The Benelli brand name has fallen under the Qjian Jiang Group umbrella since 2005, and has subsequently gone from strength to strength in the Asian markets, particularly in India and Malaysia. While a 600 cc mill might be a big engine over there (aren’t they cute?), it’s middling at best in the States, and there is absolutely no shortage of strong competition from established brands in this bracket. The Big-Four in Japan, plus the Italians, Austrians, Germans and Brits all bring quality rides to the table with comparable mills, so this Chinese-made bike – imported and marketed under the SSR banner – has certainly got its work cut out for it. Let’s check it out and see how they did with the TNT 600.
One thing Benelli (QJ) definitely got right is the naked look. A beefy front end gives the bike a competitive appearance, but the somewhat abbreviated front fender and veryabbreviated headlight can and flyscreen steer it squarely into the target category. While I can’t say that I particularly care for the Transformer-like headlight housing, it’s typical of the genre and so I can’t really complain too awful much.
One thing Benelli definitely got right is the naked look.
A pair of cheek fairings contain and protect the radiator mounted right under the steering head, but serve as the only body paneling on the otherwise nude visage, with the Trellis frame and engine clearly visible in profile. The flylines play across the blocky fuel tank ahead of the precipitous drop to the deep-scoop rider saddle, and they rise again to the stadium pillion pad. The exhaust system rides up directly beneath the subframe, and while that does keep the weight centralized laterally, it doesn’t do much to keep the center-of-gravity low, and the passenger’s oh-shit handles are dangerously close to the muzzle of the silencers. Not exactly confidence inspiring for the passenger.
Standoff turn signals look vulnerable (as they always do), and the tail lamp is somewhat ensconced by the brace of silencers that largely screens it from view for a pretty big arc on each side. A wimbly mudguard/tag holder finishes out the ass end with a tire-hugger to keep water and road grime from making it onto the trailing side of the mill. Jockey-mount footpegs and short handlebars put the rider in a natural riding posture that strikes a nice balance between aggressive capabilities and relaxed comfort.
Handling is sharp and accurate, and the inverted front forks and rebound/preload-adjustable rear monoshock don’t seem to wallow in the corners like you might expect.
The factory calls it a “Bassinet frame,” but most of us would name the steel-tube skeleton a Trellis. No matter what you call it, it serves the purpose of stiffening the assembly, and helps cultivate that stereotypical “naked” look. A bolt-up, die-casy aluminum subframe supports the seats, and an asymmetrical swingarm articulates the rear wheel. One side of the swingarm bears a gull-wing shape with the apex serving as the mount point for the monoshock. As much as I like hidden suspension components, I gotta say the near-horizontal shock with its contrasting spring is an attractive feature, and the fact that it’s offset to one side makes the bike look more advanced than it really is.
On the other side, the main member is straight with a cutout in the triangular gusset to accommodate the drive chain for a look that is functional, modern and strong. Handling is sharp and accurate, and the inverted front forks and rebound/preload-adjustable rear monoshock don’t seem to wallow in the corners like you might expect. Twin-pot Benelli calipers bite the dual front brake discs with a single-piston caliper on the rear disc, but nothing in the way of ABS or pressure sharing between front and rear. Some might squawk at that lack of sophistication, but I find that simplicity to be a refreshing bonus in a world of over-complicated fandanglery. Front and rear, a set of 17-inch cast rims mount the Pirelli Angel ST hoops with a 120/70 up front and 180/55 in back; typical for this bracket.
Riders who like to perform their own maintenance tend to like this engine, and as a professional mechanic, I can appreciate how much effort the engineers put into making it wrench-friendly and easy to access. That said, the 600 cc, liquid-cooled, inline four runs an oversquare layout with a 65 mm bore and 45.2 mm stroke with dual overhead cams to time the four-valve-per-cylinder head. Compression isn’t too terribly hot at 11.5-to-1, but it’s still hot enough to put you at the premium pump. Electronic fuel injection meters the gas, but this build only meets Euro 3 emission standards so you can expect it to have a hard time meeting CARB specs sooner rather than later.
The full brunt of the grunt comes on late with 38.35 pound-feet at 8,000 rpm, and the full power of 80.5 ponies is available at a frenetic 11 grand, so you really gotta wind this thing up to keep it in the funzone. But, it will pull without hesitation all the way down at 2,000 rpm, so negotiating heavy traffic and putt-putting around is easy and smooth enough.
A straight-up, non-slipper clutch couples engine power to the six-speed gearbox, but the clutch is rather stiff, and it would definitely benefit from some hydraulic assistance. Wink nudge, QJ.
Priced to be competitive, the 600 TNT rolls for $6,999 MSRP in the U.S. market. This might seem a bit lofty for a relatively under-represented brand on our shores, but if one considers the decent fit-and-finish with the easy to maintain, 600 cc mill, the price seems a bit more reasonable.
At first, I must admit that I went at this bike expecting a cheap Chinese knockoff, but now that I’ve gotten to know it a bit better, I see that it’s a bit better than I expected. That said, I decided to look for another Asian-made ride that I already know to be solid, and so I went straight for the popular FZ-07 by Yamaha .
Although fit-and-finish is OK on the TNT, it can’t quite match the sheer experience in design and execution demonstrated by the Tuning Fork Company, though I like the fact that the TNT cheek fairings hide the radiator while Yamaha almost accentuates it. Both run the ridiculous tiny headlight typical of the genre, but folks who are into that kind of thing will find this to be just the sort of thing that they are into. Who am I to judge?
Yammy uses its twin-cylinder, 689 cc, CP2 mill that predictably trades off ponies for grunt with 74 horsepower and 50 pound-feet of torque versus 80/38 from the four-banger TNT. Both bikes run straight clutches with six-speed transmixxers, but the FZ-07 is mucheasier on the left hand at the end of the day. All the other important metrics are close enough, to include the four-valve combustion chambers, DOHC, water-cooling and compression, and if Benelli gains an advantage here, it’s in the apparent ease of maintenance.
Benelli picks up a slim advantage with some adjustability in its suspension that Yamaha fails to include on its roadster, but Yamaha gets some back with an ABS version that Benelli has no answer for. Of course, that ABS is gonna cost you another three bills for a total of $7,499 while the non-ABS rolls for $7,199, but the Benelli TNT sneaks in just under at $6,999. All things considered, including the surprisingly high quality, Yamaha will probably draw the lion’s share of the market here. Is it fair? Maybe not, but TNT is making a killing in India, and the U.S. market isn’t likely to make or break them.
“Pencil me in as ’pleasantly surprised.’ I wasn’t very impressed with the 300 cc version of the TNT, but the 600 seems to cut the mustard adequately, to say the least. Having said that, the Italian name is becoming less familiar with every passing year, and name power counts for a lot (just ask Harley ). It’s going to take more than this to put them back on the American buyer’s radar.”
My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “I was also surprised by the quality of the fit and finish. I guess if your expectations are low, they can only go up from there. As a mechanic, I like machines that are designed with service in mind instead as an afterthought. It’s a nice mid-range bike that would be good as a commuter or a weekend-getaway ride.”
|TYPE:||4 cylinder in-line, 4-stroke, liquid cooled, 4 valves per cylinders, DOHC|
|BORE x STROKE:||65 x 45.2 mm|
|RATED OUTPUT:||80.5 hp @ 11000 rpm|
|MAX. TORQUE:||38.35 ft lb @ 8000 rpm|
|LUBRICATION:||Pressure splash lubrication|
|FINAL DRIVE:||Chain Drive|
|FRONT SUSPENSION:||Telescopic inverted forks|
|FRONT SUSPENSION TRAVEL:||N/A|
|REAR SUSPENSION:||Telescopic coil spring oil damped|
|REAR SHOCK ABSORBER TRAVEL:||N/A|
|FRONT BRAKE:||Dual discs|
|FRONT RIM TYPE:||Aluminium alloy|
|FRONT RIM DIMENSIONS:||E 17″ x 3.50″ DOT-D|
|REAR RIM TYPE:||Aluminium alloy|
|REAR RIM DIMENSION:||E 17″ x 5.50″ DOT-D|
|FRONT TIRE:||Pirelli Angel ST – 120/70-ZR17 58W|
|REAR TIRE:||Pirelli Angel ST – 180/55-ZR17 73W|
|WIDTH EXCLUDING MIRRORS:||31.5 inches|
|HEIGHT EXCLUDING MIRRORS:||46.5 inches|
|SEAT HEIGHT:||31.5 inches|
|GROUND CLEARANCE:||5.9 inches|
|UNLADEN WEIGHT:||459 lbs.|
|ROAD READY WEIGHT:||485 lbs.|
|PERMITTED TOTAL WEIGHT:||904 lbs.|
|USABLE TANK VOLUME:||3.96 gallons|