If you’re in the market for a motorcycle like the Honda Grom or Kawasaki Z125 Pro, pump the brakes and take a look at this: the Benelli TnT135. No matter how many times SSR, the US importer and distributor for Benelli, say the 135 isn’t aimed at taking down the Grom and Z, it’s impossible to think otherwise. Priced at $2,499, the TnT undercuts the Kawi by $700 and the Honda by $850 (which jumps to $900 if you’re looking at the 2019 Grom). When you’re talking about price points this low, this is a massive difference.
It’s true: the entry-level, little bike category (meaning displacements hovering in the 125cc range) is fairly stacked these days, with bikes like the Grom, Z125, Kymco K-Pipe 125, and SSR’s own Razkull occupying the field – all of which we’ve tested not once, but twice – but what Benelli has brought to the table is a different approach at attracting both new and existing riders to the brand. It’s done this basically by looking at the field and asking, “Why?”
First and foremost is the engine. It’s convenient to cap engine displacement at 125cc for tiered licensing purposes in Europe, but those rules don’t apply Stateside, and this was a prime opportunity for Benelli to pounce. At 134.7cc, the TnT135’s air/oil-cooled Single represents a nearly 8% bump in displacement compared to its competitors.
The advantages don’t stop there. The fuel-injected 135 Single features a four-valve head with dual spark plugs – twice as many valves and spark plugs as the Honda and Kawasaki. The Benelli’s 9.8:1 compression ratio matches the Kawi’s and is slightly higher than the Honda’s 9.3:1, while throttle body measures 28mm for the 135 – 4mm larger than its Japanese counterparts. In terms of power, Benelli claim 11.3 hp to the rear tire and 7.4 lb-ft of torque at 8500 and 7000 rpm, respectively. We won’t know how accurate that claim is until we get the TnT on our own dyno, but compared to the Grom’s, (horsepower and torque king of our Ankle Biters comparo) 8.3 hp and 7.6 lb-ft at 6400 and 5300 rpm – we’re talking a huge 36% increase in power.
Other niceties for the Benelli include an oil filter (instead of the Grom’s oil strainer), an oil cooler, and a sight glass instead of a dipstick. Apart from the bigger engine, the TnT’s biggest advantage over its competitors is the 5-speed transmission. One of our biggest gripes with all of the 125cc class is the ghost gear we kept reaching for after fourth. With the 135, the extra cog really helps the bike stay with the flow of city traffic, especially as speeds pick up.
From a style perspective, Benelli believes new riders are especially concerned about aesthetics. Being an Italian company (manufactured in China), design inspirations are plenty. Whereas we all looked at the SSR Razkull and thought, “Baby Ducati Monster!”, one look at the 135 will have you thinking, “Baby [MV Agusta] Brutale!” From the trellis frame, to the angled tank, to the sleek tail section, it’s like someone took a Brutale and shrunk it in the dryer. And check out the twin-pipe exhaust – the resemblance here certainly isn’t a coincidence.
There’s no doubt a steel trellis frame wins major style points compared to the steel tube frame found on Groms and Z125s, but Benelli also says its designers engineered a certain amount of flex for the 135 frame, as is done on virtually every other full-size motorcycle. Other bits on the handling front include 41mm inverted fork tubes on the Benelli, compared to 31mm and 30mm inverted forks on the Honda and Kawasaki. In the rear, a preload-adjustable shock, with nearly 5.0 inches of travel works with 4.7 inches in the front. Both are significantly more than the 3.9 and 4.1 inches both the Grom and Z provide.
Big Trouble From Little China
On paper and in person, the Benelli TnT135 looks every bit the answer to the Honda Grom and Kawasaki Z125. After riding it a full day around town, through busy city streets, open coastal roads, and twisty mountain curves, I’m even more convinced. With its 12-inch wheels and 47.8-inch wheelbase, nobody’s going to confuse the 135 for a full-size motorcycle. Despite its 30.7-inch seat height, even the tiniest of riders needn’t worry about putting both feet firmly on the ground.
It’s a small bike, so expect the cockpit to be a bit tight compared to a full-size motorcycle. That said, my 5-foot, 8-inch frame never felt cramped. Bars are plenty high enough not to interfere with knees, and fuel tank cut-outs are appropriately placed for knee caps to tuck into.
Being fuel injected, there’s no need to worry about fuel petcocks or choke levers – simply press the starter button and the 135 comes to life. The exhaust note is far from menacing, but the TnT wins major cool points for the twin pipes out the back. Gauges are rather spartan with your typical readouts: analog tach, digital speedo, and digital fuel meter. The gauge cluster has a section intended for a gear indicator, but the 135 doesn’t have one.
Click it into first, and the little TnT moves along easily. The gears are relatively evenly spaced, and thanks to the fifth cog, the little engine isn’t revving anywhere near its 10,000 rpm redline as long as you keep it around 50 mph or lower. A soft limiter is set at 73 mph, but with the help of a draft and a decline, I was able to see 75 mph pop up on the speedo for just a fleeting moment. On an even road, the Benelli can hold steady up to 70 mph, depending on how hefty you are.
In normal riding, one doesn’t feel like the Benelli is a moving road block. It can hold the flow of traffic easily and split through gaps in traffic you wouldn’t otherwise dream about slicing; though you do have to plan ahead if thoughts of overtaking other vehicles is on your mind. On the handling front, the 12-inch wheels mean changing direction requires just a mere thought and the bike moves. It’s extremely quick to steer, though the smaller wheels sacrifice a bit of stability compared to 17’s when cornering at higher speeds. Quite surprising was the suspension, as it was well compliant for the majority of bumps on the road, but also provided an impressive amount of composure while navigating some bends. Stopping power was never an issue, as the twin-piston caliper clamps on the single 220mm front disc with plenty of bite. If I were to nitpick, adjustable levers and ABS would be nice, but for $2,499 I’ll gladly look the other way.
The Real Deal
Unfortunately, our 50-mile ride didn’t allow us the chance to refill gas tanks, so mpg numbers will have to wait until the full review. However, it’s fair to say the Benelli won’t break the bank in fuel costs, nor will you constantly be needing to look for the nearest station. At 1.9 gallons, the 135’s tank is bigger than the Grom’s (1.45 gallons) and practically matches the Kawasaki.
Needless to say, I’m genuinely impressed with the TnT135. For an entry level motorcycle, it performs as well – if not better than – any bike in its class. Its engine is a gem, the five-speed transmission is much appreciated, and at $2,499, the bang-for-the-buck-o-meter is ridiculous. Benelli could easily sell this bike for $500 more.
If there are some nits to pick, then the TnT is far from the lightest bike in the class. It’s actually the heaviest, if the claimed curb weight of 266 lbs is accurate. For comparison, the TnT is a bit of a porker compared to our measured weights of 226-lb for the Kawasaki and 231-lb for the Honda. Possibly more troubling is the lack of dealers. SSR says its product is in 275 dealers across the country, with more being added constantly, but that still pales in comparison to the dealer network the Japanese brands enjoy.
Of course, this leads to the elephant in the room for many people. Yes, the TnT135 is manufactured in China. Yes, many Chinese motorcycles are complete crap. The TnT135 is not one of them. Benelli, and SSR by extension, are out to prove Chinese motorcycles can compete in the market. In fact, company reps are quick to point to Honda’s history and how it was initially a laughing stock in the industry. Same goes for Hyundai/Kia on the automotive side. Today, all three companies are turning heads and have either changed, or are changing, public opinions about manufacturing overseas. SSR wants to follow in those footsteps, and if you’ve read any of our reviews of SSR or Benelli products in the past, you’ll see how impressed we’ve been already.
There are limited supplies of TnT135s in dealers now, with the main shipment coming at the end of April, 2018. As for us, we MOrons love these little bikes, and you can rest assured we have something silly planned the moment we can get the TnT135, Grom, and Z125 in our grubby hands.
|2018 Benelli TNT135 Specifications|
|Engine Type||134.7cc air/oil-cooled Single cylinder, SOHC, four valves per cylinder|
|Bore and Stroke||54.0mm x 58.8mm|
|Horsepower||11.3 hp @ 8500 rpm (Claimed)|
|Torque||7.4 lb-ft @ 7000 rpm (Claimed)|
|Front Suspension||41mm inverted fork|
|Rear Suspension||Preload adjustable single shock|
|Front Brake||Single 220mm discs with two-piston caliper|
|Rear Brake||190mm single disc, single piston caliper|
|Seat Height||30.7 in.|
|Curb Weight||266.0 (claimed)|
|Fuel Capacity||1.9 gal|
|Warranty||12 months, 12,000 miles|