Benelli TNT 135 review
More than cheap and cheerful, the Benelli TNT 135 is a quality option.
Back in 2017, Benelli burst onto the small bike scene with their TNT 125, battling against the likes of Honda’s Grom and the Kawasaki Z125 Pro. This year. Benelli has brought a new weapon to the funky LAMS commuter fight in the form of the TNT 135: a model that arrives with a price tag to match its compact size and delivers bundles of urban riding fun without scaling down the quality, either.
Small Things, Big Appeal
Why do some people have an obsession with scale models? I’ve seen tens of thousands spent on model train sets – just to watch them go round and round and round. Same goes for Biante, Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars – I’m sure we all know someone who’s sunk big bucks into their diecast model car collection.
In some ways, the TNT 135 is the motorcycling equivalent of the Hot Wheels cars we played with when we were kids: although it’s small and somewhat comical, there’s something inherently entertaining about the possibilities to be had on a bike like this.
I must concede that the TNT 135 is not laughably small, like a pocket bike or one of those plastic electric ride-on cars are, but its size is definitely a novelty. The appearance is where the novelty stops, though, as this is a serious motorcycle and delivers serious bang for your buck.
Powered by a single-cylinder 135cc engine, the TNT 135 pushes out a claimed 9.5kW at 9000rpm. Sure, it’s no threat to a Kawasaki H2, but given the little Benelli’s 128.2kg weight, it’s not exactly a slug either. Its claimed 10.8Nm at 7000rpm helps you jump the lights fairly quick; even quicker if you give it the MotoGP start treatment. The light clutch helps a lot with these race-style take-offs from the lights and also helps with low-speed manoeuvrability during city riding.
As the model name indicates, the TNT 135 has a 10cc advantage over the model it replaces, as well as its competitors: the Kawasaki Z125 Pro and Honda’s Grom and Monkey all run 125cc singles. At face value, 135cc versus 125cc isn’t a lot, but having ridden both versions of the TNT, the extra power is noticeable. Stick an extra 10cc on a litre-class sportsbike and you wouldn’t notice the difference, but we’re talking about a very compact single here, so the extra 10cc equals an 8 per cent capacity increase which, in real numbers, means the Benelli boasts a power advantage of around 2.3kW over its competitors.
As well as that extra 10cc, the TNT 135 also has an extra two valves, allowing the engine to get the air in and the gasses out at a much better rate. I don’t understand why Honda and Kawasaki haven’t added this to their 125 singles, as a four-valve per cylinder motor is fairly standard practice in this decade.
When I had the 135 pinned in fifth gear on the launch test, I was hitting around the 113km/h mark, where it started to hit an auto speed cut-out. Maybe if I chucked a fairing on and tucked myself behind it, I could possibly get a km/h or two more, but obviously, this bike was never made for consistent 100km/h+ runs and long freeway miles – unless you have a tailwind or a death wish.
Compared to the four-speed gearboxes in the Japanese competition, the five-speed ‘box in the Benelli makes those sometimes-inevitable freeway journeys a bit more bearable.
Benelli has been fighting the “Made in China” stereotype ever since they re-launched in Australia, and I’ll admit it’s something I’ve thought about when I’ve ridden a Benelli. But the stigma of Chinese quality is much les of a “thing” in 2019 than it was even a few years ago. Nowadays, I feel that Chinese motorcycle manufacturers, especially those connected to European and Japanese brands, have pulled off something similar to what happened when we first started getting Japanese motorbikes and cars here more than fifty years ago: everyone questioned their reliability and build quality. How could something that cheap be any good, right?
Today, Japanese motorcycles rule the roads all over the world and there’s no mistaking that the first choice for many people is to go Japanese when looking for a new bike.
I feel as if it’s not too far away when this will apply to Chinese-manufactured bike brands like Benelli.
In the case of the TNT 135, it’s a bike that looks and feels better than its price tag indicates – it’s sturdy and a good-quality product, which is a nice change to see.
While they may be manufactured in China, Benelli still design their bikes in Italy and you can see those Italian styling influences throughout the TNT 135 – its aggressive bodywork, its electronic dash and even its colour scheme which is familiar to another Italian manufacturer beginning with the letter A.
When the TNT 125 came out, certain styling features really caught my eye and all of these are back for the 135. Some blackout (instead of chrome) parts and new graphics are the only real differences between the two.
Those features include the attractive integration of the taillight and rear indicators into the tail. Instead of the bulky, hammerhead shark looking indicator and licence plate holder that many manufacturers still use, the Benelli’s swingarm-mounted licence plater holder lets the rear end design breathe a bit more – at least as much as ADR regulations will allow. Thankfully, the neat little high-mounted twin tip exhaust takes your eyes off the tail tidy.
The bulky muffler is housed under the bike and sticks out like a sore thumb to my eyes, but it’s nothing an afternoon with an angle grinder and welder can’t fix.
Speaking of other things that stick out, the TNT 135 could possibly do with some headlight modification in my view, but that’s an aesthetic thing – I’m sure there are plenty that love the look just the way it is.
Go, Go, Go
For the Australian launch of the TNT 135, Benelli gave us a diverse range of urban environments to put the little bike to the test.
Starting in Essendon, we bounced around the Melbourne suburbs, with a mix of standard commuting, low-speed inner-urban time and a short freeway stint, too, but the highlight for all us revhead journos was time spent on a go-kart track in suburban Oakleigh.
For something like the TNT, a go-kart track was perfect to really throw it around. The surprise for me and others on the launch was that the bikes held up surprisingly well to the abuse we were heaping on them.
A 220mm front disc with a radial-mounted twin-piston caliper slowed the TNT 135 down at a pretty good pace, while the 41mm upside-down fork kept the bike stable when we were throwing it through the corners, improving the front-end rigidity and even helping under braking. It’s funny to think how USD forks were only found on high-end street bikes and race bikes a few decades ago, but they’re now on a bike like this that you can thrash out of the shop for under four grand.
The steel trellis frame felt like it didn’t belong on the bike – and I mean that in a good way. Apart from looking great, it combined with the front end in delivering a rigid and stable feeling.
Although I’m no professional racer, I never felt like I was going to spear off the go-kart track’s straights or lowside it into the corners, thanks to that well-sorted platform. Leaning the bike hard into left-handers saw the side stand scrape, which was a bit scary to begin with, but let’s be honest, learner riders are unlikely to be tipping the TNT 135 into corners as aggressively as we were.
The TNT 135’s wheels follow the pattern set by the Grom in being only 12-inches, which makes for easy manoeuvring at slow speeds, but the trade-off is reduced ability to soak up potholes and other road imperfections.
The only element that lets the TNT 135 down is its tyres. Made by a brand called ‘Cordial,’ you’d hope they’d stick like cordial spilt on a table, but they’re far from that. Built for endurance, not performance, the positive with their unforgiving compound is that LAMS riders won’t have to be changing tyres regularly. But, if you did want to explore what this bike is capable of, a small investment of $250 or so for a pair of stickier tyres will drastically improve the performance of the bike.
Much like the TNT 125, there’s no rider assistance tech on the 135 version besides the ‘Combined Braking System’ (CBS), which is nothing like ABS. All CBS does is apply one piston of the twin-piston front caliper when using the rear brake. I guess it’s helpful for new riders but there’s no real need to leave ABS off the spec list, as the cost for these systems is getting lower and lower each year – even Honda added ABS as an option to their Grom last year.
Bigger than you Think
Due to its size, the TNT 135 may look uncomfortable, especially for the vertically gifted amongst us, but the seating position isn’t too bad, with the wide and tall handlebars delivering the sort of ergonomics you’d expect on a “normal-sized” bike. At 780mm, you don’t sit low to the ground; in fact you’re only 5mm lower than a Ninja 300, which is hardly a compact bike. So, if you think you’ll be sitting under the side mirrors of most cars, you won’t…but it’s not like anyone uses them these days, anyway.
The rear shock is as you would expect from a budget bike, but the spring itself is fairly soft, so you’re not getting thrown out of the seat every time you hit a bump on those undersized wheels. Pre-load adjustment means that, with some playing around, you could set it to something that’s comfortable to ride to work each day, then have a different setting for a bit of fun through some winding roads on the weekend.
Much like the TNT 125, riding with a pillion passenger on the 135 isn’t what you’d expect – surprisingly, it doesn’t sag at the rear or compromise the handling much when you’re travelling two-up.
For all the fun we had at speed on the go-kart track, weaving through city traffic is much closer to what the TNT 135 was made to do. The light clutch means you can feather it while riding at half a km/h and those small wheels help when filtering or just riding through traffic. In fact, a lot of the rider training facilities throughout NSW have begun using the TNT 125 as a replacement for the humble Honda CB125E for their learner courses. If that isn’t a testament to the Benelli’s slow-speed manoeuvrability and reliability, then I don’t know what is.
Despite a few faults, the Benelli TNT 135 is a bike you can easily slot into your life – it’s just so usable. I can’t help but think of turning up to work on one and parking it beside my desk, so I don’t have to think of finding a parking space!
Looks great, rides great and, at $3,990 ride away, I really don’t think there’s much to pick on with the TNT 135. The only thing I’m left thinking is, ‘Why isn’t there some sort of race series for these compact bikes yet?’
2019 Benelli TNT 135 specs
Type: SOHC 4-stroke four-valve single
Bore x Stroke: 54mm x 58.8mm
Compression Ratio: 9.8:1
Engine Start: Electric
Max Power: 9.5kW @ 9,000rpm
Max Torque: 10.8Nm @ 7,000rpm
Final Drive: Chain
Frame: Steel tube, trellis-type
Front Suspension: 35mm USD telescopic fork, 120mm travel
Rear Suspension: Lateral monoshock w/adjustable pre-load, 50mm travel
Front Wheel: 12-inch alloy
Rear Wheel: 12-inch alloy
Front Tyre: 120/70 ZR12
Rear Tyre: 130/70 ZR12
Front Brake: 210mm disc, w/2-piston radial-mount caliper
Rear Brake: 190mm disc, w/single-piston caliper and CBS
LxWxH: 1770mm x 760mm x 1025mm (excl. mirrors)
Ground Clearance: 160mm
Seat Height: 780mm
Kerb Weight: 128.2kg (wet)
Fuel Capacity: 7.2lt
Avg. Fuel Consumption: 2.2lt/100km
Red, Black, White
LAMS APPROVED: Yes
PRICE: $3,990 Rideaway
WARRANTY: 2-Year Unlimited kms, w/2-Year Roadside Assist