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Dynamite on wheels

It's not everyday that you are forced to check your enthusiasm on seeing a beautifully crafted and powerful motorcycle. The last time I rode a Benelli bike (the 899), I was left a bit disappointed with its power and kerb weight, so this time I cautiously approached the Italian company's flagship bike, the TNT R. But you have to admit it, Benelli knows how to make its bikes look special, and this 1,131 cc beast follows the same stylish tradition. It is definitely a crowd puller with its exposed tubular trellis frame that leave onlookers with an awed look on their faces.

If you are a fan of the Transformers franchise, then you can easily associate the TNT R with the battle-hardened Decepticons. The bike flexes muscles that even Devastator would be proud to flaunt. The aggressive headlamps certainly make you imagine a menacing Decepticon gunning down the road and bearing down hard on you. The deception is complete because Benelli has smartly integrated the radiator with the fuel tank extensions on both the sides, leaving you with the feeling that the bike will suddenly unravel itself and become a hulking mechanical monster on two feet.

I climb onto the saddle and push the start button. The underseat carbon-fibre exhaust gives out a throaty loud noise that will put a smile on your face - you look around and find that you have got everyone's undivided attention. This old-school exhaust note is a welcome surprise to me as most of the new bikes now emit a refined synthesised sound that lacks character. Thankfully, not the TNT R.

Benelli TNT R I twist the throttle gently, and cautiously ride out into the city traffic. I realise how comfortable the split seat is. It provides good cushion and support for the spine, making riding easy and stress free. The start-and-stop traffic does not faze the TNT and it patiently negotiates the chaos and crowd. Riding the Benelli at a crawling speed is quite simple, helped in no little measure by the fact that it only weighs 205 kg. That makes it one of the lightest bikes in its segment. After successfully dancing through the traffic, I hit the highway where I let the bike unleash its 155 bhp of raw power. A word of caution here. When you plan to twist the throttle, make sure you are sitting properly and holding on tight - the TNT R throws you back without a warning, which also proves that there is hardly a lag in acceleration. This feeling can be quite addictive, but the bike is not just about insane speeds. We - the bike and I - didn't want to go overboard on the highway, so kept ourselves cruising at 200 kmph. To be honest, the Benelli's hitting such speeds with so much ease isn't really much of a surprise, because it is, after all, a 1-litre bike.

I wanted to see how the Italian machine would respond to the meandering roads of Lavasa. The beauty about these roads is that they have ample turning space, a big advantage when you have a lumbering bike that sweeps past the turns. The bike is well-balanced, provides great precision in steering and there's a certain balance to the ride as it take the curves. The brilliant chassis takes your confidence to quite another level. The Pirelli tyres prove simply majestic with their relentless grip on the turns, making you feel that you are invincible.

Thankfully, unlike the Benelli 899, the TNT R provides a much better ride as it soaks up the series of bumps on the road. The 899 had proved quite taxing as it crashed into potholes and jarred your spine nastily. This is a major plus point for Benelli - the TNT R is a better ride in Indian conditions. You do feel the undulations on the road, but nothing significant enough to crib about.

Benelli TNT R Hitting some serious numbers on the speedometer means deceleration is equally important. The twin 320 mm disc brakes in the front and the single 240 mm disc brake at the rear have great bite that allows the bike to come to a standstill without much fuss. One thing that I have a problem with is the heavy dry clutch, which is overly sensitive and ends up stalling the bike more often than I would have liked.

The TNT R is easily Benelli's best bike by a mile. I was very impressed by its capabilities as it is a brilliant handler. Unlike the other Benellis, the TNT R does not feel heavy, not even when you are leaning to go past curves. The versatile, 1,131 cc engine is a gem - it patiently negotiates slow traffic and then literally takes off on highways, jetting past everything in sight. What is a feather in the cap for Benelli is the TNT R's riding position; it is not very aggressive, and so does not take a toll on the body even as the comfort remains uncompromised. As a package, it is an excellent bike, but at Rs 11.81 lakh for a fairly unknown brand, I am not too sure if there will be many takers. I could be wrong, because the Italian bike has a lot going for it.

BENELLI TNT 1130 R
Engine: 1,131 cc
Power: 155 bhp @ 10,200 rpm
Torque: 120 Nm @ 8,400 rpm
Price: Rs 11.81 lakh
Arup Das is features editor at AutoX