The Honda Grom and Kawasaki Z125 Pro have some unlikely competition—the 2018 Benelli TNT 135.Benelli has been absent from America for a while, and the Italian marque is dipping its little toe back in the market with an entry-level motorcycle with quite a bit to offer.
1. The 2018 Benelli TNT 135 is a rocket. When you look at something as small as the TNT 135, you don’t think freeway speeds. However, I saw 73 mph on this little guy. Yes, it has 10cc more displacement than its competitors, but it also has a four-valve head for more breathing and significantly more power. The Benelli TNT 135 will run away and hide from a Grom or Z125 Pro with its claimed 11.3 horsepower at 8500 rpm. Plus, the TNT 135 is a five-speed compared to the Japanese four-speeds, and that helps give it that freeway-level top speed.2. More power requires good handling, and the TNT 135 has it. Sporting an impressive steel trellis frame and a beefy 41mm fork, the Benelli is remarkably stable. When I was hitting 70 mph through a sweeper on Ortega Highway (shhhhh!), I glanced down at the bike and was wondering if this was a good idea. Yet, the TNT did not waver at all or behave in a way that made me do anything other than leave the throttle in the wide-open position.3. Twelve-inch wheels and China-sourced Cordial (!) tires don’t sound like the hot setup, but they work. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a set of Cordial tires on a test bike before, but there’s always a first time. The reality is, the tires do all that is asked of them. Demands aren’t heavy—the TNT 135 is light and does not put out wheel-spinning horsepower. At low speeds, the Cordial tires work as well at they do in 70 mph corners.4. Cornering clearance is excellent, so you can lean the TNT 135 over as far as you like. You may drag a peg or the kickstand in the parking lot if you really try, otherwise cornering is clean on the Benelli.5. Even when the road is rough, the 2018 Benelli TNT 135 retains its poise. Although the no-name suspension feels unbalanced when bouncing up and down at a stop, it works fine in the real world. At rest, the fork feels underdamped and the shock overdamped. Again, so little weight and power helps mask any imperfections, and the TNT 135 never lost its composure, even in coarse corners at speeds faster than seem prudent. Did I mention that the TNT 135 has the ability to cloud your judgment?6. The disc brakes work well. With all this talk of going fast, it is important to be able to slow down successfully. The discs aren’t huge, but they don’t have much to do. The front brake is strong, though the geometry and weight bias of the TNT 135 doesn’t lend itself to easy stoppies. The rear brake has good feel, and you can hook it up for controlled backing into turns—something we, of course, never recommend you do on a public highway. Again, the Cordial tires do their part of deceleration flawlessly.7. Although the 2018 Benelli TNT 135 has a torquey undersquare motor, wheelies require effort. Be ready for some revving, clutch popping, and pulling on the bars to get things going. It can be done, but it requires a skilled hand. That is a feature, not a bug—we don’t want unexpected wheelstands on a novice-focused motorcycle.8. Beginners will love the TNT 135. The ergonomics are spot-on and not cramped. The controls are where you expect them to be and work easily. Comfort is excellent, and you can easily put many hours on the TNT in a day. There is enough torque to help prevent the inevitable stalls that beginners will experience when mastering a manual clutch. As much fun as the TNT 135 is for experienced riders who will enjoy wringing it out, its true mission is introducing new motorcyclists into the sport safely, and it does just that. Oh, and the seat height is under 31 inches.9. You can’t have much more fun in an urban setting than this. Small motorcycles such as the Benelli TNT 135 are incredibly fun in busy traffic. You can squeeze almost anywhere, and even ride on the sidewalk with few people bothering to complain (don’t quote me on that if a police officer pulls you over). With all of that maneuverability, the TNT still has plenty of power to pull away from cars when the light turns green. Plus, you can usually park it somewhere without having to pay or worry about a parking ticket (again, no guarantees if you park illegally).10. Designed in Italy and Made In China may concern some. We can’t speak to the long-term reliability of the 2018 Benelli TNT 135. What we can say is that it has engine-life extending features such as an oil-cooler and replaceable oil filter. The motor sounds well put together, even when repeatedly banging against the rev limiter at almost 10,000 rpm, and shifting is trouble-free. Also, keep in mind that the Z125 Pro, for instance, is made in Thailand, not Japan.11. Fit and finish is quite good, a small notch down from the Z125 Pro and Grom. I don’t have to tell you the styling is awesome—the trellis frame, clean tailpiece, and dual organ-pipe exhaust speak for themselves. The motor, which has the performance I love, doesn’t quite looks as refined as the Japanese equivalents. Always remember—China makes iPhones, and you can buy whatever level of finish you like. Benelli didn’t cheap out.12. At $2499, the 2018 Benelli TNT 135 is a screaming deal. That puts the Benelli $700 less than the Kawasaki and $850 less than the Grom. When you add in the performance of the 2018 Benelli TNT 135, it makes for a highly compelling package for those looking for big fun from a small motorcycle.Photography by Hal WangRIDING STYLE
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!