Rakesh BishtNov 05, 2019 18:28:10 IST
Benelli is about as 2019 as a story gets.
A heritage Italian marque from 1911, Benelli is no stranger to crisis, having changed hands over the years internationally, as well as in India — moving from the DSK group to the Mahavir group more recently. As with the rest of the auto industry, despite serious challenges and setbacks, the company soldiers on. Their lineup remains wide, with more relevant products such as the TRK502 adv bikes, the Leoncino retro scramblers and now, the harpoon straight into the hearts of thumper-loving desis — the Imperiale 400.
There’s no point being coy; this is Benelli’s Bullet. Specifically, it’s aimed at the market that would otherwise buy the Royal Enfield Classic 350, a Rs 1.54 lac motorcycle that remains a pillar of RE sales numbers. The Imperiale 400 offers a slight bump in displacement (actually 374 cc), slightly different numbers — 21 PS/29 Nm, theoretically better brakes with dual-channel ABS, and a staunchly vintage look that should appeal to those who lean that way.
We should dwell on the design a moment — it’s well-executed, and looks about as good in real life as it does in the pictures. There’s a sense of old-world solidity to the Imperiale 400 thanks to the copious use of metal where more modern bikes would make do with plastics. The brochure claims a “robust build”, with which we heartily agree. How we tested the robustness is an unfortunate story (more about that later). The vintage cred is carried through the typical teardrop tank with the decidedly-retro knee pads, the dual-pod console (with a nod to practicality in the digital readout), wire wheels (19-inch front, 18-inch rear), 41 mm telescopic forks and that long thumper exhaust. Benelli hasn’t put a foot wrong in making this bike Bullet-proof.
On the go, the Imperiale 400 meets expectations, without any significant ‘a-ha!’ moments. The slight power bump over Royal Enfield 350s is evident from the top-speed (we saw 120 kmph) and the smoothness in which it is achieved. Mirrors are stand-out and did not vibrate much with the thumper powerplant. It’s a linear motor and feels flat throughout the rev range, which one could find boring if one has ever ridden a more sporty motorcycle.
For the intended audience, I think it works. The ride is comfortable on good roads, but the rear can feel hard for lighter riders. The rider’s saddle is spring-loaded to be period-correct but will feel inconsistent if you have a small rear. TVS tyres move the Imperiale along, and they feel good on the rough and the smooth. The front suspension soaked up everything we threw at it. And we threw a bit. Our press ride route included — for some ill-conceived reason — an off-road section, ostensibly to demonstrate just how good this retro street bike is when the road ends.
Which brings us to the brakes — they’re adequate for the 205 kg Imperiale all the way into higher speeds, but the ABS system isn’t quite up to the task of going off-road. Our system completely locked out the lever over a bad patch, preventing any braking from the front, all the way into a ditch. We understand there were other instances of this happening, though not quite as dramatic. The bike came through with surprisingly little damage. The heavy gauge metal bits were simply bent back into position and the bike went on its way with another rider. This rider, however, came away with minor surgery and a titanium bolt in the wrist.
We expect the Imperiale 400 to be a solid contender in the 350-400 cc classic space owned by Royal Enfield, especially with its different look and smooth engine. We even found the ergonomics favourable to standing up when the road gets bad. But leave it at that. Keep your off-road ambitions in check and hopefully, everything will remain in one piece.
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