If you’re in the market for a unique sportbike, the TNT Cafe Racer might be what your looking for.
It’s a gorgeous Saturday morning in August, the smell of the morning dew fills my nostrils with each deep breath, and I’m riding a special section of twisty tarmac on southern Vancouver Island. Under me is the TNT Café Racer, a torque-heavy 135-hp triple with street fighter styling that its manufacturer, Benelli, says was inspired by “racing bikes of the past.” Its tube steel frame and geometry mask the bike’s rather portly 199 kg (claimed) dry weight as it hits apex after apex with astonishing ease. The precise six-speed transmission feels perfectly mated to these conditions as the second gear selection has to be the best ratio for tight and twisty roads I’ve experienced in a street bike application. In fact, I reflected later at a coffee shop over a cup of sugary Earl Grey, it seems I rarely shifted the bike out of second gear all morning.
The Café Racer is undoubtedly a unique motorcycle in countless ways with styling that will put you in a love/hate scenario. Luckily for me, the constable I had a rather long chat with that morning loved it. No other bike I’ve tested to date has attracted quite so much attention when parked in downtown Victoria.
The incorporation of carbon fibre, trick components and attention to detail can be found throughout, and in many ways help to understand the exclusive cachet the Benelli marque enjoys. But, as I usually do, I leave the subjective matter of styling to your judgement, noting that editor Campbell and I were at opposite ends of the table on this one. Let’s just say he found the Italian styling somewhat less appealing than I did.
Not only do the pieces look phenomenal, with deep burgundy colouring, but they complement the 1419mm package in the best way possible—they work! Combined, they provide exceptional feedback through the 190-series rear tire and 43mm inverted forks.
All this mated to 320mm front disc brakes pinched with Brembo calipers and you’ve got a back road scratcher that’s hard to beat.
For the mechanically minded, the three-cylinder configuration is touted in some circles as the best possible for a motorcycle. The 1130cc liquid-cooled, twelve-valve engine boils a claimed 86 ft/lbs. torque (at 6750 rpm) from the very base of the rev range and continues its long-legged pavement rippling deluge to the rev limiter.
Benelli assigns the TNT designation to three of its models: the TNT 1130, Sport and Cafe Racer. A distinguishing element of the TNT variation is the inclusion of an engine control device that is accessed by pushing a button on the dash—a rather stark instrument display in the Cafe Racer’s case. This button, according to Benelli literature, allows the rider to select between free power and controlled power, “making it possible to fully enjoy the torque features and engine power; and controlled power for better control of the motorcycle in poor traction conditions.”
This online tech briefing is somewhat vague regarding the system’s details, and I must confess I’m still not clear on the intended effect—there seemed to be no discernible performance difference whether the switch was set at the on or off position. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough, but the technology doesn’t begin to scratch at Suzuki’s version of adjustable engine management, bestowed first upon its 2007 GSX-Rs. The Suzuki system is also switch activated, but it features three markedly different power modes to choose from—each offers immediate performance changes.
All that notwithstanding, the Cafe Racer’s fueling and overall electronics are very good though not quite as seamless as its Japanese counterparts. Moreover, there were some typically Italian quirks to deal with: it’s a cranky, reluctant starter in the morning, and for some reason the instruments and digital display stopped working midway through a ride and never came back on. We assume it was merely an electrical connection.
All in all though, the Benelli delivers on several levels. If you’re in the market for a unique sportbike with a distinct sound and performance levels few can surpass, then
this is it.
by Oliver Jervis Canadian Biker #237 Photos: D. Stemmler