Most people would like an Italian love affair in their life, but not everyone wants, or can afford, some of the exotic models. Benelli’s TNT R160 offers the Euro naked bike buyer an attractively priced option.
It arrives at $19,990 ($22,490 ride away) and the Cafe Racer version with gold-coloured panels, suede seat and a black frame instead of red is $21,990 ($24,590 ride away).
The closest competitors are the Aprilia Tuono ($21,990) and Ducati Monster 1100 Evo ($17,990), which have more hi-tech gear such as ABS and traction control.
Instead, it has a power control button which remaps the engine and the fly-by-write throttle for greater response in the “on” position and smoother response in the “off” position. Total power output is the same in both modes.
It also comes with a lot of trick bits and pieces such as massive 50mm Marzocchi forks, Sachs rear shock, a dry slipper clutch with hydraulic action and braided lines, Brembo calipers, carbon fibre fenders, wave discs and a quality build.
A brilliant innovation is that if you get tired of the colour, you can swap the four panels for just $995 and have a very different looking bike.
The R160 adds a sport calibrated exhaust with performance headers and a performance ECU which opens up the engine, providing quicker and more fiery response from the right wrist. It also provides an aural delight that only an Italian with three cylinders could provide. The exhaust crackle on the overrun and when backing off is like a wild cracker night.
It might look compact and weigh just a shade over 200kg, but it feels a bigger bike than the Ducati or Aprilia.
There is only a slight reach to the wide bars and the seat is a nice dish saddle that is firm, but comfortable all the same.
The instrument pod is pushed forward inside the tiny front cowl with its minute flyscreen, making it easier to see when riding and the tiny screen provides a surprising amount of protection with minimal buffeting.
The LCD instruments provide a lot of information such as ambient temperature, odo, trip, clock and even a lap timer. To toggle between the info screens you use the ignition switch which can be fidgety.
Let out the moderately heavy clutch and it stumbles forward, needing a little more revs than you would expect. At slow speeds through the traffic it feels quite rough and abrasive with a lot more “grain” in the engine than most triples.
It’s not happy in commuter traffic and it’s not until we reach 4000 revs that it smooths out and with just a few hundred more revs there is a sudden lurch forward as the power comes on in a linear fashion all the way through to the rev limit around 9500rpm.
I leave the power control in the performance position and it responds rapidly. The only time I turn it off is for slow-speed roundabouts where you need smoother power delivery.
Despite having wide handlebars, the turning circle is surprisingly big. The problem is that it hits the shroud around the deep and cumbersome ignition key recess.
There is no vibration through the bars to tire your hands or blur images in the mirrors which are among the best on a naked bike. They are wide with a clear rear vision, unobscured by your elbows.
The dry clutch is not as noisy as some and it provides a firm and sure engagement each time, but is a little difficult to feather.
Gear selection is faultless with no false neutrals. It doesn’t have a quickshifter, but it’s still a sweet unit to use. Keep the revs high for maximum enjoyment.
At highway speeds in sixth gear, the rev counter shows 3500rpm which means you will have to drop a gear for passing duties. Under hard acceleration off the mark, the front wheel will easily skip the tarmac and not come down until you grab third or fourth.
It tips into corners with ease thanks to a steep rake and it holds a good line through the bend by way of the rigid frame.
Steering feels very responsive with a quick change of direction. Some may find it a little twitchy but on the highway it feels very stable.
The ergonomics, wind protection, engine speed and a generous 16-litre tank combine to make this a good all-day rider.
Hit the hinterland roads and the fully adjustable front and rear suspension will soak up all but the most abrupt bumps. The fully adjustable suspension means it should suit all sizes of rider and riding styles.
The absence of traction control is not a big concern as the standard power control setting works to avoid sudden loss of traction on the rear.
However, ABS would be handy. I managed to lock the back under hard braking because the rear lever lacks feel. Rear skids are controllable; the more dangerous is a front-wheel skid. But with braided lines there is plenty of feel to avoid lock-ups.
This is a bike that will stand out from the pack, turn heads and put a big grin on your face when you break from the traffic and hit your favourite roads.