The Oily Rag #76: Benelli BN600S Learner Approved.

Learner motorcyclists have never had it so good when it comes to choice of machinery. A huge number of models are available for specific riding types and skills. The introduction of the Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme (one of the small number of good motorcycle safety policies we’ve seen introduced in South Australia in the past couple of decades), has increased the scope of choice for the discerning motorcycling newbie.

Italian manufacturer Benelli has now entered the Australian LAMS market with their BN600 naked bike. Looking a little bit like a cross between it’s TNT bigger brother and the Aprilia Shiver (ineligible for LAMS), it certainly has presence and reflects the current styling cues exercised by most manufacturers.

Benelli have gone for the ubiquitous 4 cylinder fuel-injected engine for this 600. I would have been very interested to have seen it as a triple like the rest of their range, since the triple is widely reported to produce more torque than a 4 cylinder of the same capacity.

Sitting on the bike and the first thing I noticed was that the 800mm high seat has a bit of a forward lean to it. The footpegs feel about an inch behind where I would expect them to be, but once on the move these 2 characteristics did not enter my consciousness again, meaning that they are of no real consequence. If you’re not thinking about them while riding then they are not an issue, and the bike still responds well to footpeg pressure.

Benelli BN600S LAMSThe 15 litre petrol tank tapers out quite wide towards the front. Sitting right up against the tank sees your legs feel like they’re quite far apart, but that’s probably because I have spent a lot of time on V-twins over the years and narrow tanks are somewhat de rigeur.  Moving back on the seat, something easy to do given the amount of space on the seat, makes the tank seem narrower between your legs. It gets wider the further forward you sit. I felt most comfortable sitting to the rear of the seat, more due to the length of my arms and legs than anything. I did venture up against the tank for a while to see what the difference was, but for my height I felt better sitting further back.

The wide bars give great control at low speed, and manoeuvring is effortless, although the steering feels slightly heavy at low speeds. I could feel just a hint of the weight of the front end pivoting around the head-stem, and at these speeds it feels a little like falling into corners, but subtle handlebar pressure eradicates this feeling. I may just be oversensitive to different bikes. Either way, these small observations were soon forgotten once on the move, suggesting again that they are inconsequential, as they did not come to the fore once I was putting some distance under the wheels.

Speaking of which, the front wheel is suspended by a set of 50mm non-adjustable upside-down forks. This may contribute to the front end feeling a tad heavy initially, as all of the Japanese 600cc supersport bikes run 41mm USD forks. Even the litre bikes only run 43mm USD forks, with MV Augusta the only one of prominence with 50mm forks. I suspect it’s because the rest of the Benelli range uses this size, so it is likely to be an ‘economies of scale’ thing. The suspension seemed quite compliant, with the rear feeling a bit stiff, perhaps a bit much preload, which can be adjusted along with rebound.

I did notice a gloriously clear and broad field of vision. The only things on the bike in your peripheral vision were the mirrors. The instrument cluster sat neatly behind my helmet’s chinguard, appearing in view when I looked down slightly in order to sight the speedo and warning lights. With no sports fairing/screen your vision was entirely clear to scan and look for potential hazards. A distraction-free view from the seat is only going to be a plus for a learner, as eradicating as many distractions as possible will hasten the implementation of the fundamentals of riding to being a habit, rather than requiring conscious effort. I’m talking about things like changing gear, checking mirrors, and scanning the road ahead for hazards.

As is the trend these days, there is not much under-seat storage; room for a smart phone and wallet if you’re lucky. But that’s about all you need these days isn’t it?

Benelli BN600S LAMS

The rear sprocket looks quite big for a road bike, looking more like something you’ll find on a low-geared dirtbike. 5,000 rpm in 6th gear at 100kph would support this suspicion. Due to the fact that the bike is restricted to 44kw, you’ll spend quite a bit of time with the needle above 5000 rpm though. If you happen upon a road user doing well under the speed limit, someone looking for a winery or roadside fruit vendor for example, overtaking them will not be an issue, once you know how much power you’ve got to play with and where in the rev range it is. However, if you end up behind someone who is only doing 10kph less than you want to go, overtaking in this scenario requires more judgement. You have a restricted engine pulling 208kg of bike, so you won’t be carrying out any snappy overtaking manoeuvres.

As a result of the lower gearing, you find yourself going up and down the gearbox rather swiftly, which I didn’t mind at all, allowing me to hear the rather pleasing exhaust note.

An eager throttle hand will have you running in to the throttle restrictor, with what appears to be a simple throttle-stop doing the job of restricting horsepower. You can still wind the engine out to the top of the rev range, it just takes longer. Riding the bike restricted in this matter just feels like riding a regular 600 without ringing it’s neck. It doesn’t feel quite as eager as an unrestricted 600 of course, but if you’re just cruising around you won’t be trying to utilise maximum power anyway. Hence, even in restricted guise, it does not feel to be that far removed from it’s unrestricted colleagues when travelling at a moderate pace.

There were only a couple of grumbles I could find. The left footpeg does a good job of hiding the tab to drop the sidestand while still sitting on the bike. It’s a good sidestand, it’s just difficult to operate while on the bike.

The second niggle is the gear lever. The tab tapers into a point as it goes away from the engine, so there feels like there is only a small amount of contact on the lever when changing gear.

Personally, I think that this machine is a good thing. At $9,990 Rideaway, it’s actually a bit cheaper than it’s Japanese 4 cylinder LAMS bike competition, Yamaha XJ6-NL and Honda CB400, which are all quoted brand new in Bike Sales (November 7th) as being close to the Benelli Rideaway price, without on-road costs.

 
Barry Hartog
First Published 7th November 2014