Benelli Cafe Racer

Benelli’s Brutal Eye Candy

Test by Tim Sanford. Pics by Keith Muir.

DOES beauty have a place in the world of motorcycles? If you answer ‘yes’ then Benelli has completely missed the point with the 1130 TnT which is, by any standards, one of the ugliest motorcycles ever produced.

You get the impression that a demented designer took a random collection of tubes and angles and experienced a major psychotic event.

But is that so bad?

This motorcycle generates its own publicity: everywhere I rode people stopped and stared at it.

They all agreed it was ugly but almost all of them liked it and that is intelligent styling.

The hardware

It’s difficult, writing about a motorcycle which keeps on throwing images into your head. I can see the bright red sinuous swingarm and the flowing curves of the innovative frame as it winds its way down from the steering head to be anchored into the swingarm pivot point by that unique system of four massive screws. I can see the sharp angles of covers and mirrors and indicators while I should be writing about the number of cylinders in the engine.

The truth is that the Tornado plays tricks on you, overwhelming your senses with its styling while you try to focus on the engineering. In a lesser machine this would be a less-than-ethical way of blinding you to faults but that is most definitely not the case here.

The Benelli is not perfect but the issues I had with it came down to a key which occasionally took rather more persuasion than I feel is necessary to get inserted into the ignition lock. The other issue was I don’t have a Tornado in my shed. At least the key is a folding on e which doesn’t tear up your pockets so that’s a plus. The shed issue is regrettably not so easily resolved.

Put simply, describing the Benelli’s appearance does it no justice, you have to see it to appreciate the full force of the eye-popping styling.

The power unit is a liquid-cooled triple with all of the best characteristics of that configuration. At 1130cc it is a big engine and it has been tuned for mid-range performance rather than top-end and in a naked bike that’s got to be a recipe for a great ride. The gearbox is a cassette-style six-speed and it swaps cogs superbly.

Chassis components of high quality abound on the Tornado. The brakes are by Brembo and are fine examples of the performance you expect when that name is mentioned; suspension is by Marzocchi USD forks up front and an Extreme Technology shock at the rear.

The Ride

Sitting on the TnT gives the weirdest impression that everything is too far away – the instrument pod sits low down behind the tiny beak-like nose cone and the bars sit up high – but the impression doesn’t last. As soon as you ride it, the bike lets you know that this will be a riding experience to remember. Triples growl and the TnT does it with a rather high-pitched note which seems to add to the sense of urgency and makes you want to play tunes with the throttle as you ride along.

In our earlier tests of Benelli triples I commented less than favourably on the throttle response and the lack of overall smoothness of the EFI; that’s now in the past and although the bike still works best if you have a delicate touch on the throttle (read: take lots of care if you’re ham-fisted!) riding it through thick traffic is no longer the nervous activity it could be on earlier models. Nevertheless there are still eleven hundred and thirty ccs down there and they’re all tuned for grunt so to make life easier in traffic the designers have thoughtfully included an interesting device called the Power Button.

Benelli Cafe Racer

This little tool rests discretely on the left of the instrument pod and when used takes the edge off the power delivery so you can ride easy in traffic then button back to full power when you need it. Benelli puts it a little differently: when the light is ‘on’ you have the engine’s full 137bhp (101kW) at your throttle hand and when it’s ‘off’ you only get 112hp (82kW) with a benefit to fuel economy of 10 to 20%.

That’s all good and they also tell you that it’s excellent for traction control in slippery conditions. And while we’re on the subject of power, it’s there in massive, tyre-shredding, wheelie-popping amounts.

Thumb the button, hear the growl and instantly the grin comes on the face but pick your locations because the TnT positively demands to be ridden like a hooligan and there are certain people in this world who take a dim view of such enjoyments. I found freeway riding not too much of a chore with the windsock effect not becoming a real issue until well into ‘go to gaol’ speeds – the nose cone might look like a styling appendage but it actually works very effectively.

In the bends the bike is absolutely superb to ride because it has all the things you need for attacking the twisties: seamless power (and heaps of it!) to rocket you from corner to corner, excellent ground clearance, excellent brakes with loads of power and feel, precise and neutral steering which held any line you chose but would alter at the slightest input from the wide bars. It all adds up to bliss in the bendy bits.

The steering is especially good with the bike falling straight down to the lean angle you select and then staying there almost without conscious rider input, yet with instant response to that input when it came. One of the regrets I have with the test was that I had no opportunity to take the Benelli to a track – if it was that much fun on the road, it would be wonderfully wicked on the track!

The only fault I could find with the ride came from the footpegs: they are rubber-coated but the ends are finished with little round ball-ends which stick up higher than the rubber section. As a result your boots can slip on the balls and when you’re cornering in a hurry that can be disconcerting. If it was my bike I’d be taking a file to the balls and giving them a good roughing and rasping.

Over the better roads in NSW (yes I know where some still exist) the Benelli’s road manners and ride were superb and travel was relaxed; over the lunar landscape which calls itself secondary roads the ride is very much on the firm side and the suspension’s focus is on gripping the road without regard to rider comfort. There is enough adjustment at both front and rear to move the compromise more to the comfort end but please don’t expect a tourer’s ride – you’ll be disappointed.

The last word

The only thing stopping you from buying this bike is your ego: can you handle the attention? Everywhere you go they’ll stop and stare but not at you, they’ll only have eyes for the bike. You’ll be incidental, an ornament to a motorcycle.

If you can handle it your world will be complete with the TnT between your legs.

Benelli Cafe Racer
Benelli Cafe Racer
Benelli Cafe Racer
Benelli Cafe Racer

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