2004 Benelli TNT - Motorcycle.com
After half a bottle of good local wine, the Japanese colleague with whom I was having dinner, was relaxed enough to proclaim in broken Engrish: "Benelli TNT is velly Italian naked, not rike Japanese naked". Oh yes, it's amazing how the interpretation for the term "Naked" can be so different at the two poles of the motorcycle production world. To put it bluntly, the TNT is everything the Hornet 919, z1000 and Fazer 1000 envision themselves to be in their wet dreams. A rolling erotic fantasy that seemingly took its inspirational cues from wild science fiction sex comics and somehow managed to skirt around censorship by the moral and ethics committee. Even compared to its naked compatriots, such as the Tuono, Brutale, Monster and Raptor, the TNT looks more like a concept bike straight from a Streetfighters show, than a production line model. Well, there are a few advantages to being a wealthy factory owner like Benelli's Andrea Merloni. It can mean for instance, that you can take the wild sketches and mock-ups created by a punky yet gifted British designer and hand them to your engineers with the firm order to: "just do it!"
There is more than wild styling in the TNT. In the evening, after I'd calmed down a bit from the day's ride, I couldn't deny that the TNT is not only visually explosive, performance wise it's also one mean dynamite stick. Just a sec, Benelli? Say what? Even if you're in your 40s, the Benelli name might not ring a bell. Some might remember a rather appalling 750-900 inline six that was a
The current comeback story began in 1995 with the entrance of wealthy motorcycle loving Andrea Merloni. This guy comes from a well-heeled Italian industrialist's family and the first step he took to re-establish Benelli, was entering the Italian market with scooters of 50-400cc. Fast forward to 99', young Andrea who has delved into racing as a rider in the past, jumps into the (then) deep waters of World Superbike racing. His team develops a rather interesting tool with a 900 tri-cylinder engine, a frame made of a mixture of steel tubes and cast alloy parts and innovative design. However, the bike was badly under-developed and a bit
Andrea Merloni did not cut any corners in transforming the technical base of the Tornado into a mean streetfighter. Save for the basic frame layout and the main engine castings, the TNT is really all new and there are some interesting details that stand out. The rear sub frame for instance, is a single aluminum casting that unlike those on some current sportbikes also serves as an aesthetic part, thus reducing perceived bulk at the rear end, it's a really beautiful showcase of design-meets-engineering.
The engine, free of the WSB's 900cc limitations, could now grow to a ground shaking 1,130cc. The result has surprised even Benelli's engineers. The racy and revvy 900 mill has been transformed into a mean torque machine. A super flat torque curve has been achieved, by using a longer stroke crank, relatively small valves and an exhaust system equipped with a backpressure control valve. Talk about torque spread, from 3,000 to 9,000rpm, no less than 65 lbs./ft are available with a peak of 80 lbs./ft at a measly 6,500rpm. Just mark these three points over a Z1000's torque curve, connect the dots with an arc and you'll grasp the
The frame is rather more exotic. Two oversized steel tubes create side spars that are screwed and aero-tech glued into massive cast aluminum side members. Unlike the welded aluminum sheet swingarm of the Tornado, the TNT has an impressive tube trellis swinger, with huge eccentric chain tensioners and is controlled by an Extreme Tech shock. Up front, a 50mm diameter USD fork completes the cycle side. In order to keep costs more reasonable, suspension parts are not adjustable, save for rear pre-load. One last tech detail is that in order to lower seat height, the trademark under tail radiator of the sporty Tornado has been split into twin units located on the front in VFR/RC51 fashion.
You'd have to be color AND shape blind not to notice the TNT's mean curves. Regardless of what you think of the style (not yet sure it's my cup of tea), one thing can't be denied, the TNT is one of the most extreme designs to ever come off a production line. Benelli managers wanted to create a real stir and they succeeded. Design duties fell on Adrian Morton, a British designer that has worked in the past with Tamburini on the Brutale and F4 and has already created the very original Tornado (creating a fresh looking race rep is no mean feat these days). With the TNT, he really let his hand loose IMHO. "I've done this one from the
It's raining cats & dogs, not the perfect conditions to test this grunty beast for a few hours. Shite! While warming up the engine under the heavy drops, just before heading into the beautiful hilly roads around Gubbio, in the province of Umbria Italy, I have some time to get accustomed to the pilot's environment, errr... rather the lack of one! The headlight unit and instrument cluster sits so low, that you feel as if you were on top of a full-on motocrosser. There is not a chance in the world that the low and insignificant "wind" screen will give any protection, naked indeed. Although the meters sit low, they are easily readable and damned good looking to boot. With frame spars bending over the engine, the bike itself is narrow and the seating position is quite compact and MV Brutale like, with bars quite close, zero load on your wrists and footpegs that don't bend knees excessively. Good, in the wet a relaxed riding position is a blessing. What's not so relaxing is the way the engine responds to my throttle blips. It emits nervous barks, a rather unique and raspy sound that has nothing to do with that of a Speed Triple, it's much deeper in tone.
In my first few miles, I try to see if this torque king on paper really bites, but to my pleasant surprise, injection mapping is spot-on and even pulls nicely from as low as 1,000rpm. Just give it a 1/16 turn of throttle, let the clutch lever out and it is on its way. While leaving town and mixing in with the cars, on/off throttle response feels a bit abrupt, but as the miles roll past, it becomes much less of an issue. What brings a smile to my face in the pouring rain is the way this engine hustles you forward. It just doesn't care which gear you're in, it just pulls.
While rolling-on in order to overtake cars, I constantly have to remind my right hand not to exaggerate, otherwise it'll be rear end dancing time in the oncoming traffic lane.
The good impressions from this new power unit go beyond the fun, dual-stage throttle response. Gear shifting is good and clutch-pulling effort is atypically light, for an Italian product. The only roughness to be encountered is while passing the 4,000-5,000rpm range. Other than that, not even a hiccup from the engine unit or any other sin that might hint at a still immature stage of development. The main problem is still the friggin weather. Sticky tires, great torque, 120+ rwhp and wide bars mean we should be ripping, but we're limited to 20-30 degrees of lean and feathering the throttle. It's a bit like bringing home a Penthouse centerfold but being limited to above the waist only activities. Judging from the shagged tire's edges, fellow journalists that rode the bike the day before in the dry had a serious rubber-burning orgy.
Our best efforts in the wet can't really challenge the frame, but one fact emerges and it's that the suspension feels too firm at the low speeds we are doing. However, lacking adjustability, it can't be softened. This is a bit disappointing, for a bike priced in the range of the Brutale and Monster S4. After our lunch break, with a suitable load of local salami in our stomachs, the normal competitive nature of the assembled journos rears its ugly head. Rain or not, got to win the "First back to the hotel" GP, no? Brakes cope well with my delayed applying points and the Dunlops are doing the best they can to contain the increasing demands, but exiting a medium-fast left-hander, I crack it a tad more and rear steps out big time. No sweat, just some counter-steering, but I overcorrect and now tail is wagging the other way round. And so it continues for some 100 yards, giving me enough time to peacefully accept that I am going to crash, and to recall the last time that I was hospitalized (1987, btw). Magically, after three such cycles, the TNT straightens itself out, just inches from the edge of the road. Did I mention that the frame is very well mannered? Another proof of the clean and surefooted handling comes in the final portion of the day's ride, on a fast highway that is fairly dry. Everybody in the house instantly climbs to 100mph+ and some fast and furious overtaking and frantic lane swapping begins. Even though bars are rather wide, thus positioning the rider like a nice sail in the wind, the front end feels utterly planted. These side-mounted radiators allow mounting the engine close to the front wheel and the statically
My last mental notes before entering the hotel parking lot are that although I've just spent 5 hours in pouring rain and direct windblast, I'm definitely not tired. The only real annoyance has been the cool looking but slippery bare aluminum footpegs.
OK, I need to try this TNT thing in the dry, but it's already quite clear to me, that this no half baked exotic toy. I am almost tempted to claim that this might be the most exiting naked on offer right now, mainly because of that fulfilling he-man torque pump (which is one of the most disappointing aspects of some four cylinder naked models). It's like getting the 1250 cc kited 90's GSXR mill that Streetfighter builders dream about, except that it comes factory fresh and already coupled to a racy frame and classy components. Yes, Speed Triples, 919's and Z1000's are a good value for the money, but this TNT is in another league. My final verdict will have to wait for a dry try, but I find it hard to believe that my mind will change. Of course, it's still to be seen how the public at large will react to this wild Benelli. Making a splash in the pond with extreme design is one thing, convincing the typical naked bike buyer in this price range is quite another. In the mean time, this small factory's effort has left a rather indelible impression.
|Specs Provided by Benelli|
|Engine||4 stroke, 3 cylinders in line, tilted forwards 15°, fitted with anti-vibration countershaft|
|Bore x stroke||88 x 62 mm|
|Engine Displacement||1130 cc|
|Cooling system||liquid, with lateral double radiator, served by two electrofans|
|Oil cooling system||with radiator|
|Timing system||chain driven double head cam shaft with 4 valves per cylinder|
|Claimed Max power/rpm||101 kW at 9250 rpm|
|Claimed Max torque/rpm||117 Nm at 6750 rpm|
|Carburation||electronic injection with 1 injector per cylinder|
|Ignition||single coil inductive discharge electronic ignition|
|Drive||straight toothed primary gear, chain driven secondary|
|Frame||Mixed solution. Front ASD steel tube trellis, fastened with drawer screws to boxed rear section, aluminium alloy castings.|
|Suspension||front: Marzocchi 50 mm diameter upside down fork ASD steel tube trellis oscillating main fork with Extreme Technology mono shock absorber with adjustable extension and spring load|
|Rims||in gravity moulded aluminium alloy|
front 3.5", rear 6.00"
front 120/70 x 17", rear 190/50 x 17"
Front: twin floating disk, 320 mm diameter, with 4 piston calliper; rear: single disk, 240 mm diameter, with twin piston calliper
|Dimensions||wheelbase 1419 mm|
saddle height 780 mm
|Claimed Dry weight||199 kg|
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