First im­pres­sions

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Owned by China’s Qiangjiang for over a decade, the long-awaited re­vival of Italy’s old­est ex­ist­ing mo­tor­cy­cle brand is well un­der way. With a plethora of new models un­veiled at EICMA 2017, Qian­jiang/Benelli is lead­ing the charge of Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ers mak­ing strides in the Euro­pean mar­ket.

Back in 1951, Benelli launched its orig­i­nal Leon­cino 125cc; one of the most pop­u­lar ma­chines in the iconic Ital­ian brand’s il­lus­tri­ous 106-year his­tory – and for 2017, an all-new Leon­cino 500 has made it to mar­ket. Staff writer Ross has been out to Italy for the Leon­cino launch, and took the chance to put one through its paces in the hills above Ri­mini.

Hot on the heels of the par­al­lel-twin Benelli TRK502 ad­ven­ture tourer, Benelli has launched its lat­est in­car­na­tion of its iconic Leon­cino. In short, it’s a naked road­ster which matches neo-retro styling with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy – while shar­ing much with its TRK502 sib­ling. In­ter­est­ingly, its stan­dard Pirelli An­gel ST tyres, Bosch ECU and two-chan­nel ABS, are the only bought-in items for the Leon­cino. QJ and Benelli look af­ter ev­ery­thing else in-house, in­clud­ing brakes and sus­pen­sion.

My first im­pres­sions based on ap­pear­ance alone were over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. It’s a fan­tas­tic look­ing ma­chine; thanks to the hard work of Benelli’s new Cen­troStile Ital­ian de­sign cen­tre which has reimag­ined the orig­i­nal Leon­cino, de­liv­er­ing an un­com­pli­cated mod­ern mo­tor­cy­cle, that’s great fun to ride too. A rather nice de­sign touch is the lit­tle lion which sits on the front fender, ty­ing the new ma­chine to the iconic orig­i­nal Leon­cino.

Fea­tures in­clude a dig­i­tal dash, which in­cor­po­rates an ana­logue tachome­ter and dig­i­tal speedo, and of­fers water temp, fuel gauge, clock, mileage, trip and gear in­for­ma­tion. Its lights are all LED and it comes with an Ital­ian made leather seat (which is very com­fort­able, by the way) which is set at 815mm, de­liv­er­ing a sur­pris­ingly spa­cious riding po­si­tion for my 6ft 1in frame – and I have no doubt that shorter rid­ers would find the Leon­cino just as com­fort­able too. It weighs in at a fairly av­er­age 196kg, but it’s re­ally well bal­anced so you’ll barely no­tice the weight once you’re in the sad­dle. The Leon­cino fea­tures fairly wide ‘Benelli Piega Bassa’ (‘low lean-over’) ta­per-sec­tion han­dle­bars; in prac­tice, they helped to pro­vide ex­cel­lent lever­age for flick­ing the bike from side to side through the tight switch­back we en­coun­tered on our test ride. The mir­rors on the Leon­cino are well de­signed too, pro­vid­ing an ex­cel­lent rear view with no vi­bra­tion – and its slim­line 13.2-litre fuel tank of­fers a claimed 300km range. Ad­mit­tedly, there are no in­dents for your knees, but it’s easy enough to grip re­gard­less.

On the road

The Leon­cino’s 500cc par­al­lel-twin en­gine is near on iden­ti­cal to the TRK502’s – the only real dif­fer­ences are the ex­haust sys­tem, air­box and en­gine map­ping, which help to in­crease per­for­mance, while meet­ing Euro 4 reg­u­la­tions. The Leon­cino’s en­gine is smooth yet torquey, but with more grunt than its TRK sib­ling – putting out 48bhp at 8500rpm, with 46Nm of torque at 6000 revs. Ad­mit­tedly, it is 28kg lighter than the TRK, so you’d prob­a­bly be a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed if it didn’t have a bit more oomph.

While on pa­per it’s not tech­ni­cally a pow­er­house, ini­tial pickup is fan­tas­tic. You’ll have to work it hard to find its 10,400rpm lim­iter – and on the tight switch­backs above Ri­mini, I only came close a cou­ple of times. In truth, it feels big­ger than a 500cc ma­chine, and un­like the TRK502, you won’t have to plan miles ahead be­fore tack­ling an over­take, just make the most of its smooth power de­liv­ery, and easy-to-use gear­box and en­joy the deep res­o­nant sound­track that comes from its two-into-one ex­haust sys­tem as you wind the power on and sweep past traf­fic with no trou­ble.

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