The 2021 Benelli TRK502X is bringing mid-size adventure to the motorcycle market at an attractive price. At $6399, the 500cc twin is $500 more than the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 ABS and $600 less than the Honda CB500X ABS. That slots it into an open niche for price. Although it is a new model for the United States, the Benelli TRK502 platform has been around since 2017, so early adopters have already worked out any major bugs. We came in wondering just how good this Benelli ADV motorcycle could be at its value price.
Without any doubt, Benelli is an iconic motorcycle brand, though one that needs some background for many. Celebrating its 110th anniversary in 2021, Benelli has survived many twists and turns. Since 2005, Benelli has been owned by the Qianjiang Group, a half-billion-dollar Chinese empire that builds a wide range of power equipment, in addition to ATVs, scooters, and motorcycles. However, Benelli motorcycles are still designed in Italy, though manufactured in China using Chinese-designed powerplants. In 2015, SSR Motorsports in Southern California became the Benelli distributor in the United States.
There are two Benelli TRK502 flavors—the standard version, and more dirt-oriented X version in this test. There are wire-spoked wheels at both ends with a 19-inch front on the TRK502X, the X’s suspension travel is 0.4 inches longer, the X has dirt-roadable Metzeler Tourance tires, and there’s a centerstand. That’s a wide range of upgrades for a price tag that is just $400 higher than the standard TRK502.
The first concern most people will have regarding a motorcycle built in China is the build quality. The 2021 Benelli TRK502X has an impressive fit and finish level. Designed in Italy, it’s certainly stylish. All of the plastic, aluminum, and metal parts all look good, and everything fits together nicely. There are plenty of aluminum pieces—muffler, handguard braces, tapered handlebar, luggage rack—to go along with the components you would expect to be heavier metals, such as the crash guards, centerstand, and windshield brace. The Chinese-designed motor doesn’t make any strange internal sounds, and that’s an enjoyable tone emitting from the muffler. While we can’t speak to long-term reliability, the TRK502X gives us confidence.
Hopping on the TRK502X, you will immediately notice that it is a large motorcycle. Right away, its 518-pound curb weight—that’s more than a BMW F 850 GS and Honda Africa Twin—gets your attention because you have to lift it off a somewhat short kickstand. The 33.1-inch seat height puts it on par with the Ducati Multistrada 950 and BMW S 1000 XR, so you’re swinging your leg fairly high over the highly stepped saddle. The tall-bend handlebar is wide enough to give some welcome leverage. Once mounted, my 30.5-inch inseam means I am tiptoeing at stops with ADV boots. However, the Benelli is balanced and doesn’t feel top-heavy. The seat/pegs/grips triangle is natural and roomy. While the tank holds 5.3 gallons, it isn’t wide where your knees hug it. Although it’s a chore to get aboard, it’s comfortable in the TRK502X’s broad seat.
All is well with the view from the cockpit. The windshield is tall and robustly braced, though non-adjustable. It’s a split dash with a large analog rev counter on the left, and an LCD screen on the right. The dash shows you what you need to know—a large mph readout, medium-sized gear position indicator, plus a small digital clock and tripmeter. A multi-bar fuel gauge is always in your field of view, though the in-tank sensor is susceptible to the chassis’ pitch. The switchgear seems a bit rudimentary, though it has a high-end feel after dark as it lights up appealingly. The grips feel good, and the serrated steel footpegs have removable rubber inserts. Between the ergonomics, the controls, and the dash, the Benelli does not remind you that it only costs $6399.
A slightly oversquare fuel-injected DOHC parallel twin with liquid cooling propels the 2021 Benelli TRK502X. Although it’s not the most cosmetically attractive motor, it puts out good power at accessible rpm. The torque peaks at 6000 rpm, and the horsepower tops out at 8500 rpm. The redline is 9000 rpm and easily accessible, with no resistance to revving. There is tingling through the pegs and bars at higher engine speeds as the motor spins up near the redline—nothing unusual, really, for a 500 twin. There are no electronic aids such as power modes or traction control—it’s just you and the throttle. Fueling is perfect, with no flat spots or surges, for a predictably smooth power delivery.
The six-speed transmission has a smooth clutch to go with it. Shifting action on the transmission is agreeably light, and sure. The clutch pull is not onerous, even without an assist function. The adjustable clutch lever is farther from the grip than it should be, even when set in the closest position, a ding against the otherwise excellent ergonomics. Also, neutral is occasionally elusive at a stop.
Handling is deliberate on the TRK502X. Heavy and stable, the Benelli wants you to set a course through corners and stick to it. If you do that, you’ll be rewarded with a hugely confidence-inspiring ride. The 47-horsepower motor isn’t going to cause any problems, and the suspension is properly calibrated. Plus, there’s plenty of traction in the 85/15 street/dirt Metzeler Tourance tires and the 19-inch front wheel locks to the pavement. The more you ride the TRK502X, the more you enjoy and exploit its stability. Needless to say, the X is absolutely stable up to its top speed of just about 100 mph, and the fairing combines with the windshield to protect the rider sufficiently from wind blast.
If you need to change lines, you’re going to have to use some muscle and take advantage of the leverage provided by the wide handlebar. Aggressive sport-tourers will complain about a lack of agility, while pure-touring riders marvel at its steadiness.
A big part of the solid feel while turning the 2021 Benelli TRX502X are the massive 50mm fork tubes. For comparison, the Honda Africa Twin runs 45mm units, and few complain that they’re too small—though Öhlins does make a 48mm upgrade. In addition to rigidity, a large fork tube means more room for oil and valving. That doesn’t mean much if the engineers don’t exploit it, however. In the case of the TRK502X, the suspension is spot-on at both ends. While the fork settings are fixed, the shock has full adjustability. It’s a balanced setup from the factory, though you might want to make shock adjustments if you’re carrying a passenger and luggage. The suspension is often the downfall of inexpensive Chinese-made motorcycles. Counterintuitively, it’s a strong point on the X.
If you’re going to take the TRK502X off the pavement, stick to high-quality dirt roads. The dirt is where you will notice that the X is underpowered for its weight. With the highly street-biased tires, the Benelli isn’t interested in any sort of off-road heroics. We did take it on improved dirt roads, along with some dirt roads that were in bad enough condition that you’d steer clear in a sedan. The TRK502X shrugged them off, and the suspension is taut enough that it doesn’t wallow at all. Traction is as good as it can be given the rubber, and the ergonomics help rather than hinder. Although it is an adventure motorcycle capable of abandoning the pavement, don’t push your luck with high speeds or overly rugged routes—sliding is okay; jumping is not.
The braking system is very effective on the 2021 TRX502X, but there’s a catch. Those are 320mm discs and four-piston Benelli-branded calipers, and they get the job done nicely. However, unless you have extra-large hands, the adjustable brake lever is far too far from the grip. Even at the closest setting, I initially actuate the brake with my fingertips—and I wear size 9 gloves. Forget one- or two-finger braking—you want all four fingers on deck. Again, while the front braking is still good, and engine compression braking helps, the reach to the lever is unacceptable. The rear brake has excellent feel for supplemental deceleration. ABS is present, though I never managed to noticeably actuate it. Still, it’s good to have that help in your pocket should a slow-down situation go pear-shaped. The ABS can be switched off, though not on the fly.
In defense of the TRX502X, there are good reasons it tips the scales so forcefully compared to its competitors. The oversized crash bars and the centerstand are steel and presumedly not light. The 50mm fork tubes are certainly going to weigh more than the conventional 41mm fork on the Honda CB500X. The crash bars can help protect the beautiful plastic tank cover—with cool topo-map graphics—while the centerstand helps with chain and tire maintenance. Taking those two features off would undoubtedly shed a lot of poundage. Oh, and there’s also a convenient rear rack that would be heavier if it weren’t aluminum, standard handguards with aluminum protection, and a substantial fairing. Plus, the generous 5.3-gallon tank adds to the curb weight. Stripped down, the TRX502X is likely right in the ballpark with the CB500X.
There is so much right with the 2021 Benelli TRK502X. If you’re the target audience, this is an outstanding motorcycle. It’s looking for a rider who is not aggressive, isn’t looking to conquer jeep trails, enjoys a smooth ride, likes saving money, and isn’t put off by its height, weight, and dual Italian/Chinese citizenship. Just as it did with the TNT135 urban mini, Benelli has not only exceeded expectations—it has hit a home run with the TRK502X.
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at email@example.com and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!