Benelli has rolled out the welcome mat to new riders with the release of its BN302 twin cylinder, 300cc nakedbike. Affordable, good looking and unmistakably Italian, the BN302 is one of a host of new models set to debut in the coming 24 months (including a 1200cc TnT, a fully faired sportsbike and an 1800cc cruiser) as Benelli’s new owner Qianjiang seeks to re-establish the historic brand.

At the Australian launch of the BN302, Isle of Man TT racer Cameron Donald spoke of Benelli’s superb early racing history in the TT, with many of the most famous racers of the early era, including Mike Hailwood and Kel Carruthers, riding Benellis at one time or another.

In fact, Carruthers’ MotoGP world championship winning 250cc Benelli in 1969 was the last 4-stroke motorcycle to take a GP championship until the 990cc beasts debuted in 2003.

In more recent years, Benelli has been well and truly out of the racing spotlight, producing a series of exotic and expensive big triples like the muscular TnT, the quirky Tornado and the Tre-K adventurer.

Qianjiang acquired the Benelli brand in 2005, and recently doubled down on its stake. The Chinese parent company sees Benelli as the jewel in the crown of its motorcycle division, which churns out an astonishing 1.5 million motorcycles a year. The message is clear: Benelli is here to stay, and preparing to take some significant steps forward in the next two years.

Part of the development strategy is to bring customers in to the brand early – and to do that, Benelli is willing to create "learner" bikes to directly target new riders in their key markets. Hence the BN302, tailor made for success with new riders in Europe, the USA and Australia.

The BN302 is a muscular, classy and sizeable bike. Its 300cc engine puts out 37 horsepower (28 kW) and 27 Nm (20 lb.ft) of torque. For comparison, the rampantly successful Kawasaki Ninja 300 makes just under 35 horsepower and 23.7 Nm of torque. Mind you, any power advantage is likely to be gobbled up by its slightly porky 185 kg (408 lb) weight.

Then again, with weight comes size, and the BN302 should prove a more comfortable option for taller or bigger riders.

Its steel trestle frame and conspicuous laid-down shock are nice details. In fact, in person the 302 looks fantastic save for the slightly pedestrian headlight. Brakes are twin discs with 4-pot calipers and the exhaust is fashionably underslung, reminiscent of Kawasaki’s ER-6N.

If it rides as good as it looks, it should be a beaut bike. It will hit the streets later in 2014 with a price tag promised to sneak in under AU$6,000 (US$5,600), which will make it an outstanding value proposition.

That pricing has been kept down by manufacturing the BN302 in China, although Benelli takes great pains to point out that all Chinese manufacture is done under the watchful gaze of a team of Italian engineers on site at all times, with responsibility for quality assurance. While Australia will be getting the lower-priced Chinese made bikes, some other markets will receive BN302s manufactured at the Italian plant at a higher price point.

For now though, the Benelli BN302 and its bigger brother, the 4-cylinder middleweight BN600 offer two ways for young riders to start their careers on a piece of good-looking Italian metal.

Benelli also took the opportunity to tease a few upcoming releases – a 1200cc, upgraded TnT, a fully faired sportsbike and an 1800cc custom-styled cruiser – to debut in the coming 24 months. We’ll be keeping our eye out for those.

Lots of photos in the gallery, enjoy!

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