Home » How This Motorcycle’s Ridiculously Complex Suspension Was Inspired By Old-School Bikes

How This Motorcycle’s Ridiculously Complex Suspension Was Inspired By Old-School Bikes

Benda 250 Ts
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One of the greatest parts about most motorcycles is the fact that they aren’t like modern cars. Like delicious pasta, some of the best motorcycles have fewer ingredients. It’s often big news when a motorcycle manufacturer does something outside of the box, be it radar cruise control or this tiny bobber motorcycle from China. The Benda Napoleon 250 is all kinds of weird from its micro-size V-twin engine to its hilariously complicated front and rear suspension. I can hear my also-hilariously-complicated Volkswagen Phaeton giggling outside already. This motorcycle could be coming to America, so let’s take a look at this nutty thing.

If you don’t ride, you might be fascinated to learn that motorcycle technology trails behind the cutting-edge gear you’ll find in the latest cars. While the latest tech headlines for cars are all about self-driving capability and power-storage innovations, bike fans considered it big news when the Kawasaki KLR 650 got fuel injection for the first time in 2022, after spending a full 35 years mixing fuel and air via carburetor. Fuel injection and ABS are practically witchcraft for Royal Enfields, and the radar cruise control found in some BMW Motorrad models feels like pure science fiction. Sure, there are weird self-balancing motorcycles and such, but you won’t find them outside of the neat confines of a trade show.

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So, the Benda Napoleon 250 stands out in the pack. There’s really no reason for Benda to have created a motorcycle this complex or so strange. Just take a look at the photo below: Right from the jump you can tell this isn’t like your dad’s Harley, or even like the Honda Rebel.

Maybe Coming To An America Near You

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As I reported in the past, Benda is another Chinese motorcycle brand with its sights possibly set on America. It has an English website set up and its parent company, Hangzhou Saturn Power Technology, has filed VIN data with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, we’ve received no real indication of when sales would begin or what models would be sold here. Weirdly, Benda’s advertising on its Chinese sites are in garbled English, so the company is clearly trying to push into English-speaking markets.

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Hangzhou Saturn Power Technology Co., Ltd. was founded in 2016 and is situated in Hangzhou city, Zhejiang, China. As of October, the company says it has 466 employees, about 40 percent of which work in the firm’s engineering department. These engineers developed Benda’s 125cc to 2000cc engine platforms, which go into distinctive motorcycles, ATVs, and side-by-sides.

In 2020, Benda released its first motorcycle, the Chinchilla 300, which looks like a scaled-down Harley-Davidson. Since then, the company got properly weird. Its most quirky machines include the gigantic LFC 700, which has a headlight that’s also a ram air intake and rides on a girthy 310-section width rear tire. There’s also the Dark Flag 500, which is a middleweight cruiser powered by a unique V4 engine. V4s are out there in the motorcycle world, but it’s still a somewhat uncommon configuration compared to singles, parallel twins, V-twins, and inline fours.

The company also has some strange side-by-sides and a lineup of four-stroke and two-stroke engines ranging from as small as a moped’s mill to a 1,200cc powerplant. In other words, Benda is a lot like CFMoto where it has its own designs and ideas. And Benda certainly has some weird ideas.

The Really Complicated Beginner Bike

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Recently, Cycle World discovered the production version of Benda’s newest motorcycle, the Napoleon 250. This motorcycle is the smaller sibling to the Benda Napoleon 450.

The 450 looks cool, but isn’t technically impressive. It has a 448cc V-twin making 49.6 HP and its styling is clearly inspired by American bobbers. The highlight of the bike is its front end, which appears to be a vintage-style, girder-type design. 

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If you don’t know what a girder fork is, well, it looks like a girder. Or a more accurately, a pair of girders sandwiching the front wheel. The girders attach to the steering tube via parallel links to allow up and down motion, which compresses a spring to absorb jolts. If you’re lucky enough to have damping, it’s provided via friction. If you pop open that link, you’ll see the dampers are the stacked discs on the sides of the fork. Friction between the discs creates resistance (damping) in the linkage action, and the amount of damping is adjusted by tightening or loosening the big ol’ wingnut that squeezes the discs together. 

Girder forks were used on motorcycles a century ago and eventually became outpaced by newer, better fork technology, so it would be pretty far out for a modern bike to bring it back. Which Benda, apparently, does not. Reports show that Benda simply put girder-styled covers on top of telescopic forks to make them look like girder forks. As you might imagine, hopeful girder fans were unimpressed.

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Benda may have taken the disappointment to heart because the baby Napoleon 250 not only looks like it has a weird girder-ish suspension, but the unusual setup appears to be a functional system, not a styling affectation. 

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The Napoleon 250 starts simple enough. It features a steel tube frame and like a Harley-Davidson Softail, uses a triangular swingarm to mimic the hardtail motorcycles of the past. The engine is only slightly offbeat. Motorcycles this small tend to use compact singles or parallel twins, but this has a 249cc V-twin.

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That baby engine makes 25.5 HP, which isn’t too far off from the 28 HP you’d get in a Honda Rebel 300. The Benda rides on 18-inch wheels wrapped in scrambler-style rubber for an aggressive look. Those wheels are two inches larger than the aforementioned Honda, but we’re still not into the crazy territory yet. Even the brakes, which are Benda-branded units with homegrown ABS, aren’t anything to get too excited about.

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Things get a bit odd when you look up front. The motorcycle appears to have a telescopic fork, but things get weird really quick when you realize there’s some sort of linkage system going on.

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Benda calls the contraption up front a “six-set multi-link shock” and its job is to make the front end stronger while giving the motorcycle a softer ride.

This multi-link system has hinged linkages with pivots plus a joint in the middle. The highlight of the suspension is the adjustable shocks, which are covered by rubber gaiters. Benda doesn’t give a proper demonstration of the suspension at work, but you can see it in action in Benda’s promo video. Upon stopping, the traditional forks compress while the secondary linkage system articulates and expands.

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Screenshot (966)

It’s unclear what actual advantage this system has, but at least it looks cool.

The weirdness continues with the rear suspension. The common way to build a Softail-style motorcycle would be to hide the suspension inboard so the motorcycle still has a hardtail (no suspension) look, but without the hardtail ride. Here’s what that looks like on a Janus Halcyon 450 – note the two coils under the seat:

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Benda does things differently (above). While a typical bobber will have coilovers attached directly to the swingarm, Benda again uses a series of linkages working on pivots to achieve the same end result. Basically, Benda has done front and rear suspensions with extra steps.

Does the unusual suspension make a difference in performance or safety? Or is the complex design just there to make the bike unique? Unfortunately, we don’t know – but it does remind me of Piëch-era Volkswagen. Pricing for the Benda Napoleon 250 is supposed to start at around the equivalent of $2,762 in China. If it came to America I would not be surprised to see the Benda priced close to the $4,849 Honda Rebel 300.

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At the very least, the weird suspension makes the Benda Napoleon 250 stand out in the highly competitive space of beginner-friendly motorcycles. It could have been a boring downsized clone of a Harley, but now it’s just a bewildering machine. Hopefully, Benda does launch American sales and bring this one along for the ride. I have to see how all of this works in person.

(Images: Benda, unless otherwise noted.)

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Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
24 days ago

“If it came to America”

IF? Why WOULDN’T it come to America, especially if it can sell at that price? It’s not like they have to meet US crash test standards. Dunno about emissions though.

Black Peter
Black Peter
24 days ago

That looks like the most uncomfortable riding position on a bike not 100 years old.
Also how is this not just the BMW Telelever?

Wuffles Cookie
Wuffles Cookie
24 days ago
Reply to  Black Peter

Well, the Telelever did something. As far as I can tell, the extra linkage bolted to the front does not actually do anything, other than perhaps relocating the spring/damper assembly out of the fork legs. Maybe it adds a bit more stiffness? But surely a bigger fork stanchion would accomplish the same goal with fewer parts.

Black Peter
Black Peter
23 days ago
Reply to  Wuffles Cookie

I suspect it’s supposed to affect dive, like the Telelever..

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
24 days ago

I, irrationally, love it.

For me, motorcycles don’t need to be rational as it’s purely an emotional purchase as my car represents a far more practical vehicle.

Now, if only Honda would produce an affordable version of the Bimota Tesi. Honda does a brilliant job when they try: I still regret not buying an RC51 back when Honda wanted to emulate Ducati.

Banana Stand Money
Banana Stand Money
24 days ago

That front fork reminds me of the ultra high-end Confederate (now Combat) motorcycles. They had names like Wraith, Bomber, and P-51 and would quickly lighten your wallet if you were looking to invest $100,000+ in a bespoke bike.

James Carson
James Carson
25 days ago

Complexity, because.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
25 days ago

They have added a lot of complexity for no real gain. The front looks like a short leading link with a few extra pieces to make shocks horizontal instead of vertical. Leading links have anti dive geometry and are still used on some scooters so it’s not dumb, but all these extra pieces are dumb. same with the rear, a cantilever rear suspension with the shock at the top of the swing arm under the seat or along one side and still direct mounted.

Genewich
Genewich
25 days ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

I don’t think it is a leading link. To me it looks like a straight telescoping wheel path with a linkage just driving the shocks. You can change the leverage curve that way, but why bother?

Maxzillian
Maxzillian
25 days ago

So… it still uses fork tubes as the primary means to locate the wheel as well as the primary constraint of wheel motion.

… What exactly does the linkage and tension-shock gain here? Other than MAYBE some non-linear spring rates I don’t see how it accomplishes anything conventional forks don’t offer.

Other than it looking neat.

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
25 days ago

That is a damn fine looking bike. I won’t pay $5K for one, but I’d buy a used one a few years from now.

Diana Slyter
Diana Slyter
25 days ago

Mercedes, if you want to further enlarge your bike and parts horde there’s a big BMW & import swap meet southwest of Rockford this Saturday, FFI: https://blackhawkbmwclub.org/uploads/1/2/9/5/129564334/poster_final_2024.01.04.pdf

Paul B
Paul B
25 days ago

Can we start a gofundme for that rider and get her the right size helmet and googles?

Black Peter
Black Peter
24 days ago
Reply to  Paul B

So that can be a problem with having a small head (not something I personally have).
Helmet shells are not matched to the size, in fact the cheaper the helmet the fewer shell sizes the company produces, so what do? Make up the space with more foam until you look like The Great Gazoo

Last edited 24 days ago by Black Peter
EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
25 days ago

I wonder why they kept the telescopic stanchions? One of the reason why you would use a linkage fork is to remove those and add a whole new range of motion for the axle path. Thus increasing the traction and adding a small bump sensitivity. Which would be extremely overkill in a bike that’s only going to see the road.

Last edited 25 days ago by EmotionalSupportBMW
Angry Bob
Angry Bob
25 days ago

I’ll bet the extra parts of the front end are just for show and it’s really just a telescopic fork.

Paul B
Paul B
25 days ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

I looked closely. Fully agree. Every joint is a pivot, it will just bend and extend the second “shock” with the normal telescopic fork.

The only neat this is that it look like the fender is attached to the extra linkages, meaning, the fender won’t rotate back and forth with fork compression.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
25 days ago

“I am Benda, please insert girder.”

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
25 days ago
Reply to  Mechjaz

This made my day, thank you

A. Barth
A. Barth
25 days ago

hopeful girder fans were unimpressed.

All four of them. 🙂

That seat appears to be very low, which should help make this appealing to new and/or shorter riders, but the riding position itself is… interesting.

Lotsofchops
Lotsofchops
25 days ago

I dig different. And this isn’t a track weapon so absolute performance isn’t very important. But wow the ergos look quite uncomfortable. They’re pretty old school too I suppose, but your feet that far forward and your arms that down low doesn’t sound confidence-inspiring. Mercedes, clearly the Autopian needs to get you on one for a real review should they actually come stateside.

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