The search for my next motorcycle started soon after my last one, a Yamaha R15v2, which I fondly called Zurina, got stolen in Bangalore. This was in February 2014. I never got the motorcycle back, so I was managing my rides by borrowing friends’ motorcycles or renting one every now and then. I knew that I would eventually want my own motorcycle as soon as I got the moolah sorted.
The Selection Process
To start with, it had to be an upgrade to the previous motorcycle. A pillion-friendly naked tourer, something that could munch miles all day long and not stress me out, is what I was looking for. When I started off my search, the KTM Duke siblings, the Honda CBR 250, the Kawasaki Z250 and even the Royal Enfield GT Continental were the contenders. I was also hoping that the Mahindra Mojo and the TVS–BMW offering would see day light so that I would have more options. Keeping my budget in mind, there was nothing else I could consider. Having the Yamaha R15v2 as a benchmark, this wasn’t going to be an easy task.
Things I was looking for.
- It should be an all-rounder, something I could use in the city daily and could tour effortlessly all day.
- Should be comfortable to ride long distances, preferably the riding stance should not be too aggressive. Had to be pillion friendly.
- Should not feel stressed cruising in triple digit speeds.
- Good brakes and handling. ABS was not something I was looking for.
- Good tires which would work well in dry as well as wet conditions and manage well some occasional off road too.
- The build quality had to be good.
- The motorcycle had to look good, but at the same time be inconspicuous.
I had already ridden the RE GT Continental and, even though it felt good to ride, I could not connect with it. I had rented out the Duke 200 for the BikeNomads Annual Meet in November, 2014. It was peppy and a lot of fun to ride. However, the 10 liter fuel tank and uncomfortable seats were a turn off. The limited range between refills and my sore bums were enough to strike it off the list. Honda stopped making the CBR 250 and I was tired of waiting for the 300. Kawasaki was another story altogether. My friend and I visited their showroom probably three-four times, but they did not have test ride motorcycles available for either Z250 or Ninja 300. The Kawasaki showroom sales people are probably the least interested bunch I have ever seen. Finally after pulling some strings through our network, we managed to get test rides for both the bikes. The Z250 was the one displayed at the showroom and it looked nice with the z800ish head lights and the green tone. But the ride was a disappointment. The power delivery was late and did not meet my requirements for the touring aspect. Add to that the seating, which was not exactly what I would term as comfortable. The Ninja 300 we got was a motorcycle being used on race tracks. It was pretty beaten up, and was missing rear view mirrors and rear foot pegs. Nonetheless, the bike was fun to ride and had a crazy acceleration. Pillion comfort and the price factor kind of kept this choice on hold.
In between all this, DSKBenelli created a flutter by launching five motorcycles, and the TNT 300, with its naked street format, managed to catch my attention. As I started researching it online, I realized that almost every Indian reviewer was gaga over the sound it made. It was as if most were sold the moment they heard it roar. Digging for more details got me to a post in Cycle World, which had a good detailed review on the bike. Also managed to find a very nice comprehensive review by Shumi from Overdrive. I decided to test ride the TNT 300. I told my friend, who had come along, to not let me buy the bike only for the sound. 😉
The dealership managed by Vinayaka Cars Pvt. Ltd. was very pleasant with a very good sales staff. They knew their motorcycles and were more than willing to answer all my queries. I spent a good hour scrutinizing the motorcycle from every angle. I was pretty impressed with the build quality, something I was a little skeptical about as the motorcycles are manufactured in China. The TNT300, if I may put it this way, was over engineered. Benelli is owned by QJ and they have partnered with DSK in India to get the Benelli range of motorcycles into India.
Finally I decided to take a test ride. The motorcycle was a black one with a red trellis frame, shod in Pirelli Angel ST tires. It was quite inconspicuous till the engine was fired up, when the nice growl of the engine/air intake caught my attention. It actually sounded like an inline 4. This is a 300cc parallel twin, by the way. Like I mentioned earlier, I will get to the acoustics later. I loved the fact that the weight of the motorcycle was very well balanced and you would not realize how heavy it is as long as you are in motion. Tipping the scales at close to 196 kgs kerb weight, this was way heavier than others in the segment. The engine with close to 38 BHP of power and 27 NM of torque had a linear power delivery and I found that I could putter around in city traffic and do good speeds on open roads with ease without the engine feeling stressed at any point. I adjusted very easily to the motorcycle and found the upright seating with slightly rear set footpegs quite ergonomic. The seats were comfy for the rider as well as the pillion. It almost matched all my requirements for my next motorcycle. I left out mentioning ABS because I did not want one on my motorcycle. Somehow, I trust my instincts more than electronics. On that note, the dual disc brakes upfront and the single disc doing its job at the back were confidence inspiring. They have a very responsive feel and do a great job at getting this heavy machine to a halt from triple digit speeds. The brake levers are adjustable for reach and can be tinkered with to suite your need.
Extensive research online post the test ride, and endless discussions on xbhp, with my biker buddies (Santa and Sanket) and partner in crime (Poornima) led me to confirm the motorcycle which would fill the void left by Zurina.
Selection done, I had to wait for three weeks for the motorcycle to be delivered. Due to some delay in imports, it got extended by one more week. What I liked was that the sales team kept me in the loop about the delay and did not wait for me to call and enquire about the status.
Finally, I got the call to come and pick up my motorcycle. The dealership guys made me stand on a podium to take delivery. It’s a custom they follow it seems and, I would not deny it, it did make me feel special. I christened her Aarini, the adventurous one.
The first service was due at 1000kms and the run-in was 1600kms. Manufacturer recommendation was to keep the engine running below 5000rpms during the run-in period. I was too eager to open her up and managed to finish my run-in within a matter of weeks. The motorcycle did not have any issues all this while and performed well even in the stop-and-go traffic in Bangalore.
This would be a good time to mention the heat it generates. The meter console has a temperature display and the fan kicks in once the temperature crosses 92–93 degrees Celsius. The heat is evident but not too much. The fan does a decent job of sending the hot air towards the side away from the legs. This happens only when you are not moving much. As soon as you are able to get a clear road and get moving, the temperature drops and you don’t feel any heat on your legs.
The bottom mount exhaust was another area of worry for me. I was worried it might touch the ground, especially over nasty bumps we find here in India. However, I have had only a couple of instances with the pillion sitting where it touched the bump. You just need to be a little careful when going over un-scientific bumps with a pillion.
The mirrors may need to be adjusted to suit your height and riding posture. Once adjusted, they are very functional. The ends of the mirrors jut out beyond the handlebars, something you might need to get used to.
The headlights were good but did not provide adequate throw, even after adjusting high and low beams. You can adjust both individually by yourself and need not go to the service center.
Run-in completed and this purring cat became a roaring lion. The induction roar beyond 5000 rpm is just mind boggling. Yes, the induction roar. Most people mention the exhaust note to be really nice and forget that the air induction also plays a good role in the symphony this machine creates. Both together definitely make this motorcycle the most harmonious parallel twin in the world. Unlike other LOUD motorcycles, this one did not tire you out, even on a long run.
The Pirelli Angel ST rubbers complement the motorcycle well and perform very well on dry as well as wet tarmac conditions. On the occasional off road runs through slush and gravel, the tires hold well and motorcycle is very much in control. To say the least, I am pretty impressed by these tires, which come as stock on the Benelli.
The seats are very comfy, unlike the other bikes in the segment, even for the pillion. You can do long rides effortlessly with good distances between the butt breaks complementing the 16 liter fuel tank, which gives it a decent range of around 350 kms.
The windblast is evident considering it’s a naked motorcycle. However, the weight helps keep it planted and doesn’t shudder even with crosswinds at speeds of over 140kmph. I have managed around 157kmph with a pillion and around 172kmph on the odo while doing it single. My phone GPS based app showed a speed of around 164kmph when I did the latter, an expected speedo error.
Kon Si Bike Hai? Kitne Ki Hai? Kitni Deti Hain?
The most common questions I get asked, by family, friends and strangers alike.
I have been asked why I did not buy a car instead. I have had to explain the origin and existence of Benelli, as not many know about the Italian, now Chinese owned, brand. I have been told bluntly, “My bike gives four times the mileage you get, even though it’s way cheaper.” All I do is give that sheepish grin, knowing that they would not get it.
On the efficiency bit, I have got the worst in city stop-and-go traffic, around 22kmpl and the best on highways, where it touched 30kmpl. Pretty decent for a 300 cc parallel twin. I have been using fuel from Shell as much as possible but switch to other brands enroute my long trips. It definitely runs smoother and cooler when running on Shell.
I faced only one issue till date and I can’t really blame the bike for it. I managed to damage both my wheels. Yes both. Let me explain, I was doing around 70-80kmph and entering an underpass near IISC in Bangalore early in the morning. There are two grilled drains that run across the underpass, roughly 1.5 feet wide. One of the sections of the grill was broken and I took a hit. I had a pillion with me too. Now before you jump to conclusions, No, I did not fall. No, the wheels did not break apart like we saw in the case of some Dukes and Pulsars. I rolled to a stop to the side of the road almost 20-25 feet after the underpass. I started slowing down when I started feeling the front to be heavy, a sure sign of the air leaking out of the tires. On inspection I realized that both my front and rear alloys had taken the impact and they were bent on the left side. The impact was nasty enough to even tear the front tire. You must be wondering why I mentioned this incident in an ownership review.
Well, I got to test the RSA – Road Side Assistance. Yes, a one year RSA support is included when you purchase the motorcycle. I called the number and the vehicle was on the way to the service center within an hour. It would be good to mention that DSKBenelli has tied up with Rescue Vehicle Services. They did an excellent job in handling the motorcycle properly and waited at the service center till it was received by the technician there. The Service Manager was kind enough to open the service center on a Sunday to take in the motorcycle.
Spare inventory and warehousing was still in progress, and so my spares took around two weeks to arrive. DSKBenelli needs to work this bit out. The insurance guys took another seven days for the payout. The repair was cashless so it’s kind of easy on you in case of any such misfortunes.
I have done close to 7000kms on my TNT300, and I have not really got much to complain about, except that the service intervals are too frequent and expensive. They are scheduled after every 4000kms and cost close to 5000(INR) bucks, including the consumables.
So that kind of sums up my first few months with Aarini. Follow me here for more posts on mods and ownership views in the days to come.