This Chinese-manufactured 249cc motorcycle emulates a 7/8-scale hypersport machine, and represents perhaps the furthest-yet encroachment into a domain up until now owned by Japanese and European manufacturers.
But while online venues have been asking whether the 250R might be a “Ninja 250 killer,” the man responsible for Bennche says he is not trying to compete with the Japanese.
At least not in all respects, that is.
Johnny Tai says his Bennche company of Carrolton, Texas prices its products significantly lower than its most likely rivals. Even so, the intention is clear, and the Megelli 250R cannot be seen as anything other than a competitive entry-level motorcycle.
As one of the brashest contenders to yet come from a country of 1.3 billion people, which produces an annual estimated 27 million powered two wheelers, a more appropriate question would be: Will we soon see a new chapter in motorcycling?
For the moment, others might ask whether this is a fair question, because the 250R is marketed emphasizing its “European” design and attempts to distance itself from China. It can arguably do that, because technically, it is an English creation.
Not Your Father’s Brit Bike
The 250R is actually a bored and stroked version of the otherwise nearly identical Megelli 125R, which is not imported to the U.S.
Megelli conceptualizes and engineers its motorcycles north of London in Lincoln, UK. It says its UK/European-based brain trust and advanced technological facilities conceived and created its finished products inside of three years.
The 250R was particularly commissioned to satisfy consumers in the U.S., and is manufactured to Megelli’s specifications in Chongqing, China by the Chongqing Huansong Industrial Co., Ltd. (aka Hsun).
The privately-held Hsun company boasts substantial assets, over 2,500 employees, and capability of producing 1.1 million motorcycles annually. It says it has good working relations with Japan’s Fuji Heavy Industries, and European and American companies, including Wal-Mart.
The Megelli 250R is the first of three 250cc four-stroke, single-cylinder street bikes to be imported to the U.S. by Bennche, which has just sold its first production run of 100 units, and projects 3,000 unit sales for 2010, and 6,000 units for 2011.
While the Megelli 250R is distributed in the U.S. under the Bennche name, it is also sold in Iran, with more countries expected to come online next year.
Astute readers may recognize the 250R as the 2009 Qlink Megelli 250R. But if you wonder why that bike was never reviewed, it’s because it was never imported or sold here.
New Kid in Town
Motivating the Megelli 250R is a liquid-cooled, carbureted engine. Bore and stroke are now 77mm x 53.6mm – more over-square and aggressive than the 125cc version – with compression ratio set at 11.5:1.
In contrast, the Megelli 125R’s air-cooled engine is 56.5mm x 49.5mm, utilizes a 10:1 compression ratio, and is sourced from the Taiwanese manufacturer Sym.
The 250R’s engine is made by Hsun, and is considered potent by Chinese standards. It is not known to power other motorcycles, but Tai says Hsun extensively tested it on stress-inducing treadmills and on R&D mules ridden to at least 10,000 km (6,200 miles) prior to production.
Estimated crankshaft horsepower is 27; other fact sheets put peak rear-wheel output at 16.2 hp and 17.8 ft-lbs torque. We hadn’t run it on a dyno ourselves in time for this posting. Redline is 10,000 rpm, and it operates through a traditional wet clutch and six-speed transmission.
The bike’s claimed dry weight is 248 lbs, and wet weight feels somewhere around 275-295 lbs, adding up to a respectable power-to-weight ratio.
It employs a cleanly-welded steel trellis frame and a unique T6-alloy trellis swingarm. Wheelbase is 53.5 inches, and seat height is 31.5 inches.
Brakes are stylized single discs fed by braided steel-wrapped lines. Up front is a 300mm rotor pinched by a twin-piston caliper, and the rear is 238mm, utilizing a single-piston caliper.
The front Chen Shin (CST) Magsport 49H tire is 100/70-17, and the Magsport 62H rear is a 130/70-17.
Suspension consists of a non-adjustable telescopic front fork and preload-adjustable rear monoshock.
Fuel capacity is 3 gallons, and we observed 41.9 mpg during a mix of canyon riding, as well as more docile around town and highway usage.
Look At Me!
The extraverted 250R was penned for maximum eye-appeal, and looks like a studied conglomeration of design elements from some of the most successful sportbikes of the last decade.
Looking down and askance at its wasp-like front façade, resemblance to a Yamaha R1 can be seen. From other angles it evokes thoughts of a Ducati 916, albeit without the single-sided swingarm. Its welded tubular frame reminded us of an MV Agusta.
“The Megelli hits a style homerun with its contemporary Euro design,” Ed-in-Cheese Kevin Duke enthuses. “Its frame and swingarm could nearly pass for a Benelli or cut-rate MV Agusta.”
From every angle, the bike looks sharp, and its presence is more aggressive than Japanese OEMs would normally give to a bike of its performance level.
Riding around town, its loud and barking CBR-like undertail exhaust, and arrest-me-red-colored flash-appeal turned heads from people in cars around us, and on sidewalks.
It’s too bad that all that pretty plastic is brittle.
We discovered this when our bike was shipped to us loose in a crate, so its pressing weight completely cracked its belly fairing attachments and caved out some plastic.
A 250R we previously had also inadvertently fractured its lower fairing with seemingly greater ease and more severity than we think a Japanese bike would.
Once we got our test bike taped together, however, it did begin to redeem itself by handling well, at least on smoother pavement.
And whether the speedo is accurate or not, we crept up to an indicated 94 mph, with perhaps a notch further to go. At speed, the 250R chassis tracked straight, with no shake or twitchiness, and would surely handle more power.
Its suspension lacks rebound damping, and is on the stiff side however. Rolling down the superslab, it would momentarily bounce riders off the seat when crossing rough spots.
According to Tai, the spring rates were selected for American riders which he told Hsun can weigh as much as 200-300 lbs. Formerly, this bike had been too soft, he says, set up for the Asian market average closer to 150 lbs.
Given the lack of adjustability, maybe they overdid it? If this were ours, we might go looking for new springs and revised fork oil, if not a whole new multi-adjustable front end and rear shock to retrofit.
We say this because the bike is compelling. Low end torque was respectable from this thumper, and while the unbroken-in gearbox was notchy and imprecise – it offers a kind of fun you cannot experience on a larger sportbike without wondering whether the cops have seen you yet.
The Megelli’s racer-like ergos and good handling made us wonder how much enjoyment we could have on tight, twisty tracks if it were dialed in. It fit test riders up to 6-feet tall with no complaints, and ought to work for somewhat taller riders as well. Its unknown-to-us tires never let us down, and the Megelli 250R now has a new fan on the MO staff.
“The Bennche rails 'round corners like a 125 GP bike!” Pete raves, “Steering response is light with neutral but responsive handling. I was immediately reminded of my time aboard the Aprilia RS125 and Moriwaki MD250 Honda during our comparison of those two moto sprites.”
But before you form a conclusion, we’ll qualify that Pete’s impressions were also mixed, and we will document a few more factors for you to mull over.
The sidestand – a usually innocuous accessory – in this case juts outward and downward a couple inches, prematurely striking the pavement on an otherwise narrow and flickable chassis.
Kevin learned the sidestand does not yield when it began to lever his wheels off the road mid-corner on a mild left-hander. Just for the camera, he and the Megelli were captured in a wiggly dance and could have crashed into a low wall, and possibly down a near-vertical canyon hillside, but he gracefully – or luckily – saved it.
“Cornering clearance on the right side is excellent, as a true sportbike should be,” Duke says. “But flop it over to the left side, and you’ll find the sidestand’s foot digging into the ground at very modest lean angles, perhaps just 30 degrees. Worst of all is that the stand doesn’t even retract far enough to reach a horizontal position. A good fabricator could easily improve the design with just an hour or two of tweaking.”
"Kevin learned the sidestand does not yield when it began to lever his wheels off the road mid-corner..."
Riders also complained about the Megelli’s front brake. Its stiff lines offer solid lever feel, but as Kevin put it, “Its strength is closer to adequate than powerful.”
As the pads started to bed in, braking did improve, and we’ll note our un-prepped test bike came with a warped front rotor that did nothing to make positive impressions.
This bike also comes with not-usually-seen grease zerks on the steering head and swingarm pivot points. Assuming the bearings will otherwise last, these may be a valuable feature permitting maintenance without a more expensive teardown.
Features we did not welcome, however, were an all-but-useless tach needle that bounced over a few-thousand rpm range, insufficiently adjustable mirrors, and a rear license plate/turn signal bracket that shook like a leaf in the wind.
The bike’s twin 55-watt H1 halogen headlights, while adequate, are made to look like projector lights. Their standard spade connectors lost their grip when we removed them, and one low-beam connector had melted insulation. They needed to be squeezed tight again with pliers to stay on.
Maneuvering the bike at parking lot speeds, the upper fairing will deliver a mean bite to the right index finger at full steering lock, if you are not careful.
Just like a parent brandishing a bumper sticker saying, “All of our kids are honor students,” we’re going to grade this as-delivered bike on a curve.
The 250R had been rushed to meet a deadline, and in addition to having cracked its fairing in transit and a bent brake rotor, it hampered our testing with a poorly-tuned carburetor that affected drivability and caused the bike to frequently stall.
Our bike also exhibited excessive throttle slop, loose steering head bearings, and a non-functional gas tank vent hose that compelled us to ride with the filler cap open.
Ordinarily, a dealer would correct these issues before delivering a bike to a consumer. The Megelli series has an 18-month, unlimited mileage warranty.
Bennche’s dealer network is small but growing, and Tai says more dealers are being sought that will emphasize good customer service.
In speaking with Tai, he said the sidestand design, front brake power, and plastic will be under review soon too, and he considered them as fixable at the factory level. If this were so, it would whittle our nitpick list down, but we’ll still leave the jury out.
What we will say is – focusing only on inherent flaws and not the fixable ones – we think at $3,399, the 250R displays enough promise that one day, established OEMs may need to look over their collective shoulder.
We do not doubt Bennche wants to succeed. Its marketing copy and people say all the right things about being consumer focused, and we were thanked for our early feedback.
We’ll also point out that decades ago Honda was looked at as cheap junk by the established players for a while, and did not exactly take over the world its first time out either.
Today, the growth curve toward parity could be a mere fraction of the time for Chinese manufacturers, if they truly adapt and respond to the expectations of U.S. consumers.
As it is, the Megelli 250R is a decent first try, and Bennche shows confidence in attempting to launch an unknown motorcycle in this economy.
We’ll be curious to see how it fares long term, and in the short term – even though Bennche says it doesn’t officially compete with the Japanese – we plan to pit the Megelli 250R against a Ninja 250R.