Why are these things so popular? I'd suppose it's a combination of things. It's fun to work a throttle with your shoulder and elbow in the knowledge that there's bugger-all scary power behind it. There's silly giggles to be had banging around the backstreets on a street-legal clown bike. And they're cheap as chips, so why the heck not?
In fact, I'm probably being way too cynical about the weenie-bike movement. There's nothing wrong with people having good, old-fashioned giggly fun on motorbikes. I just can't pretend I've ever been the target market. So, with my cards firmly on the table, let's take a look at the latest entry to the field: the Benelli Tnt125.
Designed in Italy, built in China like the BN302, the TnT125 is aimed squarely at the Honda and Kawasaki efforts, and designed to bludgeon them on power, specifications, looks and price tag.
Where the Grom makes a piddling 9.6 horsepower and the Z125 embarrasses itself with just 9.5, the TnT125 flexes on these fools with a gushing torrent of 11 proud ponies, achieved by a higher-revving, single cylinder, 125 cc engine. Mind you, if you're really keeping score, the power advantage does get gobbled up by its heavier, 121 kg (267 lb) kerb weight.
It's got combined braking, and an approachable 780 mm seat height in between the Grom's super-low 760 mm and the Z125's 805 mm. Where the others use comedy-rated 30 and 31 mm forks, the TnT gives you fat 41 mm bouncers that do the job nicely. And if badassery counts for anything in this category, give me the Benelli's double-barreled shotgun exhaust, funky trellis frame and Henry J. Waternoose headlight over the anonymous Japanese designs on the other two any day of the week.
Of course, maybe badassery is counter to the point here, and perhaps Benelli should have fitted a honky horn with a rubber squeezey-bulb and a basket on the handlebars to play up the "kooky, zany hijinks" aspect of these things. I don't know. Ask a millennial.
For the Australian press launch, we were treated to a day on the TnT125 at the T.U.K.E. go kart track in South Morang, outside Melbourne. An excellent setting for what AMCN's Kel Buckley dubbed the TnT TT, as a bunch of journo goons and a couple of card-carrying nutbags from the Benelli Australia team lined up for an afternoon of full-contact tomfoolery.
Rubbing is racing, they say, and there was plenty of rubbing going on, riders elbowing each other out of the way for prime corner entry points, grabbing the backs of pants for a bit of extra straight-line acceleration, and lunging for each other's kill switches at any opportunity. It was a hoot.
The TnTs were beaut fun for this kind of action, dragging pegs and kickstands all over the place and encouraging violent, carefree use of all control inputs. With just 11 horsepower on tap, there's no penalty for whacking the throttle wide open in the middle of a corner, so you do, and on a tight track like this you've gotta pick your moments to work the 5-speed gearbox, because you're just about always in a corner.
By far the largest goon on these small bikes, I think it's fair to say I suffered a considerable power-to-weight penalty on the straights, but it's not like that's where the fast lads were putting tenths on me anyway, and I wasn't the only one trying to Fred-Flintstone their way onto the straight out of the slow hairpin just before it.
The TnT125 is comfy to sit on, and easy to steer and control. It's excellent fun to bang around the place. Lead-booted hooligan Chas Hern from Benelli Australia took every opportunity to demonstrate that the linked brake system and soft rear pedal doesn't stop you from locking up the back end and backing it into corners. And when I found it a little tough to stunt, I jumped off and manned the video camera while Chas and Roadrider's Spencer Leech gleefully showcased the TnT's ability to wheelie and stoppie in more competent hands.
I didn't take it out on the road, but I'm led to believe that if you stick your chin on the handlebar, point it down a hill and stuff yourself with Mexican food and high-fiber fruit muesli, you can get bursts of 100-110km/h out of it on the freeway until your visor mists over and your leathers inflate past the point of aerodynamic efficiency.
That doesn't mean I'd recommend this bike for highway riding. Like the Honda and Kawasaki, it's a back street chuckle bucket, best suited to commuting, doing burnouts in the kitchens of rental properties and trying to wobble around the yard with five of your mates stacked on top of it.
Build quality seems solid, much like the BN302, and if you feel like blinging your TnT up, there's a series of sexy performance parts ready to roll.
I've saved the best news for last: the TnT125, despite its better suspension, extra power and dashing Italian good looks, retails for less than the Honda or the Kawasaki. Initially, it will be retailed in select global markets such as the United Kingdom, Czech Republic, India and Australia, where it is priced at AU$3,250 before on-road costs. That pips the Honda by a hundred bucks and undercuts the Z125 by almost a grand. What's more, there's a 135cc model coming that bumps up the power.
I came away from this launch with a big smile on my face. Given the choice between one of these minibikes and a scooter, there's no doubt which would be more fun. Mind you, there's also no doubt which would be more practical. But there's a lot to be said for a bit of warrior spirit, and I think Benelli has put forward the most compelling case in this wacky market segment. Shine on, you tiny, crazy diamond.
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