Benelli TRK502X ride review 7,000km
Review by Marco Polo on the mychinamoto forum
Making the choice
When I decided to buy a bike shortly after arriving in China for another work stint, I had not ridden for 30 years and thought a 250 would be good for buzzing around the city and do occasional exploring in the surrounding countryside. I was looking at something like the Suzuki V-Strom 250, but it is really ugly and I found for a little bit more, I could get a Benelli TRK502. This set my mind thinking about getting a bigger bike, more suitable for longer cruises, further supported by my city’s decision to ban motorbikes from the city centre. Reading a few reviews of the TRK502, I found a few shortcomings and criticisms, so I expanded my research and thought a Honda CB500X would even be better, until I saw the price, which was RMB72k against the TRK502’s RMB38k. The Benelli also came fully kitted with panniers, while the Honda had nothing. I also had a look at the CFMoto 650MT, but one has to draw a line at a price somewhere, and apart from reading about some quality issues, I didn’t like the styling and it felt too small. I have to mention that I am 1.86m and weighs 90kg, so a big sized bike was more suitable to my needs. I still dream of a BMW 1200GS…
As I was going through the process of getting my Chinese bike licence, Benelli released the TRK502X, which appeared to have addressed most of the concerns about the TRK502 and was only RMB42k (about US$6,000 at the time), everything included. Differences included:
• Wire spoked wheels in a 19/17 configuration, against the 17 inch alloys of the standard TRK, giving a better choice of more off-road biased tyres. Unfortunately though, because of the wire spokes, wheels are not tubeless anymore;
• A main stand, very useful and needed to fix rear wheel punctures and doing maintenance;
• A higher stance and softer suspension, also with a slightly shorter wheelbase. The size and height of the bike is probably the best anti-theft deterrent, as it is way too big for the average Chinese rider;
• Shorter gearing, having a 44 teeth sprocket at the back, against the 42 of the standard TRK, giving it a bit more go;
• High exhaust, more suitable for off-roading, and at the same time also making maximum torque available at lower revs. It is much louder than the standard TRK though;
• Softer suspension;
• Improved rear brakes.
The TRK and X are otherwise mechanically identical, although the X appears quite a bit bigger, thanks to its higher stance.
I eventually got my licence, a story of its own, and ordered a red TRK502X from the local dealer. Colour choices were red, white or black. The bike arrived within a week and I had to go to the licencing department with the agent to have it registered in my name, assuring the traffic police that I won’t be riding in the banned city area, but otherwise no problem and not nearly the hardship and cost other foreigners face when buying a bike in China. I had to pay a tax equal to 10% of the price of the bike at registration though, ouch!
On the road
The bike was beautifully decked out when I took delivery and looked splendid in its metallic red with black panniers. I was nervous and took it for a quick ride around a parking area to familiarise myself with the controls, which are functional and simple. The bike was heavy, one of its biggest criticisms, as it has a wet weight of 237kg, but this includes a 20 litre fuel tank and three panniers which probably weighs well over 10kg combined. I had an embarrassing moment later that day when I stopped against a side slope, overbalanced and dropped the bike. It was just too heavy to hold, but it was an amateur mistake which I have not repeated since.
Once it gets going though, you cannot feel the weight at all and the bike is beautifully balanced. I do two-day trips most weeks and always have the panniers full, but never felt that the bike was difficult to handle. I now ride in traffic with ease, but the width of the bike with the panniers and huge crash bars is a bit limiting when trying to squeeze through gaps.
I did a weeklong 1,200km trip two up with my gf behind me and in spite of trepidation at first, the bike still handled easy and light. For this trip I adjusted the damping on the rear shock absorber to its maximum and never bothered to return it to the original setting. This does make the bike a bit bumpy when riding without extra weight and panniers, but the handling feels a bit sharper and I prefer the harder setting. The saddle is comfortable and the riding position perfect for a taller rider, although I would have liked a slightly higher saddle to extend my legs a bit. Saddle height is indicated at 850mm. I changed my seating position ever so slightly by removing the rubbers on the foot pegs. The rear seat is a bit too high in my opinion and a tallish passenger will get a lot of wind. My gf is fortunately quite small and found the seat comfortable too, to the extent that she fell asleep on our long trip. She also enjoyed leaning backwards, using the top box as a backrest.
The front suspension is soft and there is quite a bit of nose diving when braking hard. The brakes are effective and I have not yet had to brake hard enough to activate the ABS. The rear brakes is said to be an improvement over the TRK502, but then that must have been really bad, as the rear brakes on my bike feels ornamental at best when using them alone, without the front brakes. It does hold the bike when standing on inclines though, so maybe they work in combination with the front brakes.
Power delivery is smooth with no noticeable power band and performance can be brisk if you are willing to use the gears, which changes smoothly. It has excellent low end torque and will pull smoothly from 3,000 rpm in 6th gear all the way to the red line. Maximum speed apparently is around 170km/h; I had mine up to about 140km/h and you could feel it was nearing the end of the rev range. Cruising at 100-110km/h is most comfortable and right on maximum torque. I really cannot complain about the power and have never felt that I need more, even riding two up. But then again, I am an old cruiser and young traffic light racers might find it too big and slow.
Fuel consumption depends on how hasty you are, but I found it has settled at around 23km/l or 4.3l/100km, fully loaded with panniers and doing about 100km/h. During the running in period I rode slower and got over 30km/l a few times. The fuel tank takes 20 litres, which makes for a substantial range, well over 400km, and good for touring.
Spare parts and aftermarket items are readily available in China on the internet at very reasonable prices. These include just about everything. I changed the windscreen to a slightly bigger one, about 10cm higher, for about RMB180 (around US$26). This was an improvement well worth the money, although I do experience a bit more buffeting in side winds. Having said that, the weight of the bike does make it quite stable in windy conditions.
I am currently in the process of installing LED driving lights. The lights are good, with LED day lights below the two main beam lamps, but I found that driving lights make a bike appear to be much bigger and more visible to road users, something you really want to be on Chinese roads.
I was able to download a User’s Manual from the internet, as the one supplied with my bike is Chinese only, and I use it myself for regular checks. Regular maintenance is still a bit of a mystery in China and up to now services were limited to oil and oil filter changes, as well as chain adjustments when I requested them. I would hate to own a high tech vehicle in China, as most workshops look more like the backyard type. You just cannot trust mechanics to check things; they just do what you tell them, nothing else. This means you need to have a good understanding of your vehicle and take own responsibility, but fortunately it seems that Benelli’s in general and the TRK in particular are quite simple, straightforward machines with very little in the line of electronics.
First service was done at 800km, second at 2,000km and third at 5,000km. Next service is apparently at 9,000km, much shorter intervals than what the manual suggests, but I am of the opinion that too many oil changes can never be bad. I took care to stick to the engine speed restrictions during the run in period up to 1,600km and now my bike is beautifully run in, uses no oil, and runs like the wind.
As an old timer who wants a comfortable bike for cruising long distances, I find this bike perfect for my needs. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is a good looking bike that draws a lot of attention wherever I stop, but part of that is also being a foreigner in China. It would seem that there are quite a few foreign owned Benelli’s in my neighbourhood and they are getting a reputation for reliability. Value-for-money wise this is a great bike and I hope I can do another positive review in future at a higher mileage.