Rebirth: Benelli Motorcycles
How brilliantly audacious for legendary Italian manufacturer Benelli, resuscitated from the brink of dissolution just a few years ago, to blast back onto the scene with an all-new machine bearing the sinfully appropriate TNT nomenclature. It is a bold statement born from a company that, since its inception in 1911, has endured a tale of exalted success and melancholic near ruin.
It all began very humbly, 95 years ago, when widow Teresa Benelli sank the family savings into the fledgling “Benelli Garage” to ensure stable employment for her six sons. After several decades of enjoying the fruits of racing and commercial success, Benelli—like so many revered icons of Italian motorcycle manufacture—was pounded by the mighty storm of the Japanese in the ’70s and ’80s, weathering the ensuing years with uncertainty and plagued by an ever-weakening pulse. Eventually, Benelli quietly rolled up its tent and went into hibernation, the company refusing to officially call it quits despite ceasing motorcycle production. (Click image to enlarge)
Over the following years, the rumor mill became rampant with murmurs of Benelli’s reemergence as a bona fide, purchasable brand stateside. Aficionados of the exclusive Italian marque were teased with the appearance of a lone green-and-silver Tornado ridden by Peter Goddard in World Superbike competition. The racing effort subsequently vanished after a few seasons, but had whetted the appetites of the devout, who took it as proof that Benelli was in fact alive, well, and planning a comeback. At long last, after much corporate wrangling and the essential acquisition of a new fiscal partner, Benelli will finally be making landfall in America. (Click image to enlarge)
A lusty example of Benelli’s gutsy rebirth and propitious evolution is the company’s entry into the high-performance naked category with an offering of unmistakable Italian flair and bravado. The TNT Sport and TNT Café Racer, with their wedged contours, striking design flows, contrasting blends of alloys and wild color schemes, seem more the offspring of a distant galactic tryst than simply an overseas import. (Click image to enlarge)
The TNTs are not merely beautiful works of motorcycle art. They are, after all, in the Benelli bloodline and therefore imbued with racing pedigree. Sitting astride them, the rider cannot help but be impressed by how form complements function. The retro chic Café Racer pays homage to the mid-century street racers of Britain, with its clip-ons and bar-end mirrors, while the Sport model has a more traditional handlebar with the rider sitting more upright. The machines share identical seats and footpeg positioning. In either configuration, the TNT is extremely comfortable with excellent ergonomics well suited to either a short or a tall rider. A narrow profile and low seat height make the motorcycle feel small and light, and belie its claimed dry weight of 438 pounds.
As a machine sans bodywork, the TNT shamelessly exposes the sophistication and muscle of its in-line triple cylinder powerplant to the eye of the beholder. This new-generation fuel-injected 1130cc liquid-cooled engine produces a strong 135 horsepower at 9250 rpm and an eye-watering 86 ft lbs of torque at 6750 rpm. Laterally mounted twin radiators are assisted by twin electric fans, all concealed beneath minimalist wedge-shaped cowlings. With such dramatic torque available, the TNT is sensibly fitted with a dashboard-mounted “Power Control” button that switches to a milder fuel injection map. This takes the edge off outright performance and smoothes out the power delivery for low traction conditions.
The exhaust system is a work of art. The three header pipes exit the exhaust ports at oblique angles and come together underneath the engine into a single, massive pipe that stealthily snakes up under the wedged tail section and splits the rear running lights. The sweet sound that issues from that exhaust is a glorious cacophony of menacing growls at the lower registers of the tachometer, juxtaposed against the screaming wizardry of technology when approaching redline.
The Benelli TNT utilizes a unique frame design. A steel tube trellis forward section is glued and bolted to a boxed aluminum-cast mid section, then augmented with an aluminum sub-frame tailpiece. A twin beam, large diameter trellis swingarm with large eccentric axle adjusters maintains the design continuity of the chassis.
Building revs quickly, the Benelli can be ridden either by short-shifting and utilizing the triple’s abundant torque, or by continuing to roll on the throttle well past where the engine sounds as if it is peaking, even though the redline is still in the distance. A look at the tachometer reveals plenty of room before maximum, with the sweet spot coming between 8,000 and 9,000 rpm. When there is enough road to hold the revs in that range, the TNT remains stable; despite the unleashing of all those horses, there is no unsettling flex of the chassis, while the suspension keeps the bike firmly planted and on track.
The Café Racer and Sport models come equipped with your choice of two front ends: 43mm Paioli inverted forks with traditionally-mounted Brembo brakes, or hefty 50mm Marzocchi units and radial-mounted Brembos. In either configuration, both machines exuded confident manners in regard to handling with graceful, predictable turn-in, rock solid stability in corners, and smooth, controlled transitions when getting back on the throttle, exiting turns. The rider can trail-brake deep into corners without the bike wanting to stand up or exhibiting even the slightest hint of uncertainty or anxiety. (Click image to enlarge)
The 6-speed transmission is tight and positive; shifts are perfectly syncopated to the crisp snap of the TNT’s triple powerplant, as well as the smooth action and light feel of the clutch. A precise balance of power, response, handling, and braking makes the TNT such a pleasure to ride.
Attention to detail is prevalent in every aspect of the Benellis. Beautiful forged aluminum linkages and levers, plus intricate engine castings supplemented by aircraft quality fasteners, clearly define these as connoisseur’s motorcycles. The addition of top-of-the-line components, such as Marchesini rims and Brembo brake systems, contributes to make the TNT an incredibly functional machine with a meticulous presence. The intricate design flow and aggressive aesthetics, married to an equally aggressive powerplant and superlative handling, make the TNTs a formidable reentry into the American market for Benelli.
It has been said that 20 percent of all the art ever created originated in Italy. In a country that has produced Stradivari, Michelangelo and Verdi, it seems only fitting that the Benelli TNT should be born there. I believe Mama Benelli would have been proud.