGK CR8E
Frame: Trestle steel tubes and plates
Front suspension: Upside-down forks Ø 50mm
Front suspension stroke: 145 mm
Rear suspension: Rear swing arm with central shock absorber spring preload adjustable
Rear shock absorber stroke: 45 mm
Front brake: Twin semi floating disk ø320 mm with 4 pistons calliper and ABS
Rear brake: Single disc ø260 mm with single piston floating calliper and ABS
Front rim type: Aluminum alloy
Front rim dimensions: 17” x MT 3.50” DOT
Rear rim type: Aluminum alloy
Rear rim dimensions: 17” x MT 4.5” DOT
Front tyre: 120/70 – ZR17 M/C 58W
Rear tyre: 160/60 – ZR17 M/C 69W
Size and weight
Length: 2200 mm
Widht excluding mirrors: 915 mm
Height excluding mirrors: 1450 mm
Pilot seat height: 800 mm
Wheelbase: 1525 mm
Ground clearance: 190 mm
Mass in running order: 235 kg
Usable tank volume: 20 l
Reserve: 3 l