Dual flank-mounted radiators keep the engine cool and shift weight forward, but nothing ca
Benelli insists that its TNT triples aren’t named after an explosive compound, but after riding the Italian company’s latest streetfighter, it’s clear the moniker is more than just coincidence. Because the newly launched R160 version of the TNT—which stands for Tornado Nuda Tre, not Tri-Nitro-Toluene—more than lives up to the expectations of its name.
At a time when manufacturers are building increasingly refined motorcycles, the new Benelli is refreshingly rough-edged. This machine is the polar opposite of the Aprilia V4R Tuono, which tempers its outstanding power with an electronic safety net. Picture Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, and you get the idea. The Benelli TNT R160, by contrast, is all Daniel Craig in that it cleans up well but is barely house-trained.
The R160 tag comes from the new model’s claimed horsepower figure, which was achieved through extensive tuning of the 1131cc three-cylinder engine. Engineers started by boosting compression from 11.2:1 to 12.5:1 by fitting domed pistons from the Tornado 1130 sportbike and peeling a layer from the laminated head gasket. More aggressive camshafts with higher lift and greater duration were also installed, along with shorter intake trumpets and a high-flow air filter for improved breathing at high rpm.
The resulting 19-bhp gain pushes peak output to a claimed 158 bhp at 10,000 rpm. Redline resides at 10,200 rpm, up from the previous motor’s 9800-rpm limit. Torque output is only slightly higher than before, but the 88.5 lb.-ft. produced at 8400 rpm is more than ample. That’s tractor torque! Power is extracted via the same six-speed gearbox as before, but instead of the stock bike’s cable-operated wet clutch, the R160 has been fitted with a hydraulically actuated dry clutch.
The TNT family’s basic chassis design is unchanged on the R160, but the Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock are now fully adjustable and wheelbase has been kicked out to 56.8 inches to help counter the inevitable wheelies. Claimed curb weight is a somewhat hefty 474 lbs., and the bike is stopped by Brembo brakes. Wheels are aluminum five-spokes cast by Brembo to Benelli’s design, and carry Michelin Pilot Power tires. Stock fitment for the rear is a 190/55-17, but Benelli also offers a massive 200/55 plus a lighter-steering 180/55—your call.
Throwing a leg over the R160’s seat reveals an upright-yet-sporty stance that’s more MV Agusta Brutale than Ducati Monster. Any resemblance to any other motorcycle vanishes as soon as you thumb the starter button, though. Even with all that torque available to carry you forward, the engine’s enthralling exhaust note encourages you to shift more than is necessary just so you can blip the throttle on downshifts. On the other hand, mechanical engine noise has been reduced compared to previous Benelli triples. The whirrs and clicks and camchain rattle have all been dialed-out, presumably as part of Chinese owner Qianjiang’s ongoing refinement process.
The R160’s performance lives up to its name. Third-gear wheelies are a fact of life if you gas the Benelli hard and neglect to cover the rear brake pedal. With the extra horses, power delivery is a little more layered than on the stock motor, with 5000 rpm marking the gateway to impressive top-end performance. And when the needle hits seven grand, the TNT goes mental!
A balance shaft minimizes vibrations at lower revs, but loses efficacy at higher revs. The resultant tingling sensation is annoying, but pales in comparison to the irritating character of the new dry clutch. You get used to the clatter it makes, but the heavy pull and grabby feel aren’t something you can adjust to.
Still, with such a smooth-shifting gearbox you don’t need to use the clutch for upshifts as you accelerate out of corners. Benelli’s R&D team did a good job of calming the TNT’s handling; not all naked bikes are as inherently well behaved as this one. Even without a steering damper and with all those wheelies, stability is excellent. While less convenient for urban streetfighting due to limited steering lock and that stiff clutch, this really is a great bike for twisty roads, where that combination of meaty torque and deft steering lets you hustle the bike between hairpins faster than almost anything else on the road. Factory suspension settings are close to perfect, but the same can’t be said for the brakes, which grab dangerously hard until properly warmed-up.
Conceived as a way to mark Benelli’s centenary—celebrated in 2011—the TNT R160 is certainly a dominant figure in the streetfighter segment. With a price tag of over $20,000 at current exchange rates, it’s also one of the more expensive options out there. Only the Brutale 1190RR is pricier, and the more user-friendly Speed Triple costs a lot less. But for those who want something different and totally uninhibited, the TNT R160 delivers.