2019 Benelli TRK 502 and TRK 502 X first ride review
If there was a list of motorcycles that were apt for India, adventure tourers would probably occupy the top spot. Think about it. They are quick, comfortable and can tackle a variety of terrain. The variety bit implies good roads, pockmarked roads or no roads at all and you'll agree, that pretty much sums up the state of our roads. Which is why Benelli, a manufacturer that's making a comeback in the Indian market, has chosen to launch not one but two adventure tourers. It clearly aims to make a big splash with these motorcycles and we decided to take them for a spin in lovely Chikmagalur to see if they have the shoulders to help re-establish Benelli in India.
Design and build
The most pertinent question that pops up is why two adventure tourers? Because Benelli is aiming for two kinds of buyers; one who is looking for a fast and comfortable highway machine and the other who's also looking to explore what lies beyond tarmac. Hence, the TRK 502 and TRK 502 X.
They are the same motorcycles, as in the chassis, styling cues, switchgear and other components are exactly the same. But, as I mentioned, they differ in application, so the essential bits like the wheels, gearing, suspension travel and ground clearance are what separates the two.
The 502 is the road-focussed TRK, evident by the 17-inch alloy wheels, underslung exhaust, lower ground clearance and radially mounted brakes. The TRK 502 X, on the other hand, is designed to tackle paved highways as well as trails, which explains the long travel suspension, higher ground clearance at 220mm, 19-inch front wheel, tubeless wire spoke wheels and an exhaust that can be mounted almost as high as the rear subframe. The seat height, at 840mm is 40mm higher than the 502's, which is quite tall, keeping the average Indian's height in mind. That said, Benelli will offer a low seat height option, sometime in the future.
As far as styling is concerned, the TRKs look good, especially when viewed head on. The beak a la the Ducati Multistrada, as well as the large fuel tank and the tall windscreen lend the TRKs an imposing presence and an important value-add for big-bike shoppers in India.
The quality of paint as well as fit and finish is good but certain areas, like the exposed welds on the swingarm could've been finished better. Also, the shape of the tank makes it difficult to grab on to it while standing on the pegs and riding. It's a critical design flaw and surely a game that form won over function.
The windscreen is not adjustable, another glaring issue for an adventure bike and you can't help but wonder why Benelli chose solid metal over plastic to mount it. In fact, there are many areas that could have been made of lighter materials, which explains the 200kg+ kerb weight of both motorcycles. It's this one factor that has a significant bearing on the way this motorcycle rides and handles. More on that a little later.
In all, the design is purposeful and the standard crash protection is great in terms of value. Benelli will also sell you panniers and a top box, that'll collectively set you back by Rs 70,000.
Engine and performance
Both motorcycles employ a 500cc, liquid-cooled, in-line twin engine that develops 47.5PS at 8,500rpm and 46Nm at 6,000rpm, mated to a six-speed transmission. On paper, that may not seem enough, considering the weight but in the real world, the bikes don't feel underpowered.
Both the TRK 502 and 502 X feel quick in the sprint up to 100kmph and when you factor in the expansive wind protection, you get the sense of a relaxed cruise down the road. This is also aided by the linear power delivery and as long as you don't expect blazing performance, the TRKs will keep you happy.
The other aspect about the motor that ticks the right boxes is its tractability. You can pootle around in sixth at 40-50kmph and all you need is a twist of the wrist to pull an overtake. Even on the highway, riding at a steady 130kmph, you don't need to downshift to pull overtakes and that again highlights the flexible nature of the engine.
The issue is that the motor gets buzzy after 110kmph and you feel mild vibrations in the footpegs, fuel tank and handlebar. Benelli has tried to dampen this by using thick rubber pads on the footrest and handlebar grips, which makes holding on to 120-130 kmph possible. Also, the motor feels strained post 140kmph but up until that, it is in the sweet spot for cruising on the highway. Realistically, 120-130 kmph is the apt pace to maintain, especially during long rides and the TRKs hold that speed without any fuss.
Ride and handling
Both motorcycles employ 50mm USD forks at the front and a gas charged monoshock at the rear but they differ in the state of tune. The TRK 502 has a stiff suspension set-up which means at low speeds, over potholes, jolts are transmitted to the rider. But, over the same kind of roads if you ride at say 5-10 kmph faster, the ride smoothens out. It's something that you learn and get used to and not a deal-breaker in any way.
The trade-off is the planted and confidence-inspiring handling and around Chikmagalur's beautiful mountain roads, the 502 impressed with the way it flows from corner to corner. The only thing to look out for, is the top heavy feeling especially with a full tank of fuel, but spend some time with the 502, trust the suspension and Pirelli Angel ST tyres and the bike will surprise you with its handling.
The 502 X, clearly with its off-road focussed approach has a much softer suspension set-up as well as long travel that does a good job of ironing out most of the rough stuff, tarmac or otherwise.
The Metzler Tourance tyres deserve a special mention here. They offer good grip and feedback on paved surfaces as well as on loose mud and gravel. But don't expect to venture too far or engage in some dune bashing. You'll definitely need a set of knobbies for that and probably a gym session to handle all that weight. Yes, that's the biggest drawback. Out on the narrow, coffee estate trails, it took some effort to back it up while executing a U-turn. And if you happen to drop the bike, it'll take more than a pair of hands to pick up the bike.
There is no denying that the TRKs are pretty competent adventure tourers. They look good, their large dimensions makes them appear as litre-class machines and are pretty well-built as well. More importantly, the TRK 502 and 502 X at Rs 5 lakh and Rs 5.4 lakh ex-showroom respectively, appear as a sweet deal when you consider the sheer amount of bike you get for that kind of money. At that price point, there's nothing in the vicinity that can compete with the road presence, comfort and value that the Benelli TRKs bring to the table.
The only niggle is the engine that could've been a little more refined, especially at the 120-130 kmph mark, a speed that's ideal for long days in the saddle. Also, a non-adjustable windscreen is a glaring omission that we hope Benelli addresses, in the next iteration of the TRK 502 and 502 X, along with some fat trimming. All said, it all boils down to this. If you are in the market for a full-size adventure tourer that's comfortable and can hold decent highway speeds, the TRKs build a strong case for themselves. It's up to Benelli India now to provide the right sales and service support to its customers, which will go a long way in making the new TRKs a winner.
Also see: Benelli TRK 502 and TRK 502X- First ride Video
Images by Anis Shaikh