Words: Taine Pics: Two Creative Photography
It was a sad day when our long-ish-loan Benelli Trail 800 left the building. But then the smile returned as it was replaced with the more road-focused Leoncino. Taine was the first one to check it out.
To be honest, I didn’t get much of a chance to ride the traily version of the Leoncino due to the fact Paul always seemed to nab the key. He’d taken a particular fancy to the green machine, and I can understand why with the twin high-level exhausts and block-type tyres. It looked cool, sounded great and, apparently, went well on gravel roads – not that I was able to find out…
So, when the Leoncino 800, the more roady version of Benelli’s 800cc parallel-twin range, arrived at the office, I was chomping to give it a go. And with a shoot planned combining a couple of bikes, I made sure the flick-knife style Benelli key was firmly in my grasp as the shed door went up and we hit the road.
I’m sure everybody knows that Benelli is an Italian/Chinese mix. Well, everyone but me, as it seemed, I missed that memo. And to be fair, the Benelli certainly doesn’t scream ‘Chinese’ when you look at it or ride it. The build quality looks on par with everything else I’ve ridden in this segment, with the tubular frame, beefy gold forks, and throaty twin sound reminding me of a certain other Italian brand. Okay, the TFT screen looks flashy, but after a while, I discovered there’s not much you can actually do with it despite a whole heap of buttons (four, in fact). But the cockpit is a nice place to be and certainly feels much more impressive than the price tag suggests, especially with the LED lighting throughout, a big wide tank that rises up in front of you and the tall bars complete with little marks for adjusting. The riding position really is ‘sit-in’, and while the saddle is nicely padded, a slim front meant I could easily get my feet flat on the floor.
Underneath is the beating heart of the Benelli, with a 754cc parallel-twin not exactly filling me with excitement, that is, until I fired it into life. It always seems to be the Italians who can make sweet-sounding bikes, and Benelli has pulled off the trick with the throaty V-twin-like sound emitting from the exhaust. It’s not a sexy high-level exhaust like the Trail, but that probably is a little impractical if I wanted to throw some bags on the back. So with the Leoncino, you get practicality while also retaining a decent sound.
Continues To Surprise
With a claimed 76.2hp and 67Nm of torque on tap, the Leoncino doesn’t fit within the LAMS category, so that segment is covered by their 500cc version. And it’s probably just as well as the Little Lion (English translation of Leoncino) has a decent bite to go with its bark, with the double-overhead-cam twin fast and reactive off the throttle from low in the rev range. Not as lumpy as a V-twin or as revvy as an inline-four, the parallel-twin makes perfect sense for riding on New Zealand roads, with loads of power exactly where you need it during regular riding. Cruising through town, the controls were nice and light, with the adjustable brake and clutch lever falling easily to hand once I’d given them a twiddle. And thanks to the high, wide handlebars and low seat, flicking the Leoncino through roundabouts and traffic was like performing a dance, skipping and diving around, making it a sweet machine to use to get to work and back.
The 17-inch wheels give the Leoncino a more sporty naked feel than the adventure-styled Trail, and there’s no doubt the smaller hoop at the front having less rotating mass adds to the quickness with which the Leoncino reacts. And since there are still semi-blocked Pirelli MT60RS tyres fitted with a 120/70 front and 180/55 rear, there’s no doubt a bit of gravel would still be within the remit of the sporty naked. The only limitation would be the 140mm of travel from the muscular 50mm upside-down forks that might start complaining if you were to hit a few holes. But on the road, especially when dialling the pace up, the forks offered decent levels of damping, especially when grabbing the lever and calling the twin, four-piston calipers into action. Benelli branded, they’re radially mounted and offer more than enough stopping power for the package.
The rear shock is directly mounted, almost sitting horizontally as it travels from the rear of the tubular chassis to the mount on the swingarm, and it certainly adds to the styling in an angular sort of way. And while a more vertically-mounted shock with a rear linkage would probably offer a bit more comfort, it still managed to do a reasonable job of keeping the rear end under control, only transferring the bigger hits through the saddle.
But it’s the engine that continued to impress as I left the busy town streets behind and headed out into the country. Watching the two (yeah, it’s a bit odd at first) rev counters shooting across the colour screen gives an indication of how willing the Benelli twin is. Another plus is the lack of electronic intervention, which means I could have a whole heap of fun lifting the front wheel over crests in the road and basically playing the fool, something that’s rare nowadays without reading a manual on which buttons to press to disengage the fun police.
The bike I was riding was in Terrain Brown, and while brown probably wasn’t up the top of my list of favourite colours for a motorcycle, somehow Benelli has managed to make it work with the Leoncino. The paint is a sort of satin finish rather than gloss, which probably helps. And while I was a bit worried at first how well the paint would handle getting dirty and then cleaning, I managed to get it pretty filthy and it still came up good as new once Paul dragged me back and got me to wash it! Looking on the Benelli website, the Leoncino is also available in Rock Grey and the popular Forest Green, but I have to admit that the brown has started to grow on me.
Benelli Leoncino 800
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION
754 c.c. inline 2-cylinders, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled , 8-valve, double overhead camshaft
Bore x stroke
88 x 62 mm
76.2hp @ 8500rpm
67 Nm @ 6500 rpm
Multidisc wet clutch
Trestle in steel tubes
50 mm upside-down forks, travel 130mm
Rear swing arm with central shock absorber spring preload adjustable, travel
Double semi-floating disk ø320 mm with 4 pistons calliper and ABS
Single disc ø260 mm with single piston floating calliper and ABS
Pirelli MT60 120/70 – ZR17
Pirelli MT60 180/55 – ZR17
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHTS
Usable tank volume
Rock Grey / Terrain Brown / Forest Green
2 Year unlimited km
24/7 Roadside Assistance
Check the Benelli promo video below: