Bikes

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review

Phil Suriano’s 2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review with Price, Specs, Performance, Ride and Handling, and Verdict.

Photos: Ben Galli, courtesy of Urban Moto Imports

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Specifications

Price $8690+ORC Warranty 2-Year unlimited kms w/2-Year Roadside Assist Engine 500cc DOHC parallel twin, 8-valve, 4-stroke Compression Ratio 11.5:1 Engine Start Electric Cooling Liquid Power 35kW at 8500rpm Torque 46Nm at 6000rpm Transmission six-speed Frame Steel tube, trellis-type Front Suspension 50mm USD telescopic fork w/adjustable rebound, 135mm travel Rear Suspension 55mm monoshock w/adjustable pre-load and rebound, 138mm travel Fr Wheel 19 x 3.0-inch alloy rim w/iron spokes Rr Wheel 17 x 4.25-inch alloy rim w/iron spokes Front Brake Twin 320mm discs, 2-piston floating caliper w/ABS Rear Brake 260mm disc, single piston floating caliper w/ABS LxWxH 2174mm x 875mm x 1160mm (excl. mirrors) Wheelbase 1456mm Ground Clearance 185mm Seat height 825mm Kerb Weight 210kg (wet) Fuel Capacity 12.7L LAMS approved Yes

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Two of the most inappropriately overused words in advertising these days are “fun” and “quality”. So, it’s a relief to come across something described as ‘fun’ and ‘quality’ that is…

…I’m talking about the recently-released Leoncino Trail from Benelli. Yes, Benelli might have used the word ‘fun’ in the press release for the new arrival, but it’s an accurate description, at least based on my experience with the bike.

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review

On the quality side of the equation, the Leoncino Trail belies the stigma usually attached to Chinese-made motorcycles. Like all modern Benellis, this bike is made in China, but fit and finish is rapidly approaching the best that Japan and Europe offer, to the point where if you told most people this bike was built in Europe, they wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

Benelli have, however, succumbed to advertising hyperbole by describing the Trail as the “all-terrain” member of the Leoncino family. That’s a bit of a stretch, really, as while it’s handy on gravel tracks and mildly-difficult dirt trails, no-one will be tackling Finke on a Leoncino Trail any time soon. But then again, Ducati’s new Scrambler is mislabelled, too, and, if you want to get picky, there’s a whole bunch of other bikes whose model names don’t exactly deliver.

What is the Leoncino Trail?

It’s clear the Leoncino Trail is based on the road-going Leoncino that was released here back in March. The two models share a lot of componentry, from the frame, 500cc parallel twin engine and six-speed transmission to the controls, fuel capacity, plastics, full LED lighting, electrics and most of the suspension and braking. Both are LAMS approved, too.

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review

Styling on the Trail is essentially a mirror of the work done by CentroStile Benelli (specifically Stefano Casanova of Benelli’s in-house studio) in creating the standard Leoncino.

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review

It’s worth noting at this point that the Leoncino concept from back in 2015 is a lot closer to the Trail than the road-going version. It suggests Benelli had this sort of mixed-use ability in mind from the outset, but perhaps the broader market appeal of the road model saw it released first.

How practical is the Leoncino Trail?

While the Leoncino and Leoncino Trail may look almost identical at first glance, there are differences, which become more apparent when you dig a little deeper.

Firstly, the Leoncino Trail runs a set of wire-spoke wheels, with the front upsized from 17 to 19 inches. Instead of 4-piston radial calipers on the front end, the Trail features 2-piston floating calipers, and while disc size remains unaltered at 320mm up front and 260mm at the rear, wave pattern discs are used.

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review

The Trail’s front fork is the same 50mm upside down unit as the Leoncino and the pre-load adjustability remains, but there’s an extra 10mm of travel (135mm vs 125mm). At the back, the monoshock is also the same as the road-focussed model, with adjustable pre-load and rebound, while travel has increased a more significant 26mm (138mm vs 112mm).

The wheel and suspension changes have altered some of the dimensions, too, with a longer wheelbase, seat height increased to 825mm and more weight, with the Trail tipping the scales at 210kg – more than 20kg over the standard Leoncino. In the LAMS market, that weight and the 40mm higher seat will be a bit of a concern and may even be a deal breaker for some riders.

In terms of the seat height, I found it easy to plant both feet when stationary, while the seat itself is wide and well-padded for comfort. The extra weight wasn’t a factor in my ability to control the bike or enjoy the ride – in fact, I didn’t even notice the difference compared to the road Leoncino.

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review

Befitting a motorcycle supposedly made for off-tarmac use, ground clearance is up 20mm to 185mm, but the exhaust system is still underslung and dangerously susceptible to damage on rough trails, as is the front-mounted oil filter.

I loved the road-style Leoncino and I love scramblers, so I loved the Leoncino Trail, but…

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review

I’d love to see Benelli get more serious about the functionality of the Trail by offering features like a proper bash plate, modified mudguards, barkbusters and, most importantly for a scrambler, a high-mount exhaust. These parts aren’t on the factory accessories list – in fact, there aren’t any factory accessories available for this model at all – but I think they’d be worthy additions. (NOTE: There are some accessories for the regular Leoncino, including bar-end mirrors, engine covers and different pegs and levers)

The final change of note on the Trail compared to its roadgoing sibling is its revised gearing, with the rear sprocket now at 44 teeth (instead of 43) to deliver a little more grunt at the lower end of the rev range. 

What’s it like on and off the road?

To test the Leoncino Trail’s abilities, we rode across a range of tarmac and dirt roads. The split was about 50:50, but the dirt time proved to be the most fun, enhanced by overnight rain adding some wet and greasy sections to the pine plantation fire trails we tackled.

Having ridden the Leoncino at its Aussie launch six months ago, I had a fair idea of what I was in for with the Leoncino Trail.  As such, there were no surprises in terms of the fit and feel, nor in areas like performance and handling.

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review

What did become apparent is that those tweaks to the gearing, suspension and braking worked well on loose surfaces, showing Benelli’s engineers know their stuff and have made an effort at giving the Leoncino Trail a measure of genuine dual-purpose ability, rather than just dual-purpose looks.

The larger front wheel is a plus for manoeuvrability that has benefits with on-road handling, too. That extra tooth in the rear sprocket may barely be felt on the road, as the Leoncino’s already pretty torquey through the mid-range, but it does help with the sort of low-end grunt needed for negotiating loose surfaces at slower speeds.

The Trail’s longer suspension travel effectively soaked up the bumps, and can be adjusted if you need to, making a preferred set-up for the dirt easy to achieve. Personally, I didn’t change settings from tarmac to dirt.

The switch to floating calipers reduces that hard initial bite that radial calipers deliver – a bite you don’t want when riding off-road.

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review

On the loose stuff, those wide bars came into their own, too. Sure, they’re good for manoeuvring through the city, but their benefits are felt when steering – and counter-steering – over gravel trails and wet grass away from the big smoke.

One thing that is highly recommended when going off-road is switching off the ABS. In certain conditions, like negotiating declines, I found it was more a hindrance than a help (especially when I thought I had disengaged it, but hadn’t!) and prevented smooth progression through dirt and broken gravel sections. On bitumen, though, the ABS is a genuine asset and should be switched on at all times, particularly when it’s wet.

The Leoncino Trail’s on-road performance was essentially the same as the standard Leoncino, but suffice to say, overall handling is very good, with smooth acceleration, no noticeable vibration, plus confident cornering and turning with that larger front wheel, while the lower down grunt from the revised gearing helps with traffic light getaways.

However, like most bikes of this capacity, you are working through the gears a fair bit when accelerating and decelerating, but the clutch action is extremely light.

2018 Benelli Leoncino Trail Bike Review

If there’s a knock on the Trail, it’s that the clutch lever should be adjustable, like the front brake lever is. The other criticism – and it’s more a personal preference thing than anything else – is that the exhaust is too quiet. I noted this on the Leoncino launch and the system is unaltered for the Trail. Something with more of an audible growl would be welcome, in my opinion.

What’s the price and what do you get?

For all its good points, the main question around the Trail is whether it’s a $700 better bike than the standard Leoncino ($8,690 vs $7,990). Given most owners will never tap into its off-road abilities, the answer’s probably no. But at under $10K ride away, maybe the extra coin for this sweet, midsize LAMS twin is worth it insomuch as it gives you more avenues to ride. And more places to ride means more excuses to ride, so that can’t be a bad thing, can it?  

That pricing also gives Benelli the edge against Ducati’s Scrambler Sixty2, the Leoncino Trail’s most obvious competitor and one that offers less capacity (400cc), yet still carries a significant premium of $3,300 over the Trail’s list price.

In terms of other competitors, there’s really nothing beyond the Scrambler that’s a direct rival. You could put Yamaha’s XSR700 against it, despite its larger capacity and higher price, as well as the Royal Enfield range for their similar retro-inspired styling.

Others in the Trail’s engine capacity ballpark are strictly street bikes (Suzuki SV650X, Honda CB500F, Harley-Davidson Street 500, SWM Gran Milano) and/or they’re more expensive, while machines truer to the whole modern scrambler ethos, like BMW’s R nineT Scrambler and Triumph’s Street Scrambler, are non-LAMS and much more expensive; $18,750 and $15,900 respectively.

So, what do we think?

It’s my opinion that 95 per cent of Leoncino Trail buyers will spend 95 per cent of their time on bitumen and I’m sure there will be some owners who’ll never take their bikes off road at all. That’s a shame, as the Trail is a bunch of fun away from sealed roads. I’d urge anyone who’s bought or is considering buying a Leoncino Trail to give it a go on some dirt roads and gravel – I’m certain you’ll enjoy it. Stick on a set of hoops that are more capable in the sloppy stuff and you’ll enjoy it even more.

When I tested the Leoncino, I found a lot to like about it. It was the same with the Leoncino Trail. It looks great, is well made and, most importantly, it’s fun to ride.

Many bikes may claim to deliver “fun”, but the Benelli Leoncino Trail actually does. New and returning riders should find it a blast to ride – I know I did.


Phil Suriano

Phil Suriano