The Honda Hornet CB600F is a winning recipe, which offers great performance, smooth handling and wicked styling. It is also an absolute pleasure to ride.
South Africans can finally also enjoy one of the best naked commuters in the world, and with all the improvements that have been made to the new CB600F it seems like it might just have been worth the wait. The original Hornet was launched in Europe in 1998, but it is only now, nine years later and due to an ever-increasing local market, that it has been launched locally.
From the outset the designers of the new Hornet set themselves three main goals: high impact design, multi-purpose sports commuting and dynamic performance. After a short ride in the Magaliesberg it was very much apparent they had succeeded on all three counts. The Hornet looks as fine as the flawless summer's day on which it was launched, and with the CBR600RR's engine bolted to its upgraded aluminium chassis performance was never disputed. But even more important than that is the ease with which it handles.
Responsive and powerful engine
The Hornet relies on a 600cc fuel-injected engine that was developed in parallel with the racy CBR600RR, so in that department it doesn't disappoint. But the Hornet is a lot more docile and less intimidating than its racy cousin. For this reason the Hornet has been a long favourite for younger riders or those starting off on two wheels. It also makes for a splendid commuter.
That?s not to say the Hornet is sluggish. Peak power has been increased by 4kW, now 75kW, which results in 4% better low-to-mid performance in comparison to the outgoing 2006 model and maximum torque has also been increased marginally from 63Nm to 63,5Nm. The designers also paid great attention to shaving off weight for the latest model to improve the power-to-weight ratio.
The CB600F Hornet's new powerplant is one of the shortest and most compact engines in its class. According to Honda its smaller size and lighter weight also afforded greater positioning freedom within the frame for an ideal balance of weight leading to quicker, more responsive handling.
This new engine also features Honda's PGM-FI electronic fuel injection system for responsive power and is combined with Honda's oxygen-sensing catalytic converter system to reduce harmful exhaust emissions to comply well within EURO-3 emissions standards.
Strikingly good looking
The CB600F now appears much more muscular and aggressive than its predecessor with lines that stream back from its angular front cowl. Its larger-capacity new 19-litre fuel tank is the most obvious link to previous generation Hornets and narrow down to one of the slimmest and lightest weight seat and tail cowls in the Naked class.
The uniquely styled new dual-bulb headlight features low beam and high beam positioned one over the other behind a protruding polycarbonate lens. The new instrument panel, mounted above the eye-catching headlight, features a racy and large digital LCD readout speedometer and analogue rev counter. An aerodynamic front cowl with a hard-edged mechanical look has been derived directly from the Fireblade.
Mono-Backbone now manufactured from aluminium
A totally upgraded chassis has been developed for this model, and is based on its well-established Mono-Backbone frame configuration. This design reaches from steering head to rear engine mount and swingarm pivot in one long stretch of large-section rectangular tubing.
One of the primary concepts behind this development is to provide a simple and solid 'diamond' configuration that incorporates the engine as its central stressed member for an excellent balance of rigidity and light weight. This design also allows the engine to be prominently seen. Instead of being constructed of welded steel tubing, the Hornet's newly developed frame features a lightweight gravity die-cast (GDC) aluminium construction
A large 41mm upside down gold-anodised HMAS cartridge type fork compliments the Hornet's streetfighter type styling and offers 120mm of damped wheel travel.
On the uneven roads that cut through the Magaliesberg foothills to the west of Hartbeespoortdam the front suspension did a decent job at soaking up the bumps, but on more than one occasion I wish that Honda had fitted the bike with the same steering damper system as on the CBR600RR.
What really impresses though is its smooth handling through the bends. Just pick a line and lean in. The Hornet seems more than competent to take care of the rest. But don't think its handling isn't sharp. Even when you change line mid-corner the Hornet adapts without a hitch and goes exactly where you want it to go.
At speeds in excess of 150km/h wind does become very noticeable; this is a Naked after all. But what really impresses is its level of comfort at speeds that are a little more, well, legal. The sitting position is neutral and upright which affords you a much better view of the road than when you have to wrap yourself over the fuel tank and also greatly reduces low-back and wrist strain. The seat is also surprisingly comfortable and is much more on par with that of a cruiser.
In order to achieve sharper, more responsive handling in its new design, the Hornet underwent a regimen of mass centralisation that positions the heavier components, notably its new engine and exhaust system, as close as possible to the machine?s rolling centre of mass while lightening those sections positioned farther away from its centre.
The most noticeable of these changes is the 4-to-1 exhaust system with its low slung stubby silencer that is no longer positioned on the side. According to Honda SA we can expect a very similar layout for the new Fireblade which will be unveiled next year.
Fast bikes need strong brakes, and in its standard configuration, the new Hornet mounts a pair of dual-piston front callipers gripping wide 296mm drilled floating discs. At the rear, a compact new single-piston calliper, like that used on the CBR600RR, slows a 240mm disc for smooth, responsive control.
All-round nice guy
With the new Hornet, Honda seems to have done it again. Not only is the CB600F easy to ride with a powerful punch and great handling, it also looks damn fine.
This a very versatile bike that is as suitable to weaving through traffic as it eager to lean in on the twisties through the Magaliesberg. Above all it is an all-round nice ride that is suitable to beginner riders without disappointing those that lust after speed. Where do I sign the contract?
The Hornet retails for R73 390 and is available in Pearl Night Star Black and Pearl Amber Yellow. At the moment the Hornet is not available with ABS but Honda SA is considering introducing that at a later stage