Honda’s Hornet 600 has been around for some years now and has proved popular with both novice riders and those with more experience.
The bike delivers fun in a compact, sweet-handling package, with the proven reliability of the CBR600 derived engine as its ace card.
For 2007 however there´s an all new, Italian styled Hornet 600, with a funky 4-into-1 exhaust system, a more powerful engine and a revised chassis. Alastair Walker spent a week commuting and touring on the new Hornet 600.
One of the favourite bikes I owned was the old Honda 400/4 from the 70s. For its time it was fast, nimble in the corners, looked half decent with its sweeping exhaust pipes and you could fit two people plus luggage on it and go touring as well. Apart from the massive flat spot at 5000-6000rpm and the bike´s tendency to suffer camchain problems, it was the perfect all-rounder of its time – cheap to run too…
Times change, but that winning formula is something many manufacturers want to emulate. There are always customers for a motorbike which can return 45mpg, leave the rider feeling refreshed after a long day in the saddle and pack an adrenaline-fuelled punch once the rev-counter swings beyond 7000rpm.
The new Hornet 600 is just such a bike, it is the successor to the old 400/4, the original Fazer 600 Yam and makes the Suzuki GSR600 look a bit plain and dowdy. The new Hornet 600 is (I think) the best looking of all the four cylinder roadster type bikes around in 2007. It´s a beautiful machine, full stop.
That counts for something surely, maybe not as much as the 16 valve, DOHC, four cylinder 95bhp motor, or the beefy forks and multi-adjustable rear suspension. Then there´s the brakes, which are truly excellent, just right for a middleweight machine like this aimed at weekend riders who aren´t trying to prove a point at trackdays.
Surprisingly Honda haven´t given the new Hornet 600 loads more power – it moves from 95bhp to a claimed 102bhp. But the bike now has a claimed dry weight of 173kgs, compared to the old model´s 178kgs, with much of that weight reduction due to a lighter engine.
The bike now has a slightly torquier feel to its power delivery, you really feel like the engine has some grunt from low down in the rev range and unlike the old Hornet, you don´t have to shift down a gear quite so often.
My feeling is that the reason the bike feels sharper lowdown, is due to the new fuel injection system, which feeds in a steady flow of power. The contrast to relatively gutless 600s, like say the hesitant GSR600 Suzuki, or the rev-happy FZ6 Yamaha is huge. The Honda feels like a 750 compared to those two rivals, and the only mid-sized engine I would prefer to ride would be the Triumph 675 triple, which has more grunt than a Sumo team inside a phone box.
Honda also claim that the new fuel injection system works with the exhaust catalyser to reduce emissions to Euro 3 levels, whilst still delivering a healthy kick of power at high revs. Fair enough, but what it also does is drink fuel like a medium sized saloon car.
The 19 litre tank empties very quickly and like so many modern Honda bike engines, this one seems utterly wasteful of fuel – I guesstimated it as returning about 37mpg on a motorway cruise at a steady 75-85mph on the way up from Slough, which is dreadful for a 600cc four cylinder engine.
I simply don´t understand why a modern motorcycle engine can´t easily beat the typical fuel consumption I was getting back in the 70s, when I owned a 1976 CB550, SOHC four, ridden at the same speed, with no fairing, along the M6 motorway.
Maybe it´s just me, but I can´t see any real progress in motorcycle engine design when they´re so thirsty on fuel at low rpm cruising speeds. It´s a pitiful state of affairs which does nothing to `sell´ the green value of motorcycling to politicians who want us off the roads.
On the upside, the fuel delivery was glitch-free, ultra-smooth and the bike put a smile on my face every time I opened the throttle wide and really went for it along a short straight. It accelerates without any noticeable step in power, just gradually building up speed until the rider decides enough is enough.
More importantly that liquid power delivery is matched by a competent chassis which offers the rider the chance to sling the bike around on twisty roads and develop a real confidence in the machine. The 41mm USD forks (non-adjustable) are more than adequate and don´t dive too much under braking, plus the monoshock rear end handles most bumps and road repair scars on topical Brit roads with adroit functionality. The bike definitely feels more stable, less twitchy, than the old generation Hornet 600.
The Honda PR blurb talks at length about `mass-centralisation´ being a key element in the design of the chassis. Whatever the case, the bike feels physically lighter when you heave it around your driveway and certainly has a `chuckable´ nature when you take it down some really swervy B roads. You can´t defy physics however and the Hornet 600 still needs a healthy dollop of rider input to make it flick from side to side through a handy S bend, or nail it’s ass out of a roundabout. It does feel rewarding too, like the bike wants to play a bit.
I rode the Hornet just a couple of weeks after the new Bandit 1250 and whilst the Bandit had more power, its handling was remarkably similar to the Hornet 600. Both bikes have a natural limit to their ability, which can easily be found by a rider with average skills – these are fun, summer Sunday type bikes. Treat it like a sportsbike and it will get a bit lively on you, but ride it smoothly and it handles every kind of road surface without any drama.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Buying a new motorcycle is a big decision and for me, two things matter more than anything else; the likely re-sale value and the possible reliability problems after three years of ownership.
On the first score I reckon the Hornet 600 will hold about half its value over three years which is about average I guess. Not as good as a BMW or Harley, but better than some Suzuki’s, Italian marques or less well known Eastern brand names.
There´s no big questions of reliability, with a CBR600 derived motor and some real development time behind the new Hornet – although the bike is actually made in Italy, if that bugs you at all. The only question mark for me would be spare parts availability during July and August, when Italy basically shuts down for a long, long holiday.
For £5500 on the road I think the Hornet 600 is a top value bike, although the Bandit 1250 is exactly the same price and offers more oomph for your money, even if the overall finish isn´t quite as nice as the Honda. That said, some fasteners on the Hornet 600 were showing rust – from new – which is not a good sign.
My gut feeling is that most of the 600 all-rounder/roadster class bikes won´t survive too many winters without showing their war wounds – nearly all bikes are built for summer use only these days, with ridiculously short mudguards and exposed bits of untreated alloy and steel, seemingly designed to go rusty as soon as possible.
My personal advice is that if you want something truly durable for five or six grand buy a used 1500 Gold Wing or a BMW R1150GS…
But taken against its rivals, the Honda scores high marks for me. It makes the GSR600 Suzuki seem a slightly unfinished concept, an ugly duckling really. The FZ6 Yamaha frustrates me with its revvy motor, which makes it hard work to ride. The Kawasaki Z750 is a bike I haven´t ridden, so I can´t rate it, except to say it´s slightly cheaper than the Honda, which is nice.
The patriot in me would say wait and see how the new baby Speed Triple 675, and perhaps the Aprilia Shiver 750 shape up against the Honda. There´s something about the Triumph that looks tempting, and I´m sure it will sound awesome, whilst the Aprilia just looks very striking – typically Italian.
One final rival I would consider is the Hyosung GT650, whether faired or unfaired – because it´s just plain, old-fashioned fun and costs 1500 notes less than the Hornet 600. OK, people will mock your Hyosung, but I reckon it will get you to work on loads less fuel than the Honda, at exactly the same speed, and it handles really well for a budget 650 bike. Looks a bit of a five-pinter though.
In the end, if you love Italian styling, want a modern, clean-running, ultra-smooth all-rounder and crave that Honda badge on the gas tank, the Hornet 600 is worth test riding. It ticks all the right boxes and apart from being thirsty on petrol and having poor pillion accommodation, it does everything you could expect of a mid-sized 600 roadster.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda hornet 600.
Engine……….16 valve, 599cc,liquid cooled, DOHC, four cylinder, four stroke
Bore and stroke……….599cc
Fuelling……….PGM digital fuel injection
Frame……….Mono backbone type, aluminium die-cast sections
Front suspension……….41mm inverted forks, non adjustable
Rear suspension……….Monoshock, 7 way adjustable
Brakes……….Twin 296mm discs, 2 piston callipers, Single 245mm rear disc, single-piston calliper.
Wheels/Tyres……….120/70 ZR17 in front, 180/55 ZR17 in rear
Top speed (est)……….170mph
Fuel capacity……….19 litres
Estimated top speed……….135mph
Price……….£5500 ( June 2007 )