Continuing our long-term test of the Benelli TRK 502 in advance of it being on show at the Overland Event, earlier this month Iain Harper took the bike on an eventful trip around France.
My positive initial review of the Benelli TRK 502 back in April was based on first impressions of the Chinese-made, Italian-branded machine after 1,200 miles. It remained to be discovered how the bike would fair in terms of performance and practicality on a tour, but an 11-day, 2,000-mile ride down to the Mediterranean and back provided the opportunity to find out.
Accompanied by my good friend, Andy Winters, riding his super-quick Yamaha Fazer 1000, the trip started and finished with the four and a quarter hour crossing of the Channel between Poole and Cherbourg on the Brittany Ferries ship ‘Barfleur’. If you’ve not taken your bike on a ferry before and wonder what’s involved, take a look at the video below to see how motorcycles are taken care of.
Our plan was centred around visiting Ted Simon at his home in the delightful village of Aspiran, near Montpellier. The southbound journey to get there took us from Normandy to Le Mans, through the Loire and Limousin to Limoges and a humbling visit to the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane, across to Clermont-Ferrand via the wonderfully twisty and picturesque roads of the Millevaches ‘Parc Naturel’, and some indulgent playtime on the stunning Millau Viaduct.
After enjoying Ted’s hospitality for a couple of nights, and an excursion down to the Mediterranean coast at Sète, the return home began with an eventful visit to Carcassone and its famous Old City. Mile-munching days followed, taking us via Toulouse, Bayonne, La Rochelle, and Saint-Malo.
Performance, Practicality and Economy
In my first review of the half-litre Benelli, I said it was lots of fun, a pleasure to ride, nimble, comfortable, and more than up to the task of maintaining motorway speeds for hours on end. Having lived with the bike for a while now, and particularly after doing a couple of hundred miles every day around France, I can happily stand by all those initial conclusions. For what it’s designed to do, and for its price tag, the Benelli TRK 502 really is superb.
Throughout the journey, the bike never once missed a beat. It doesn’t eat oil (in fact the engine oil level has barely changed since the bike’s first service over 3,500 miles ago), it’s easy on tyres (which still seem hardly worn), and it achieved an average fuel economy of 60.9 MPG.
If not a huge surprise, it was disappointing and inconvenient that the USB socket (exposed on the left-side fairing) gave up the ghost after prolonged heavy rain on the road to Bayonne. A fuse didn’t blow – it simply stopped working, and has yet to be resurrected.
It’s also fair to say that the rear brake (or more accurately the strength of the spring connected to the rear brake lever) is pretty ineffective. There’s so much travel in the lever that using the rear brake at all requires a conscious effort. I’m sure things could be improved considerably just by replacing the stock spring.
But the USB socket and rear brake lever are all I can find to complain about, which isn’t bad for five-grand bike with over 4,400 miles now on the clock.
Overall average fuel economy so far is 60.8 MPG (high of 75.4 MPG).
The Carcassone Incident
If you’ve watched the video above, you’ll have seen that our visit to Carcassone was memorable for more than the remarkable Old City.
Riding cautiously through the main town’s warren of narrow one-way streets at only 15-20 MPH, we had right of way on an uphill road crossed by others at block intervals. Every intersection had a corner-mounted mirror to show crossing vehicles if traffic was approaching.
The top-left photo below is the moment I started braking after spotting the Volvo coming from the left. Top-right is the moment of impact, and bottom-middle is when the car driver first touched their brakes.
The Volvo was left without its front bumper and significant damage to the front wing. The Benelli, on the other hand, escaped unscathed apart from a tiny scuff on the fairing, a small section of fork fairing being broken off, and a slight twist in the bar risers. It could have all been much, much worse.
The Volvo-proof robustness of the TRK 502 is worthy of note – as is the merit of capturing the unexpected on video.
With an eye on budget, and to avoid Andy having to carry camping gear, either side of our time with Ted we used HotelF1 accommodation throughout the trip. For between 25 and 35 euros per room per night, HotelF1 offers a clean and comfortable place to rest your head, and relatively secure parking. The rooms are small and very basic, with just a bed (and a bunk above), a sink and a TV, but they serve their purpose. On arrival, you’re given a unique keypad code that’s used to access your room, and the front door during the night. Toilets and showers are shared, but they’re plentiful and self-cleaning. Another 4.50 euros per person lets you take advantage of the all-you-can-eat breakfast, consisting of decent coffee, croissants, and baguettes. It’s not fancy, but the bread is fresh and eating before departure avoids having to face the temptations of a local boulangerie.
The TRK has an imminent date with Weston Motorcycles for its next service, and then it’ll carry on being ridden daily between now and being on show at the Overland Event. Perhaps a trip up to Scotland is called for in the meantime.