Road tests

Honda Hornet
(first model)
Mad as a Hornet

  It was while belting about the HART teaching ground, the Hornet planted firmly on its ear and in hot pursuit of Honda marketing guru Glyn, that the proverbial penny clanged to earth. This 600 provides one less reason to buy a big bike.

The $10,000 rocket has enough mad hatter factor to keep all but those on the very far end of the lunatic scale amused, and then some. Packing a claimed 96 horses in a compact 176 kilo toy is a simple but effective recipe for high performance.

Where Honda has got this absolutely right is that in the process of transferring a CBR600 sports engine to a naked bike, it hasn't succumbed to the temptation to emasculate it. Sure there's been some fiddling with carbs (down two mil to 34) and remapping of the ignition, but that's it. The end result is slightly less peaky power delivery than the donor bike, with enough boost up top to reach omigod velocities in short order.

The only hint of rocket science is the inclusion of an air injection system for the exhaust ports. It may help meet tougher international emission standards, but has no effect on how the machine feels.

The chassis is straight-forward, using a rectangular section steel spine instead of the R model's alloy perimeter effort. Fat 130/180 section rubber front and rear (wheels and tyres compliments of the FireBlade) provides a reassuring level of grip, while the four-piston calipers up front have enough bite and feel to make stoppies easy even for a mug like me. If aerobatics are your bag, either wheel can be lifted at will with excessive use of the relevant control.

Styling may be a subjective thing, but I'd rate it as one the sexiest-looking bikes around. Evidently I'm not alone in that opinion, having been hauled up a couple of times by interested punters during our few days with the bike.

The ride position is a 'natural' stance, accommodating my oversized frame just as happily as that of spouse Ms M who is of more average proportions. The seat is low enough to keep the shorter of leg happy, while the adjustable-span brake lever allows for a variety of mitts.

Steering is light and quick, without being nervous. Some more money could have been spent on the suspension, however, which I'd rate as average. There was evidence that mid-turn holes would shake the bike's composure -- not a great concern, but some good aftermarket fork springs would be an inexpensive and worthwhile upgrade.

Useful power comes in about 3000rpm, with 4700 in top translating as 100km/h. If you want to play-race, the right-hand needle needs to be kept over the 7000 mark, which is a long way short of redline. Honda says maximum torque comes in at 9500rpm instead of the CBR's 10,500 and is up by about five per cent. We got the hang of it in a day, and I doubt it would worry an owner over the long term.

The bike's spaghetti pipe-work looks terrific, and is vaguely reminiscent of the marque's classic CB400/4. Some observers expressed concern over the high-mount muffler. Good heat shielding ensures a pillion doesn't suffer during during cross-town hops, though I'd think twice about hanging saddlebags over it. That may be a practical concern for some, but on the styling front it gives the Hornet a distinctive street scrambler look.

We got an average of 15km/lt fuel consumption on a sub-1000 kay powerplant which, with the 16-litre tank, gives a handy range that should improve as the bike beds in.

For a smidgen under $10,000 (plus the usual on-road costs) you get a lot of performance wrapped in a good-looking package. Definitely worth a close look if you're in the market...
Guy Allen


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Article by Guy Allen

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