HORNY FOR HORNETS
‘Ten years and 25,000 miles later I still love my Hornet’ Abbie Banks, Hornet owner
The mid 1990s saw the return of the back-to-basics roadster. Suzuki got the ball rolling big style with the Bandit and it wasn't long before everyone jumped on the bandwagon.
Using the Bandit’s ‘parts-bin’ recipe of proven, detuned four-cylinder engine in a budget, no-frills, upright chassis, machines like the Yamaha Fazer and Honda Hornet offered a combination of easy manners, fun performance and great value that made them all hugely popular as first big bikes for thousands of motorcycling newcomers.
MCN reader James Swaine was one of the many. He says: “I had a 2012 Hornet in white. It was my first big bike after graduating from a Honda Varadero 125, I did just under 4000 miles and I loved every mile.”
Abbie Banks is another Hornetloving rider. “I bought a 1998 Hornet as my first big bike in 2006 and absolutely loved it,” she told MCN before adding: “Sadly, after 12 months and about 8000 miles, I wrote it off.”
For the most part, though, the Hornet story is a fun-packed one. Inspired by the Bandit, Honda knew its bike had better be brilliant – and it was.
Arriving in 1998, the bike was built to the same template as the Suzuki – but Honda added an extra hefty dollop of fun. So the engine, for example, in being the proven four from the CBR600F, was not only similarly versatile and proven, with 97bhp compared to the Bandit’s 73, it was far more potent and revvy, too. While the handling, with wheels from the Fireblade including a slightly odd 16-inch front, was both sharper and sprightlier as well.
Elsewhere, by having a basic, tubular steel frame, naked, upright gait and unintimidating low seat, the Hornet was about as familiar and straightforward as bikes got. In short: it was easy to ride, versatile, reliable and fun. And, with the cherries on top being something of a bad boy image – no bike cried ‘wheelie me’ more than a Hornet in the late ’90s – Honda build quality and a tempting price the Hornet had an awful lot going for it.
It wasn’t perfect, though. In 2000, following repeated criticism of twitchy handling, the 16in front grew to 17in, the brakes were improved and, like the Bandit, a half-faired version was introduced. In 2003, the faired CB600FS was dropped and the Hornet received a bigger tank. Then, in 2005, the clocks were modernised and the Hornet got inverted forks.
But the biggest change came in 2007 with an all-new, 100bhp Hornet based around the CBR600RR engine and with new styling. This version, although successful enough to survive until 2013, retained the spirit and function of the original even if its image and attitude had been lost. For some that mattered, for most it didn't.
Reader Shona Fraser said: “I bought a 2009 gold Hornet straight after passing my test. I had her for two years, covered thousands of miles. It was the ultimate first bike, massively confidence-inspiring with its easy handling and responsive throttle.”
Today the Hornet’s place in Honda’s range is taken by the CB650F, a worthy enough bike but no Hornet. And Abbie? The one who wrote off her Hornet. What happened to her?
“Just as I was trying to decide whether to cut my losses or get back on the road, the 2007 Hornet made an appearance,” she said. “I went straight out and bought the only new vehicle I’ve ever owned. Ten years and 25,000 miles later I still love it.”
‘I had mine for two years, covered thousands of miles. The ultimate first bike’ MCN READER SHONA FRASER
Put that wheel down now! It's not big and it's not clever…