When someone in your industry has a highly successful model, the temptation must be just about irresistible to produce your own version of that bike. But it doesn’t need to be exactly the same.
It’s true that there are worthy competitors for Munich’s big GS, all developed at significant expense, but none of them have been able to approach the BMW’s sales numbers. The Bavarians have carefully covered their backsides by launching smaller versions of the GS concept with the 310 and 750 / 850, all of which have also been successful even though they have not come close to Big Brother’s sales.
But if you read my mail and some of the club magazines or listen to riders at the café or the pub, there is a gap in the adventure market that BMW is not addressing, except marginally with the 301. That’s a lighter, simpler, lower and cheaper bike – but above all a lighter one.
I’m not sure if Benelli has heard the same laments as I have and has tried to address them with the TRK 500X. If they were listening, they didn’t pay quite enough attention; the 500X is certainly cheaper and simpler, but with a seat height of 850mm and a kerb weight of 235kg it only makes two out of four. Still not bad, and the seat height is probably inescapable, but I wouldn’t mind if the design engineers had sent to bike on a weight saving diet and lopped off thirty kilos or so. Three out of four would be terrific.
On the other hand, the 500cc parallel twin of the TRK 500X, which has a power output of 35kW at 8500 rpm and torque of 46Nm at 6000 rpm, is identical to that of the “road” version TRK 500 and is not especially stressed by the weight. I put a couple of thousand kilometres on one and have been impressed.
I am clearly not the only one. Not only is the 500X enjoying good sales in Europe, but it has also received the ultimate accolade: German accessory manufacturer SW-MOTECH has launched a complete set of adventure accessories for it.
The TRK will sit happily on 130 km/h all day and still have enough punch for overtaking. At that travelling speed, the engine is revving a little high for my tastes at 7000rpm, not that it seems to mind but maybe somewhat higher gears would be an idea. No problem, of course; it has a chain final drive so you can adjust that if you want to.
Ergonomics are good, brakes are okay if not brilliant, and the Bosch ABS is a welcome feature. I have no complaints about the handling and turn-in is light. The Metzeler Tourance tubeless tires show that the bike is intended more for road and light gravel duties (although it can cope with the rough stuff if you can), and it performs those well. I spent some considerable time on gravel back roads and I have no complaints except during the twenty kilometre sandy stretch when the tires, but not the bike, were… stressed. So was I, initially, but once I slowed down a bit and stood up for a while I was fine.
The big change from the road going model to the X is the high mounted muffler. This has increased ground clearance, as has is the change to spoked wheels with a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear. It has also increased the seat height, by 50mm, but having the overall increased travel and ground clearance means you can take the bike to all sorts of rough trails.
During the Australian launch, my editor and the other hooligans of the local press decided to venture into a pine forest down a slushy, grey, muddy trail to really test the bikes and to see how they would handle some difficult terrain. “I can say it was some of the best fun all of the riders on the launch have had for a while,” he reported, and it “was backed up by the stupendous barrels of laughter we had once we finally got back out onto the main dirt road. The bikes looked like they had just been pulled out of a creek but as a test of how the bikes handled such gnarly terrain they both passed with flying colors.”
I am a little more reserved, but I can say that on the open road two things really stand out about the Benelli TRK 500X and they’re both important. One, the complex windscreen works beautifully. It kept me comfortable and stopped the multitude of insects from covering me in their tiny little corpses. As well, the seat is as comfortable as any that I’ve tried in recent years. A 550km ride on day one of my trip left me able to walk in a fashion as close to normal as I can ever manage, and by the time I was on my second beer there was no sign of soreness.
There is one other thing that stands out, and that’s the fuel economy and range. I wasn’t hanging about on my ride but I got 3.9 litres per 100km, which gives an amazing range better than 500km from the substantial 20 litre tank.
The Benelli TRK 500X was the best-selling bike in Italy last year (2020) and is an interesting proposition for anyone looking for that simpler and cheaper bike – and if you want a lower one you can always go for its less adventure-orientated TRK 500 sibling, which is even cheaper than the X’s $9890 (ride away) or US$7099 in the States. Let’s hope Benelli hears and heeds the call for weight loss to make it four out of four.
(Photos The Bear)