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Honda Hornet: the models, the rivals and the verdict

The 2007 Honda CB600F Hornet in action

The Honda Hornet range first began in 1998, taking an old dependable CBR600F sportsbike engine and shoehorning it into a basic chassis to create the CB600F

A simple recipe popular with novices, commuters and even experienced riders, the middleweight Hornet remained in production until 2013, seeing off countless rivals and even spawning its own racing championship; the Honda Hornet Cup.

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The plucky CB600F Hornet remained largely unchanged until 2007, when it received a complete redesign to bring it into the 21st century. Modifications included a new engine and styling.

Alongside the 600cc variant, a larger Honda CB900F Hornet also appeared in 2001, featuring a reworked version of the 918.5cc inline four engine found in the early CBR900RR FireBlade

The Honda CB600F and CB900F Hornets

Although a far cry from the ballistic supernakeds we have come to expect from mainstream manufacturers, the CB900F was a well-handling all-rounder, ideal for distance riding, commuting and spirited weekend jaunts. 

The larger Hornet lasted until 2007, when it was replaced by the CB1000R. Complete with 2008 Fireblade forks and brakes, there was also new styling and considerably more poke.


Honda CB600F Hornet (1998-2006)
 

A faired version of the Honda CB600F Hornet was available

Reliable, simplistic and cheap, the CB600F Hornet was a real jack of all trades. Practical, comfortable and versatile, it could be used for the daily commute, as well as remain engaging on a hard weekend thrash.  

Powered by a dependable mid-90s CBR600F motor, the bike had to be thrashed to extract the most from it, however a light clutch and a comfortable riding position made it a doddle around town. Cam chain tensioners have been known to fail, though. 

The original machine came with a 16” front wheel, which was uprated to 17” in 2000, allowing for greater tyre choice. Upside down forks replaced a conventional set up in 2005, with the model ending at the end of 2006 ahead of a complete revamp.

The bike was also available in a half-faired S version, which featured clocks from the Honda VTR1000 FireStorm; a V-Twin sportsbike also produced by Honda at the time.  

Honda CB600F rivals

The Honda CB600F with Yamaha and Suzuki rivals

Honda’s earliest rivals in the middleweight naked class were Suzuki’s GSF600 Bandit and the Yamaha FZS600 Fazer. The Bandit arrived in 1996 and was a sales phenomenon. Arguably jump-starting the entire genre, both the Fazer and Hornet appeared two years later, producing slightly more power. 

This is arguably now a disadvantage to younger riders, with the added oomph making the early Hornet non-A2 licence compatible.  

Knee down on the Honda CB600F Hornet


Honda CB600F Hornet (2007-2013)
 

In action on the 2007 Honda CB600F Hornet

In 2007, the mid-capacity Hornet got a complete re-think, moving away from tired 90s tech and stepping firmly into the 21st century. Powered by a reworked version of the then-current CBR600RR’s liquid-cooled engine (producing more mid range), it remained easy to ride; with great handling and bags of character.

Honda also employed new Italian styling, appealing to European markets and showing that practical machines like the Hornet didn’t have to be humdrum. Like its predecessor, the latest bike was predictable and unintimidating, however offered a sporting edge when called upon. 

At just over £5000 brand-new at its launch, the second-generation CB600F was also exceptional value for money. Plus, for just a few hundred quid more, riders could have one with combined linked ABS braking. Fuel capacity also increased from 17 litres to 19 litres.

Honda CB600F rivals

Riding the Honda Hornet in the wet

By the time the second generation baby Hornet had arrived, the middleweight naked market had moved on, with the original rivals also receiving updates, thanks to ever-stricter Euro emissions laws.

Alongside these, the CB600F now also had to contend with the three-cylinder Triumph Street Triple 675, Suzuki’s GSR600, the Kawasaki Z750 and various iterations of the Ducati Monster

Despite its dependable, revvy four-cylinder engine, in 2007, the Hornet was king of the Japanese middlings. However, top honours of the day went to the Street Triple, who’s three-cylinder engine offered more punch and character.  


Honda CB900F (2001-2007)
 

Cornering on the Honda CB900F Hornet

Despite being powered by a 918.5cc four-cylinder engine lifted from the Honda CBR900RR FireBlade superbike, the larger-capacity Hornet was not the head-banging naked that many were hoping for.

With neutral looks and mushy basic suspension, it was much better suited to the daily grind, as well as distance touring, rather than munching its way through winding B roads. That said, the engine was solid, producing a healthy 110bhp from its torquey lump, further aided by a slick gearbox.  

Those looking to use their CB900F on a daily basis will need to ensure it’s kept clean though, with the bike looking shabby fairly quickly if not properly maintained. What’s more, with no centre stand and headers that hang further than the cases, keeping the bike in good condition could be more difficult than some of its commuter-centric rivals. 

Honda CB900F Hornet rivals

Honda’s CB900F Hornet is not short of rivals, bridging the gap between roadster and analogue supernaked as something of an all-rounder. As such, alternatives to the Hornet include: Kawasaki’s early Z1000, Suzuki’s GSF1250 Bandit at the latter stages of its life and the Yamaha FZ1 Fazer, complete with its detuned R1 engine.

Similar in style and performance to its Japanese rivals, it failed to deliver the same thrills as its European contemporaries. These included the booming V-Twin Aprilia Tuono 1000 and Triumph’s early bug-eyed Speed Triples.

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