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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 19 June 2008
This naked big-bore roadster class is fast becoming the most popular in the UK, and with good reason.
Ever-tightening speed-curbing legislation, high costs and prohibitive insurance premiums are just some of the reasons why many are drifting away from full-on high powered sportsbikes, and turning to more sensible and realistic bikes like these.
The new Hornet 900 is Honda’s contribution to the class. And as we found out, though it can’t boast as much bhp and mph as most sportsbikes, it easily matches their fun factor.
The stylish entertainer also has the bonus of being the cheapest in the class bar one at just £6,345, and certainly offers the best value of the lot.
Looking at the ingredients used to make the Hornet 900, you’d have to wonder why we haven’t seen it earlier. The cocktail of what is essentially a 600 Hornet chassis, housing a 1998 FireBlade engine is something Honda could have introduced three seasons ago, and it certainly would have been a better idea than developing and launching the X11, which is fatter, uglier and more costly, which is probably why it proved unpopular in this country.
Anyway, let’s not look back in anger, and instead be thankful that the larger capacity Hornet will soon be with us. It’ll be in the shops in December, and should be at the top of any self respecting biker’s Christmas list.
Anyone who rides it will be impressed - not surprising, as it has so many virtues, an obvious one is its look. The compact and very distinctive design is bound to win many hearts. The exposed engine, twin underseat pipes and sharp bodywork styling give it a sleek, purposeful and rugged look. And the usual Honda level of quality engineering and finish defy the bike’s budget price tag.
Another strength is its performance. There’s more than enough power from the fuel-injected 919cc four cylinder motor, and the finely balanced chassis makes sure you can use all of it.
Get on it, and the compact size immediately gives an impression of usability. The whole bike is only fractionally larger than the 600cc version, and a seat height of 795mm (only 5mm taller than the smaller-engined model) means you don’t have to possess the legs of a giraffe to touch the ground. Consider also the fairly minimal dry weight of 194 kilos and the wide, upright bars which help you to lever it around so easily, and you have to say the Hornet can be mastered by riders of all sizes and strengths.
Get it going and the praise gets even higher. The bike is so easy to manage with its light and flickable handling whatever speed you choose to ride it at. At walking pace it’s easy to control with a nicely balanced weight distribution, and when you up the pace, chucking it into corners couldn’t be simpler.
The Hornet feels more like a toy than a bike at times, and throwing it into corners, even at very high speed, needs only the slightest persuasion through the bars and pegs. Steering feels very quick and light which makes direction changing rapid and effortless, and though it might say 194 kilos on the spec sheet, the ease at which the Hornet can be handled suggests it weighs in at around 10-15 kilos less than that.
Good quality running gear like the rigid box-section steel spine frame, which is thicker in section compared to the 600’s, and has a beefier steering head, helps to give sharp and predictable handling. As does the combination of Showa suspension, Michelin Hi-Sport tyres, and Nissin brakes. The effect of the parts cocktail is superb, and competently deals with the performance of the potent and flexible motor.
The only part of the suspension you can adjust is the preload of the rear shock, but that doesn’t matter so much, as most of the time both the forks and shock have a good balance of comfort and control. Only when you start riding very hard will you notice things starting to move around a bit, though it never gets any worse than that, and there’s never any fear of wallowing, weaving or pattering to spoil the rapid progress.
Grip from the wide section Michelins is good enough to heel the Hornet well over and keep it there, though ultimately the hero blobs and rear brake pedal will limit the lean angles as they gouge lines in the road. To be fair, you have to be going at sportsbike pace to do that, so it can hardly be called a restriction.
Brakes too can handle anything you chuck at them. Originally fitted to the 1996 Blade, the Nissin four-potters have a very respectable level of power, and an exceptional amount of feel to stop you quickly and confidently. But it’s the engine which is one of the Hornet’s biggest attributes.
The Blade motor had been re-tuned for more torque and flexibility than peak power, courtesy of alterations like softer cams, revised combustion chamber shapes, and a lower compression, and the adoption of fuel-injection gives it crisp and instant throttle response. It’s around twenty bhp shy of the one fitted in the sportsbike, but the increase in grunt at lower rpm makes it all the more useable.
The stomp can be used as sensibly or as madly as you fancy. Be a bit more casual with the throttle and rpm and the Hornet can be bimbled around at a respectable pace without needing to use the slightly clunky six-speed ’box too much. More urgent and spirited use of the right wrist and left foot gets things moving at a distinctly quicker and more exciting rate of knots.
It’s difficult to resist the temptation to ride the Hornet in this way, and although there is enough stomp to be casual with it, the bike really does show it’s more entertaining side if you give it some welly. Hooligans will love the way it accelerates and if you want to wheelie, the Hornet will always oblige at the slightest provocation. I’d bet the Honda will break the timing lights at around 150mph if you hang on tight and race it through the gears, though holding it at those sort of speeds does highlight one inadequacy. The Hornet may be comfortable with its relaxed riding position and comfy seat, but its naked style means anything over 100mph soon develops strain on your neck and arms from the high speed wind rush. There will be an official aftermarket fly screen available, and anyone keen on longer distance, higher speed runs would be well advised to get one.
The omission is one of the very few items with which you can find criticism with the Hornet 900. Another is that there’s not much room under the seat, but it’s still roomy enough to carry a U-lock, which like a clock, centrestand, and crash protection mushrooms, is available as an accessory. No prices have been set for these parts yet, but they’ll be available as soon as the Hornets hit the showrooms.
I’d bet you’re going to have to be quite quick off the mark to get hold of a Hornet 900. I’m sure that it’ll be hugely popular thanks to its all-round ability, practicality, and above all its massive entertainment and economic values. If it doesn’t sell by the truckload and become a cult bike within a year, then I’ll eat my shoe!
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda cb900f hornet.
Engine..........liquid cooled in-line four, 16 valve, four stroke, cc 919cc
Claimed power (bhp)..........110bhp @ 9,000rpm
Frame..........Steel box-section spine
Front suspension..........43mm telescopic forks, non-adjustable
Rear suspension..........Monoshock, adjustable for pre-load
Front brakes..........Twin 296mm discs, four piston calipers
Rear brake..........Single 240mm disc, single piston caliper
Top speed..........150mph (est)
Fuel capacity..........19 litres
Current price..........£6,345 (otr)