It’s fall, and that means it’s time for all the new-for-2021 motorcycles to come out of hiding. Now, we’ve got a look at a new concept bike from Italy, built by design firm E&E—and it’s got a CMG connection.
E&E is an Italian firm, based in Bologna, but a lot of the design work on this machine was done by former CMG scribe Michael Uhlarik. When he’s not writing about motorcycles and the industry, he’s actually designing them.
So what have we got here? The XR338 concept bike is a factory street tracker, based on the Benelli 302S platform. The 302 uses a made-in-China, liquid-cooled 300cc parallel twin engine, with roughly 38 horsepower at the crank and just under 20 pound-feet of torque. Benelli’s parent company, Qianjiang, also sells this engine to other manufacturers under other names; it’s probably one of the most trustworthy engines coming out of China these days.
The rest of the bike is related to the Benelli 302, but there are major changes. The frame is modified, and obviously the bodywork is all new, with old-school street tracker lines. There’s new LED lighting, EFI system, instrument gauges, suspension settings, and even the wheels are custom to this bike. That’s an important detail—they’re proper 18-inch flat tracker wheels, not the cheapo 17-inch hoops that many budget-minded manufacturers go with
However, just as importantly, the design team built this concept to with an eye towards affordable production and real-world usability. Daniele Alvisi, the project’s chief engineer, said “We worked very hard to preserve the fundamental performance characteristics of the Benelli, to reduce cost and maximize reliability.” In other words, it’s not just a look-good bike, it’s made to handle well and remain affordable.
That’s a big consideration in the post-COVID world, as affordable bikes are what the public wants. Many of the market’s current neo-retro offerings are disproportionately expensive; the XR338 could be a serious disruptor, if it brought its Blade-Runner-meets-On-Any-Sunday look into showrooms at a decent price.
At this point, though, no manufacturer has committed to building this machine—so why show it? E&E created the concept for two reasons. First, it wanted to show off its company’s abilities. E&E is a motorcycle development and engineering firm, selling designs to other manufacturers. This time around, they built this concept bike in 120 days, showing the OEMs they can pivot quickly to meet the industry’s needs. If the project was greenlit, E&E says it could be in production in six months.
The second reason for building the bike? E&E wants to get a stronger foothold in the American moto market. It’s a well-known company in Europe, and does business with the Big Four, too. But E&E wants a bigger piece of that sweet, sweet All-American pie, which is why it’s built a street tracker. On the 50th anniversary of the Harley-Davidson XR750, the most legendary tracker of all time, E&E hopes Harley-Davidson or some other American powersports manufacturer will pick up the XR338, and sell it.
The design is almost ready to go, after all. Because it’s already in production in the Benelli line, that engine/exhaust passes Euro5, CARB and US DOT emissions testing. It’s been road-tested, track-tested, and the fully-documented plan comes with engineering specs and a detailed bill of materials.
It’s also a bike that hits all the important points right now: It’s got neo-retro lines, it’s learner-friendly, and it’s versatile. Maybe it isn’t a dual sport, but you should be able to handle a bit of dirt and gravel with it at least. Manufacturing it in China means it should be affordable, too; Uhlarik stresses that, saying it’s time to make an accessible tracker, for a new generation of riders. Good point—as nice as the Indian FTR1200 might look, not many riders can afford its sticker price when they’re starting out.
According to the XR338’s press release, “E&E plans to demonstrate the XR338 project live throughout North America in 2021, at public shows and among the industry and motorcycle community.” Does that mean it’s going to be at MMIC shows, if we even have MMIC shows? Stay tuned.