Review: Benelli TRK 502

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 Continue reading

Review: Honda X-ADV

It was on a drizzly winter’s day that I was reflecting on the coming motorcycle season. I wanted to try something different, something special. So I got in touch with Jean.
“I want to test a maxi scooter,” I said.
Silence. Then, with a hint of disbelief: “You want to test a scooter?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“A scooter?”
“Yes.”
Silence again.
“Which one?”

I know nothing about maxi or mini scooters, except that they’re highly popular in big cities. Just join the daily traffic jams on the Brussels Ring and you’ll see many of them lane-splitting. So I became curious about those maxi scooters. But which one should I test?

Soon I bumped into the Honda X-ADV. Not just “a scooter”, but one that claims to be in a class of its own: a motorcycle with the sitting position and the comfort of a scooter.

The X-ADV is part of Honda’s adventure range, which is justified by giving the X-ADV some adventure characteristics: a larger front wheel than on traditional scooters, adjustable front and rear suspension, switchable traction control, hand guards and a beautiful digital dashboard similar to the one of the CRF450 Rallye. Combined with tough “armored” colors and rugged Bridgestone tires, the X-ADV just looks cool.

Motorcycle or scooter?

Right from the very first meters I notice how agile the X-ADV is. Ideal for city traffic, where it really plays out its scooter nature. The sitting posture takes some getting used to. It’s upright, with wide handlebars, and feels a bit like an adventure bike. But my feet in front of me and nothing between my legs, that’s new to me. Yet, it doesn’t take long before I throw the scooter from one corner into another. When I stop at a pub, I can easily store my helmet in the 21-liter compartment under the seat.

When I leave the city and can pick up the pace, the X-ADV’s stability Continue reading

Three days of riding on Gran Canaria

The Canary Islands are my favourite last minute destination: reasonably cheap, plenty to see and do, and most of all: the weather is good year-round. They are called “the islands of eternal spring” for good reasons. I had already visited Tenerife, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura so Gran Canaria was the next logical choice.

In my search to ride a motorcycle on the island to awaken from riding hibernation, I ended up with Canary Motorcycle Tours. Martin and Joy, an English couple, offer guided motorcycle tours on Gran Canaria for groups of up to 8 motorcycles. Prices are only slightly higher than renting a motorcycle yourself.

Canary Motorcycle Tours is based in Vecindario, a small town on the east coast of Gran Canaria, fifteen minutes from the airport. It has a pedestrian street with plenty of cafeterias but altogether there’s not much to do. For touristic Canarian highlights you need to go elsewhere. If you book a tour with Canary Motorcycle Tours they offer you a 2-star or a 4-star accommodation in Vecindario. Should you stay somewhere else, they will also organise transport from and to your hotel, on the condition that it’s not too far away.

After only a few emails the deal was done and dusted: three days of riding with stay in the 2-star hotel in Vecindario. I booked my flights and a week later I set foot on Gran Canaria!

Joy picked me up at my hotel in the morning. Upon arriving at the motorcycle shop the obligatory paperwork was swiftly done and I could choose my riding gear if I wanted to. The vests, boots, helmets and gloves they offer all looked in good condition, however I had brought my own gear.

Together with Martin I decided I would ride the Honda NC750X (he has 8 bikes in total, all Honda’s, of which I had already ridden the CB500X on Madeira). The NC750X is, according to the general opinion, that somewhat boring Continue reading

Review: Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory

The Aprilia Tuono has a lot in common with its donor bike, the RSV4. It still looks a lot like the hypersport, even if it’s a naked bike. It has more body panels than other fat naked bikes on the market. Especially the windscreen is taller than what we are used to. It seems to invite you to tug yourself behind it at higher speeds. A mere sign on the horizon?

Equipment

The Tuono comes in two versions: the RR and the Factory. The Factory has everything what the RR has and adds a racy rear end, Öhlins everywhere and sportier shoes: Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa’s in a wider 200/55 rear tyre are standard on the Factory, while the RR gets 190/55 Diablo Rosso III’s. The Superpole Graphics are exclusive to the Factory. Besides that both models boast a very complete equipment level.

The electronics on this bike are impressive. Don’t say “traction control”, say “Aprilia Performance Ride Control”. It doesn’t just regulate a few thingies but computes real “assistance strategies”: ATC (traction control, adjustable in 8 positions on the go through flippers on the handlebars), AWC (wheelie control, adjustable during riding and softening contacts with the road), ALC (launch control, recommended only for the track), APL (pitlimiter, very practical in city traffic) and ACC (cruise control).

There is also Continue reading

Review: Husqvarna Vitpilen 701

Three years ago Husqvarna presented the prototype of the Vitpilen 701 at EICMA. We had to wait a long time for the final production model. Beginning of this year, at the Brussels Motor Show, it was love at first sight. Now, finally I had the chance to test if this Husky rides as good as it looks.

There’s no accounting for taste, but still: the Vitpilen is a stunner. Design-wise, it deviates very little from the concept model and usually that’s a good thing.

“Simple. Progressive.” That’s the motto Husqvarna uses for the Vitpilen line. This can be seen in the design of both the 701 and the 401: progressive. And unique in the motorcycle business. Just have a look at the odd shape of the tank. Or at “the split”, the yellow line cutting the bike in two. The LED lights, both front and rear, are true design wonders and stylish logos are strewn around without ever being too much.

It’s a shame they threw a GS style license plate fender on it. And how cool would it have been should they’ve kept the open air filter as seen on the concept model?

After all this drooling, it’s time to ride! No explanations beforehand needed because there are only three buttons on the small round dash. These allow you to adjust some menu settings and switch off the traction control or ABS. That’s it. Simple.

With a seat height of 830mm the bike is rather high. The saddle also has Continue reading

Review: Ducati Multistrada 1260 S Touring

The first thing I notice when standing next to the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S Touring is what an impressive bike this is, with its tall shoulders, slim waist and broad hips. It’s almost intimidating. Some say it’s the prettiest Ducati ever built. I wanted to know if it’s also the best Ducati ever built. So I took it on a 3 day blast to the Eifel region in Germany.

Getting a taste of it

A first walkaround shows plenty of typical Multistrada elements: the pointy lights, the air inlets that look like nostrils in a beak, the beautiful LED rear light, the sophisticated single sided swing arm.

The grey color of my test bike almost looks, well, boring. I like the red version much more and the Pikes Peak version really makes me drool.

On top of the standard 1260, the S version comes with Skyhook Evo suspension, a quickshifter, a TFT display, LED lights and cornering lights. Albeit for an extra, obviously. US price: $ 20.995, Italian price: € 20.390. And if you want the Touring suffix (consisting of the Touring and Urban pack), you’re looking at an even larger extra.

That Dash

When I switch on the Multi a deep red Ducati logo appears on the 5” TFT screen. The crystal clear dash shows a lot of information. Current speed and chosen gear are indicated in big numbers while the rpm’s are shown on top of the dash. All clear so far. The rest of the information is shown only in the bottom third and it takes some getting used to to find what you are looking for immediately. You can find trip data, temperature, mileage, the menu entry, fuel level and all suspension settings. And more.

When hitting the start button, the first split second nothing seems to happen. Then the fat Testastretta DVT twin shakes itself awake. This shaking will always be present, be it more or less depending on the situation.

A modest deep sound rolls out of the double exhaust pipes when I start riding. Already after the few first meters Continue reading

Wheelies for dummies

Ask any motorcyclist what they think the coolest motorcycle trick is and you’ll probably get “a wheelie!” as an answer. Besides stealing the show, mastering the wheelie technique can help when your front wheel suddenly lifts during a fast acceleration or to overcome an obstacle during an off-road ride.

For a long time I’ve wanted to learn how to wheelie so I booked a wheelie training at Jeremy Vonk’s Stunt and Wheelie School.

The Stunt and Wheelie School opened last summer and was a great success from the start. The reason for this is that it offers a package that cannot be found elsewhere in the Benelux region: there’s a well-known stunt rider as a teacher, there are rental bikes so you don’t need to abuse your own bike, and there’s a Wheelie Safety Device which prevents you from falling on your back.

Upon arrival, two KTM’s 390 Duke are neatly parked next to each other on the strip of the Enschede airport. The safety device draws our attention: some kind of frame on three wheels that’s mounted behind the motorcycle. This ensures that the bike cannot fall sideways nor can you pull a wheelie too far backwards, avoiding a landing on your rear. Feels safe.

We start off with the correct sitting position: towards the back of the seat, two fingers on the clutch, one finger on the brake, knees tightly against the tank, ankles pressed against the bike and above all: keep your foot on the rear brake. These instructions are constantly repeated throughout the day. After turning off the traction control we immediately start with the first exercises.

Wybe, fellow instructor of Jeremy, demonstrates: first you ride straight on two wheels, then you accelerate decidedly and slow down by only using the rear brake without locking the rear wheel. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But because of the safety frame, the bike doesn’t steer like a bike. It’s more like riding a quad, a feeling not everybody’s used to.

The next exercise consists of an acceleration to more or less 7000 rpm and then reducing the speed with the rear brake without throttling down. A good exercise to get a better feeling of the rear brake.

Next up: the actual wheelie! Jeremy and Wybe first put everyone on the rear wheel, using the frame as a support for the bike. This is steeper than expected! We clamp our knees against the tank so we don’t slide down, we (try to) relax our arms and keep them reasonably straight.

Then it’s up to us. Accelerating from a standstill and then suddenly releasing the clutch. The first time the bike stalls, but the second time I unexpectedly find myself and the bike in a very vertical position. My surprised reaction makes me close the throttle and hit the rear brake. The bike’s front hits the ground hard and my family jewels hit the tank hard too. Wybe smiles. “Forgot to clamp your knees?”

The rest of the day we practice doing wheelies with Jeremy and Wybe constantly adjusting our technique and giving tips. Both have their own style. Wybe is very calm and encouraging while Jeremy has a more exuberant feedback style using funny comparisons to make it clear to you what you should do. They’re perfectly complementary.

When I find myself having trouble keeping a constant throttle during the wheelie, Jeremy takes me along as a passenger for a quick demo. It’s hard to believe how smooth his technique is and how little he plays with the throttle. Finally I manage to control a wheelie more or less, over the entire length of the training strip.

To conclude the training, Jeremy shows some tricks on his KTM 1290 Super Duke R. First he does a couple of slow wheelies, after which the speed and difficulty go up. The powerslides are great to see but his stoppies are the most impressive.

Who, what, where?

The Stunt and Wheelie School is located in the Netherlands, at the airport of Enschede. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, groups of up to four people can book four hours of training on two motorbikes, so you’ll have to alternate. Despite a hefty price tag (we paid 250 euro per person, but in the meantime the price’s gone up to 275 euro) I found three wheelie wannabees who wanted to go with me in no time.

Jeremy Vonk is an official KTM stunt rider and a cheerful pal. From the welcome to the last wheelie, he puts a smile on your face with his jokes. Wybe is the cool guy but at the same time he’s very enthusiastic and supporting every time you succeed in an exercise. We had a wonderful day.

Pics and video: Kenny van Houttave