Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 17th June 2008

Most retro machines offer great biking because they are essentially stripped down versions of the company’s sportsbikes.

The Honda Hornet is a slower, more comfy variation on the successful CBR600F model, which is one of the best starting points in modern biking you can think of.

The revvy four cylinder, four stroke engine gives you more than enough power to crack 130mph, with sharp handling, good brakes and a decent pillion seat thrown in. There´s even a half faired Hornet option available too.

A fun all-rounder for weekends – could be right up your street ?

The rain had stopped, and slowly the Cartagena track was drying. In some corners the racing line looked to have plenty of grip, but elsewhere the tarmac was still damp and slippery. Difficult conditions in which you might expect a budget-priced naked middleweight to be no fun at all. But the more I rode Honda’s new CB600SF Hornet, the better it felt. And as confidence and cornering speeds increased, it wasn’t long before the scritch of footrest tip and the lower-pitched scrunch of knee-scraper began to be heard over the mid-bend whir of four-cylinder engine.

The Hornet might have no fairing and an ultra-cheap price tag. But the twisty Cartagena track was a perfect place to prove that with its light weight and a taut chassis incorporating fat, sticky FireBlade-sized tyres, it could hold its own in bends with just about anything. And the high-revving Hornet was impressive on the straights, too: as happy red-lining on the track as it had been at a slower pace on rain-soaked Spanish roads that morning.

Honda were always likely to build a bike like the 600 Hornet sooner or later, because few new models of recent years can have been more logical or as easy to develop. The naked newcomer is essentially a blend of two bikes: the 250cc Hornet that has been sold on the Japanese home market for the last couple of years, fitted with a subtly revised version of the engine from Honda’s all-conquering CBR600F.

The little four-cylinder 250 Hornet’s styling is retained. Its narrow-waisted fuel tank and seat shape combine with the exhaust system’s high-level silencer to give an eye-catching look. Just like the smaller model, this Hornet is short, compact and aggressive, its attitude epitomised by its pair of wide three-spoke wheels, 16in front and 17in rear, wearing Michelin Hi-Sport radials, the rear a 180/55 fatso.

In place of the original Hornet’s ultra-revvy 250cc motor is a 599cc watercooled, 16-valve unit borrowed from the CBR. It’s mechanically unchanged but uses 34mm instead of 36mm carbs. Combined with the new exhaust system (which incorporates an air-injection system to reduce emissions), this reduces peak power by 10bhp to a claimed 95bhp at 12,000rpm. Honda’s power chart shows the Hornet losing out from 10,000rpm, but having an advantage where the sports bike’s output dips slightly between 7500 and 9000rpm.Unlike the perimeter-framed CBR6, the Hornet has a rectangular steel backbone like that of its 250cc sibling. Thinner twin rails come down at the front to grip the engine, which is a stressed member of the chassis. Aluminium plates bolt on at the rear to support the footrests and assorted levers. The Hornet’s 1420mm wheelbase is short, if not dramatically so by middleweight standards, and at 176kg this bike weighs 10kg less than the CBR600F.

It was the Hornet’s manageable feel that made the biggest initial impression. The handlebars are slightly raised, giving a reasonably sporty riding position in conjunction with the low seat and fairly rearset footpegs. The bike felt notably small, light and responsive, and it pulled away effortlessly thanks to a motor that ran sweetly from below 3000rpm.

The roads around the Cartagena circuit in south-eastern Spain were streaming and slippery when I set out on the twisty launch route, but the Hornet soon showed that it’s a user-friendly bike that would be ideal for an inexperienced rider. Its motor didn’t feel noticeably stronger in the midrange than the CBR600F’s, but its low-rev docility made the Hornet very easy to ride.

The Honda produced enough midrange torque to make for reasonable acceleration, especially above 7000rpm. When the roads dried, a first-gear flick of the throttle and a hoik on the handlebars was enough to get the front wheel lifting easily. The motor was pretty smooth, too. Although a slight high-frequency tingle could be felt at most engine speeds, I didn’t find it annoying and the reasonably wide mirrors stayed clear.

Despite having the top lopped off its power curve, the four-pot motor still thrives on revs. Its redline is up at 13,000rpm, and to get the bike really moving it was best to keep the tacho needle between about 9000rpm and the power peak at 12 grand, making full use of the six-speed gearbox (whose internal ratios are unchanged from the CBR). Ridden like that the Hornet screamed with arm-stretching enthusiasm towards a top speed of about 140mph.

The wind-blown riding position and untypically cold Spanish weather meant I wouldn’t have wanted to keep up such speeds for long, but if fast cruising isn’t this bike’s forte then rapid cornering certainly is. The little four’s light weight and sporty geometry combined to give agile, precise handling, and the wide bars helped make steering quick and easy, yet the Honda was also impressively stable. Suspension is apparently basic, with non-adjustable 41mm forks, plus a preload-adjustable rear shock that works the aluminium box-section swing-arm with no rising rate. Who needs zillions of adjustments when it’s as good as this without? The Hornet’s front and rear ends were compliant enough to make the bike reasonably comfortable on the sometimes bumpy roads, but also firm enough to give a taut, sporty and very confidence-inspiring feel at speed.

For a budget middleweight the Hornet is seriously well-endowed in the rubber department. The launch bikes’ Hi-Sports slid about on the damp circuit and took some time to heat up, but gave heaps of grip once they did. (Some production bikes will be fitted with same-sized Bridgestones.) Footrest feelers ground fairly early in old-style FireBlade style, but there’s no centrestand and the solid bits are well out of the way. Twin 296mm front discs with twin-pot calipers gave loadsa stopping power and feel. The lean-and-basic Hornet concept calls for nothing that doesn’t add to its performance or its stripped-down Streetfighter style, but the basics are reasonably well taken care of. The white-faced clocks are big and clear, the dual-seat looks reasonably comfortable (I didn’t ride far enough to be sure), and the pillion gets solid grab-handles. A fly-screen, heated grips and a centrestand are available as extras. With or without such luxuries, the Hornet is a neat and capable bike that looks like blowing the fast-growing middleweight sports bike market wide open, by providing stiff competition for Suzuki’s Bandit and Yamaha’s new Fazer. It’s handsome (in red, blue or silver), it’s quick, and it handles, grips and stops as well as many much bigger bikes.

Equally importantly, the CB600SF Hornet is cheap: a genuine pocket rocket for less than five grand. If naked style and lively middleweight performance are what you want, for that sort of money you can’t go wrong.

Get Honda motorbike insurance for the Honda 600fs hornet.

Vital Statistics
Engine Liquid-cooled transverse four
cc 599
Claimed power (bhp) 95bhp @ 12,000rpm
Compression ratio 12:1
Transmission Six Speed
Cycle parts
Front wheel……….3.50 x 16in; cast aluminum
Rear wheel……….5.00 x 17in; cast aluminium
Front suspension……….41mm telescopic, 125mm travel
Rear suspension……….One damper, 128mm wheel travel, adjustment for preload
Front brake……….2, twin-piston calipers, 296mm discs
Rear brake……….Double-action caliper, 220mm disc
Top speed……….140mph
Fuel capacity……….16 litres
Buying Info
Current price……….£4995 (plus about £200 otr)