The Italians (and Chinese) are gunning for top dog in the tiny streetbike segment with the brand-new Benelli TNT135.
It’s on! Oh boy, is it on. The mini street-bike segment has been dominated by the big H for many years now, but its dominance may just be coming to an end. A year after Kawasaki released the Z125 Pro, Italian/Chinese concern Benelli is jumping into the ring with their spunky TNT135.
Benelli has had a tumultuous past, especially here in the U.S. The company has been on the brink of extinction more than once, but importers, SSR Motorsports (which made its name in pit bike sales), is pushing head-long back into the world’s biggest motorcycle market with a new range of machines, ranging from this TNT135 to the 600 and promises of more to come.
Click here to read this in the Cycle News Digital Edition Magazine.
By Rennie Scaysbrook | Photography by Benelli
Like the Honda Grom and Kawasaki Z125 Pro, the Benelli uses a single-cylinder four-stroke but it comes with extra sugar via a 10cc larger displacement at 135cc. Benelli is claiming 11.3 horsepower at 8500 rpm and 7.4 lb-ft of arm-wrenching torque at 7000 rpm at the crank from their little single. That’s about four horses more than you’ll get with a Grom or Z, plus with the Benelli you’ll get fuel injection, a twin-spark ignition and a four-valve head to get more air in and a bigger bang out.
The 135 scores another win over the Kawi and Honda by coming with a fifth gear. That extra gear means—with a bit of a tailwind and a downward slope—you can wind the little single out to about 75 mph. The extra speed means a quick dash down a freeway is possible, but it’s still not something we’d recommended.
Taking a back step to look deeper at the 135 reveals a plethora of cool additions like the front and rear LED lighting and slim, sexy indicators that wouldn’t look out of place in a Rizoma catalog. There are fat 41mm inverted forks and a gorgeous red steel trellis frame that looks like it’s been swiped straight from a Ducati Monster.
Style cues go even further with an exhaust that is a dead-set copy of the MV Agusta Brutale 800, the same as the seat unit. The muffler is a little deceiving in that it’s a twin outlet for only one cylinder, plus there’s a gigantic collector box underneath the shock to keep the greenies happy.
SSR tells me they are commissioning a bunch of add-on performance accessories for the TNT, one of which will be a performance exhaust for track use that will pull a pony or two out of the motor while dropping some weight, which is probably more important that the added horses in this class.
A couple of little additions that will favor Benelli owners in terms of maintenance is the fact the 135 comes with a sight window for engine oil, and that oil has a proper dedicated filter, rather than a strainer like on the Grom or Z.
Considering the design is Italian but the execution Chinese, the overall build quality is surprisingly good. The digital dash comes with a fuel gage (something some bikes way more expensive don’t have) to let you know how much of the 1.9-gallon tank you have to play with; the seat is wide and comfortable and the back-end is enhanced by having the number plate over the rear wheel rather than hanging from the seat unit.
The real clincher in the deal is the price. At just $2499, the Benelli is dramatically cheaper than the Honda, which starts at $3349, and the Kawasaki’s base MSRP of $2999.
But does it add up to a good machine, regardless of price?
’Coz I’m TNT!
In short, yes. The Benelli is one of the most surprising bikes I’ve tested all year, namely because at such a cheap MSRP I expected it to be rubbish. It’s far from that.
The TNT’s extra 10cc and the addition of a fifth gear makes the ride much more accommodating than what you could expect from the Honda or Kawasaki. The extra cog means you can go to more places easier, and use less fuel while you’re at it.
The engine is a tad vibey at high rpm, but considering it’s a fast-revving single, that’s to be expected. Regardless, there’s nice low rpm power—enough to for the Benelli to keep up with traffic and in some cases outrun it—which continues right up to the 10,000-rpm redline.
Helmet: Sena Momentum INC
Jacket: Pilot Direct Air
Gloves: Spied Automatiko
Jeans: Rev’It Rockefeller
Boots: Alpinestars SMX-1 R Vented Boot
The gearbox action is not super-precise but it’s not terrible, either. It requires you to be smooth but direct with your shifts as the lever has a longer throw than I’d like, but I didn’t experience any missed gears over the test. Again, considering the price, that’s a win in my book.
You’re rolling on 12-inch wheels, which is something you must remember when throwing the little TNT into corners. It steers on an absolute dime and road handling—for the most part—is very good indeed. The rear suspension is basic but does an adequate job of keeping the rider comfortable, and the front allows you to ham the brakes pretty hard and throw the Benelli hard into a corner without getting too frazzled by it.
If there’s one point that could use some fixing, it’s probably the brakes, although this too can be said about the Honda or the Kawasaki. The Benelli’s twin piston front setup will haul you up easily but there’s not a lot of feel. Hey, it’s a $2500 bike, so you can’t expect the world.
What you can expect with the Benelli is a genuine surprise at just how much fun it is. The peppy little single-cylinder motor, good all-day comfort, good cornering performance and great looks great looks combine with that lovely low price tag to make for a genuinely cool little bike that’s great fun to ride—and isn’t that why we all ride in the first place?
I certainly had my reservations about my ride on the TNT, but I’m pleased to say they were totally unfounded. The Benelli TNT is a super cool addition to the mini streetbike market and Honda and Kawasaki should be worried indeed. CN
||2018 Benelli TNT135 ($2499)
||Single cylinder, 4-stroke, oil-cooled, 4 valves, SOHC, double spark
|Bore x stroke:
||54 x 58.8mm
||11.3 hp @ 8500 rpm
||7.4 lb-ft @ 7000 rpm
||Tubular steel trellis frame
||Inverted 41mm fork
||Monoshock with preload and rebound damping adjustment
|Front wheel travel:
|Rear wheel travel:
||220mm disc, twin-piston caliper
||190mm disc, single-piston caliper
|Weight (curb, claimed):
||White, Red, Black