Benelli’s new 550: Chinese-owned brand set to launch sporty parallel twin

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The middleweight sportsbike market has been dominated by four-cylinder 600s for decades but as those models fade into obscurity a new generation of parallel twin-powered replacements has started to emerge. Now Benelli could be joining the ranks with a Leoncino 500-derived sportsbike model.

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Aprilia’s RS660 and Yamaha’s new R7 have hit the headlines recently and offer an affordable and achievable stepping stone between popular learner-legal sports bikes like the Yamaha R125 and Lexmoto LXR 125 and more powerful machines.

The bike you see here is being developed by Chinese newcomer QJMotor, a firm that’s intrinsically tied to Benelli. Both brands are under the wing of Zhejiang Qianjiang, part of the vast Geely group that also counts well-known brands like Volvo and Lotus among its possessions.

QJMotor already have a wide and fast-growing model range on sale in China, and their large-capacity machines share their frames and engines with Benelli models sold in Europe.

Just one picture of the as-yet-unreleased new sports twin has emerged, but it’s clear the bike is close to production ready. That’s largely because it shares a significant chunk of its components with the retro Benelli Leoncino 500 despite being a significantly different style.

Benelli Leoncino 500

The frame is straight from the Leoncino, with its distinctive, near-horizontal rear shock clearly on display. It bolts to a new, alloy swingarm at the back instead of the tubular steel design of the Benelli.

Top components like KYB forks and Brembo brakes, as used on many Benelli and QJMotor bikes can also be seen and we we expect the weight to be around 193kg.

The engine also shares its external shape with the Benelli 500cc twin, but there are indications that it’s been bumped up to 549cc for a little more power (perhaps 50bhp) and improved, Euro5-compliant emissions performance. An enlarged exhaust collector under the engine and a new, upswept end can also indicate emissions-related updates.

As well as this faired model, QJMotor have also type-approved their own retro naked model, similar to the Leoncino 500, using the Benelli’s frame combined with the new 549cc version of the engine. It features the same suspension, brakes and wheels as the new sports bike, adding to speculation that the Benelli-branded machines will also adopt the parts.

Given Benelli’s relatively low profile in the UK, it’s easy to underestimate the brand’s potential. In Italy, however, the company currently sits at the top of the sales charts, with the TRK 502 as the nation’s best seller, outstripping the second-place bike – BMW’s R1250GS – by 3200 sales to 2317 so far in 2021.

Jordan Gibbons

By Jordan Gibbons

News Editor, owns some old bikes. Should know better.