Benelli recently launched their bigger Leoncino and Leoncino Trail in Australia. Paul headed over the ditch for a skid around the Great Ocean Road.
Benelli is an iconic Italian brand, with the name harking back to the early 1900s. In 2005, the company was purchased by the Chinese automotive giant Qianjiang Group, and since then they’ve been steadily chipping away at producing small capacity affordable motorcycles with a flash of Italian flair.
The Leoncino, named after their successful 125cc machine from the fifties, has been a real hit for the Italian/Chinese manufacturer, with the 500cc model launched back in 2015 featuring scrambler styling in a small learner-approved package.
But now Benelli has given us another Leoncino, with the 800cc version arriving in NZ this month.
As with the 500, there are two versions of the new model, with the Leoncino 800 featuring 17-inch wheels, some cool new styling, sharper geometry and slightly more road orientated Pirelli MT60 tyres. They certainly give the Leoncino a scrambler look, but after sampling the twists and turns of one of Australia’s greatest motorcycling roads, there’s no doubt this is the model for road riders who like to dip their toe into some gravel, but the road manners are more important.
If you like getting dusty, then the new 800 Trail not only looks the business but also does the business on the rough stuff. The Trail gets a bigger 19-inch front wheel, 10mm more suspension travel (from 130mm to 140mm), slightly lower gearing, higher handlebars and Pirelli’s excellent Scorpion Rally STR rubber. There’s also a twin high-level exhaust to give it the necessary scrambler look, but surprisingly, both bikes sounded much the same – awesome.
With an uneven firing order of the new 800cc parallel-twin giving the new bikes an almost V-twin power delivery, the bark is surprisingly good for a Euro5 compliant bike.
Power is smooth through the rev range, and with 76hp at 8500rpm and 67Nm of torque at 6500, there’s enough to have fun while also making good progress. But it’s the seat height that will be the most important thing for those looking to trade up from the Leo 500, and Benelli has managed to keep both models saddle-friendly, with the Leo 800 foam sitting 805mm and the Trail 834mm.
Heading south out of Melbourne to the Great Ocean Road, the Leo 800 is as friendly and sporty as the 500 version, just with more of, well, everything. It’ll happily cruise on the motorway at the speed limit, but twisting the throttle in top gear soon sees speeds that will see you walking home should you get caught.
The new TFT dash is simple yet tells you what you need to know, the 50mm forks are firm enough for spirited riding and the radially-mounted brakes offer good stopping performance without being too strong. It’s a friendly package compared to some of the fire-breathing nakeds in the segment, but that’s not to say it’s a slouch.
Turning up the pace as the roads cleared showed the Leoncino 800 was the performer of the two models in the twisties, with knee-down levels of confidence in a fun-sized packaged. The six-speed gearbox is sweet, and with the torquey performance of the parallel-twin, there was plenty of drive out of turns even when the revs dropped.
With the Great Ocean Road similar to the type of riding we’re used to on many of the greatest motorcycling roads in NZ, it was the perfect location to see how the Leoncino 800 would behave in similar conditions. And the overwhelming impression was of a fun and capable machine that could handle a bit of everything, from motorway cruising to torturing twisties and everything in-between, even a bit of gravel. The low seat-height and wide handlebars see the Leoncino flicking from one side to the other in the blink of an eye, with the MT60 tyres somehow providing plenty of feel.
Swapping to the Trail and I could instantly feel the slower steering from the 19-inch front wheel and slightly taller stance of the bike. The motor is exactly the same, although the slightly lower gearing makes it more entertaining when there’s less traction and the taller handlebars make it easier to stand on the pegs.
On the road and the limiting factor are the Scorpion Rally STR tyres and the extra suspension travel, whereas on the gravel, this plays into the hands of the Trail. On the sweeping tarmac turns, the Trail isn’t quite as planted as the Leo 800. But, when I couldn’t react fast enough to avoid the ample potholes on the Aussie roads, I was suddenly thankful for the extra 10mm of travel!
It’s actually quite incredible the difference in feel between the two models, despite there only being a few minor changes. The riding position with the slightly higher saddle height and more swept up handlebars also leans the Trail very much towards those who are planning to venture off the beaten track. During the launch we ended up tackling a knee-high river crossing after plenty of km of high-speed gravel shenanigans, and the Trail took it all in its stride.
If you loved the Leoncino 500 but always wanted a bit more, then the new 800 is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. It’s just as cute, agile and capable, just with a bit more performance everywhere.
And if you’ve not tried a Benelli before, the versatility and affordability of the new Leoncino 800 and 800 Trail combined with the Italian looks and decent build quality make both models an attractive proposition, especially with the sub-$14k price point for the roady version.
For a full report check out issue 218 of Bike Rider Magazine.
Or contact your local Benelli dealer and ask when models will be in for you to swing a leg over. With bikes just arriving on NZ shores, it shouldn’t be too long.
Photo credit: Two Creative Photography / Benelli
Benelli Leoncino 800 (Trail 800)
Price: $13,990 ($14,490)
Type In line 2 cylinders, 4-stroke, liquid cooled , 8 valve, double overhead camshaft
Max. Torque 67 Nm @ 6500 rpm
Clutch Multidisc wet clutch
Displacement 754 c.c.
Bore x stroke 88 x 62 mm
Compression ratio 11,5:1
Rated output 76.2hp @ 8500 rpm
Lubrication Wet sump
Fuel supply Electronic fuel injection with throttle body ø 37 mm
Exhaust system With catalytic converter and oxygen sensors
Certification Euro 5
Gearbox 6 speeds
Final drive Chain drive
Ignition ECU – DELPHI™ MT05.3
Spark plug NGK™ CR8E
Frame Trestle in steel tubes
Front suspension Upside-down forks Ø 50 mm
Front suspension travel 130mm (140mm)
Rear suspension Rear swing arm with central shock absorber spring preload adjustable
Rear shock absorber travel 130mm (140mm)
Front brake Double semi floating disk ø320 mm with 4 pistons calliper and ABS
Front rim type Aluminium alloy
Front rim dimensions 17” x MT 3.50” DOT (19” x MT3.00” DOT)
Rear brake Single disc ø260 mm with single piston floating calliper and ABS
Rear rim type Aluminium alloy
Rear rim dimension 17” x MT 5.5” DOT (17” x MT4.25” DOT)
Front tyre Pirelli MT60 120/70 – ZR17 (Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 120/70 R 19 M/C 60V)
Rear tyre Pirelli MT60 180/55 – ZR17 (Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 170/60 R 17 M/C 72V)
Usable tank volume 15lt
Wet Weight 222kg (234kg)
Seat Height 805mm (834mm)
Ground clearance 162mm (191mm
Rock Grey / Terrain Brown / Forest Green
2 Year unlimited km
24/7 Roadside Assistance