“Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up,” advises the most famous butler in the world to Bruce Wayne aka Batman. Well, comebacks are important. Take the case of Benelli in India. An Italian heritage marque selling bikes made in China, partnering with the Hyderabad-based Mahavir Group. After the annulment with the DSK Group, Benelli intends to make a stronger impact in the Indian market, and its weapon of choice is the TRK 502. With such great expectations, the big and burly 502 carries a lot of weight on its shoulders, literally. But is it all lard or muscle? That’s what we’re here to find out.
There’s not just one but two 502s to begin with. The base variant, priced at `5 lakh gets a lower seat with a saddle height of 800mm, 135mm-145mm (front-rear) suspension stroke, 17-inch alloys at both ends, a centrally mounted exhaust and 190mm of ground clearance. At `5.4 lakh, the slightly more expensive and pothole-friendly 502X gets an 840mm seat, longer travel suspension, 19-17in spoked rims with thinner rubber, an upswept exhaust and 220mm of ground clearance.
The TRKs come with a 499.6cc engine but when it comes to aesthetics, they look much, much bigger. It seems like the designers at Benelli had the Tiger 800 and Multistrada in front of them, asking to be drawn ‘like one of the French girls’. Clearly, the TRKs don’t look out of place in the company of 800 ceecee biggies. The TRKs definitely have road presence and it won’t be wrong to term them as the Toyota Fortuners of the ADV world. Everything is made of metal; the carriers, optional panniers and even the solid windscreen mount. The plastic cluster though, feels dated in the age of TFTs but when you consider the asking price, you wouldn’t really complain, would you? Last but not least, the massive seat does not feel out of place among the gigantic body panels. So the question is: do you really need so much metal on a 500cc ADV?
No, you don’t. All the flab adds weight, a hell of a lot of it. Tipping the scales at 235kg, both the TRKs are heavier than a Ducati Multistrada 1260! And when the not-so-big liquid-cooled parallel-twin is churning out barely 47bhp and 45Nm, you don’t expect it to be a scorcher anyway. Take for instance the case of Versys-X 300 which has almost 40 per cent less displacement, yet delivers 39bhp and a power to weight ratio of 212bhp/tonne. The Benellis stand at an exact 200bhp/tonne, which means, 0-100kmph takes more than 7 seconds, making them slower than even the Bajaj Dominar UG! Even the power is delivered way high up in the rev range and you have to wring the throttle by the neck to make the Benellis go. Also, when you have so much weight to lug around and the engine is being squeezed to its maximum, the fuel efficiency figures are bound to be low. However, if you’re a traditional Royal Enfield fan boy (not the Twins, mind you), the Benellis will keep you satisfied. 100kmph comes at about 5,200rpm in sixth cog, which means you can cruise all day long at 120kmph. Vibes do creep in post 6,000rpm through the footpegs and even the tank. But the saving grace has to be the six-speed gearbox. The shifts are seamless and you barely ever get false neutrals. Even the clutch action is light, although I’d have liked an adjustable lever as it really hampers the off-road ride experience but more on that later. When it’s a Benelli, you expect it to sound nice and the TRKs are no different. Although they aren’t as loud as the smaller TNTs but definitely offer a fetching soundtrack.
Again, the weight issues creep in when it comes to handling the bikes but let’s talk about the ride quality which is really good, especially for our conditions. The suspension has enough travel to soak up bumps and potholes although the 502 bottomed out on several occasions. The experience is heightened by the excellent seat, which not only offers just the right amount of support but also has the precise amount of cushioning to keep your bum happy in the long term. Of course, being set up soft, both the bikes feel wobbly and bouncy when you take them off the beaten path.
When it comes to handling, riding the TRKs is as good as a crossfit workout. The ergonomics do not help the matter as well. You see, although the upright riding position is just about perfect, the tank recesses do obstruct your knees when you are standing on the pegs. Secondly, the clutch lever is really far away, even for me who has fingers as long as a Velociraptor. The brake lever is adjustable but you really have to pull it hard to make the big Benellis stop, which may cause your fingers and even your forearms to throb after a long ride. I digress. Handling a big ADV is usually not as it seems but the TRKs are top heavy. So, tipping them into corners takes a lot of effort. U-turns are a task and if you manage to put them to the ground, you’ll be grounded on the road unless you manage to find an extra pair of hands. Stability is excellent though, both on the straights and even in corners. The TRKs are not really meant for off-roading, but if you do, you ought to be fit enough. Pushing the bike down when standing is not easy. ABS is switchable but when you toggle it off, it is switched off at both ends. And unless you have really big cojones, I recommend you better not do it, as the brakes are really wooden and stopping these big beasts is already a mission, should you choose to accept it.
Well, the TRKs do a great job at filling the void in the market for those looking for a big and burly ADV. The X-Versys 300 is overpriced while the V-Strom 650 XT and Versys 650 cost a lot more money than both the Benellis. The SWM veers more towards the dual sport side which equates to a clear field for the TRKs. The TRK is clearly not a ‘fast’ bike and it’ll definitely make you work, especially when riding in the city and off-road. But if you’re looking to traverse states and even countries, the TRKs would do the job for you. But where would you buy one from and where would you service it? That calls for another story altogether. To sum it up, the TRK is a great comeback weapon that may not do a lot of damage. Should you buy one? If it were for me, I’d rather buy a Himalayan and G 310 GS and have the best of both worlds. Or maybe wait for something that’s coming from Austria later this year.