‘MY MUM TOLD ME BARRY SHEENE WAS ON THE PHONE. I DIDN’T BE­LIEVE HER’

Bur­nett talks TT hero­ics, his de­sire for an MT-10, and that phone call from Bazza

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Jon Urry MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

How did you get into bikes?

My grand­mother lived op­po­site a man who raced bikes. It was 1972, I was 10, and this man had a Yamaha TD2. His name was Chris May­hew, the now-fa­mous en­gine tuner. I used to spend ev­ery evening help­ing him in his garage. He took me to watch races at Cad­well and even­tu­ally built me a tri­als bike out of parts he had lying around so I started do­ing a bit of quarry rid­ing when I was 12.

What was your first road bike?

When I left school at 16 I went to work for Derek Chat­ter­ton as an apprentice me­chanic and got my­self a Puch Maxi moped. As soon as I turned 17 I sat my bike test and my car test on the same day Ð and with the same ex­am­iner! I failed my car test in the morn­ing, but passed my bike test in the af­ter­noon. I used to ride loads of bikes from the shop be­cause I was ser­vic­ing them.

How did you start rac­ing?

I was help­ing a racer called Kevin Stowe who I worked with. Un­for­tu­nately he had a re­ally bad ac­ci­dent at the North West 200 in 1979 and never raced again. So I went to me­chanic for Roger Mar­shal who was start­ing to do re­ally well. When Roger moved to Mori­waki Kawasaki I did­nõt know what to do, so I de­cided to try rac­ing.

How did you get your big break?

I rang Mal Carter (fa­mous rac­ing spon­sor) and asked if I could ride his Yamaha TZ350. He laughed, but said if I could lap Cad­well Park in un­der 1m 05s I could take the bike home. I did, so I took the bike home. That was in 1982 and two years later I was rid­ing Barry Sheeneõs Suzuki RG500 at Brands Hatch. I was at home watch­ing Coronation Street when my mum told me Barry was on the phone. I did­nõt be­lieve her but took the call and Barry asked me to ride his bike at Brands. I set the lap record and fin­ished sec­ond.

Were your folks OK with you rac­ing?

No. When I first talked about go­ing rac­ing my dad said that, if I did, IÕD have to move out. I said Òwhat about when IÕM 21?,Ó and he told me I could do what I liked when I was 21. So I started rac­ing at 21.

Did you still ride road bikes?

Yes, when I was rid­ing for Honda I had a VFR750. It was so ver­sa­tile and Iõve al­ways en­joyed ver­sa­tile bikes. My cur­rent bike is a Yamaha MT-09 which is an­other good ex­am­ple. As you get older, you get drawn to­wards more ex­otic cus­tom-style ma­chin­ery. I love the look of the Du­cati Scram­bler though Iõve not rid­den one. IÕM wait­ing for the new R1-en­gined MT-10.

What would you con­sider to be your great­est rac­ing achieve­ment?

I won the Se­nior TT in 1986 but IÕM far more proud of the ride I had at the TT in 1988. I got a punc­ture in the rear tyre at Bal­lacraine on the first lap but still lapped at 108mph (at a time when the record was around 119mph). I was about 28th and had to do an ex­tra pit stop to change the rear wheel. I was seventh at the start of the last lap but had such a good lap I ended up third.

Did you al­ways want to race the TT?

If you did­nõt do the TT, you did­nõt get a fac­tory ride. I did­nõt re­ally want to do it but if I had­nõt done it then IÕD have missed out on the most ex­hil­a­rat­ing, thrilling thing you can ever do on a mo­tor­cy­cle. IÕM not tak­ing any­thing away from Mo­togp, WSB or BSB riders but, in terms of what they ex­pe­ri­ence com­pared to what you ex­pe­ri­ence rid­ing at the TT Ð they donõt know what theyõre miss­ing. I loved the thrill and the dan­ger just added to the thrill.

What was the best bike you rode?

My fac­tory World En­durance Honda RVF750 from 1989. I was the first Bri­tish rider to win the Bol dõor, Le Mans and Spa in the same year and I did it on that bike Ð the bike that the RC30 was based on. It was just so easy to ride and had a re­ally tractable en­gine. The link­age from the throt­tle to the rear tyre was per­fect and you could feel the tyre mov­ing, you could feel the rpm go­ing up Ð every­thing you needed, and it felt like it was hap­pen­ing in slow mo­tion so you had time to deal with every­thing. A beau­ti­ful bike.

Like so many Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers, Benelli’s 105-year his­tory con­tains more peaks and troughs than a stormy ocean. From its sport­ing hey­day in the 1940s and 1950s to its de­ci­sion to fo­cus on scoot­ers in the 1980s and fi­nally its ill-fated WSB ex­pe­di­tion in the 1990s, the last cen­tury has cer­tainly been a wild ride. How­ever, since the firm was taken over by the Qian­jiang group in 2005, life has be­come con­sid­er­ably sim­pler. If life can ever be de­scribed as sim­ple for a his­toric Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cle brand.

You may not have heard of the Qian­jiang group, but the num­bers speak for them­selves. Based in Wen­ling, China, it em­ploys over 14,000 peo­ple and pro­duces more than 1.4 mil­lion ve­hi­cles along­side 2 mil­lion en­gines a year. Along­side Benelli mo­tor­cy­cles, of which it makes 50,000 a year, Qian­jiang builds quads, elec­tric bi­cy­cles, lawn­mow­ers, golf carts, gen­er­a­tors and var­i­ous other mo­torised equip­ment. So where does that leave Benelli? Con­sid­er­ing Qian­jiang cur­rently only ex­ports around 5000 Benel­lis a year to Europe, the sim­ple an­swer is a com­pany with lots of ex­pan­sion.

At the mo­ment, Benelli’s range con­sists of the par­al­lel-twin 302 mod­els, the in­line-four 600 bikes and the 1130 Tre via spe­cial or­der. In the pipe­line is a new par­al­lel-twin 500, which will be seen in the TRK 502 and the retro Leon­cico (th­ese bikes will be built in Italy, not China) and also a 125cc ver­sion of the naked TNT. So the sin­gle-cylin­der BN251 does fill a hole in Benelli’s ex­pand­ing model range. And with a price tag of around £2500, it sits nicely be­tween the bud­get op­tions and the more pre­mium ma­chines in the A2-le­gal com­muter mar­ket. Benelli are pitch­ing it at a younger au­di­ence than its 302, which is why it comes in brash colours and the mar­ket­ing in­volves skate parks. Is this enough to sell it?

The BN251 isn’t a bad look­ing ma­chine, it doesn’t scream ‘cheap’ and I like that it has qual­ity Met­zeler tyres and a dash with a fuel gauge and gear in­di­ca­tor. The fact it hasn’t got ABS is an ele­phant in the room, but this will be rec­ti­fied by the end of the year. Ac­cord­ing to Benelli, the BN251 has been de­signed to be very easy to use, as the cur­rent smart­phone gen­er­a­tion is barely ca­pa­ble of any ac­tiv­ity that can’t be achieved with min­i­mal move­ments of their thumbs. With this in mind, I

The tubu­lar steel frame uses the en­gine as a stressed mem­ber and has 41mm in­verted forks and a sin­gle shock. The forks aren’t ad­justable but the rear shock’s spring preload can be al­tered. It all per­forms rea­son­ably well for a bud­get bike. move my thumb slightly and the BN251 bursts into life.

Con­sid­er­ing it is only a lit­tle 250, the BN sounds good as the sin­gle thumps away with a pleas­ingly vis­ceral note. Pulling in the clutch I’m happy to feel a light ac­tion, and the gear­box is far from clunky. The BN251 doesn’t have that im­pres­sion of cheap­ness you of­ten get on some Chi­nese bikes. And this sensation con­tin­ues once I get go­ing.

Bud­get sus­pen­sion is so of­ten the down­fall of price-tar­geted ma­chines, but this isn’t the case on the Benelli. The 41mm forks may be lack­ing ad­just­ment, but they feel sur­pris­ingly well damped and lack that hor­ri­ble bouncy sensation you so of­ten ex­pe­ri­ence. The shock, which can have its spring preload cranked up, is equally adept and while they aren’t go­ing to find their way onto a Mo­togp bike any­time soon, on a 143kg ma­chine like this they are more than ad­e­quate. And the same can be said for the brakes.

Per­son­ally, I’d have liked a bit more bite in the front caliper and less lever travel in the rear, but that’s per­sonal taste. On a bike with­out ABS, a bit of a spongy lever feel isn’t a bad thing as it is panic grabs that cause spills and this helps re­duce the chances of it hap­pen­ing. Is the 25bhp mo­tor likely to get The 249.2cc sin­gle cylin­der has a four-valve DOHC de­sign and is liq­uid- cooled with a fuel-in­jected sys­tem. It has a sin­gle bal­ancer shaft to keep the vi­bra­tions down and makes a rea­son­able 24bhp, a claimed 67mpg and has a 248-mile range. riders into trou­ble? It’s not as slow as you may ex­pect.

The sin­gle-cylin­der en­gine is fairly peppy and I saw over 80mph on the BN251’S clocks. It has a nice flat torque curve and lin­ear power, which makes it easy to use in town and fun out­side when you can let it rev, and it has vir­tu­ally no ir­ri­tat­ing vi­bra­tions. The chas­sis makes the most of the bike’s min­i­mal weight and the BN251 is a nim­ble ma­chine at most speeds. And it’s fun, which is ex­actly what Benelli were promis­ing it would be.

Over­all I en­joyed the BN251 as it feels a classier prod­uct than its price tag sug­gests. It has a few an­noy­ances, on some bikes the small screen vi­brated nois­ily and the foot pegs lack a re­turn spring, but those aren’t the end of the world. It’s a good-look­ing, fun, ma­chine for newer riders. How­ever the

Met­zeler Sportec M5 tyres come as stan­dard. The front and

rear discs are both a wave pat­tern with the front gripped by a fourpis­ton caliper and the rear a twopis­ton unit. ABS will be avail­able by the end of the year so that the bike will meet Euro4 guide­lines. is­sue Benelli is al­ways go­ing to suf­fer from is its lack of dealer net­work when com­pared to its Ja­panese ri­vals. Are would-be buy­ers go­ing to search out a Benelli dealer when the eas­ier op­tion awaits them just down the road?

Yamaha MT-03 £4499

The MT-03 uses the same 321cc par­al­lel twin as the YZF-R3, but houses it in a funky-look­ing naked bike. It is more ex­pen­sive than the sin­gles, but the ex­tra cylin­der and in­creased ca­pac­ity gives it more prac­ti­cal­ity.

‘The BN sounds good as the sin­gle thumps away with a pleas­ingly vis­ceral note’

Bur­nett got his big break when Sheene called dur­ing Cor­rie Four Honda V4s to tempt you into the fold

For a light­weight A2 li­cence-friendly ma­chine, the BN packs lots of big-bike style

Smart-look­ing dash packs an LCD speedo, fuel gauge and gear po­si­tion in­di­ca­tor In the frame Wave discs and four-pot calipers pro­vide de­cent stop­ping power Sin­gle and solid Stop and go

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