- About Us
Words: Benjamin Gracias
Photography: Gaurav S Thombre
Here is the bike that can be credited with sparking the street fighter segment. During the late 90’s Benelli launched the TNT. During that era, bike enthusiasts were already ditching fairings, headlamps and other heavy bits in a bid to go faster and make bikes handle better. Benelli cashed in on that trend with a built-from-the ground-up naked superbike that at the time looked like an alien autobot escapee from Area 51. In an era of bikes wrapped in bulbous fairings, the TNT was the antithesis of a superbike. Lithe, naked and light yet every bit as visceral as one.
For the uninitiated, Benelli is one of the oldest surviving motorcycle companies having commenced operations in 1911 with a century full of enigmatic bikes and an illustrious racing career at that. The TNT comes from a prodigious line up of Benelli bikes that were radical when launched.
15 years later, the DNA of the TNT R hasn’t changed much and it is a good thing, I reckon. It’s the last of its kind and comes from a time when superbikes were not to be messed with. When the thought of opening up the throttle on a superbike would make mere mortals wet themselves. A ride in the rain would have men quivering by the side of the road, clutching a smoke with trembling hands. It was trial by fire, a passage into manhood. A superbike is supposed to do that, it is supposed to scare the living daylights out of you.
These thoughts cloud my mind as I reach the DSK Benelli showroom to pick up the TNT R. I have ridden a fair share of superbikes though nothing like this one. A 1130cc long-stroke triple that delivers 114Nm to the rear wheel without the safety net of traction control. Heck, it doesn’t even get ABS. The thought has me intrigued and perplexed at the same time. At the showroom, I see the white and red TNT R waiting for me and all thoughts fade away momentarily. The TNT-R is unmistakably Italian with a dash of sex. An aggressive edgy design that co-exists within a labyrinth of twisted pipes. It’s a glorious mess. Like Italian pasta. The exposed tubular chassis curves into the side flanks that also house the radiators. The swingarm looks like a piece of art and has adjustments for height and wheelbase. The TNT R looks like a wildcat, muscle-tensed, ready to pounce.
There is no attempt to hide the massive 1130cc engine, a good thing. The sculpted tank flows into a narrow seat that is surprisingly comfortable. The rear end is minimalistic with a carbonfibre underseat exhaust that sounds as wicked as it looks. The tail lamps are a two-piece unit flanking the exhaust. The red painted wheels look smashing, not an option but DSK Benelli will get it painted for you. Visually the TNT R looks similar to its smaller sibling, the TNT 899, differentiated by the use of carbonfibre bits like the front mudguard, exhaust end can and other small bits.
Despite its dimensions, seat height is relatively low allowing riders of average stature to plant both feet on the ground. The handlebars are set at an angle that is sporty with a hint of comfort. In fact, the two days I spent riding the TNT R, I experienced no discomfort to the wrist or shoulders.
Fire her up and the sound is disconcerting. At idle, the TNT R sounds like a Tasmanian Devil is trapped inside the engine. I gingerly ride her out on the road, take a deep breath and open her up. Not the brightest of ideas as the front wheel lifts and at the same time the rear wheel spins up. Relax, I say to myself and this time, progressively unwind the throttle. As the needle passes through three and a half thousand revs, the guttural note turns into a gravelly wail that transcends into a high pitched shriek at the red line. By this time I’m doing triple digit speeds and the tiny car on the horizon is rapidly filling up my vision. A quick jab on the brake lever has the Brembo monoblocs clamp down on the petal discs retarding the bike in rapid succession. Riding the TNT R in sparse traffic is deceptively simple. Weighing in at 230kg, she manages to shed that girth on the move, allowing for quick weaving through traffic. She is as nimble as 600cc supersports machines. I for one am glad for the unpredictable monsoons as it has been sunny for two weeks with no sign of precipitation.
I rejoiced too soon for the next morning is a deluge. Riding a 1130cc bike with no traction control, in pouring rain is not something I’m looking forward to. Damn you, unpredictable Pune weather. Turns out, my worries were unfounded. The Michelin radials grip well and except for the occasional wheelspin, my 25km ride to the hills remained eventful in a good way. Luckily, the roads were bone dry by the time we got there. The TNT R comes with some really good suspension kit, Marzocchi forks at the front and Sachs rear dampers making it a joy on the twisties. The way the TNT R allows you to exploit corners is unbelievable. The long stroke motor may feel lumpy at low revs but get past three thousand rpm and the bike just explodes out of corners. Acceleration is vicious and simply mauls you as you hang on for dear life. Get it right and the rewards are immense. If you are brave enough, you can even get the front wheel to abandon tarmac while exiting a corner. The sublime chassis, premium suspension and grippy tyres all connect together to deliver a wild and exhilarating experience that sears itself into your brain. This bike is like raw unadulterated moonshine. It tests you as a rider, making you rethink your exit strategy. At the end you emerge with eyes wide open, heart pumping adrenaline at a million beats a minute, fingers trembling. Trial by fire.
It isn’t all sunny though. Like all Italian bikes, the TNT R detests traffic. She heats up in traffic though the side mounted radiators do a good job of deflecting heat away from you and onto other riders. At the end of it though, you will end up nursing a sore hand due to the unusually heavy hydraulic clutch. On that note, Benelli has decided to do away with the dry clutch as it isn’t suitable for the dusty environs of India. Clutch actuation is progressive though. Plus the ride is supple enough to spare your kidneys the pounding while ridden over a broken stretch of tarmac. So it is civilised, in a manner of speaking.
I like the TNT R though as it comes from a time when bikes did not have safety nets, a time when bikes had to be really good for the rider to extract maximum performance. When rider skill mattered as much as the bike’s ability. Bikes had to be engineered with exacting precision so a capable rider could exploit its limits without killing himself. The TNT-R is just that. No traction control, no ABS, its just you and the bike’s abilities. A superbike for me is something that should make me wary of opening the throttle to the stop. It should make my palms sweat every time I fire her up. The Benelli TNT R is just that. It is Old Testament, fire, brimstone and all that. An unabashedly analogue motorcycle.