Honda Hornet Road Test
Suzuki got there first with the superb, yet basic 600 Bandit, three years later and Honda slipped into place with its take on the species, the 600 Hornet. We take a look at the evolution of the type and it ten-year life span to date.
The Hornet actually began life in 1994 as a 250cc naked machine built especially for the Japanese market. It featured much of the same architecture of the later 600cc machine and with 40bhp on tap from its liquid-cooled, four-cylinder engine, it went pretty well too. The idea caught on and Honda soon slipped the engine from the CBR600 into the quarter litre machines chassis, albeit detuned a shade for more midrange power, and the Hornet, as we now know it in the UK, was born. From the outset the hi-tech, naked bike out shone the benchmark set by the Suzuki Bandit, its chassis proving tight while remaining light thanks to the engine making up most of it, acting as a stressed member hung below the top rails. Although looking like one, this was no parts bin special as such although many areas used aspects from other Honda models mainly the CBR range of a few years previous.
What impressed most with that first machine was the handling, even with the potentially quirky 16-inch front wheel the Hornet tracks true and dependably at all speeds even making for a half-decent race bike, particularly for the newbie racer, although a few would question the choice of front wheel size and its limitations in the selection of suitable rubber. For many a year the 600 Hornet was the chosen machine as instructor bikes at the famous Ron Haslam race school and during my time there as a race instructor I can say they made a superb teaching platform, rock steady even when leading the clients on their potentially much faster CBR600’s, while the big wide bars and mirrors enabled a constant rearward check on their progress too.
The first Hornet hung around for the next 2 years, achieving great sales success in the process until the introduction of the 17-inch front wheel version in November 1999 ready for the 2000 season. The brakes were uprated too, replacing the old style, CBR600 swinging calipers with more powerful units, while a half faired version, the CB600FS, was introduced in 99 too, this feature making the bike even more capable of a wider range of tasks while also enabling high speed journeys to be that bit less tiresome on the upper body, expect to pay around £300 more for this version over and above the fully naked machine.
The Hornet lived on in pretty much its original guise for the next 4 seasons with little more than minor cosmetic changes, but for 2003 a ground up redesign gave the Hornet and even sharper edge than before. Revised fuelling and engine set up created a smoother machine in the mid-range while ergonomically the new tank and seat allowed a more relaxed and comfortable riding position. The new bike also came with the HISS immobiliser system for added security. This model again came in for a revamp two-years later, finally receiving inverted forks that, to some at least, go against the grain of the retro/naked look but do work in practice. For 2007 not so much a redesign as a total shift in thinking has seen the Hornet change from a budget bikers paradise to a total, streetfighter meets retro, machine with sweepingly handsome good looks and not a hint of Honda having dipped into the left over parts bins for inspiration. A decent nod to the passed has also been granted as the new bike emulates the look of the CB400F with its bank of four chrome down pipes, faithfully following the line down from the cylinder head and across the right hand side of the bike.
Whichever model you aim for you can rest assured the bike will do its job well, the earliest of Hornets has always been capable machines with later years simply adding to this with small improvements rather than quantum leaps.
Like all naked machines, there is a big desire to dress them up and make them look different to the next one, to this end a whole host of after market parts and accessories are there for the fitting so when buying used do have a good look around to make sure the bike has all you need or even things you never knew existed but quite like know you have seen them in the flesh.
Honda Hornet specifications
- Engine –599cc Liquid-cooled4-stroke 16-valve DOHC inline-4
- Bore & Stroke- 65 x 45,2mm
- Power – 94bhp @ 12000rpm
- Transmission- six speed chain final drive
- Carburetion- 34mm CV
- Chassis- Steel cradle
- Suspension- 41mm telescopic forks, single shock rising rate rear
- Brakes- front twin 296mm discs 2-piston calipers single 220mm disc, single piston floating caliper rear
- Wheelbase- 1420mm
- Top Speed – 150mph
- Year of manufacture – 1998
- Weight – 176kg
Honda Hornet Road Test Gallery
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