Chinese owned with an Italian heart, the Benelli brand is back and making waves once again. We rode the new TNT 300 and 600—are these waves worth catching?
The Benelli name has been associated with motorcycles since 1911, making them the oldest motorcycle company in Italy. Founded by the Benelli family in Pesaro, Italy, six brothers repaired and manufactured motorcycle and bicycle parts. From their first engine, a single cylinder 75cc two-stroke released in 1919, to the more recent 1131cc TNT R, Benelli has changed hands from the original family to Alejandro de Tomaso and Moto Guzzi to Andrea Merloni to the more recent Qianjiang Group.
Benelli is claimed to be one of the fastest selling premium motorcycle brands in India, and they are determined to make a comeback in the United States, with the recent release of the TNT 135, and now the TNT 300 and TNT 600.
By Julia LaPalme | Photography by SSR/Benelli, Hal Wang
The Tornado Tre 900 (“tre” supposedly short for trellis, in reference to the trellis frame) was first released in 2002, and its roadster version, the TNT (Tornado Naked Tre) followed a few years after. While India has been enjoying the TNT 300 and TNT 600 for the past couple of years, we finally get to see them here in the States. With the motorcycle industry struggling to bring new riders into the fold, affordability and approachability are two big factors when luring new riders to buy new bikes. So how do these small and middleweight bikes ride? We took a tour of the Hollywood hills, Pacific coast, and Malibu canyons to find out.
Small Displacement In A Mid-Size Package
Most bikes in the 300cc category are made with a smaller rider in mind. More and more these bikes have become favorites for club racing, as their small size and light weight make them easy to toss around a track. The Benelli TNT 300 aims for something slightly different than that. If you’re an average size American male (or taller than average size American female), you might feel cramped on something like the Yamaha YZF-R3 or the Kawasaki Ninja 300. The TNT 300 offers the tame riding experience of a smaller displacement engine cradled in an average size bike package.
Ergonomics are the first noticeable thing when throwing a leg over the TNT 300. The saddle is a bit on the tall side for a 30-inch inseam, but narrow enough to be easily managed. Reaching from the saddle to the handlebars feels a little further than other bikes in this displacement class. But if Benelli is aiming this bike at average American-sized riders, these ergos fit the bill. The handlebars, too, were wider than expected, but offered good leverage for tight turns once we got rolling. The rearsets are clearly designed for a larger foot, as there were times I was searching for the shift lever and lifting higher than usual to click into gear.
Firing up the 300 gave that recognizable parallel-twin growl; less throaty than a V-twin rumble, but not as bee-like as an inline-four’s buzz. Pulling away from the curb, the little TNT gave perfectly reasonable throttle response and manageable power output right off the line. Nothing felt squishy, soft, or delayed in throttle response or power output, but the 300 never felt twitchy or eager to jump off the line, either. Seeing as the target demographic for this bike is the newer rider, and also the older rider looking to trade their larger bike for something smaller and more manageable, Benelli did a good job making this bike unintimidating.
Once we were rolling, the TNT 300 left little, if anything, to be desired. You want an eye-watering top speed? You’re looking in the wrong category. It’s a common phrase among motoring enthusiasts of all ilk: riding a slow bike fast is way more fun than riding a fast bike slow. And there were plenty of opportunities to prove that on the not-so-little 300, as I had the throttle pinned a couple times while playing with my fellow journos who were on the TNT 600. The 300 held its own on the freeway and along PCH when filtering to the front of a long line of cars at a stoplight, delivering enough power to stay ahead of the bit-chomping traffic as we made our way toward Malibu’s twisties.
And what of those twisties? Turn-in was quick enough to flick the bike through tightly curved roads in Malibu. In contrast to other rides in the segment, the small Benelli is the biggest, and therefore heaviest among its rivals. The next heaviest bike, the Ducati Scrambler Sixty-Two, is 29 pounds lighter. Is that extra weight noticeable? Barely. But if you’re an average size American, you’ll appreciate that little extra heft that helps keeps the bike planted through corners.
The suspension is clearly set up for a larger rider, as my 140-pound weight was just beginning to compress the shock. I felt most bumps and dips, but they weren’t punishing. The average size rider (around 180-190 pounds) would likely feel more comfy with the 300’s suspension set up. Add the dual disc brakes, which brought the 300 to a stop without worry, and this small displacement bike seems like a decent option for those on a budget.
The Multinational Middleweight
Switching from the TNT 300 to the TNT 600 was an adjustment, to say the least. Again, the larger TNT is the heaviest in its class, by 39 pounds over its nearest rival, but nearly 100 pounds heavier than the TNT 300.
The 600 carries its weight higher, making it feel bigger and a bit more cumbersome, despite actually having a smaller fuel tank than its little brother. Instead of having a normal inline four, it has two parallel twins with a common crankshaft, and two ECUs. So, basically two TNT 300s paired up; no doubt a cost saving maneuver. This translated to a beefier bike to manage when first pushing off the side stand. The ergos are definitely set up for a larger rider than myself. While the seat height is nearly identical with the smaller TNT, the 600’s saddle is wider, making the bike more to manage, but mostly at standstill.
Throttling away from a stop, the TNT 600 proves to be a more spirited middleweight than expected, despite its extra heft. Throttle response is neither twitchy nor sluggish but a nice goldilocks of sensitivity. And once we got rolling, the 600’s 67 horses feel powerful enough to have a fun ride, but not so powerful that it’ll spook a new rider. I found myself eager to rail through a few corners faster than I was originally anticipating, with the power so easily accessible. Engine noise is similar to what you would expect of an inline four, except a little less buzzy. Think a duet of parallel-twins humming to you as you twist the throttle.
As we reached the twisty roads, the 600 was surprisingly easy to maneuver through the curves. Despite its hefty feel, turn in was pretty good, all things considered. It was only the tight U-turns that had me feeling less confident on the 600, due in large (no pun intended) to the wider saddle and higher center of gravity.
Going over pieces of broken pavement and speed bumps and humps revealed just how taught this middleweight Benelli’s suspension is set up. Every bit of road surface anomaly could be felt through the handlebars and the seat, and didn’t feel soaked up by the suspension much. Not completely surprising, considering the 50mm fork legs; beefy compared to others in the segment.
To its credit, the 600’s shock has adjustable preload and rebound; I just didn’t have the chance to play with them. And just like its 300 brethren, the 600 is built for a larger rider than myself, so the stiffer suspension makes sense. When the time came to stop, the middleweight Benelli’s dual disc rotors up front gave plenty of braking confidence, without feeling grabby.
So how does the TNT 600 size up against others in the category? Despite being the heaviest, its power output is middle of the pack, and the price can’t be beat by any of the others. There are tradeoffs for sure, but if you are a larger statured rider, you just might find this Benelli a better fit for you, and might not mind a little extra weight to save some cash. CN
So, Who is SSR?
SSR Motorsports was formed in 2002, as a distributor of a wide range of bikes built by the Qianjiang (Q.J.) Grouped from scooters to UTVs, and nearly everything in between. Their pit bikes range from 50cc to 170cc, with their best seller being the SR125. Scooters were added in 2006, with the Europa 50 SP, Mero 150, Pacifica 150, Turino 150, and X6 150. They have dirt bikes from as small as 150cc (SR150) to as large as 450cc (SR450S), and an XF250 dual sport bike. Their street bike lineup consists of the 125cc Razkull and 250cc Buccaneer, Buccaneer Cafe, and Snake Eyes. Adding Benelli to the family could very well add some zest to the SSR brand with the TNT 135, TNT 300 and TNT 600, in addition to the Zafferano 250 and Caffanero 150 scooters.
William Li, president and owner of SSR, is determined to fight the reputation that Chinese bikes are low quality.
“Our mission statement for the company is to provide quality products at an affordable price with good customer service,” Li said. “We are on track. I feel successful, but still there is some way to go, and there’s a lot of potential.”
With expansion of the dealership network to nearly 300 locations, and adding a claimed 10 to 12 dealers each month, the SSR brand is gaining more footing in the market. While the Benelli lineup might not be on the show floor of every SSR dealership, each of those dealers will have the capability of ordering them for customers. “We’re testing the waters,” says Mel Harris, VP of operations, speaking to the new TNT 300 and TNT 600. “We’re not going to equal the Yamaha R3 and Ninja 400 [sales] by any means, but in all honesty, I think we can compete with [other motorcycle companies] small bikes.”
Here’s hoping that, especially with the TNT 300, Benelli can help make small bikes sexy again.
||2018 Benelli TNT 300 / Benelli TNT 600
||($3999) / ($5999)
||Parallel-twin, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke / Inline 4-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke
||300cc / 600cc
|Bore x stroke:
||65 x 45.2mm
||12:1 / 11.5:1
||32.2 hp @ 10,500 rpm / 67.1 hp @ 11,000 rpm
||18.4 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm / 35.4 lb-ft @ 9,000 rpm
||41mm Inverted fork with adjustable rebound damping, and spring preload / 50mm inverted fork with rebound damping and spring preload adjustment
||Monoshock with adjustable rebound damping and spring preload adjustment
|Front wheel travel:
||5.3 in. / 4.7 in.
|Rear wheel travel:
||260mm dual discs, dual 4-piston calipers / 320mm dual discs, radially mounted 4-piston calipers
||240mm disc, 2-piston caliper / 260mm disc, 2-piston caliper
||110/70-17 / 120/70 ZR17
||140/70 17 / 180/55 ZR17
||55.3 in. / 58.3 in.
||31.3 in / 31.5 in.
||4.2 gal. / 3.96 gal.
|Curb Weight (claimed):
||404 lbs. / 459 lbs
||Red/Green/Black/White / Red/White/Green