DSK Benelli TNT 899 Review: Explosive Decepticon

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Added in: Benelli

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You should never meet your heroes, so the common saying goes.

Or basically, if you love and respect someone, or something, from afar, it is better to stay away from them in real life. Why? Well, the experience might turn out to be something anticlimactic, or your hero might just not live up to the lofty pedestals that you’ve put them on in your mind until then.

So, if you have been admiring supercars for their power and style, getting a ride in one might just put you off with their bone-jarring ride quality and real world impracticality. If you have a supermodel you yearn for, it is better to stick to their airbrushed photos in glam mags rather than meeting them in real life and getting to experience the inhumanly diets they subject themselves to, or the Botox and the nip-and-tuck jobs. If you love the magic of movies, better not get a behind-the-scenes look at Industrial Light and Magic or Pixar.

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But hey, what do they know? Neil deGrasse Tyson thought the same about Carl Sagan, only to be invited to meet the great astronomer himself. And it is from that fateful meeting that we now have the greatest science popularizer living today, the same guy who is carrying forward Sagan’s legacy with Cosmos.

Clearly, deGrasse Tyson can’t be wrong here; you should definitely meet your heroes.

But why this long preamble? Let me explain.

More than a decade ago, before the advent of internet and 3G into our sleepy little village in Assam, I had this habit of visiting the local scrap shop and picking up old and tattered foreign magazines for a fraction of their original cost. Yes, yes, wipe that grin off your face, I know exactly what magazines you’re thinking of. And you’re partially correct too.

But one fine day, I picked up this copy of a European motorcycling magazine. In there I laid eyes on a two-page spread of the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen till then, natural or man-made. The Benelli Tornado Tre 900, a supersports motorcycle that marked the rebirth of the Italian motorcycle manufacturer who also happens to manufacture shotguns. Talk about diverse history.

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They say that you don’t remember all aspects of your life in equal detail; you just remember the highlights, good or bad. Seeing that Benelli was the highlight of my biking life and subsequent career as it turned out. I forgot all my dreams about being as astronomer and decided there and then to pursue a career that would enable me to work with motorcycles in one capacity or the other.

And today, we’re going to review a Benelli in the flesh and blood, thanks to their recent tie-up with the DSK Group. Granted, it is not the same Benelli that set me on this fortuitous path, but it shares many of the same DNA. Even the name ‘TNT’ is an abbreviation of Tornado Naked Tre, so there.

We won’t go into more details of Benelli’s tumultuous history here and stretch this already long (and deeply personal) intro any longer. Our accompanying review of the Benelli BN600i will serve as a better primer if you’re wholly unacquainted with the brand, and how it landed up on our shores, so click here if you’d want to read that first.

All set then? Cool, let’s begin.

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Design and Features

The TNT is designed by Adrian Morton, the designer who also penned the lines of my all-time sweetheart, the Tornado Tre. A protégé of the great Tamburini, Morton cut his teeth at MV Agusta, helping design the F4, another jaw-droppingly gorgeous machine, before moving to Benelli. So, yeah, this Britisher knows a thing or two about the role of design in the renaissance of a cult marque.

Now, remember, the original TNT was penned before the Transformers franchise was reintroduced into the 21st century thanks to Michael Bay and Hasbro. But ask anyone on the street, and the first thing they will tell you is that it reminds them of an Autobot, or more aptly, a mean and sinister Decepticon. It is easy to see where that connection comes from. From the bug-eyed headlights to the edgy and minimalistic tail-piece, the TNT is a fitting prop for any sci-fi enterprise.

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The TNT 899’s headlights comprise of four bulbs, two for high and two for low-beam. As with all big bikes, two of them stay on at all times, and they’re helped out by no less than four pilot lamps. A small matt black plastic cowl does a decent job of deflecting the wind blast, and also houses the instrument console.

The instrument console is dominated by a large analogue tachometer, with a small digital speedometer that displays readouts in both miles and kilometers. It also includes an odometer, tripmeter, fuel level indicator, and a clock, all of which can be accessed and toggled via two pushers below the console. At the left you have the tell tale lights while the top right gives pride of place to a large red shift light that comes into play around the 10,500 rpm redline.

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Switchgear on the TNT 899, mounted on a brushed aluminium one-piece handlebar with black clamps, is the same as you’d expect on all modern motorcycles. The right includes a hazard switch that lights up all four indicators, handy when you’re parked close to moving traffic. This is something that Indian manufacturers have turned a blind eye on till now, and we really wish they would incorporate this safety feature into at least their premium models soon.

The quality of switchgear is decent but not upto par like we’d come to expect from the CBU imports from Japan. The pointy rear-view mirrors are functional enough, although their design means that you won’t be seeing much of the traffic that you’re rapidly leaving behind.

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A few of my colleagues weren’t too fond of the key hole being too recessed between the triple clamp and the fuel tank but I didn’t think it would be much of a bother in normal use. I was more enamored with the switchblade-style design of the key, the best looking motorcycle key I’ve ever seen to date. With that beautiful Benelli logo, it is something that will surely draw envious eyeballs when you set it down at any table.

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The 899 comes with a carbon-fibre front mudguard and 50mm upside-down Marzocchi forks that greatly enhances the sporting appeal of the machine. There are liberal splashes of carbon-fibre all around the rest of the bike too, from the minimalistic bellypan to the clutch cover.

But the standout feature of the TNT 899 is undoubtedly that steel trellis frame done up in resplendent red, a design that is carried over to the swingarm. That, and the radiator fans mounted on plastic scoops on either side of the engine. The quality of the black plastic fins don’t match up to the rest of the bike’s high standards, and is the only sore point on what is otherwise a solidly built bike.

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Moving to the rear, you find a thinly padded seat, with a split seat for your pillion. The pillion isn’t perched as high up as you’d find on sports bikes, and even the fairer sex wouldn’t find it hard to clamber onto. Directly underneath it is the single 3-into-2-into-1 exhaust with small twin tail lamps on either side. The number plate and clear-lens turn indicators are mounted directly onto the exhaust with four solid clamps.

Like all streetfighters, the TNT 899 has a forward and centrally biased stance, with the sparse rear end contributing to the windswept look. But it is in the details that the TNT shines. Like the bones of your forearm as seen through an X-ray machine, everything that can be split into two has been, err, split into two. From the key to the trellis frame to the tailpiece panel and even the tail lights, this design element gives the TNT a cohesiveness as a whole.

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Performance and Efficiency

TNT, or trinitrotoluene, the standard measure for explosives, is where the 899 gets its name from. A rather apt one considering the performance that this purebred Italian belts out. The 899cc inline three cylinder DOHC engine with 4 valves per cylinder pumps out 122 PS of peak power at 9500 rpm and 88 Nm of maximum torque at 8000 rpm. On paper, those numbers might not sound like much, especially when you compare how much power newer streetfighters of equivalent cubic capacity puts out. But it is the intensity with which the TNT 899 churns out every last ounce of that power that will leave a lasting grin inside your helmet.

Originally developed with the assistance of Cosworth Engineering, the F1 and Indycar heavyweights, the TNT’s original engine has seen various revisions since then. It was always meant to be a 900, with inputs from Cosworth’s first-gen three-litre V10 Formula One engine, but the end result was so high revving that is was nearly unrideable when shoehorned into a motorcycle. Benelli went back to the drawing boards and came up with the TNT 1130, a much friendlier motor that also paved the way for the 899 that we have here today.

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Thanks to new cylinder heads, pistons, airbox, longer velocity stacks, and a revised ignition system, the TNT 899 is a pleasure to ride in its present guise. Gone is the jerkiness and abrupt throttle response that other journalists have complained about the TNT’s short stroke motor in the past. Getting out of Pune at rush hour traffic normally means the death knell for most high performance motorcycles but it proved to be a minor hassle, if not an outright pleasure, on the TNT 899. You can comfortably potter around at 30 kmph in third gear, knowing that there is always ample acceleration on tap from that oversquare three cylinder mill on tap once the road opens up.

But it is above 4000 rpm that the 899 comes into its element. Your eyes widen and the tendons in your arms involuntarily tighten as the bike starts pulling faster and faster, and the numbers on the digital speedo scurry about as if they’ve just received a shot of caffeine. Keep shifting up through the smooth six-speed gearbox and, before long, the traffic will be a mere speck in your rear view mirror.

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No thanks to the heavy traffic on the old Mumbai-Pune highway, we’d be lying if we told you that we were able to take the TNT 899 to its factory-quoted top speed of 235 kmph. The bike felt very capable of that and more though, and hitting a double ton shouldn’t be a (isn’t, actually) sweat on the speedo. Even at some really high speeds, there are very little vibes from the bodywork, thanks to rubber mounted footpegs, meaty bar-end weights, and an improved counterbalancer shaft.

Then there’s the sound. Wait, scratch that, wrong word. The music. Oh holy beejesus, the music that emanates from a triple cylinder engine! Trust me, if you haven’t heard the wail of an inline triple at full clip yet, put it on your bucket list immediately. Even with the stock exhaust, the TNT sounds like the god of Asgard clearing his throat while Scarlett Johansson licks honey from your ears. There are bikers who will argue that the high-pitched wail of an inline four is the most evocative of all exhaust notes, and yet others who prefer the raspy, throaty roar of a parallel twin, but a triple, any triple, will give you the best of both worlds.

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Upfront, the TNT 899 comes with radially mounted four-piston calipers clamping down on twin floating wave discs, with a double piston caliper mated to a 240mm single wave disc from Brembo at the rear. The brakes are capable enough and do a good job of hauling the TNT to a dead stop with minimal fuss. They aren’t as powerful as grabby as the new Monobloc calipers from Brembo, which is actually a good thing for newbies, as the latter can sometimes be too much braking power for the streets.

We weren’t able to check the TNT 899’s fuel efficiency during the one day that passed all too quickly when the bike was with us. International road tests from our friends over at the UK claim that the 899 will do 19 kilometres to the litre on average, with the worst being 13 kmpl. Combine the average to the TNT’s 16-litre fuel tank and youre looking at a range of just over 300 kms between stops. Pretty commendable for a 900cc streetbike that tips the scales at 215 kgs.

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Ride and Handling

Even in its factory trim, the TNT 899 comes with top-shelf components as standard. Front suspension is handled by meaty 50mm Marzocchi upside-down forks, while a progressive-linked Sachs monoshock mounted on the steel tube trestle swingarm takes care of the rear. Both ends are adjustable for preload, with the Sachs unit also boastinga three-way hydraulic rebound damping adjustment. Tyres are Michelin Pilot Sports, 120/70-ZR17 at the front and 190/50-ZR17 at the rear. Nothing but the very best here.

At first glance, the TNT’s 830mm tall seat was a bit intimidating for a puny rider like me. But swing a leg over it, and, thanks to the comparatively narrow and thinly padded seat, the Benelli feels more reassuring than most litre class superbikes.

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Earlier TNTs were notorious for their bone-breaking ride quality, but thanks to the inputs of ex-Bimota test rider Gianluca Galasso, the current TNT is a surprisingly comfortable machine on the move. Even on the pockmarked roads of Pune, it feels well damped and plush, and a lot more confident than the edgy supersports bikes we’ve tested recently.

Still, this is a machine that lives for the open road and the ocassional twisties. Take it out of the confines of the urban traffic, and the TNT will thank you over and over. With those wide handlebars, slightly leaned forward riding posture and roomy seat, the Benelli feels like it can do cross country trips without too many pauses to rest your spine or posterior.

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Those wide ‘bars also provide ample leverage in corners. With a 1443mm wheelbase, the TNT may not be as agile a handler as supersports bikes, but let’s face it, it wasn’t meant to carve racetracks anyway. On the roads, it turns in with confidence, but requires a bit more force on the inner bars to keep it in line.

The steel trellis frame and aluminum sub-frame are glued together and pinned with stiffening plate sections. Together, they impart the feeling of a neutral and composed handler that will suit the new and moderately fast rider rather than an outright apex demon.

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The TNT 899 derives its name from an explosive, but going by its looks, it might as well be called the hornet.

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Hazard lights! Indian manufacturers really need to incorporate this feature into their premium bikes soon

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Wide tank, wide ‘bars, and the Italian flag. What else could a man want?

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Posteriors don’t get more edgy and minimalistic than this, do they? Kanye West would be mortified!

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Slightly leaned forward riding posture is comfortable enough for long jaunts

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That massive 190 section rear Michelin probably doesn’t need a side stand. Just sayin’

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Quality of plastics on the radiator fins is the only sore point in build quality

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Generous lashings of carbon-fibre all around help keep the TNT’s weight down

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Sachs monoshock and Marzocchi front USD forks. These Italians really know how to mix it up

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“They see me lookin’, they hatin'”

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Four piston radial calipers on wavy discs look smashing, and aren’t as fear-inducing as Brembo’s Monoblocs

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There’s a cohesiveness to the whole design of the TNT that we just love

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This is a bike that begs to be ridden hard

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Oh yeah, little brother BN600i also came out to play with us. Here’s the review

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Verdict

With almost every major motorbike manufacturer worth its name now having a presence in India, the Benelli TNT 899 will have to make a very good case for itself to find buyers. And it does.

It is fast, comfortable, looks like no other naked bike on the road, and has an exhaust note that can send shivers up one’s spine. Benelli has been doing rather well as regards design and engineering under the new Chinese ownership. On the flipside, some might find it hard to identify with the brand here despite its chequered history in Europe.

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The good folks over at DSK haven’t yet revealed pricing for the Benelli TNT 899, but it will have to be priced competitively to sell well here. In terms of competition, there’s the worthy Triumph Street Triple and the Kawasaki Z800, both of which retail for INR 7.65 lakh and 8.05 lakh respectively, ex-showroom, Delhi. Undercut those two prices by a fair bit, and we just might have a winner. Moreover, the Benelli has got a bigger engine, more power, and a more exotic brand appeal going for it.

But more than that, at least for me personally, the day that I spent with the TNT 899 was the closest I’ve ever come to realizing that childhood crush on the Benelli Tornado Tre. My crush didn’t come to meet me herself. Instead she sent her more suave and stylish sibling to chat with me.

I have met my pin-up poster in the flesh, but she came wearing a different set of clothes. Doesn’t matter, she’s as beautiful in the carbon-fibre as I’ve ever dreamt of, and now that we’ve met, her voice will resonate within me for the rest of my life. That’s enough for me, and I’ll gladly live with that.

Photography by Chirag Mondal

Benelli 899 Tech Specs

Engine and transmission
Displacement899.00 ccm (54.86 cubic inches)
Engine type:In-line three, four-stroke
Engine details:Double overhead camshaft with balancer shaft
Power:122 PS @ 9500 RPM
Torque:88 Nm @ 8000 RPM
Bore x stroke:88.0 x 49.2 mm
Valves per cylinder:4
Fuel system:Injection
Fuel control:DOHC
Lubrication system:Wet sump
Cooling system:Liquid
Gearbox:6-speed
Transmission type,Chain
final drive:
Clutch:Wet clucth 10 discs
Driveline:525 Chain type
Emission details:Euro 3
Exhaust system:With catalytic converter and oxigen sensor
Chassis, suspension, brakes and wheels
Rake (fork angle):24.0°
Trail:95 mm
Front suspension:Ø43 mm upside-down fork, with idraulic extension / compression and spring preload adjustments
Front suspension travel:120 mm (4.7 inches)
Rear suspension:Steel trestle swingarm, progressive rear dumper with idraulic extension/compression and spring preload adjustments
Rear suspension travel:120 mm
Front tyre dimensions:120/70-ZR17
Rear tyre dimensions:190/50-ZR17
Front brakes:Double disc. Twin floating disks
Front brakes diameter:320 mm
Rear brakes:Single disc
Rear brakes diameter:240 mm
Wheels:Aluminium alloy
Physical measures and capacities
Dry weight:205.0 kg
Weight incl. oil, gas, etc:215.0 kg
Power/weight ratio:0.6293 HP/kg
Seat height:830 mm If adjustable, lowest setting.
Overall height:1,050 mm
Overall length:2,100 mm
Overall width:790 mm
Ground clearance:135 mm
Wheelbase:1,443 mm
Fuel capacity:16.00 litres
Reserve fuel capacity:4.00 litres
Oil capacity:4.00 litres
Other specifications
Starter:Electric
Color options:White
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