2018 Benelli Tornado TNT 300 | Italian Motorcycle, By Way of China
Judging by our audience’s huge interest in entry-level motorcycles—they were among our most popular stories in 2017—small displacement motorcycles are no longer the poor relation to the fast flashy flagships.Actually, in some ways smaller machines are more fun than big ones, and it seems the various manufacturers have taken notice.
Benelli comes at this market segment from a slightly different angle. The design brief called for an affordable, full-sized motorcycle—even though there is a weight penalty—and a twin-cylinder engine that would be one of the most powerful in its class. And yes, it had to look good.Having enjoyed testing the 2018 Benelli Tornado TNT 300, I can safely say they succeeded. Here are the fast facts:1. Occasionally you get more than you pay for. $3999, with a $300 rebate, places the 2018 Benelli Tornado TNT 300 at just $3699 before dealer discounts. This is a full-sized motorcycle for the price of a Honda Grom.2. Benelli describe the TNT 300 as having “human-sized ergonomics” and I concur. My gangly six-foot frame felt right at home on the Benelli and the motorcycle feels substantial. Few onlookers will guess this is an entry-level class machine.3. A bigger size motorcycle will weigh more, and the Benelli weighs 432 pounds (claimed curb) in a class where weight in the mid-300s is more the norm. Interestingly, it doesn’t feel heavy, and the handling is light, neutral, and nimble. Over the gnarly pot-holed roads of Los Angeles, I actually welcomed the weight of the Benelli, as I didn’t feel the bumps were bouncing me around and getting the better of the machine.4. The lovely high compression, liquid-cooled, twin-cylinder motor outputs a respectable 32 peak horsepower and 18 ft/lbs torque nice and smoothly. Redlining at 11,000 rpm, this engine is definitely rev-happy—the peak horsepower comes at 10,500 rpm. When wringing the 2018 Benelli Tornado TNT 300 out through the gears it produces linear power all the way through to redline, with the torque peak coming at just 6500 rpm. Additionally, the throttle is not jerky at all.5. Top speed nudges 100 mph, so the TNT 300 is more than freeway capable. Although of course it runs out of puff a little at high speed, there’s enough power to accelerate and overtake in the fast lane. I was never concerned that I’d be swamped by faster traffic.6. Despite the extra weight of the Benelli, the bike feels fast as well as agile. The TNT 300 is a fun machine to ride that doesn’t have any real-world limitations.7. The peppy motor has a balancer shaft, so it is also pretty smooth. There is some vibration, of course, but it’s not unpleasant even at redline.8. The exhaust is underslung beneath the engine, and it produces a very pleasant sound. There is also some intake roar on the TNT 300, so the soundtrack to the bike is pleasing and attractive. Your non-motorcycling neighbors won’t hate you.9. The TNT 300’s six-speed gearbox is very smooth, although the lever does have an unusually long throw to it. Gear ratios change seamlessly and predictably; chasing other machines I found that clutchless upshifting works well and the ratios engaged flawlessly. When stopped, however, it can be a little bit of a challenge to find neutral.10. Although Chinese owned and manufactured, Benelli has stuck to its heritage dating back to 1911, and the motorcycles are all still designed in-house in Italy. That design flair shows in every aspect of the machine, and the various design cues from the past are maintained. A trellis frame, sculpted tank and bodywork, 41mm inverted forks, twin disc brakes with radially mounted four-piston calipers and braided steel lines, plus a reasonably functional bikini fairing all combine to make for one good looking machine.11. The front 41 mm inverted fork has rebound damping adjustment, and the side-mounted shock looks cool. The suspension is definitely quite soft and street-friendly, yet the handling of the TNT 300 is really quite good at street speeds. There are 5.3 inches of travel at both ends, ensuring that bumps and potholes are easily absorbed. The damping is good enough that the bike felt neutral handling and didn’t wallow in corners.12. The 31.3-inch seat height is a nice compromise. It is tall enough to aid the feeling that this is a full-size machine, yet it’s not so tall that short-stature riders will have problems.13. The seat is very comfortable and the riding position is just right. The ergonomics aren’t overly aggressive and the handlebars are set at shoulder width. The footpegs are set higher and further back than I expected, but it wasn’t terrible and many riders will be just fine with the positioning.14. The two radially mounted four-piston calipers fed by braided steel lines bite down on twin 260mm floating wave-style rotors. The master pump (with adjustable lever) is an axial design, and so the initial bite of the brakes is a little spongy. A fairly hefty squeeze is needed if you want to stop in a hurry. More advanced riders will want a stronger initial bite and a bit more feel. The novice and intermediate riders this bike is aimed at will love the confidence and ease of use these brakes deliver.15. The instrument pod with the analog tach and digital speedometer is easy to read and works well. The only major omission is a gear position indicator.16. The fit and finish on the Benelli is adequate, and that’s not as damning a statement as it may sound. Overall, the Benelli does not have a “cheap” feel to it. Yes, it is made in China, but almost every other machine in this class is made in India, Thailand, China, or Indonesia, rather than Japan. These emerging economies are more than capable of producing quality product, and clearly Benelli’s parent company has striven hard to create a lovely machine that rides exceedingly well—for an astoundingly low price. Kudos.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!