Good times ahead for motorcycle enthusiasts in India. All big bike manufacturers are now looking at India, and want to explore every possible opportunity by offering the best that they’ve got. It’s not only about launching bikes in India, many manufacturers have realised that India offers a lot of other benefits such as low cost manufacturing, cheaper labor rates etc. and hence are more inclined about starting operations down here. Harley-Davidson, an American company has its 2nd manufacturing facility in India. Speaks volumes doesn’t it? The oldest Italian bike manufacturer, Benelli is also soon going to tap the Indian performance motorcycle segment starting as low as 250cc all the way up to 1,130cc. Benelli’s plans for India are big, they even plan to enter mass production with mass market offerings in the next couple of years. DSK Motowheels, already a partner with Hyosung is the Indian arm for Benelli. DSK will assemble the bikes at the same facility where they assemble the Hyosung motorcycles, near Satara. The facility can churn out ~250 units a month on a single shift and if the demand per month exceeds 500, DSK Group will have to look at investing in a new facility.
Tourers in the mid-range price bracket are rare, nearly non-existent. The big bike segment here in India is dominated by bikes which are more performance oriented, and not really comfortable touring options. That coupled with the low fuel tank capacity & lower fuel efficiency numbers of these motorcycles makes touring long distances quite a task. Good touring options are seen in the higher end segment being brought in via the CBU route. But for someone who wants a 600cc tourer, there’s nothing available as of date. This is where the Benelli BN 600GT / TNT 600GT steps in. Probably the only motorcycle in its class, the 600GT will surely get a few heads turning and those looking at a good touring motorcycle will not have to spend more than a million rupees anymore. With a price tipping slightly over the Kawasaki Ninja 650, the Benelli tourer is expected to satisfy the middle-weight touring dream of many bikes out there. But what does it feel like? Does it ride well? Is it really a good touring option? We took the motorcycle for a spin and this is what we have to say…
Styling on most of the touring motorcycles is the love it or hate it kind. The bikes look quirky, and are designed for more function than form. Yes, some might call them ugly, while some appreciate the way the work just fine in multiple riding situations. The Benelli BN 600GT / TNT 600GT also falls in the same category. The only faired (semi-faired) motorcycle in Benelli’s Indian line-up, is not what faired motorcycle lovers would prefer. But then, it isn’t meant to look sharp and edgy like a supersport motorcycle. It is a tourer, and the dimensions suggest just that – clearly.
Front end styling is reminiscent of the Kawasaki Versys 650. The bikes have a similar looking, quirky face, but the Benelli gets a larger semi-fairing compared to the Japanese rival. Here in India, we do not get the Kawasaki Versys 650, but a bigger Versys 1000 was recently launched. When you look at the bike from the front, it is unlike any other motorcycle currently available in the Indian market. Front end gets a dual tone, white and black effect and it helps distinguish the headlamp section from the side fairing very well. The headlamp setup is split in two parts, with a projector at the bottom and a regular bulb setup on top. Masked in black plastic, it looks well, quirky but still unique. You get a medium size wind deflector on top which works well when riding on high speeds. The semi-fairing juts out to the front to give a wrap around like effect and houses the LED turn indicators in a ‘C’ shape. Copper coloured upside-down front forks are clearly visible and the distance between the headlamp and the front mudguard is typical of tourers, give it a big bike look. Front mudguard is body coloured but ends slightly on the higher side at the back, which will result in mud spray during monsoons. The y-shaped alloy wheels painted in black house dual 320mm disc brakes. This brake setup is developed by Benelli and dumps the expensive Brembo setup which is available on the bigger TNT range.
When you look at the bike from the side, the bigger dimensions are clearly visible. Yet, the low saddle height suggests that the bike will suit even the shorter riders. Side profile is dominated by the semi-fairing. The semi-fairing reads ‘CXE Cruiser’. The fairing bolts on as from the tank to the headlamp and drops down halfway to cover the engine. The overall shape of this is nothing to write home about, it is designed primarily to reduce wind-blast and the likes, and not to pose in front of the camera. The next most noticeable thing from the side is the massive 27 litre fuel tank. 27 litres will guarantee you a long tank range and those who look at serious long touring will be happy with this. The tank is painted in white and gets a Benelli sticker, that’s it. Exhaust pipes coming out from the 4-cylinders are completely exposed and they the merge into one single underbelly exhaust. Although it looks similar to what we’ve seen on a Kawasaki Ninja 650, thanks for the 4-cylinder layout, the exhaust note on the Benelli is far superior, and smooth. From the right, you can also see the cross-mounted adjustable rear monoshock. Most of the motorcycle is covered only in two shades Black / grey and white. Moving up, the seats are of the step-up type, but not split. The compound is soft and supportive and riding long hours won’t be troublesome. The pillion seat also gets good room. The panel below the pillion seat gets a decal which mentions ‘600 BJ600GS-A’. We don’t know what it stands for. There is no mention of GT anywhere on the motorcycle. Since it is targeted to the touring class, we took the bike out with hard-case saddle bags on either side. They are accommodate your luggage well, but need to be accounted for when riding in the city.
Looking at the bike from behind, the saddle bags on either side add a lot to the width. Behind the pillion seat, you also have a metallic rack for times when you have to carry and tie more luggage to you motorcycle. Below that you have the LED tail lamp setup with LED turn indicators mounted on either side. A small rear mudguard below houses only the number plate. The rear alloy wheel runs on 180/55/R17 patch tyre and also houses a single 260mm disc brake. Look closely and you will notice that the rear singarm is identical to the Benelli BN 600i / TNT 600i. Both bikes share a lot of parts, but cater to completely different riding styles.
The Benelli BN 600GT / TNT 600GT won’t be a very loved motorcycle for the way it looks. It needs more of an acquired taste in this class of motorcycling apart from the love-at-first-sight type of supersport design. The bike although quirky, has a lot to offer and meet your touring requirements.
Instrumentation and ergonomics:
Similar to the other Benelli range of bikes, the instrument cluster is average and the touch and feel is not up to the mark. It sports a digital + analogue layout, but looks very ordinary. The digital display reads out the engine temperature, speed, fuel gauge, time, trip meter and odometer. In the centre you have an analogue tachometer with redline starting at a high 11,000 RPM. To the left of the tachometer, you have a small section for a couple of tell tale lights. Key is placed ahead of the handlebar, and sits low.
If you look at the front console from behind, you will notice that the bike bulges towards the tank area, but the fairing looks thin towards the front end, thanks to the small wind deflector which covers only the instrument cluster section and doesn’t run too wide. Handlebar placement is high and the bar is painted in black. RHS switch gear includes the electric starter, engine kill switch and a hazard light switch. LHS switch gear includes the usual horn, turn indicator switch, high / low beam switch and a pass light switch. Benelli offers the hazard light switch on the LHS as well, we wonder why. Perforated handlebar grips will help when riding in the rains or if you have sweaty palms. Forged levers get adjustment for the front brake, but not for the clutch. This will be missed since the clutch is slightly on the harder side and it will leave your fingers stressed. ORVMs provide decent viewing range and angle.
The bike is not as intimidating as say for example a Triumph Tiger. It looks big, but doesn’t scare you. This will allow a lot more potential buyers to at least give it a try and hop on the bike and not shy away by just looking at it. Hop on the bike and the 800mm pilot seat height will make you feel at home. Not only because it is low and easy to get on to, but because it is soft and comfortable too. Footpegs are mounted right behind the engine and are moderately rear set. Coupled with a high handlebar position, the bike has a very relaxed riding position, although not completely upright. The riding position will keep taller as well as shorter rides happy. However, shorter riders will feel that the bike looks bigger than them. For the pillion, the rear seat height is also easily accessible. However, if you have saddlebags attached to your bike, things are a little tricky to get on and off. Once up, the pillion seat is also adequate and soft to support you on long rides.
Ergonomics on the bike are spot on. The bike makes city riding as well as riding over roads unknown very comfortable.
Engine, performance & handling:
The Benelli BN 600GT / TNT 600GT is powered by a 600cc, in-line 4-cylinder, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, 16 valve, DOHC petrol motor producing 82 BHP of power @ 11,000 RPM and 55 Nm of torque @ 8,000 RPM. Peak power is produced exactly where the redline begins. Engine is mated to a 6-speed gearbox coupled with a wet clutch. The engine although a similar layout compared to the BN 600i / TNT 600i, power and torque figures differ a bit. The 600i produces 82 BHP of power @ 11,500 RPM and 52 Nm of torque @ 10,500 RPM, which means peak power on the 600GT is produced 500 RPM lower and the peak torque is higher than 3 Nm and is available at 2,500 RPM lower.
Fire up the engine, and the NVH and refinement levels are typical of a 4-cylinder motorcycle – brilliant. There is no knocking or vibration felt, heard or seen. The bike idles with a very soft exhaust note. The exhaust note is tamed down compared to that on the 600i. Although in different categories, the pricing will result in a comparison between the Ninja 650 and the Benelli 600 GT. But if you compare the engine performance, the Benelli will have an upper hand. Thanks for the 4-cylinder refinement and not so loud engine. If you revv the bike at idle, the exhaust note still remains quite mellowed down considering it is a 600cc-class motorcycle. But this is a good thing. If you’re looking to travel long distances on a touring machine, a throaty loud exhaust will get your ears tired much before your body gives up.
Slot the gears and the bike moves with ease in city traffic. Yes, it looks big, and actually is big considering the saddle bags. But then, you don’t feel all that weight while riding. The motorcycle is well balanced and stays planted at all times. Crawling speeds in the city can be tackled easily and the engine doesn’t feel very nervous while doing so. Engine temperature remained in the range of 85-90 degrees while we were stuck in stop & go Pune traffic. Torque availability lower down the revv range is ample and doing speeds of about 50 kmph in top gear doesn’t make the engine hesitate. Power delivery is also very linear and the bike accelerates in a very mature manner. There is no explosive punch felt when you wring the throttle. It pulls clean, all doesn’t unsettle you while doing so. Gearshift quality is smooth and the gears did not false shift even once. Clutch however is on the heavier side, and will leave your fingers stressed. Benelli also doesn’t offer adjustable clutch lever on the bike, making it a heavy stretch. The bike will deliver anything between 20-22 kmpl and coupled with a fuel tank capacity of 27 litres, you have a good riding range of over 500 km while touring.
Move to the highways and drop a couple of gears, the bike redlines clean all the way up. The exhaust note also climbs nice and sounds like a loud ‘fizz’. Accelerating over 100 kmph is a breeze and the bike feels comfortable while doing so. Wind-blast is well controlled, thanks to the semi-fairing and it won’t be tiring riding on the highways all day long. Gear ratios are also shorter than the 600i, which allow you to reach the redline when you want to have some fun. Shorter gearing also means lesser number of gearshifts, you can simply open the throttle when you want to overtake someone rather than having the need to drop a gear.
Although it might look like a big bulky motorcycle, handling department fares well. The weight is not felt too much while tackling corners and you can tip the bike from one end to the other without feeling nervous. The suspension setup is soft, yet very complaint to handle the city as well as highway requirement. The bike doesn’t bob around on undulated patches and this will not throw in a random surprise when on high speeds. With a slightly upright seating position, you don’t feel the potholes on your wrists at all. Yes, it is not a corner carving machine, and is not meant to be ridden that way. The setup is more comfort oriented. You will find a few reports mentioning that the suspension is too soft to tackle corners, but then the motorcycle isn’t meant to do things the supersport way. The pillion rider will also remain happy with not too many jerks felt on his back when on the go. The rider at all times however needs to account for the bikes width while switching lanes in traffic. The weight is definitely felt while making U-turns and you need to have a wide section to make a non-stop U-turn.
Braking performance is adequate by segment standards. The front brake does lack initial bite, but isn’t too bad. ABS would sweeten the deal, but Benelli isn’t considering adding it to their range of bikes anywhere before the end of 2015. The Pirelli tyres also add a lot to the brilliant grip levels and riding confidence. 150mm of ground clearance also allows you to handle the rough roads easily. An engine sump guard or a small underbelly would have rounded off the package well.
So for those who are looking at a no-show, practical touring motorcycle under Rs. 10 lakh, the Benelli BN 600GT / TNT 600GT surely ticks most of the boxes. Yes, to convert someone to the touring class, the 600GT doesn’t look quite spectacular to attract a potential buyer. But once ridden, the bike provides the right balance between performance and comfort to keep one happy on the highway as well as on roads unknown. The bike will be a solo contender in the touring category in the 600cc-class, and should be able to keep the touring enthusiasts happy.