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  1. #1 China's First Four (BJ600 BN600 QJ600) cycle news review 
    foreign China moto dude bikerdoc's Avatar
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    Original Journo: Alan Cathcart
    Cyclenews.com page 90.

    The Global début of the Benelli BN600, manufactured in China by the Italian marque's owner Qianjiang (pronounced "Chin-jung" but called QJ by all its staff), has finally kicked off the long awaited revival of Italy's oldest motorcycle company that celebrated its 100th birthday in 2011. But as the first-ever four-cylinder bike made in China, albeit designed and developed in Italy, it marks a significant landmark in the evolution of the Chinese motorcycle industry, and is certain to be the forerunner of an increasingly irresistible attack on Western markets by manufacturers from the People's Republic.

    Since purchasing Benelli in December 2005, QJ's ambitious plans to relaunch the brand stalled in the face of uncertainty caused by the global economic downturn. But the ongoing slump in the Chinese home market, caused by the ban on any non-electric motorcycles being ridden in all but one of China's 167 largest cities, saw QJ's 550 employees build "just" 800,000 motorcycles and scooters last year. This represents a significant drop from the 1.5 million units produced three years ago by its then 8000 strong workforce. And, like many of its Chinese rivals, its caused QJ to pay increased attention to export sales - an area where many of them are struggling to compete against the single-cylinder products of Indian manufacturers, which are more closely focused on quality than their Chinese rivals, while still sharply priced.

    The decision to develop the BN600 was one of the first made by its president Lin Hua Zhong, as part of his strategy to position QJ as a contender in the global marketplace by acquiring an existing Western two-wheeled brand. The plan was then to use its product development expertise to produce a technically and stylistically more sophisticated range of motorcycles to be manufactured in China. So, as Benelli's chief engineer Stefano Michelotti confirms, this meant that when the project kicked off in 2006, the BN600 was designed and initially developed in Italy in collaboration with QJ engineers - then transferred to China for final program development. This meant that Benelli tester Gianluca Galasso covered countless test miles riding the prototype bike in the open on public roads, carefully disguised as a well-worn Honda Hornet that nobody would give a second look.

    "To begin with, it was difficult to work with Chinese engineers, not only with the language difficulties, but also because we were each accustomed to pursuing different objectives in creating a new design," says Michelotti. "But little by little we understood each other's strengths, and now the collaboration is fantastic. It bodes well for the future, with other projects."

    So in finally following Lin's strategy, QJ has now exploited the crucial advantage this has yielded it versus its Chinese rivals, in terms of the technical expertise needed to develop a four cylinder motorcycle that allows it to compete directly on the world stage with Japanese and European products - but with a crucial edge on price.

    The BN600 is the first product QJ has built that's over 250cc in capacity, and the Italian company's female CEO Yan Haimei has confirmed this to be the first
    of several new models bearing the Benelli badge. All of them will be engineered jointly by OJ and Senelli technicians, then manufactured in China to reduce costs. This results in a prestige model for developing markets - including China itself, where 3000 examples of the BN600 have already been sold since its home market début one year ago - before it's upgraded with European hardware in Benelli's Pesaro factory to meet the demands of customers in more mature markets, while remaining affordable.

    So, the EVO version of the BN600 being sold in Europe, North America and Australasia carries Brembo brakes, Marzocchi fork, and a Sachs shock, all replacing the less effective but also less costly Chinese-made original components, but at only a slight price increase.

    When it goes on sale around the world in November this year, the BN600 will retail for just Euro 5890 ($7800) on the road in Italy, including 21 percent local tax, against Euro 7660 ($10,100) for the equivalent Honda CB600F Hornet, both without ABS.

    Indeed, it may seem surprising at first that the BN600 should have a four-cylinder engine rather than a three-cylinder 675cc one, thus following a trend established by the Triumph Daytona and later followed by MV Agusta's F3. Surprising, because every Benelli motorcycle produced since the rebirth of the marque in 1997 under the Merloni family's control has been a triple, like the existing 899 and 1130 range of models.

    "Originally we worked on a three-cylinder 675cc engine," admits Michelotti. "But our Chinese owners preferred instead to attack the Japanese brands directly with a four-cylinder 600cc model, using the engine format which is proven to be the best for this class. So, we stopped development of the 675 engine we had designed because even though the three is Benelli's trademark, we wanted to compete with a mainstream product, not a niche segment one. It was easier to develop because it's such an established platform, and more cost-effective to industrialize for production via suppliers already used to supplying four-cylinder manufacturers."

    So in developing the BN600, Michelotti & Co. have designed a relatively conventional 16-valve four-eylinder wet sump power unit with no balance shaft, and its transverse in-line cylinders measuring 65 x 45.2 mm for a capacity of exactly 600cc. Although it's potentially safe to 16,000 rpm in Supersport race guise, on the BN600 Naked model its rev-limiter is more conservatively set at 11,500 rpm.

    The short, compact design running an 11.5:1 compression ratio sees the double overhead camshafts chain-driven up the right side of the engine, with the six-speed transmission's oil-bath clutch mounted quite high up, and the cylinders inclined forward by 10 degrees - mounted on a strong crankcase that was originally intended for use as a frame with Benelll designing it to sit in a Benelli Bimota Tesi.

    The BN600 employs a nowadays conventional composite frame, which does however use that robust engine as a fully stressed member, with a tubular steel upper subframe attached to twin cast aluminium chassis plates, in which the double-sided cast aluminium swing-arm pivots.

    It's worth noting that the quality of the aluminium castings - and indeed the whole finish of the Chinese-made Benelli four - is very high, fully on a par with anything made in Europe, and in Japan, too, except for little things like the old-fashioned switchgear. Priced to sell, this doesn't look like a cost-cutting motorcycle in terms of manufacture.

    That's especially the case with the Italian hardware now fitted to the BN600, with its non-adjustable 50mm Marzocchi fork offering 4.7 inches of wheel travel, matched to a Sachs cantilever rear mono-shock offset to the right with 4.8 inches of travel, and readily accessible for spring pre-load and rebound damping adjustment but not compression damping

    There's a 56.2-inch wheelbase, and the twin 320mm Brembo floating front discs are gripped by the latest design of radially mounted Brembo Monobloc four-pot callipers, with a twin-piston calliper and 260mm disc at the rear.

    The good-looking lightweight cast aluminium wheels are shod with Metzeler Sportec rubber. Dry weight of the good-looking bike - whose styling is based on the original post-Tesi design by Benelli's then designer, Spaniard Carlos Solsona, as later refined in China - is 458 pounds, with the 3.9 gallon gas tank empty.

    Fitted with a Euro 3-compliant twin-catalyst 4-1-2 exhaust exiting via two under-seat silencers, with a lambda probe oxygen sensor on each header pipe optimizing the fuelling that's controlled by the American-made Delphi ECU, the Benelli's four-cylinder motor delivers a claimed 82 hp/60kW at 11,500 rpm, with 52Nm/53kgm of torque peaking at 10,500 rpm.

    A days ride along the Adriatic Coast from Pesaro aboard the pre-production prototype of the Benelli BN600 showed that this is very far from being deficient in grunt, and has a pretty comfortable riding position for someone of my 5'11" stature. The 31.4-inch height of the well-shaped seat is well chosen, with minimal but adequate passenger space in spite of the underseat silencers. There's also two well-designed grab handles set into the rear of the seat squab.

    The wide taper-section steel handlebar has pulled-back grips that deliver a fairly upright but still relaxed stance, with the front brake lever five-way adjustable, but not its counterpart working the cable-operated clutch.

    The footpegs are set quite high, enough to be sure you won't rub your boots in exploiting the good grip of the Metzeler Sportec tires. Indeed, you feel you're sitting within the Benelli as an integrated part of the whole package, with your knees tucked in nicely to the flanks at the tank that's good for a range of around 150 miles. Such a stance is a key factor in promoting rider confidence, especially for novice riders - you feel at one with the bike, much more than on a sportier model where you're more perched on top.

    Thumb the starter button and the four-cylinder motor hums instantly into life, then settles to a melodic 1300 rpm idle. And the Chinese-made Benelli engine doesn't just have a pretty voice - it's got substance, too, pulling smoothly away from low revs with barely any use of the clutch. It really comes alive from 7000 revs upwards, and there's an extra kick of performance when the needle on the analogue tach hits 9000 rpm. There's not a lot of low-down torque so if you want some acceleration to pass some traffic, you'll have to kick the Benelli down a couple of gears, in which case you'll be rewarded with quite zesty performance, and without any harsh patch of vibration felt through the pegs.

    Though devoid of a counterbalancer, the Benelli is smooth and untiring to ride, with the engine's only downside its very abrupt pickup from a closed throttle, verging on the snatchy. This started out being tiresomely brusque, then downright annoying, because it may even mean you risk spinning up the rear tire if you're too aggressive with the throttle.

    This is exactly the same problem that all the Japanese manufacturers experienced at first when they began fuel-injecting their fours 15 years ago, and I'm sure the Chinese engineers will learn how to resolve this one way or the other - but they haven't yet.

    With that being said, shifting gears on the Benelli is absolutely faultless - completely on a par with anything made in Japan. Crisp, light and precise, it's a pleasure to use, and encourages you to work the gearbox a little to keep up the rpm that deliver useful performance en route to your future destination. The ratios seem a little closed up, as if Benelli QJ deliberately opted for a close-ratio transmission in order to enhance acceleration from a peakier, rev-hungry motor.

    Everything falls to hand on the BN600, as per the old cliché, with the just-right handlebar shape delivering good leverage for easy handling and top manoeuvrability - the key point of the Benelll's handling. Even with what felt like relatively conservative steering geometry (the actual numbers remain undisclosed), this is a sharp steering motorcycle that relishes being hustled through turns on a winding country road.

    In spite of being just a touch low at the rear, the BN600 holds a line well at speed, and doesn't ever push the front whee!. It has inherent stability and good handling, meaning it never gets out of shape even when using the big twin 320mm Brembo radial front brakes and four-piston Monobloc calipers to stop hard at the end of a fast straight. I will admit to looking slightly askance at such brakes fitted to what amounts to an unfaired 600 Supersport contender, fearing overkill, but they really work well, with no hint of locking the front wheel if you squeeze the lever hard.

    The BN600's suspension is equally top-notch, delivering a high level of ride quality over grippy but rugged hilltop roads - and that's with the Sachs monoshock directly mounted to the right of the long twin-sided cast aluminum swingarm. It takes a serious bump to unsettle the BN600, and its capable performance in soaking up road rash contributes greatly to the reassuring sense of solidity and togetherness you get from riding the new model - as well as the sense that you're getting value for money.

    It's a very user-friendly and capable riding package that inspires confidence when you start riding it hard, for there's more than enough performance to make the Benelli BN600 four fun to ride, without ever being threatening, just - pleasurable.

    The Benelli BN600 is a sharp looking machine at an even sharper price, and QJ expects to manufacture around 3500 examples of the model next year, with Yan Haimei confirming that another model using the same four-cylinder platform is under development.

    "We will make an Adventure Touring bike, a smaller capacity four-eylinder equivalent of our bigger three-cylinder 1130 TreK," she says. "Probably, we will present that quite soon, at the end of this year at the official European launch of the BN600 Naked bike. At the moment we are making the final tests of the touring model, but we're not planning to make a 600cc Supersport bike. We only want to make a Naked bike and an Adventure Touring one, which will be available both with and without hard luggage."

    <...photos to come...>
    Last edited by bikerdoc; 08-20-2013 at 08:31 AM.
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