For years, Benelli has lain dormant, at least in the US market. That changes with the Chinese owned, but Italian-run, firm releasing the first of many street bikes for American consumption. It kicks things off with the 2018 Benelli TnT 135 ($2,499).
US importer, SSR Motorsports, hosted a quick day ride that began atop Southern California’s Ortega Highway, and concluded in Newport Beach.
Renowned for its twists and turns, Ortega Highway is an amusing, but also very high-traveled ribbon of blacktop that links the bustling inland and beach communities.
This stretch of roadway is known for accidents as well – would the tiny TnT be able to keep up with “always in a hurry” SoCal drivers?
The Benelli TnT 135 is powered by a 135cc four-stroke single-cylinder engine, that is fuel-injected and electric-start equipped.
Not only does the engine benefit from a slight displacement advantage over bikes like the Honda’s Grom 125 and the Kawasaki Z125 Pro, it also gets a four-valve SOHC head and twin-spark ignition.
This gives the engine greater lung capacity, while also elevating efficiency with more fuel/air mixture going “bang” instead of being emitted out the tail pipes. Speaking of which, the exhaust tips look like they were ripped from MV Agusta’s style guide (a good thing).
The air-cooled engine drinks premium fuel from a 1.9-gallon fuel tank. During the course of our mostly high-speed ride, we averaged upward of 60 mpg. A more sedate around town pace will likely net even better mileage.
Benelli claims that the engine is good for 11.3 horsepower at 8500 rpm and 7.4 lbs•ft of torque at 7000 revs, all at the crankshaft.
In reality, the torque curve is noticeably more peppy than its rivals. It also benefits from an added transmission cog with a five-speed gearbox opposed to a four-speed.
This equates to an overdrive gear good for nearly 75 mph in a straight-line.
Obviously, at this speed, the engine does deliver a fair amount of vibration, but what do you expect for a motorcycle that costs $2,499? And that is where the Benelli really finds its sweet spot: A Grom killer that costs less than one you’d likely find on Craigslist. Plus it is brand new, with a one-year warranty.
Maintenance chores are easier with an oil-level sight window built into the engine case (opposed to a dipstick). Inside there’s an actual oil filter instead of a more simple strainer setup which should boost reliability— especially for those that don’t obsess about oil changes.
Build quality and overall fit and finish is better that expected. Despite being assembled in China the TnT 135 doesn’t appear cheap.
Noteworthy touches include the steel-trellis style frame and unmistakable Italian styling. Just look at the rear end. It looks as if it was styled after an MV Agusta Brutale sport bike!
Full LED lighting, including the turn signals, further emphasize the Benelli TnT 135’s quality feel, and isn’t something you typically see on an entry-level motorcycle, let alone one that costs less than three grand.
No doubt, this bike offers some real value.
The frame’s arrangement of red metal tubes not only looks cool, but it offers a more favorable flex character, acting as a secondary suspension of sorts. It also stretches the wheelbase, which adds stability – a good thing considering the Benelli’s higher top speed.
Of course, it’s still a motorcycle that rolls on 12-inch wheels. So, freeway jaunts should best be kept to a minimum. However, if you have to jet across town for a couple freeway exits, you certainly can— even in a fast-paced city like Los Angeles.
The TnT 135 is graced with higher-quality suspension components that further complement handling and overall ride quality.
The fork is a rather beefy, at least in the segment, 41mm inverted unit, with 4.7 inches of travel, while the coil-spring shock absorber offers 5 inches of movement. The spring can be easily adjusted for more or less tension.
Braking is a full-manual experience and the double-disc setup gets the job done without any fuss. However, front lever position adjustment would be a nice addition, and a feature that could further separate it in this category.
Suspension action is neither too firm, nor too bouncy, and we were surprised by just how compliant this mini-bike’s chassis is.
It’s true, on paper at least, that the 266-pound (claimed) Benelli TnT 135 weighs nearly 40 pounds more than its Thailand-made counterparts, yet you’ll be hard pressed to note the extra heft when the wheels are spinning, or at a standstill in the parking lot.
Whether thinking in terms of engine power, handling or ergonomics, the Benelli is roughly 8-12% more motorcycle than the competition. This pays dividends for larger riders with the seating position a bit more cozy than the red or green bikes. The saddle has nice dish for the rider’s rear end, however the pseudo radiator shrouds eat up knee area for taller folks. Still, for around town use, it’s something we could likely live with.
Riders looking for cool-looking mini-bike to blitz around town on won’t find much better than the Benelli TnT 135— especially for the dollar.
Not only does it boast more “tech” than a Honda Grom or Kawasaki Z125 Pro, but it’s quicker and rides more akin to a real, full-size motorcycle.
The quality factor is just as high, if not higher than the Honda and Kawasaki with decent frame welds and properly aligned bodywork.
Perhaps the biggest detriment to Benelli’s ability to plant these in garages across America is its current dealer network. American importer, SSR Motorsports says it is working to expand the network. And if you’re fortunate to live close by, then do yourself a favor and setup a test ride.
Credit a growing global business, and the Chinese desire to expand, SSR says this is one of many new models Benelli plans to introduce stateside.
With renewed focus, leveraging its 107-year history of craftsmanship, paired with the production superpower of its owner, Qiang Jiang (QJ produces over 1.2 million vehicles from its Wenling factory), there’s a lot more to come. So, stay tuned.
Photos: Benelli USA