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 story of Italian motorcycle companies falling into bankruptcy is not a new one, but Benelli’s version of the narrative is a strangely interesting departure from the norm. Let us explain.
Things apparently kicked off when Benelli failed to pay WP Suspension roughly €120,000 for suspension pieces. WP eventually took Benelli to court, despite the Italian company’s commitment to repay its debt.
An Italian court in Pesaro then declared Benelli bankrupt, and ordered the sum owed to be paid. Somewhere in this process, some of Benelli’s completed motorcycles were seized by a trustee, as collateral for payment.
This spurred Benelli’s Chinese owners, the Qianjiang Group, to release a statement after the court’s ruling, saying that the Italian brand is strong, and has ample cash on-hand to repay its debts (rumored to be in the €1 million range), and has already begun doing so.
Just like the Benelli Tornado Naked T, the Benelli Tornado 302 treads on one of motorcycling’s iconic names, replacing it with a budget-oriented model that has none of the pizazz of its namesake.
This is what Benelli has been reduced to as a motorcycle brand, and the reason why the West no longer takes Benelli seriously.
That all being said, if we beat our head against the wall long enough to forget the Benelli Tornado, in either its 900c or 1130cc variants, the Benelli Tornado 302 is a fetching small-displacement machine.
The Honda Grom has been a sales success that no one saw coming. But in true Honda fashion, the adorable monkey bike wormed its way into our hearts, and has been flying off dealership floors ever since.
A domain that’s normally dominated by Asian manufacturers, namely the Chinese, it is perhaps not surprising then that we see the Benelli Tornado Naked T breaking cover at the 2015 EICMA show.
Available in either a 125cc or 135cc air-cooled, four-valve, dual-spark, single-cylinder format (like there’s really a big difference between the two), the roughly 12hp machines are a stylish alternative to the Grom’s…gromness.
Comments on certain stories are predictable, and as such, we always expect some enduro rider to show up on an ADV story, and lament the weight of the bike in question, calling it too heavy to really go off-road.
That argument is bullshit, of course. Though, it is easier to handle a lightweight machine in the dirt than a heavy one, but you would be surprised at how capable any motorcycle is with a pair of knobby tires on it.
Just in case you are not convinced, we have got a little something for you. Behold the Benelli TRK 502. It’s got the profile of a condor, but the little 500cc adventure-tourer looks like it should do the job you are asking of it.
Benelli is not a brand we usually talk about with great reverence, as the Italian company has steadily lost its luster since its acquisition by China’s Qianjiang Group.
Benelli’s motorcycles were never known for being terribly reliable, and unfortunately the artful designs that they exuded have slowly eroded away over time.
The big announcement for Benelli at the 2015 EICMA show is the new Benelli Leoncino, the “lion cub” model that’s rooted in Benelli’s post-WWII history.
This modern take on the classic Benelli Leoncino is an attractive scrambler model, which makes 47hp from its 500cc parallel-twin engine.
This also means that the Benelli Leoncino a well-suited A2 license machine in Europe, and its wire-spoked wheels are 19″ in the front and 17″ in the rear, and should make the Leoncino surprisingly adapt at light off-road use.
A Chinese-owned Italian brand, Benelli makes some of the most beautiful motorcycles we have ever seen (Benelli Tornado anyone?), but the company has been rather absentee since getting acquired by the Qianjiang Group. Sure, Benelli seems to walk out a new variation of the Benelli TnT or TRE-K just about every year or so, and the Benelli Due has been a work in progress since before the first Obama administration, but for the most part, Benelli has been phoning it in when it comes to its proper motorbikes.
That seems to be changing though, as at EICMA the Italian brand will debut the Benelli BN600 — an 80hp, 600cc, inline-four street-naked. Building off the same established Benelli road-bike aesthetic, the BN600 (we cant tell if that that is Mandarin for either ‘horrible motorcycle name’ or ‘Benelli Naked 600cc’) is an interesting new model from Italy’s other motorcycle manufacturer, as it adds yet another street-naked to the Benelli line, and is close in displacement to the 118hp Benelli TnT 899.
Benelli has announced that Claudio Consonni has taken-on the role of Technical Director at Benelli QJ. As a former manager of Yamaha Motor Italy, Consonni was repsonsible for the tuning fork brand’s production, research & development, quality after sales divisions over his 20 years at Yamaha…all things Benelli needs in spades right now as its Chinese owners look to turn-around the company.