History speaks a lot. Benelli is one of the oldest Italian motorcycle manufacturers, established in 1911. It also used to manufacture shotguns at one point of time through another business arm, may be that explains the explosive nature of some of their bikes. Previously a single Benelli garage used to repair bicycles and motorcycles but could manage to build the necessary tools required themselves. Their first in-house engine was built in 1920 which was a 2-stroke, 75cc motor coupled to a bicycle frame. In 1921, Benelli built their first motorcycle with a 98cc engine. Tonino Benelli won four Italian motorcycle championships in five years riding a 175cc motorcycle with SOHC. A DOHC was developed in 1931. Post the world war II, Benelli remained shut till 1949. By 1951, Benelli had a range of motorcycles with engine capacities of 98cc, 125cc, 350cc and 500cc. But things went down a rough patch in the next couple of decades. Benelli is now a part of motor Group Qianjiang, based in southeast China.
The task of bringing Benelli motorcycles to India is being handled by DSK Motowheels. The same company which works in collaboration with Hyosung as it’s Indian arm. With Benelli, DSK looks very sharp and ready to attack the market as early as possible. Which company has been able to announce an Indian entry and then be able to kick-off CKD operations in a couple of months? The news was big. But here in India, very few are aware of the Benelli brand and its history. Expected to launch in the next couple of weeks, the Benelli range of motorcycles should to be priced competitively due to the CKD operations. Local assembly will take place at the same DSK facility near Satara. Both the assembly lines for Hyosung and Benelli will function independently and production for either of the brands will not be hampered. By the end of December ’14, DSK Benelli target to have 7 dealerships up & running and 20+ dealerships by the end of 2015.
The Benelli TNT 899 is an edgy and futuristic looking motorcycle. Yes, it is nothing like a Kawasaki Z800, but then, there is nothing like the TNT 899 available on Indian soil either. The bike looks great, although not everybody will be a fan of the design. TNT stands for ‘Tornado Naked Tre’, where naked suggests the naked body style and Tre stands for three-cylinders. With the mid-range performance motorcycle segment growing at a fast pace, we took the Benelli TNT 899 for a spin, and this is what we have to say…
One glance at the TNT 899 isn’t enough. The bike looks like no other motorcycle we have seen on the Indian streets. In one word, you can call it wicked. Benelli also likes to call this class of motorcycles as cafe racers, which includes the TNT 899 and the TNT 1130R. Naked styling of the motorcycle is sharp and edgy, and you do not miss the fairing too much, except for when you’re doing triple digit speeds.
Front view is dominated by the wicked looking headlamp. Split into four, the headlamps has the two upper sections illuminated for low beam, and the lower sections illuminated for high beam. You also get two pilot lamps on either side. The headlamp doesn’t get a bikini fairing. It is just the lens and nothing else around to envelope it. On top, you have a black wind deflector which also works as a base for the instrument console. The front mud guard is made up of carbon fibre and probably looks better than having a body coloured unit over here. The upside-down front suspension by Marzzochi is fully exposed and looks substantial. The front 17″, 5-spoke front alloy wheel houses twin floating 320mm petal disc brakes with 4 piston calipers. Brakes however are not monoblocks on the TNT 899.
Looking at the bike from the side, it doesn’t appear to be too tall, and it actually isn’t. With no fairing at all, the bike leaves everything exposed. First thing you notice is the red coloured steel Trellis frame. This red is carried on to the trellis swingarm holding the rear wheel. The bike we tested was a while coloured variant, however white was to be seen only on the fuel tank and the floating side cowls. Fuel tank gets fibre casing which will be easy to replace in case of a mishap. Tank is neatly carved out to move around your knees while cornering. In the centre, you have a black plastic cladding working as a tank pad. We loved this because it will definitely last much longer than those rubberised aftermarket tank pads. Benelli logo on the tank is in the form of a sticker, and not a monogram. A small ornament wearing the Italian flag is placed on the tank just below the handlebar. Next up is the most noticeable design feature on the side profile, the floating side cowls. Unlike any other bike you’ve seen before, the Benelli TNT range houses a radiator fans inside these side cowls, one on either side. It looks very different, and we loved it for the looks. The mounting however feels a bit flimsy. The section can move with your bare hands, and in case of a crash, it is hard to say if this cowl would hold on. LED turn indicators are also mounted over here and get a clear lens. Below the engine, you get a small, carbon fibre underbelly which is a thoughtful addition. Rear set foot pegs are painted in black and do not have a rubberised top, neither do they have extensions at the bottom which might scrape and give you an idea about your lean angle. Chain gets a half cover and there is no saree guard as such, and thank god for that. A small tyre hugger is placed on the inside to prevent mud spray on the rear monoshock. Seats are of the step-up and split type and look thin.
Rear end design is equally striking as the side profile. Primarily because how the tail lamp and the exhaust are placed. The underseat exhaust juts out from under the pillion seat and you get two small LED tail lamp units on either side of the exhaust. This again is one of a kind on Indian roads. Pillion doesn’t get grab rails as such but has a grooved section under the seat to hold on to. The number plate mount is bolted on to the lower end of the exhaust system and also carries the clear lens turn indicators. Rear wheel houses a single 240mm disc brake and rides on a 190/50/R17 patch tyre. Rear end styling is minimalistic, yet sharp.
Overall the TNT 899 looks good and won’t fall behind when compared to competition. Yes, it doesn’t look as good as the Kawasaki Z800, but is surely better looking than the Triumph Street Triple.
Instrumentation and ergonomics:
For a bike which will surely cost in the range of Rs. 8 lakh or above, the instrument cluster is a rather boring & old school looking unit. Yes, it does have a digital speedometer and an analogue tachometer, but it doesn’t justify itself sitting on an expensive superbike. A couple of tell tale lights are placed to the left of the tachometer and you get a red shift light sitting on top on the speedometer. Fuel gauge is digital, and even the engine temperature is mentioned in exact figures.
Benell provides you a flip key which is a nice and thin unit. Keyhole is placed below the handlebar, ahead of the fuel tank. The keyhole however is low down and twisting the key with gloves on is a bit hard given the recess on the tank is also on the smaller side.
Switchgear plastic used is average, and clearly not best in class. It is something one can live with, but a slightly premium finish would round-off things well. On the right, you have the electric starter, engine kill switch and a hazard light switch. On the left, you have the usual high / low beam, turn indicators and a horn. Handlebar gets perforated grips and it avoids slipping with sweaty palms. The bike gets forged front brake and clutch levers, but only the front brake lever gets adjustment. The clutch is very hard and by the end of our ride, our fingers were hurting shifting gears for over 150 km. Rear view mirrors provide decent viewing angle and range.
Handlebar is not a clip-on, but is the right amount of sporty when it comes to riding dynamics. Hop on the TNT 899 and although it has a seat height of 830mm, it is rather easy even for the shorter riders. Rear set footpegs and the handlebar placement gives you a moderately committed riding stance and we like this much better than the upright riding position. It is nothing close to supersport, yet comfortable enough with decent sporty appeal. Seat compound however is hard and the seats are thin too. Riding for a long time will make things slightly uncomfortable. Another annoyance comes from the underseat exhaust, which heats up the rider and pillion seat a fair bit. You can feel the seats warming up in city traffic and this isn’t the best feeling to have. Pillion seat has enough room, but is flat. Hence the pillion has to grab the grooves under the seat or on to the rider when on the go. Jumping on and off for the pillion is easy since there is no grab rail to interfere with your legs.
Engine, performance and handling:
The TNT 899 is powered by a 898cc, in-line, 3-cylinder, 4-stroke, liquid & oil cooled, 4 valves per cylinder, DOHC petrol motor producing 120 BHP of power @ 9,500 RPM and 88 Nm of torque @ 8,000 RPM. Engine is mated to a 6-speed gearbox coupled with a wet clutch, unlike the bigger TNT 1130R’s dry clutch.
To fire up the TNT 899, you have to pull the clutch, a good safety measure. Press the electric starter and the 898cc engine creates quite a racket. The engine makes a lot of noise on idle, much like a diesel engine clatter. On standstill, it sounds very unrefined, however there are no vibrations felt on the footpegs or on the handlebar. Slot it in first and the torque availability lower down the revv range gets the bike going even without any throttle input, however we do not suggest lugging the engine, for a better engine life. Once on the go, and you cross the 4,000 RPM mark, the engine feels refined and the exhaust note comes into play. This overshadows the clattery engine and things get smooth and sporty from here. Within the city, the bike performs really well with generous amount of torque to scoot around. 1st and 2nd gears will primarily do the entire job of commuting in the range of 20-40 kmph. Gearshift quality is also smooth but the clutch feels very hard. This is a sure downside while riding in the city and also you do not get adjustments for the clutch lever, so your fingers will feel a bit strained with constant gearshifts. The bike tips the scale well over 200 kg, but on the move, it feels very nimble. Only when you have to make a U-turn is when you feel all the weight on your feet. A long turning radius makes things even more difficult, so make sure you have a good width of the road in view while planning to head the opposite side. So if you’re thinking a superbike might trouble you within the city, the Benelli TNT 899 won’t trouble you much. You can ride around 60 kmph in 6th gear without any hints of engine knocking. Also, the side placement of the radiator fans does not throw the heat on the riders foot, making things very liveable in the city.
Get on the highway, drop a couple of gears and revv the TNT… The bike accelerates in a very mature way with nothing to scare even newbie riders. I hit the highway within 15 minutes of being handed over the bike, and the highway characteristics made me feel completely at home, almost instantly. The power delivery is very linear and even if you wring the throttle sharply, the front end doesn’t pop easily. The bike remains planted and revvs clean with no surprises at all. All this being managed without any electronic aids is quite commendable. Revving beyond the 4,000 RPM mark gets the 3×1 exhaust note roll out quite and enjoyable sound and it growls all the way up to the redline. At high speeds, the bike feels very planted. For someone new to the bike, I was able to corner without second thoughts. The weight is not felt while riding hard and the TNT 899 is very well balanced. Tackling corners, hanging from the left to the right hand side of the bike is easy, unless you slow down too much. Gearing is on the taller side, so don’t expect to be able to hit the redline as and when you wish. You need long straights to do that. We barely managed to redline the bike once or may be twice, but we didn’t dare to try it more than that. Hitting triple digit speeds is easy and the bike decelerates quickly too.
The handling department is very mature and the bike feels stable at high speeds. The Marzzochi front forks and the adjustable rear suspension provide a slightly stiffer ride quality, which is suited for flat and well paved roads. It can allow jolts to your wrists while riding over potholes. But then, our roads are far from perfect and the suspension package is one of the best a superbike could get, so we can’t complaint much. The suspension however keeps the bike planted throughout the corner and undulated patches don’t allow a lot of play to disturb your fun. The Trellis frame matched with the Michelin Pilot Sport tyres adds a lot more to the grip levels and riding the bike hard isn’t too much of a problem.
Braking performance comes from dual discs at the front and a single at the back. No ABS is a shocking omission on a bike that will cost almost a million rupees and with 120 horses on tap. Yes, the Brembo brake setup has more than sufficient bite and the braking performance is acceptable, but you cannot predict what could happen on a superbike under panic braking situations. Benelli has mentioned that they will be looking at ABS for the higher end motorcycles, but that will happen only in late 2015, and we have to live with no electronic aids at the moment. Another niggle we encountered was that the rear brake tends to fade away after hardcore cornering and braking for a long time. The pedal becomes absolutely dead with no brake bite at all. We hope this is resolved before the full scale production begins.
So if you’re looking for a superbike which looks like nothing else on the road at the moment, the Benelli TNT 899 is all the uniqueness you could get. Sharp and edgy styling is sure to turn eyeballs on the street, and the exhaust note screaming all the way till the redline will ensure that you won’t zoom past unnoticed. If you’re ok with no electronic aids and even no ABS on a bike this powerful, great, the Benelli will suit you just fine. With good riding dynamics and easy to live with even in the city, the TNT is a very potent package to handle your weekend as well as daily ride. CKD assembly is expected to sweeten the deal, but we will get to know how sweet that is only in the next couple of weeks.