So far, we’ve had a hit-or-miss relationship when it comes to Chinese-built motorcycles. We were pleasantly surprised by the mini Ducati Monst…errr… SSR Razkull 125 when we rode it alone and amongst its peers in our 125cc Ankle Biters Shootout. The little playbike seemed to be put together moderately well and delivered impressive performance in the class, all for less than two-grand. For a price that low, we excused much of its shortcomings, especially compared to the almighty, but costly at $3,200, Honda Grom.
With hopes high, we turned our attention to one of SSR’s full-size offerings, the Buccaneer Cafe. A good-looking and stylish motorcycle, we were eager to ride the Cafe-inspired machine. Alas, the excitement stopped soon after the air-cooled 250cc V-Twin sprang to life, as its woefully anemic 17 rear-wheel horses struggled to keep pace on the highway. Combine that with its annoying vibes, lazy steering, and questionable fit and finish, and the Buccaneer left a sour taste in our mouths.
In a way, both the Razkull 125 and Buccaneer Cafe are outlier motorcycles. The former exists in a world where cheap is key, while the latter doesn’t really have a direct competitor. What we have here, however, with the Benelli TnT300 is different. Benelli is going head-to-head with established players in this field. You might recognize the Benelli name as an Italian icon, but as John Burns explains in his TnT300 review, the historic Italian marque has been under Chinese ownership since 2005, with SSR being its U.S. importer.
Italy vs. Japan, via China and Thailand
When it comes to small-displacement (as in, 300cc-ish) naked motorcycles, the field is rather slim. Sure, Kawasaki and Yamaha both have naked versions of their Ninja 300 and R3, respectively, but oddly, neither one is yet sold in America. KTM’s 390 Duke is closer to 400cc than 300cc, and its performance bias would trounce the Benelli. BMW’s new G310R seems a worthy adversary, but unfortunately BMW wasn’t yet able provide us a test unit.
After crossing out the bikes that don’t belong or aren’t available to be matched up with the Benelli, the only one left standing is Honda’s CB300F. Both are minimally-faired, entry-level motorcycles with modest price tags: $4,149 for the Honda (add $500 for ABS); $3,999 for the Benelli (no ABS available). Of course, meeting those price points means the Honda is made in Thailand and the Benelli not too far away in China. But as we’ve noted in past tests of Thai-made Hondas, quality doesn’t lack compared to Hondas made in the Japanese motherland. The same sentiment holds true for the Benelli; despite its Chinese origins, the TnT300 is put together well and is a noticeable step up in craftsmanship from other Chinese offerings. If we didn’t know any better and were told it was made in Italy, we’d believe it.
The Honda punches along with its 286cc Single while the Benelli gets double the cylinders with slightly less displacement – 282cc. Both feature dual overhead cams, EFI, liquid-cooling, and four valves per cylinder. As a result, when it comes time to spin the MotoGP Werks dyno, the TnT, with its extra cylinder, proves more efficient, delivering 32.8 hp to the rear wheel compared to the Honda’s 26.2 hp. The 300F’s Single, however, wins the torque battle by a hair – 17.4 lb-ft to 16.6 lb-ft.
Don’t get too caught up in those figures, though, because the Benelli has a serious flaw compared to its Japanese…(errr, Thai) competitor: weight. The CB300F tips the scales at a svelte 351 lbs, while the TnT comes in a massive 99 lbs heavier, giving the Honda a modest power-to-weight advantage as well as a big torque-to-weight advantage.
More than just spec-chart fodder, the weight, power, and stature of the two machines really set them apart on the road despite their visual similarities – that of being small-displacement nakeds. The differences are apparent simply sitting on the two. The Benelli has a taller seat – 31.3 inches vs. 30.7 inches on the CB. From there, the CB looks and feels light and svelte, unlike the TnT.
“The Honda feels like a smallish beginner bike,” says Tom “Biceps” Roderick, “While the Benelli’s 450-pound curb weight puts it right in there with 600s and liter bikes.” In other words, the TnT feels like a full-size motorcycle.
Ergonomically, both Tom and I preferred the Honda by a slim margin. The CB’s seat is better padded, the bars are slightly wider, and the footpegs more relaxed, with Tom complaining about the Benelli’s pegs feeling “a little tight for the long-legged.” It didn’t seem to bother me much, but I’m also shorter than Tom.
From a stop it doesn’t take much from the CB300F rider to win the holeshot. The clutch is easy to pull and modulate, and the torque advantage lets you slingshot away. For its part, the Benelli clutch is also easy to use, but a dip in the TnT’s fuelling around 3500 rpm, along with its extra heft, means it’s not quite as quick off the line. Get the Benelli spinning, however, and it moves with impressive gusto.
Around town there’s not much splitting either bike. They can both dart in and out of traffic with ease. The Honda feels almost toy-like compared to the Benelli due to its significantly lighter weight, and its advantage over the TnT in the midrange is not as drastic as the dyno curves might have you believe. For its part, the TnT300 isn’t heavy, per se, just noticeably more than the Honda. It likes to rev, too, which both Tom and I were both happy to do since it’s one of the sweetest sounding parallel-Twins in recent memory. It’s got a throaty yet raspy exhaust wail that only sounds better the more you twist your wrist. It was clearly the preferred engine between Tom and I, both for its sound and its performance.
“The Benelli’s parallel-Twin spins up quickly, and is more playful, as well as more powerful, than the Honda’s Single,” says Tom. “It’s smoother, too, at freeway speeds.” Get it spinning and the Benelli can easily keep pace and run away from the Honda. Highway speeds are where the Honda starts to protest.
“The Honda is good up to 75 mph,” Tom notes, “After that it begins to vibe and starts communicating to the rider exactly how fast that poor piston is slamming back and forth.” It’ll go faster, but it won’t like it very much. Meanwhile, the Italian is humming right along, easily cruising at 80 mph. There’s a little vibing coming through the bars, but nothing really to complain about.
Start playing on the fun roads and the difference in weight really comes out. The CBR’s lazier 25.3º rake isn’t as sharp as the Benelli’s 24.5º, but Tom and I both agree the Honda’s light weight makes it incredibly easy to toss around. This despite the fact I don’t have the arm girth that Tom has. “Flickable” is the term he jotted down; it’s the same one I’d use, too. That flickability of the CBR doesn’t come at the expense of stability, either, thanks to 3.9 inches of trail (vs. the Benelli’s 3.6 inches).
The TnT, meanwhile, takes slightly more effort to steer because of its weight, but it’s really only noticeable when riding the two back-to-back. It’s got rebound adjustability at both ends, but as JB mentions in his single-bike review, turning the clickers doesn’t amount to much. If we were to nitpick, the TnT’s initial stroke seems a tad harsher compared to the Honda when hitting a bump, but after that both give a compliant ride and stay composed in corners. Stylistically, however, the Benelli definitely looks cooler with its beefy 41mm inverted fork compared to the Honda’s traditional 37mm stanchions.
Braking-wise, neither motorcycle will give pure sportbikes a run for their money, but at least the Benelli looks the part: Twin 260mm wavy discs sit up front, clamped by four-piston calipers mated to steel-braided lines and paired with an adjustable lever. Compare that to the Honda’s single 296mm disc, twin-piston caliper and rubber line. Both bikes stop well enough, but with that kind of fancy hardware, the Benelli didn’t exactly wow us.
“The twin front disc brakes on the TNT are sheep in wolves’ clothing,” Tom quips. “More powerful-looking than they actually are powerful, even with the steel braided brake line.” Still, braking performance is better than the Honda.
China’s Back In Good Standing
I’ll admit, I had already decided on a winner for this test before it even started. After the disappointment experienced with the SSR Buccaneer Cafe, hopes weren’t high for the Buc’s cousin, the Benelli TnT300. The Honda CB300F, being a tried-and-true entity, I thought would surely clean house. After riding the two bikes, however, Tom and I both had to have a long think about things.
What it came down to is a matter of size and preference. The Honda will fit the smaller and/or less experienced rider well. It’s slimmer dimensions, lighter weight, and lower seat height will feel less intimidating. Meanwhile, the Benelli skews the other direction, with bigger and/or slightly more experienced riders likely feeling more comfortable on it.
Ultimately, when factoring in objective measures like weight, the Scorecard shows the Honda as the winner of this test. And by all accounts, the CB300F is a fine motorcycle for the type of rider described above.
But from a subjective point of view, the MO Scorecard will show both Tom and I picked the Benelli. Its engine is quite the performer despite its meager displacement, and it sounds much more inspiring than the Honda’s Single. Not only that but it’s also cheaper than the Honda and looks absolutely gorgeous in comparison. And if you’re concerned about dealer support, SSR’s Mel Harris, former VP at American Suzuki for nearly three decades, tells us there are currently 240 dealers across 45 states (including Alaska), and if 2017 growth continues like it did last year, there will be 350-plus SSR/Benelli dealers spread across all 50 states.
With that, here’s Tom to take us out:
“About the worst thing I can say about the Honda is it sounds like a muffled fart at any speed. Not exactly inspirational, and especially not sexy, but if that’s where I have to go to say something bad about the Honda, that means overall, it’s a damn fine small bike.
“The Honda’s not a bad-looking motorcycle, but compared to the Benelli and its assortment of color options with contrasting body work and trellis frame colors, and twin front disc brakes, and inverted forks, and a twin-cylinder engine for a price $150 less, it stands apart from the Honda. There’s certainly the question of Honda reliability vs. the made-in-China Benelli, but judging on fit and finish, you’d be hard-pressed to view the Benelli as a lesser bike.”
|Battle of the Low-Buck Nakeds Scorecard|
|Benelli TNT300||Honda CB300F|
|Total Objective Scores||88.1%||98.8%|
|Quality, Fit & Finish||85.0%||85.0%|
|Tom’s Subjective Scores||80.2%||78.1%|
|Troy’s Subjective Scores||88.3%||82.9%|
|Battle of the Low-Buck Nakeds Specifications|
|Benelli TnT 300||Honda CB300F|
|Engine Type||282cc liquid-cooled, Parallel Twin, DOHC, four-stroke, 4-valves per cylinder||286cc liquid-cooled, single-cylinder, DOHC, four-stroke. 4-valves per cylinder|
|Bore and Stroke||65.0mm x 42.5mm||76mm x 63mm|
|Rear Wheel Horsepower||32.8 @ 11,200 rpm||26.2 hp @ 8,500 rpm|
|Torque||16.6 lb-ft @ 9,800 rpm||17.4 lb-ft @ 6,800 rpm|
|Front Suspension||41mm inverted telescopic fork. Rebound adjustable. 5.3 inches travel||37mm conventional fork. Non-adjustable. 4.65 in. travel|
|Rear Suspension||Rear Mono Shock w/ Spring Preload & Rebound Damping Adjustability, 4.7 in travel||Pro-link single shock, preload adjustable, 4.07 in travel|
|Front Brake||Dual 260mm discs, 4-piston calipers||Single 296mm disc. Twin-piston caliper|
|Rear Brake||Single 240mm disc, Single-piston caliper||220mm disc. Single-piston caliper|
|Rake/Trail||24.5º/3.6 in||25.3º/3.9 in|
|Wheelbase||55.3 inches||54.3 inches|
|Seat Height||31.3 inches||30.7 inches|
|Curb Weight||450 lbs||351 lbs|
|Fuel Capacity||4.2 gal||3.4 gal|