AC Schnitzer Adler Aermacchi AJP AJS Alfer Aprilia Ariel Arlen Ness ATK Avinton / Wakan Bajaj Bakker Barigo Benelli Beta Big Bear Big Dog Bimota BMS Choppers BMW Borile Boss Hoss Boxer Brammo Britten BRP Cam-Am BSA Buell / EBR Bultago Cagiva Campagna CCM Confederate CR&S Daelim Derbi Deus DP Customs Drysdale Ducati Dunstall Excelsior Exile Cycles Fischer GASGAS Ghezzi Brian Gilera GIMA Harley-Davidson Harris Hartford HDT USA Hesketh Highland Honda Horex HPN Husaberg Husqvarna Hyosung Indian Italjet Jawa Junak Kawasaki KTM KYMCO Laverda Lazareth Lehman Trikes LIFAN Magni Maico Mash Matchless Matt Hotch Megelli Midual Mission Molot Mondial Morbidelli MotoCzysz Moto Guzzi Moto Morini Motus Mr Martini MTT Münch MV Agusta MZ / MuZ NCR Norton NSU OCC Paton Paul Jr. Designs Piaggio Revival Cycles Rickman Ridley Roehr Roland Sands Royal Enfield Rucker Sachs Saxon Shaw Speed Sherco Sunbeam Suzuki SYM SWM Titan TM Racing Triumph Ural Velocette Vespa Victory Vilner Vincent Viper VOR Voxan Vyrus Walt Siegl Walz Wrenchmonkees Wunderlich XTR / Radical Yamaha Zero
Benelli Tre 900S Tornado
Benelli is a legendary name, with many racing successes in the past, but in recent years, it has been better known for its scooters. The appearance of the Tornado Tre 900 superbike in 1999 changed that. It uses unconventional design philosophies aimed at producing a fast, aerodynamic sportsbike, both for the road and World Superbike championship.
The radiator that cools the engine is mounted under the seat, rather than in front of the engine, and this, together with the narrow three-cylinder engine, gives the Tornado a slim frontal aspect, improving aerodynamics and top speed. The 120° triple engine has a balance shaft for extra smoothness and is mounted in an innovative glued aerospace frame.
It's three long years since the Tornado was
unveiled by the reborn Benelli firm, whose youthful, bike-crazy
boss, Andrea Merloni is from the mega-rich
family that owns Ariston and Indesit. During that time Benelli works racer Peter
Goddard has succeeded in scoring points in World Superbikes, albeit without
getting near the top places, as development of the roadgoing version has
But at last Benelli have finished developing the 12-valve triple, and production at their factory in Pesaro, on Italy's east coast, is under way. Just 150 units of the Tornado Limited Edition are being built, for sale at £22,500 each. (A mass-produced, dual-seat model with the same engine is due in the autumn at roughly half that price.)
The specification is mouth-watering: 143bhp from the liquid-cooled engine; a frame that combines steel tubes and aluminium sections at the swing-arm pivot; full carbon-fibre bodywork; and some of the best cycle parts money can buy.
The chance of a blast on the Tornado on the roads near Pesaro was too good to miss, and the excitement started even before I'd set eyes on the bike. Sitting in the reception area of Benelli's modern factory on the outskirts of town, I was suddenly aware of an improbably loud and utterly distinctive exhaust note, as Benelli's test rider Gianluca alasso pulled up outside on the Tornado, and gave its throttle a few not-strictly-necessary blips for good effect.
Outside in the sunshine, the triple, finished in Benelli's traditional green-and-silver colour scheme (the firm has a rich racing history, and won the 250cc world championship in 1969 through Aussie Kel Carruthers), looked as gorgeous as I'd expected. Morton's design has changed subtly since the bike was unveiled, but the Tornado still manages to be very distinctive as well as stylish, with its intricate curves, and two small headlights between slanted intake slots in its nose.
This Limited Edition version is one of the classiest streetbikes in existence, containing heaps of high-quality engineering. Its steel and aluminium frame sections are glued together in aircraft style, as well as bolted. Its steering geometry and the position of its big aluminium swing-arm can be fine-tuned, in GP racer fashion. Its front and rear suspension is from Öhlins; wheels are lightweight forged jobs from Marchesini.
That all means this Tornado roadster is arguably closer than any of its rivals to its namesake on the World Superbike grid. And it felt that way as I settled myself into the saddle (which is tall due to the air ducts running below it to the radiator), fired up the 898cc engine, prodded into gear and headed off with the three-into-one exhaust's race can making a tuneful three-cylinder warble. The triple also comes with a street-legal silencer, plus other goodies including alternative sprockets and a cover.
The bike's raw, race-ready feel was one of its best features, but it wasn't all good news. The Tornado idled okay but below 4000rpm it spluttered and refused to run properly, before clearing to give a pleasantly linear response through the midrange. On the fairly empty Italian roads that didn't cause much trouble, but this Tornado wouldn't have been much fun in city traffic.
YOU IN THE RAC MATE?
The buzz though the bars and pegs wasn't a big problem as kept my head down behind the screen on the near-empty autostrada, and wound the Tornado to a rock-solid indicated 150mph, a little short of its likely top speed of close to 170mph. Then the engine suddenly died completely, due to a failure of the engine management black box. Along with the poor low-rev running, it was enough to convince me that Benelli had plenty more work to do to get the injection system sorted.
That problem was a disappointment because in most respects the Tornado had impressed. Its chassis is outstanding, combining the frame's rigidity and the flawless control of the firm Öhlins units with the vast amount of track-day tweaking potential. On the mainly tight and twisty hill roads near Pesaro the Benelli handled brilliantly on its standard settings, giving huge amounts of feedback yet also managing to float over most road imperfections.
At 185kg dry the triple is light, and it steered very easily while staying impressively stable, both in turns and under hard acceleration. There was heaps of Ground Clearance, and fat sticky Pirelli Dragon Supercorsas to make good use of it.
Brembo's brake set-up with four-piston, four-pad calipers has become almost obligatory on exotic Italian bikes of late, and delivers so much stopping power and lever feel that it's easy to understand why.
For most of my day's ride the Tornado was so quick, agile and full of character that I had a brilliant time riding it, and ended up back on it that evening (after the faulty black box had been replaced) with my initial high regard for the triple dented but still intact.
Whether I'd have been happy if I'd just paid £22,500 for a bike with this one's rough edges is another matter, though. Benelli insist they have improved the low-rev injection glitch, and that the failure won't happen on production machines. The enthusiasts who will soon be taking delivery of their long-awaited Tornados will be hoping that they're right.