Benelli is not just another Italian motorcycle brand. Founded in 1911 as a bicycle and motorcycle repair shop, it is the oldest Italian motorcycle company, even though it didn’t make its own motorcycles till 1921. As it goes with these Italians, Benelli was racing its bikes right from the get go, taking home numerous European and international trophies. Racing, as the saying goes, improves the breed, and it wasn’t long before Benelli motorcycles came to be known as some of the most fun bikes around.
Like most old motorcycle manufacturers, it has been through some tough times, seeing many ownership changes over the decades. What never changed, though, was the way it made its bikes. Today, it is owned by Qianjiang, a Chinese motor company. Benelli Q.J. is still based in Pesaro, Italy, where it was founded, and is entering India in partnership with the Pune-based DSK group, the same company that also partners Hyosung in India. We’ve ridden the TNT 899 and BN 600 I, two of the most fun bikes in its line-up, which also happen to be very different in character to each other. Let’s start with the smaller one, shall we?
BENELLI BN 600 I
For all motorcyclists, an inline-four motor is a must-have at some point. The problem in India is that all inline-four offerings are priced well out of the reach of most enthusiasts. We’ve been crying ourselves hoarse for a medium-capacity four-cylinder motorcycle, and the BN 600 I seems to be the answer to our prayers. It is the first all-new bike made after the Qianjiang takeover of Benelli, so expectations were high. And, the BN 600 I does not disappoint.
As far as design goes, the bike is certainly a looker, its naked streetfighter proportions straight out of the naked-streetfighter rule book. It’s a pleasing design, and many people will like it. However, I must say that the rear, with its twin under-seat exhausts, looks much better than the front, which looks a bit too generic for an Italian motorcycle. That’s probably been done to not scare people away with super-aggressive looks, I suppose, and that’s no problem at all. All over the bike, you see design cues that flatter the bike – a chunky swingarm, an offset rear monoshock, an upside-down front fork and, most important of all, four pipes snaking out of the motor.
The BN 600 I’s liquid-cooled cylinders are 150cc each, making for a rather neat collective displacement of 600cc. This volume produces a healthy 81 bhp at 11,500 rpm and a torque figure of 5.3 kgm at10,500 rpm. Now, a look at the rpm numbers and the displacement might make you think, ‘Hmm, must be a peaky little thing,’ but you’d only be partly correct. That’s because the BN 600 I is no limp thing in its low-end and mid-range, though there is a decided rush of power once past 7000 rpm. This wide range of useable power makes the BN 600 I a great bike for normal use in the city as well as flat-out, thrill-seeking blasts on your favourite stretch of road.
The BN 600 I is an extremely friendly motorcycle to ride, and it never puts a foot wrong, even if you’re pushing it. You always get the feeling that it was designed to be easily approachable at first and then comfortable when you get going with it. Of course, when you get to that 7000-rpm mark, you will also realise that the Italians are Italians after all. The smooth and forgiving nature of the engine/gearbox combo is a natural complement to the chassis and cycle parts. That’s what makes this bike such a confidence-boosting package.
The bike is extremely manageable in every situation, feeling light and planted under you. It’s got the right amount of heft without being too bulky, and the riding position puts you in control without demanding too much effort. Indeed, if there is one word that sums up the BN 600 I, it’s ‘undemanding’. I can see a huge number of people taking a liking to this motorcycle once they ride it, and that is the purpose for which it is designed, really. Hardcore types might think it’s a bit too soft, and they might be right, but even they won’t deny that it is a lot of fun to ride without stressing yourself out. If it’s white knuckles you want inside your gloves, take a look at the next bike.
BENELLI TNT 899
In many ways, the TNT 899 is exactly opposite to its smaller sibling. It’s brash and violent, shouting its exoticness to the world as loudly as possible. All the more reason to love it, then. It’s name, Benelli insists, is not derived from trinitrotoluene, the compound famous for blowing stuff up. It is derived, instead, from Tornado Naked Tre, based on the three-cylinder Tornado superbike, as the original, bigger TNT is. And, the TNT 899 is a shining example of why smaller-than-1000cc triples have become a rage among motorcyclists across the world.
With an 898cc triple producing 118 bhp, the TNT 899 has all the power you’ll ever need in the real world. Combine this with a svelte silhouette that weighs 205kg and you have a recipe to have as much fun as you dare. Top-notch cycle parts give you the confidence to throw the TNT 899 around at any speed on any road. It stops at the drop of a thought and flies through corners faster and faster as your confidence grows. Everything on the bike works to go as fast as possible in conjunction with the rider, and in no time you realise this is the best way to ride this bike. It’s what it’s made for.
The motor is smooth and effortless, with more than enough punch for anything short of an airport runway. The triple responds immediately, though it could do with shorter overall gearing to make even more dramatic use of its power. Think sky-high wheelies. As it stands, the tall-ish gearing is probably to make the TNT 899 easier to live with (and a token effort to keep you out of trouble, too). But, riding it hard and fast is the way to do it, though you do feel the lack of electronic aids at times when you overdo it.
There’s no ABS, traction control or a slipper clutch, so if you decide to mess things up, you will only have yourself to blame. Thankfully, the bike is a natural in corners, so you do get away with a lot, and there are ample warning signals before the TNT 899 starts hopping around in irritation. Given the way the bike sounds, you always want to wring the throttle to make the TNT 899 sing as loudly as it can. It’s magical. That is the word that sums up this bike.
The TNT 899 looks exotic even by Italian standards, which is saying something. One look at it, and you want to empty your bank account and toss its contents into a Benelli showroom. I know I want to, but I’d look rather strange tossing nothing into a Benelli showroom. Speaking of which, prices for both these bikes will be out by the time you’re reading this, and I hope DSK-Benelli gets it right. We all want to see these bikes make themselves at home in India, don’t we?