In the spring of 2000, I noticed a twin-cylinder Benelli 650 for sale on eBay motors. The bidding was less than fierce, so I entered the fray and came away the winner. The seller’s location was in the “quad cities” area on the Iowa-Illinois border, and the one-way airfare was slightly cheaper than shipping the bike east. So, I decided to fly out and ride it home -- despite the seller’s warnings about vibration. He picked me up at the airport, took my money, and wished me good luck as I wobbled out of his driveway. Around the corner, I stopped, whipped out my trusty Leatherman, and tightened the 60% of the rear wheel spokes that were not yet broken. Oh well.
Riding on, the level of vibration was so intense that it actually made me nauseous; that seller wasn’t kidding. A careful engine inspection revealed several missing and loose motor mounts, with one completely severed from the frame. The local Wal-Mart supplemented Leatherman with the necessary wrenches and bolts. With the motor (mostly) tight in the frame, even with one broken mount, things became very tolerable and I completed the four-state journey without incident. In fact, the Benelli had impressed me with its stoutness; it never failed to start and hardly missed a beat.
Back at headquarters with the bike up on a lift, I welded the broken mount and went over things from end to end, running up the usual absurd receipt totals. All the rubber was replaced along with the battery. Decades of make-do repairs were upgraded to a higher standard, using some original parts sourced at nearby Cosmopolitan Motors in Hatboro, PA, which was the Benelli importer back in the 70’s (how convenient!). For reliability and longevity, I reshaped the sidecovers and fit K&N air filters to replace the open V-stacks, and re-jetted the carbs to suit. New Hagon shocks and quartz lighting followed. The seat was re-foamed and re-covered by Sargent. Stainless steel spokes were laced to the rear wheel. A modern O-ring chain was fitted, with new sprockets to match. When the Bosch alternator rotor failed, a BMW part was found to be a direct replacement.
Was it worth it? The Benelli is a unique and interesting version of the tried-and-true 650cc parallel-twin formula, and the Italian influence in design and execution contrasts with its British rivals. For instance, the crankcases split horizontally – making oil leaks the exception rather than the rule. The flywheels are very light, so blipping the throttle gives a racy-rapid response but starting out requires a bit of clutch work. The in-unit transmission has a very low 1 st gear, followed by a huge jump in ratios to 2 nd, with fifth gear as sort of an overdrive. The front brake is also unique, being a two-sided affair featuring four shoes. The handlebars, mufflers, gas tank, instruments and headlight are all mounted on deep rubber bushings. There is an oil-level sight window (very uncommon back then) and the back-up kickstarter is, oddly, positioned horizontally.
But ‘the proof is in the pasta’, and punching the oversized starter button twirls the motor smartly, giving instant results. The Lafranconi mufflers make lovely music as you move out, enjoying the taut suspension. Steering is admirable, and stability excellent. The frame has been overbuilt in typical Italian fashion, and while it may be a little portly, it is also stout. The seating position is natural and comfortable with the Euro-sport bars. At highway speeds, shifting your feet back to the passenger pegs gives a relaxed crouch and good aerodynamic balance, and the Benelli will whisk you along, all day long. Iowa to Philly? Child’s play. Ciao baby.