Benelli BN600 GT
The history of Benelli will resonate with many of today’s parents. It was set up in 1911 by the widowed mother of six, Theresa Benelli, to provide work for her children. The business initially serviced cars and made guns then, in 1919, it started making motorcycles.
All the children engaged and one of them, Tonino, encouraged racing as a way of marketing the bikes. The end result was a win in the 1939 Isle of Man TT for Brit rider Ted Mellors on a supercharged, four-cylinder 250.
Then there was the goddamn war with the company having to start again, this time with the children of the original family, trying to pick up where their ancestors left off. Its bikes were still competitive and riders of the calibre of Mike Hailwood raced them. Australian Kel Carruthers won the 1969 250 World Championship on a Benelli and also won the Isle of Man Lightweight TT in the same year.
Much changed after this with various company reorganisations including partnerships with Moto Guzzi, which resulted in some odd bikes wearing various Moto Guzzi and Benelli badges.
The proud Benelli name was more recently bought by a Chinese company, Qianjiang (QJ), which respected the Italian government’s wishes and left most of the design and some of the manufacturing in the Italian city of Pesaro.
ENTER THE BN
The BN600 series of bikes was on the drawing boards from 2006 but wasn’t shown to the world until 2012. Six versions of it are currently on sale in Australia, all based on the same platform and engine.
The GT version as tested here distinguishes itself by the addition of a half fairing, raked-back ’bars, a whopping 27-litre tank and the availability of touring accessories, including a substantial rack and hard panniers.
The ’bars provide a more ‘sit up and beg’ riding position which suits the touring disposition but again raising the issue of seat comfort. Manufacturers are caught between a rock and a hard place with this. Every millimeter of extra seat height cuts out thousands of potential buyers. The need for sufficient ground and cornering clearance means the bike has to be as high as possible but it’s fatal in the marketplace if nobody is tall enough to ride the finished bike.
The obvious area of compromise is seat height which typically means precious little padding for the rider. The seat height of the GT is a claimed 800mm, but it’s employed the clever strategy of a narrow front so the rider can stand with his or her legs close together while the bike is stationary, gaining every possible advantage from shorter legs.
Okay, I’m 92kg, which isn’t Benelli’s fault, but I know there are heavier riders than me who would like the rest of the bike but would baulk at the potential of the big tank’s ability to take you more than 400km before a refill.
The shape of the seat is excellent and the bump in the seat gives lumbar support for taller riders but a touring bike should have more attention paid to seat comfort for ‘western’ riders. Yes, there are aftermarket options to solve the problem and many manufacturers offer premium gel seats as an accessory to make the seat on touring bikes more comfortable but, if you create an upright riding position which puts an emphasis on seat comfort, the seat has to rise to the occasion.
Interestingly, the same seat on the more sports/touring BN600S on our recent big-bore LAMS shoot out wasn’t criticised at all, demonstrating how seat/pegs/bars relationships can affect perceptions. It’s also true that all manufacturers have to engage with this issue and Benelli is no worse than most of the others, including the far more experienced Japanese manufacturers.
The seemingly impossible starter motor teeth ratio starts the Benelli’s engine instantly cold or hot, creating a great sense of security for the rider. The tasteful fairing shape is reminiscent of a number of recent Japanese offerings and gives a functional and pleasing display of the instruments – an analogue tachometer and a digital display which provides road speed in large numbers with plenty of easily visible ancillary information including fuel range.
An improvement over earlier Benellis is the ability to insert the ignition key while you’re still wearing your gloves.
It’s an instantly comfortable bike with functional and intuitive switchgear and the rear-swept ’bars add to the touring ambiance.
The clutch action is between light and heavy but the take up is pleasingly gradual, reducing the potential of stalling at lights in the city. The gear lever has a relatively long travel but the change itself is very positive so the rider is never in any doubt that it’s happened.
While torque and power figures suggest all the action is at the top end of the rev range, the BN600 GT is easy to ride at low revs around the city.
The half fairing distinguishes the GT from other models and does a competent job in keeping the elements from the rider. It’s nicely shaped in terms of style but its lower shape effectively keeps wind and rain from the rider’s legs while the seemingly small screen is remarkably effective in creating a buffet-free riding environment at regular road speeds.
Release the full 60kW (82hp) and the rider has to crouch to reduce wind effect. This is only necessary from around 140km/h onwards up to the bike’s indicated top speed of around 200km/h. Low gearing overall has a theoretical top speed at maximum revs in top gear of 220km/h. Overall, the bike is fast enough.
Where the BN600 GT shines brightest is in its handling. This is one solid unit on the road. The fork is a 50mm Marzocchi with 120mm of stroke and the single rear spring/damper unit is of Sachs origin with 123mm travel. Suspension travel isn’t exceptional (Yamaha’s FZ6R offers 130mm front and back) but it’s very well controlled and shows up the well-above-average quality of the suspension components.
The chassis is set up for sharp steering with 24 degrees of rake at the front and a trail of only 96mm. A rule of thumb is that the lower these numbers are, the quicker the steering will be. There’s a limit to how low you can go, though, without losing directional stability or suffering bar shake on rough surfaces.
Since we’ve already compared the BN600 GT with Yamaha’s FZ6R, the Yamaha’s steering geometry is 26 degrees of rake and 104.4mm of trail – a more normal set up for good directional stability, particularly when coupled with a 1440mm wheelbase. The wheelbase on the Benelli is shorter at 1405mm and, combining this with the rake and trail specs, you’d expect it to be the sharp handler it is.
Two other factors contribute to the confidence the bike inspires: standard Pirelli Angel GT tyres and a claimed wet weight of 223kg (FZ6R is 214kg). Light weight is a mantra for racers but in the real world of riding, a little extra weight keeps a bike planted and that’s exactly how the Benelli feels: planted.
THE GO SHOW
With the ability to make the BN600 series bikes in Europe and China, Benelli needed an engine that would suit a wide variety of operating conditions. The result is a powerplant which privileges durability and easy servicing over outright power.
Benelli claims a power output of 60kW at 11,000rpm and 55Nm of torque at a relatively low 8000rpm. Comparable bikes would be the softer fours from Japan. Suzuki’s GSR600, for example, claims 68kW but both are a long way from the GSX-R600’s claimed 93kW.
Combined with the Benelli’s weight, the modest power output can make the bike feel a tad sluggish at the low engine revs typically achieved in around-town riding. This is, of course, a Grand Tourer and, once on the open road and with the engine spinning above 4000rpm, there’s a pleasing throttle response even in top gear. Spirited riding gives the usual rewards from a 600cc four.
Another improvement over early models is the fuelling which is now less sensitive to throttle movement. There’s still a hint of on/off switch response to sudden throttle movements, but it’s a big improvement. On the highway when revs are up, it’s faultless but some attention to throttle control is still required to be smooth at low engine speeds. It becomes intuitive quickly, though, and after two weeks on the bike, riding it smoothly becomes second nature.
Brakes are non-ABS but are as strong as you’d expect from 320mm floating discs with radial-mounted four-piston calipers. Response is very progressive which is the next best thing to ABS but a firm grip is required for maximum effect.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
Priced from $8990 (plus on-road costs), the Benelli BN600 GT offers a lot of bike for your bucks. Its exotic Italian heritage gives you a talking point most other manufacturers at this price point simply cannot match.
But it’d be nice if that price included the rear rack and solid panniers as standard (expected to be priced around $1300), as well as other GT-type features like handguards to make the bike more of a GT. At least they’re available as accessories and were designed specifically for the bike.
Benelli – relearn the name because you’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the future.
– No ABS
– No standard luggage
– Thin seat
Benelli BN600 GT
Type: Liquid-cooled, four-valve four-cylinder with DOHC
Bore & stroke: 65 x 45.2mm
Fuel system: EFI
Type: Six-speed constant mesh
Final drive: chain
CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR:
Frame: Trellis-type steel with aluminium allow rear section
Front suspension: Marzocchi 50mm fork, 120mm travel
Rear suspension: Monoshock, preload/rebound adjustable, 123mm travel
Front brakes: Twin 320mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 260mm disc, twin-piston caliper
DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:
Wet weight: 223kg
Seat height: 800mm
Fuel capacity: 27 litres
WHEELS & TYRES:
Wheels: 17-inch multi-spoke alloys
Tyres: 120/70 ZR17 (f), 180/55 ZR17 (r), Pirelli Angel GT
Power: 60kW (82hp) at 11,000rpm
Torque: 55Nm at 8000rpm ECONOMY: 5.5L/100km
Price: From $8990 (plus on-road costs)
Warranty: Two years, unlimited kilometres plus two years roadside assist
Bike supplied by: Benelli Australia
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