2021 Benelli TRK 502 X Review – First Ride


2021 Benelli TRK 502 X

Editor Score: 73.5%

Engine13.0/20
Suspension/Handling10.0/15
Transmission/Clutch8.5/10
Brakes7.5/10
Instruments/Controls3.5/5
Ergonomics/Comfort8.5/10
Appearance/Quality8.5/10
Desirability6.0/10
Value8.0/10
Overall Score73.5/100

“It’s actually not that bad,” is my most-repeated phrase as I flit from flower to flower on this new Benelli TRK 502 X. We try to give Chinese motorcycles equal opportunity on MO when we can, but it’s frankly not usually a pleasant experience for us or the Chinese motorcycle.

The last Benelli we tested, for instance, was this TnT600 in our 2017 Middleweight Naked Shootout. Like I said then, “It has a firm-enough ride that’s always compliant, its cantilevered rebound-adjustable shock there on the right does nice work. The seat’s comfortable enough, the tapered aluminum handlebar puts the handles in the right spots, engine vibes are under control – and the overall fit and finish is so nice that, right until you ride away, you’d never think you weren’t about to be in for a treat on a perfectly nice exotic European motorcycle.”

But then when you did ride away on the TnT600, well, Thai Long Ly has a way with words: “Beautiful bike. Love the MV-esque tank and the dated high pipes. Like a sexy Italian model, this bike looks great from every angle. Unfortunately, the engine has the pull of 7, perhaps 8 Alpine Marmots, offering all the excitement of jury duty. The bike sounds fast, with an intoxicating wail and whine worthy of a MotoAmerica paddock, but the absolutely anemic inline-Four packs the punch of an anorexic coke whore.”

That sounds a little insensitive now, but Thai was right. The thing had a gaping hole where its poweband should’ve been.

Benelli, in other words, always seems to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In addition to the absolute flaccid powerband, the TnT  weighed fully 109 pounds more than the winning Yamaha FZ-07. Zounds. Then again, we’re big fans of the Benelli TnT135, which wants to horn in on the Grom market.

Our EFI means we didn’t need to change jets at 7000 feet, which is nice.

First impressions really are important. We wanted to ride this new TRK 502 X adventure bike, but we also didn’t want to inflame China/U.S. relations unnecessarily, given all the strife we’ve all been through these last few years. As it turns out, the TRK’s not bad. Not bad at all. It’s not that good, either, but it’s only $6,399 – and if you want the three-piece aluminum luggage, it’s only $999 more.

Power-ish

A 500cc liquid-cooled DOHC 8-valve parallel Twin provides a fair amount of propulsion that, unlike the TnT600 four-cylinder, is commendable for both its quality and quantity. The dyno has it at 38.5 rear-wheel horsepower, which isn’t a lot. You wouldn’t think it would be enough to zot the bike up to an indicated 104 mph on the LCD display, but that’s what the speedo says and that’s about how it feels give or take 5 mph. 

Benelli’s 502 motor is also Euro 5 compliant, and has a smoother, better powerband than any Benelli we can remember. Benelli tells us there’s a counterbalancer in there somewhere. Valve lash needs to be inspected every 16,000 miles; adjusters are shim-under-bucket. We averaged 50 mpg.

Things are reasonably steamy down low and in the midrange. Past about 7000 rpm or so, the tach needle’s not exactly zinging, but it is moving. And what do you care; you’re an adventurer, not a racer. There’s no 270-degree crank here, so you get the classic sewing-machine exhaust note and feel of the previous-gen Japanese twin. I felt like I was riding a V Strom 1000 with a Kawasaki EX500 motor; Brasfield remembers the EX having way more top-end. He’s right. Suzuki GS500 motor, maybe.

There’s not a lot of top-gear roll-on power, but enough to hold your own against most freeway traffic. You’re turning about 7000 rpm at an indicated 83 mph, with the redline drawn at 9000.

There is a fair bit of engine vibration coming and going from our aluminum fatbar and footpegs at various rpm, but I wouldn’t say it ever rises to debilitating or even very annoying at typical cruising speeds. It might be annoying if the rest of the experience wasn’t so pleasant: The seat’s nice and thick, the ergonomic triangle is really agreeable, and the tallish windscreen is usually pretty quiet. 

And while there’s no quickshifter or slipper clutch, the clutch pull is light, and the gearbox shifts through its six gear pairs more snickily than about 70% of current motorcycles, which is to say really well.

Suspension 

Also surprisingly not bad for an ADV bike with 5.5 inches front wheel travel and less than half that out back – like 2 inches according to the specs. Strange for a bike with such a tall seat. If 2 inches is correct (and our media contact confirms that’s what the manual says), it really doesn’t feel that way. It feels like there’s enough travel on pavement to absorb all sorts of nastiness painlessly, thanks in part to the thick seat and great ergonomics I suppose. And it’s not even bad on rocky dirt roads provided you remember you’re not on a KTM or Africa Twin, and avoid the big holes.

The fork is an impressively beefy inverted unit with 50mm sliders. In the rear, a single slightly cantilevered shock gets the job done. Popping off a little plastic side cover reveals its piggyback reservoir complete with compression adjuster, and a rebound adjuster at the bottom too. It looks like the swingarm has plenty of room to do more swinging, but the stiff spring just won’t allow it. What it looks like is that somebody specced a shock and spring for a linkage-type rear end, then somebody else decided later we can’t afford linkage.

Cute pink compression adjuster and preload collars behind it brighten up a rear shock that works without benefit of linkage to provide very little claimed wheel travel, which feels like more.

Ours is the adventurish 502 X, with 19- and 17-inch Metzeler Tourance tires on (tube-type) wire-spoke wheels, and a pretty up-there 33-inch seat height. Benelli also makes a more street-oriented TRK 502, with 17-inch street tires on cast wheels and a seat 1.5 inches lower, for $400 less.

Not only is the seat high, this Benelli, like all the others we’ve ridden, is pretty hefty: 546 pounds wet on the MO scales. That’s 2 lbs more than the new Suzuki V Strom 1050. I did come close to toppling over a couple times while turning around on narrow dirt roads, but luckily did not – probably because the bike comes with hefty steel crash bars that look like they’d protect it well. I really didn’t want to, but I was glad afterward that we did do a little fire-roading and learned how not-bad-at-all the TRK is at that also, at exploring speeds.

Though the dyno says there’s nothing doing below 3000 rpm, the bike is perfectly happy pootling along in second gear and 20 or 30 mph, at what its tachometer reports is around 2500 rpm, and even lower. The heavyish flywheel that holds its high-rpm performance back a tad on the road is just the thing for adventuring slowly along rocky dirt roads. You can go faster, but then the rear end starts to bottom out over bigger bumps and harsh your buzz, and nobody wants to be changing an inner tube flattened by a sharp rock. Did you bring tire irons or skills? Me neither.

If a flat did happen though, you’d be glad to have the standard centerstand.

Weight is the biggest disadvantage of the Benelli compared to its competitors. Though it’s got a midsize powerplant, just barely, the bike itself is the size of a V-Strom 1050, as we mentioned earlier. That 546-lb wet weight does include 5.3-gallons of fuel, steel crash bars, the centerstand, and luggage mounts though not the luggage. Still, we’re looking at a motorcycle whose power-to-weight ratio is way off the pace of its competitors – but then so is its price tag. Then again, a V Strom 650 XT isn’t that much more money, at $9,439. Suzuki says that bike weighs 476 lbs, 70 less than the Benelli.

Mixed messages include better bark busters than most expensive ADV bikes come with, premium Metzeler Tourance rubber, swell paint and graphics. It’s even got backlit switchgear, which is kind of a waste since there’s barely anything to switch except the hi-lo beam and blinkers.

Basically, the Benelli is more an adventure-styled motorcycle than it is a real adventure bike. You can cruise around on dirt roads up to a certain pace, but you’re not going to be blasting up any steep hills. And you might want to find the fuse to disable the ABS before you head down any steep ones. If it’s true that this category is more like the four-wheeled SUV one – where most people never go off on real dirt adventures anyway – then maybe none of that matters? 

The twin 320mm discs and two-piston calipers up front aren’t bad and will stop the bike hard given a firm squeeze, but there’s not much in the way of feel. Even on dirt, the ABS isn’t too intrusive, but then we didn’t go down anything all that steep.

Talks the talk

It’s not a bad around-town bike either, especially if you’re tall. But the TRK just doesn’t offer either the engine performance nor the chassis sophistication of a real ADV bike. If you’re not all that power-hungry, and if you admit that you’re just as concerned with style as you are with performance, then the Benelli really is a big hit. Paint, graphics, fit and finish are all really good, and people who don’t know Benelli was bought by Qianjiang (Q.J.) corporation of Wenling, China (nearly everybody) 16 years ago, will think you’re only popping in for a quick latte on your way to meet Ewan and Charley on your expensive Italian motorcycle. The 502X has got the look, including the sheer intimidating size, down, and there’s no skimping on the Benelli logos. For looking rugged, you’re all set.

The nice aluminum handlebar is almost what Harley would call a “mini-ape;” rotating it back a bit would be perfect for standing and riding if you’re 5’8.

If you really did want to go adventure riding, though, including on possibly gnarlier terrain, what you probably would be better off doing in this price range is having a look-see at the KTM 390 Adventure we rode last year – a bike that lists for $200 more than the Benelli, makes a tad more power, and weighs, ahem, 160 pounds less. 

But hey, sometimes you just want to supersize it. And maybe there is a certain amount of robustness that comes with paying less attention to making everything as light as possible? Our Benellis seem to always have their peccadilloes, but we’ve never had any problems with them failing us. 

If you’re into the TRK 502 X’s looks and price tag, business is reportedly booming, and the distributor is up to around 300 US dealerships (there’s a dealer finder here). SSR Motorsports was started by a guy who left American Suzuki 15 years or so ago, and staffed by other more recent Suzuki refugees who know what they’re doing; the shelves at their big new warehouse in Santa Fe Springs, California, are bursting with parts, and the floor is stacked with crates full of motorcycles, minibikes, ATVs, etc. Doesn’t seem like the Chinese will be going away anytime soon. Maybe it’s time to think about cozying up?

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