Benelli BN302: Bellissimo Benelli
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A mix of Italian flair and Chinese production make this a seriously good entry-level lams machine
When people think of Benelli, it usually conjures visions of stylish European design and sports bikes with Italian flair.
So, seeing the badge on the tank of the 300cc orange LAMS machine in front of me, I am having trouble putting the two together.
The quirks of the sporty Benelli are almost a thing of the past -- many might say that is a good thing -- with the acquisition of the Italian company by a Chinese conglomerate in 2005.
Looking at the BN302, which must be a name picked by the Chinese part of the company rather than the flashy Italian side, all the parts are there to make a decent LAMS machine.
The build quality looks spot on; the tubular frame and swingarm give the Benelli a resemblance to Kawasaki's excellent ER6. And if the rest of the package is anything close to the aforementioned Kawasaki, Benelli is on to a good thing.
With the LAMS scheme allowing for learner riders to begin their motorcycling career on bigger-engined machines, it is easy to think the smaller 300cc machines will no longer be worth riding.
But hopping on to the BN302 and feeling how low, light and nimble the smaller bike feels, even at standstill, there's a lot to be said for making your first bike a 300cc machine or similar.
That saddle feels low; the specs say it's 795mm from the deck. The narrowness inherent in a parallel twin design also makes it easy to reach the floor on the Benelli, something that makes it a big hit with new riders.
Firing the Benelli up, again, perceptions splinter as a throaty sound emits from the under-slung pipe rather than the high-pitched tinny note a smaller machine normally produces. With few blips on the throttle, it's clear to see that a bit of the Italian thoroughbred has been retained -- but what does that translate to on the road?
The 302 can motor. From low in the rev range, the parallel twin performs reasonably; there's enough power to keep a newbie happy trundling around the highways.
Then, for those with a bit of experience under the belt, the Benelli has a new trick, with the motor kicking into life once the needle hits 7000rpm on the large analogue tacho. Holding the throttle open on the 302 rewards with some real performance that is enough to keep even a more experienced rider entertained.
Flick through the direct six-speed gearbox and use the revs up to the 10,000rpm redline and, all of a sudden, the BN302 is a different motorcycle, with the brilliant powerplant giving the rider a big grin as he attempts to eke out the last bit of performance.
Of course this is all a waste if the rest of the package isn't up to the job. But the BN302 has a decent set of USD forks up front and an offset shock at the rear. The springs are set on the firm side, which is good when you're feeling sporty, but the firm spring can give a reasonably harsh feel at slower speeds or over rough roads.
Although, that low saddle is also well padded, making the Benelli feel good after a day on the road, something you don't often say after a long stint on a LAMS machine.
The dash is a little dated, with the LCD screen giving limited information, but as long as you know your speed, how far you've gone and that your engine isn't overheating, what else do you need? The rest is nice, but it isn't a necessity.
The twin 260mm wavy discs at the front do a decent job of scrubbing off the speed and the wide bars make tipping in and flicking from side to side a job rather than a struggle. There's even a decent pillion seat with easily reachable grab handles and a stacked headlight.
A decent set of tyres are fitted as standard to the BN302, rather than the cheap rip-offs you tend to find on budget bikes, showing this Benelli is meant to be ridden. And those tyres do an excellent job of keeping the light, 185kg machine stuck to the road.
So, as the BN302 is part-Italian and part-Chinese, the mix has gained the new Benelli the best parts from each nation. From the saddle, the Benelli has a certain flair that you can get only from a bike with European blood and the 302 encourages you to grab it by the scruff of the neck and have fun.
The BN302 is a seriously good entry-level LAMS machine, which will appeal to many new riders, young and old.
ENGINE: 300cc Parallel Twin
Pro: Great fun, good build quality, Italian heritage
Con: Dash is a bit dated