Can Benelli’s affordable new adventure machine go the distance?
Freedom, adventure, passion without any limitations. That’s what TRK stands for, according to Chinese-owned Benelli – but, in reality, the TRK502 is far from limitless. The main issue is the lack of power from the 500cc parallel-twin engine, combined with its colossal weight of 235kg – just 9kg less than a top-spec BMW R1200GS Exclusive TE. The bike makes 47bhp so it’s A2 licence friendly, but coughs and wheezes as it struggles to pull its own hefty mass. There’s no character or sweet spot to the engine either, just a huge spread of not very much power doing its best to turn into forward propulsion.
Try coming to a stop and you’ll almost be thankful for the lack of shove. The front brakes feel very dated in terms of performance. They’re incredibly spongey for most of the lever’s travel, only biting when the lever is almost back to the bar. The lever is span adjustable, but it’s almost impossible to feel any difference between the four settings. On one occasion the lever came all the way back to the bar without the calipers biting the discs at all – a terrifying moment that required a little rest at the side of the road to change pants. ABS is provided by Bosch, so that should be good, right? Er, no. Perform an approximation of an emergency stop and the front locks, the Pirelli Angel emits a loud chirp in protest, followed by the ABS releasing the brakes, resulting in a single huge pulse at the lever which almost brings it fully back out again.
The handling also fails to impress. Granted, the incredibly bumpy and inconsistently surfaced roads we tested the TRK on in northern Italy would put most suspension through its paces, but I do like to have at least some communication at the bars of what the front end is doing while cornering. But I never had any idea what was going on – the frontend felt distant and disconnected at all times, and failed to instil any confidence.
So what’s good about the Benelli? The screen is well positioned, although it would be even better if it were adjustable, and despite wearing a peaked helmet I never experienced any buffeting at all. It’s also great for those who find most adventure bikes too tall. The seat height is only 800mm, which means getting both feet on the floor won’t be a problem for the majority of riders. The seat is comfy, with enough padding to cradle even the skinniest of bottoms, and there’s plenty of room to move about, too. It’s a comfortable place to be, let down by a gutless engine, inexplicable mass, vague front end and poor brakes. Yes, it’s reasonably cheap at just £5699 – but Honda’s CB500X is a mere £5799 – and a dramatically more accomplished bike.
‘There’s no sweet spot, just a huge spread of not very much power’