Benelli BN600R - First Ride

Benelli may be owned by the Chinese, but the BN600R is a pretty good bike.

Benelli BN600R action photo

Benelli, owned by the Chinese Qjian Jiang Company, is alive and well. The company isn’t selling many motorcycles in Italy, but QJ, the largest Chinese manufacturer of motorized two-wheel vehicles, is doing very well in the Far East thanks to models developed by the Pesaro-based technical staff. These range from electric bicycles to the latest BN600R, the only four-cylinder motorcycle offered by a Chinese make. In a way, Benelli acts as R&D for QJ, yet it also helps with the production of upper-class models such as the three-cylinder Tornado (and its derivatives) and the new BN600R for local and other European markets.

The Benelli BN600R was officially unveiled at EICMA 2012, but the project of a totally new, four-cylinder middleweight was green-lighted in 2006, when the company was still owned by Italian investors. The BN600R is fundamental for the future of Benelli and QJ, since they are hard at work in Pesaro to validate and homologate the BN302, a twin-cylinder version aimed at vital markets in Asia.

The BN600R, incidentally, isn't the first production four rolling off the assembly line at Benelli. When Benelli was owned by Argentine entrepreneur Alejandro DeTomaso, the company built the infamous Benelli 750/900 Six and four-cylinder derivatives that ranged from 350 to 600cc. While the DeTomaso multis were forgettable, the four-cylinder Benelli I would rather remember is the 250 GP Four, the last four-stroke bike to win the world title, in 1969 and ridden by Kel Carruthers.

Benelli BN600R static side view

THE BN600R

The new Benelli BN600R is designed around a modern engine built to meet the needs of customers from countries with motoring cultures that range from newcomer to highly sophisticated. As such, the engine has to be solid and reliable, and able to guzzle the cheapest fuels from South America without protest. The Benelli 600 four-cylinder is also a little thicker and heavier than its Japanese competitors, which partly explains the bike’s dry weight in excess of 440 pounds.

Reliability, durability, and easy servicing were more important than performance. Bore and stroke is 65.0mm by 45.2mm, and the head features two chain-driven camshafts with four valves per cylinder. Cast iron cylinder barrels are thicker than average, and they are cast in the cylinder block for maximum stability and easy re-boring with no risk of distortion. Compression ratio is a moderate 11.5:1, and the Delphi electronic fuel injection uses 38mm individual throttle bodies. The Delphi system, which measures air speed and air density, is very advanced, perfectly calibrating the fuel and spark via individual O2 sensors for each cylinder. This also makes the Benelli engine very clean at the exhaust, which incorporates two catalytic converters.

Benelli says the BN600R produces 82 hp at 11,500 rpm and 38.4 pound-feet of torque at 10,500 rpm. Average numbers, these, in line with those of the mild versions of the Japanese 600cc fours. Peak torque is below the mark, and it’s reached at rather high rpm, leaving only a 1,000-rpm gap between peak torque and peak power. Given the generously robust dimensions of the engine, however, there is plenty of room for extra performance and added displacement.

Benelli BN600R details engine

The power unit is harnessed in a frame with steel trellis at the front and a cast aluminum rear, the two sections overlapping and double-bolted at the cylinder block. The design is very rational and gets the best from both worlds. It has very high torsional rigidity yet is less costly than an all-tubing trellis solution. Once again, solidity, reliability, and dependability are paramount, but the additional weight is positive in a sense that it enhances comfort and stability. The chassis has a substantial 58.3-in. wheelbase, which is longer than average. As a result, there’s good comfort for two, and the extra length helps with a weight distribution that’s correctly biased to the front. The steering rake is set at a mild 24 degrees; trail is only 96 millimeters.

No shortcuts were taken with suspension components: A massive 50mm Marzocchi fork is complemented by a cantilevered Sachs shock. There’s 4.7 in. of wheel travel in front, 4.8 in. in back. Seat height is 31.5 in. Wheels are cast aluminum, size 3.50/17 front and 5.50/17 rear, shod with 120/70 and 180/55 Metzeler Sportec radials, respectively. The front brake features twin 320mm rotors and four-piston radial-mount calipers from Brembo. The rear employs a single 260mm rotor and a twin-piston floating caliper, also by Brembo.

Benelli’s BN600R looks neat and well executed, with comprehensive digital instrumentation, a nicely contoured and trimmed seat, and the exhaust arranged under the seat but not creating any heat-related issues. The riding posture is ergonomically correct, the tank perfectly shaped for comfortable leg positioning. Although the bike has a civilized exhaust note and a natural reach to the grips, the clutch requires an above-average effort.

Benelli BN600R exhaust pipes

On the road, the engine exhibits more flexibility than the numbers suggest. I easily stayed in sixth gear even when the road got tight, and the response was always fluid. There was no shuddering even when pulling from below 2,000 rpm in top gear. A “shortish” final transmission ratio helps hide the bike’s lack of power, but on the open, twisty hill road from Pesaro to the San Marino Republic, the power was more than adequate for a spirited ride. It was easy to hit 90 mph on some short straights, the ride made all the more pleasant by the quality of the chassis. I’m tempted to call it “excellent,” but I suspect the limited power made life on the chassis a little easier.

Nevertheless, the steering of the BN600R felt precise and perfectly neutral, which has nothing to do with the amount of power on tap. The feedback was reassuring, and I always knew what was happening to the front wheel. With its agility, stability, and excellent suspension components, the Benelli chassis stays composed even under heavy braking. And riding through town is never problem, thanks to the smooth response of the engine. All told, the Benelli BN600R is a roadster that’s great for daily commuting yet totally competent on twisting hilly roads. Price in Italy? A very accessible 6,790 euros.

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Static left-side view.

Static right-side view.

Static front 3/4 left-side view.

Static right-side view.

Static angled front view.

Static front view.

Static rear 3/4 right-side view.

Static angled rear view.

Static rear view.

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