Derived from the Japan-only 250, the Honda Hornet almost became the LC of the 1990s/2000s…
Less is often more. Strip something back ‘keep it simple stupid’ and we finally see the charm.
It’s the same with bikes. In the mid-1990s the naked middleweight craze well and truly kicked off. It was a case of the manufacturers taking their sports bikes, dumbing them down and removing the fairings for cheap thrills and max fun!
Honda’s CB600F Hornet first saw the light of day back in 1998, when Honda (and Yamaha with the Fazer) decided they’d had enough of Suzuki topping the sales charts with the Bandit 600 and wanted to get a slice of the action. We should mention the Diversion 600 here too, but – to be honest to Yamaha – the Divvy wasn’t in the same league.
The CB600F (Hornet was the name, apart from in the USA, where they had a Hornet fighter-bomber plane) used a de-tuned CBR600F motor, slung beneath a box-spine frame. Brakes were also from the CBR and also dumbed-down with different pads. Running gear was spartan and simplistic, but the whole plot featured clean lines and lovely looks.
If there was an Achilles Heel, it was the fact that the early model Hornets had the same 16-inch front that the early Honda FireBlades had. Things changed to 17-inchers from 2000-on. Obviously, as heels come in pairs (unless you’re unlucky) the other downside was awful fuel economy (100 miles to the 16-litre tank.) Oh, and those brakes were pretty naff – OK, so that’s three heels… Different pads and hoses came in with the 2000-year model along with 5mm more wheelbase.
Over the following years the model improved – in came a half-faired ‘S’ version in 2000, while all models had brake improvements and a little more power. For 2003 in came a fully-updated version with one litre more in the tank, updated aesthetics and clocks, with around 95bhp. It was also two kilos heavier – with the S-version being around five kilos heavier. From 2005, in came inverted front forks (based on the 41mm items from the 2005 CBR600RR) and an improved rear shock. From 2007, in came a new, angular look/headlight and the clean lines of the original were gone forever: shame.
So, why would you want an early-model Hornet 600 now? Well, remember we said it was a bit of a 1990s LC? They raced ‘em, like they did the LCs (The Hornet Cup) and the bike was a good starting point for a wide-range of specials. The fact that most of the bits and pieces were from the CBR range meant updates were easy to find and today you can find rough ones from under a grand…
WHAT GOES WRONG?
BRAKES: Suffer from neglect, so strip and clean regularly – especially if you commute on it during Winter. Early models had down-graded pads, but most will have aftermarket pads and hoses now. Better brakes/hoses were standard from 2000.
FORKS: Soft as standard, you can put in heavier springs/oil or get a 20mm cartridge set to almost make them as good as the CBR600’s.
ENGINE: Revvy and buzzy (ahem) motive oomph came from around 5000 revs, followed by tingling at 6-7000 revs and an explosion of drive from 9000 revs to a shade before the 13,000 redline. Peak power arrived at around 12,000 revs.
FUEL RANGE: Terrible on the first (16 litre) models: around 80-100 miles before reserve. The fuel tap was also fiddly to find and it had no fuel-gauge. You could buy aftermarket 20-litre tanks.
STARTING ISSUES: Can make some noises and takes a while to chime in on all four cylinders with too much or too little choke. Yes, the Hornet can also suffer from reg/rectifier issues, too.
WATER PUMP: Can squeal, but easily stripped/cleaned.
OVERHEATING: Fans sometimes fail to cut in (check the fuse 10 amp under the seat.) Lack of coolant and/or temp sensors can also lead to issues.
SHOCK: Basic as new and reportedly not rebuildable at the time: worth budgeting for a K-Tech or similar replacement.
BUILD QUALITY: Not Honda’s finest hour as these were built down to a price. Often being used by newbies/city slickers/commuters doesn’t help.
HONDA CB600F, 1998-2006
Price New: £4995 (1998)
Price now: £1500-£3000
Engine: 599cc, liquid-cooled, inline four-cylinder.
Power: 90bhp @ 12,00rpm
Weight: 176 kilos
WHY WE LOVE IT: Clean lines, good looks…
WHY WE DON’T: 16-inch front on early versions, fuel economy…