|Copyright HONDA UK 2001.
Naked bikes have grown enormously popular in Europe over the last several years, and can be seen virtually anywhere being used for everything from commuting to sport riding. Prominent among the bikes of this booming class are Hondaâs own Hornet and Hornet-S, which have become the bestsellers in their displacement class throughout Europe owing to their distinctive style, ample power and performance, and top fit and finish.
The roots of these machines extend back to Japan and a revolutionary look pioneered by the 1996 domestic model Hornet 250. Featuring uniquely styled bodywork and the widest sport bike tyres ever seen in its class÷in fact the very same tyres mounted on the CBR900RR FireBlade÷this first Hornet grabbed the worldâs attention and imagination, and was soon followed in 1998 by the instantly popular Hornet 600, which was developed exclusively for the European market. Built on essentially the same chassis configuration as the 250, but powered by a slightly modified version of the engine that drove the famed CBR600F to fame and good fortune on highways and racetracks around the world, the Hornet 600 took Europe by storm with a heady combination of exhilarating performance and swift, responsive handling in a sleek, compact and lightweight bike that anybody could enjoy.
This phenomenal popularity soon brought calls for an even larger displacement machine that sticks to the same formula of light weight, compact proportions and distinctive design, yet is powered by a more breathtaking engine like the one used in Hondaâs now-legendary CBR900RR FireBlade, famed for delivering litre-class performance in a midsized-class machine.
Now, in response to the Hornetâs sensational popularity, Honda extends its reach into a higher displacement class with the new Hornet 900. Developed to provide a breathtaking step up in performance from the 600cc-class streetfighter while still providing the reassuring in-city handling ease of a 600, the new Hornet 900 is a light and powerful new ÎSuper-Nakedâ that will soon be taking Europe by storm with its agile handling and dynamic performance.
As the Hornet name has become well-established in Europe through the 600 and its half-faired sibling the Hornet-S, creating a larger-displacement version proved to be a natural extension of the concept. One of the fundamental ideas behind the new Hornet 900 was to redirect the ÎSuper Nakedâ concept more toward those who enjoy city riding rather than all-out assaults on inter-city highways and winding backroads; much like the CB900F of the mid-â80s. And what better engine to base it on than the renowned mill that motivates Hondaâs best loved Super Sport, the CBR900RR FireBlade?
Studies of rider preferences found that generally riders seem to be the most comfortable with a power output range of between 90 and 110PS (or 66 to 81kW), especially for a smaller and lighter machine like that envisioned by the Hornetâs development team. More important than maximum power output is a strong feeling of torque and acceleration almost the instant the throttle is opened. No cutting-edge Stealth fighter, the new Hornet would more closely identify with a Harrier jump-jet in its blast of broadly useable performance and anytime-anywhere riding ease.
Another primary goal in the development of the new Hornet was achieving smooth, reassuring driveability, with instantly responsive yet linear torque output, which required fine-tuning its throttle response. Therefore, Hondaâs PGM-FI fuel injection system was selected and modified to deliver strong yet smooth, almost rheostat-like response to all throttle inputs. This power delivery helps realise an intensely fun and exhilarating city ride that packs litre-class performance into a mid-sized machine. Its engine may not deliver the maximum power output in the big-bike class, but its torquey midrange delivery provides such an exciting rush of acceleration that ultimate riding fun coupled with remarkably easy control are foregone conclusions.
Of course, the new Hornetâs chassis is largely based on the same Mono-Backbone frame configuration used in the Hornet and Hornet-S, but strengthened in line with its engineâs higher power output. This newly designed frame effectively maintains the spare and purposeful Hornet look, showing its beautifully sculpted engine to full effect while providing exceptional rigidity and strength for confident handling during the most spirited rides.
Since the Naked class is dominated by relative lightweights, the Hornet development team also strove for the lightest weight in its class, targeting a dry weight well under 200kg for their new machine, and one of the highest power-to-weight ratios around. This light weight and strong power combine to deliver a superb feeling of dynamic acceleration coupled with the light and easy handling of a midrange-class machine for the most satisfying riding experience around.
Taking the theme of ÎNaked Innovationâ as a guide, the Hornetâs development team judged that perhaps the most important, and ultimately the most impressive criteria for top urban riding performance was ÎFeeling,â as expressed in the factors of ÎVibration,â ÎSound,â ÎControlâ and Hondaâs ÎDNAâ styling. Definitely not made to be silky smooth and civilised, the new Hornet 900 delivers rippling sensations of torque output with a distinctive and pleasing sound that provides the best expression of its performance potential. From sight to sound to surging waves of feeling, the Hornet provides an addictive Îflavourâ of motorcycling enjoyment that will have people coming back for Îsecond helpingsâ time and again.
The new Hornet 900 identifies with the fundamentals of its ÎPerformance- Firstâ concept with three basic, no-nonsense colour variations that donât distract from its look of speed and high-powered acceleration.
What could be more appropriate to this new high-powered highway bandido with its shotgun pipes than an evil-looking basic black? Likely the most popular colour for ravaging city streets, this colour (or lack of it) also exudes a sense of ultimate style and sophistication. Next up is a dark, new metallic tone that projects a vividly modern look which has rapidly been gaining popularity in Europeâs automotive world. Last but not least is a delicious candy blue that has come to be identified with Hondaâs quickest naked bikes.
The Hornetâs frame and side covers are coated in a dark, nearly black matte finish metallic grey that provides a modern and attractive contrast to the glossy finish featured on its fuel tank and seat cowl. Its engine is also painted in the same subdued matte silver used on the engine of the Hornet 600 to emphasise its look of mechanical strength.
Candy Tahitian Blue
Iron Nail Silver Metallic
Like the Hornet 600 and the Hornet 250 that precede it, the new Hornet 900 features a spare and impressive design thatâs both sexy and aggressive. Backed up by breathtaking acceleration and blistering performance, this high-powered new addition to Hondaâs naked line-up has come to be known in-house as the ÎCyber Hornet.â Featuring the Hornet trademarks of a narrow waist and muscularly curvaceous fuel tank, its sleek aero tail now fans out to encompass a set of dual ÎCentre-Upâ exhaust silencers pointing menacingly out from under the seat. This combination of slim proportions and dual shotgun pipes strongly emphasises the Hornetâs high performance potential with the look of a tethered beast tugging at its fraying leash.
Another major attraction of all the Hornets is the bold, purposeful look of their engines hanging out in space for all the world to see. With externals all newly chiselled for a more impressive look of mechanical strength, the Hornet 900âs engine leaves no mistaking the primary goal of its design÷delivering heart-stopping blasts of performance.
At 194kg, the Hornet is designed for light weight, compact proportions and easy manoeuvrability. Its fuel tank features a low and sleek profile that easily identifies it as nothing else but a Honda Hornet, and features a large 19-litre capacity, up from the 600âs 16 litres. Ahead of this broadly curvaceous tank, the Hornetâs attractive twin canister meters present a simple, no-nonsense view of all information essentials, and include a small indicator for the Hornetâs bike thief-beating Honda Ignition Security System (H.I.S.S.). Beneath them, the Hornetâs large multi-reflector headlight is gripped by an impressive set of cast aluminium headlight brackets that also provide support for the meters. Back at its tail÷which is the only view most folk will see of the Hornet when itâs on the move÷its large, stylish taillight assembly is cleanly integrated into the tapered end of the seat cowl. Sporty, multi-angled indicators like those featured on the CBR600F Sport finish off the Hornetâs array of electrics.
Comfortable Seating Position
The new Hornet 900âs seating position is as comfortable and easy-going as its performance is thrilling. Featuring a slightly higher seat than that of the Hornet 600 (up from 790 to 795mm), more rearward-positioned handlebars, and steps positioned 20mm farther forward, the new Hornet 900 provides a comfortable blend of city riding enjoyment and sports riding excitement that lasts the whole day through. And since the Hornet is designed to provide riding fun for two, its pillion seating area has also been designed for longranging comfort with steps positioned 20mm farther forward and its large, easy-to-grip grab rail providing assured support for a relaxing ride. Beneath the locking seat is space to carry a large-size U-lock and other small essentials.
Based on the engine that powered the 1998 version of the CBR900RR FireBlade, the Hornetâs formidable powerplant was specially modified for ÎNakedâ use with more emphasis on its feeling of acceleration and low-tomidrange grunt than the higher-revving performance demanded by an all-out Super Sport machine. Since the keywords of Îflavourâ and Îfeelingâ were the guides to the Hornetâs overall development, its performance recipe provides a Îtastierâ experience that the all-out shriek of power provided by the Super Sports. The Hornetâs power output, though dynamic and thrilling, is still friendly and easily accessible in everyday riding, providing a Îsofterâ and fuller feel of low-down power compared to the hard-edged, high-revving performance of a sharply focused Super Sport. Its delivery is more responsive and fun, and offers a wider range of enjoyment, rather than concentrating on the ultimate in performance.
Most of the changes from the original FireBlade engine were performed in the region of its head and valvetrain. Efforts were especially focused on minimising any dips or hesitations in its power and torque response, especially when the throttle is first opened, this realising a smoother, more linear torque delivery.
Although the 1998 FireBlade on which the Hornetâs engine is based was fed by flat-slide CV carburettors, Hondaâs latest digitally programmed PGM-FI fuel injection system was adapted to provide both strong, precise throttle response and lower emissions to keep it in line with the low-impact goals of modern engine design. The system features 36mm throttle bodies with 4-hole injectors that ensure stable fuel atomisation for the most efficient combustion. Intake port shapes and diameters were revised, and the fuel injection systemâs throttle bodies were positioned closer to the engine for sharper, smoother and more linear response, as well as a stronger rush of low-to-midrange power, especially at the instant the throttle is opened. Cam lift and valve timing were also modified to emphasise this low-end boost in response, and compression was reduced from the FireBladeâs 11.1 : 1 to 10.8 : 1. A manual slide-knob bypass starter provides choke-like idling speed adjustment for cold weather starts.
Although the Hornetâs peak power is down somewhat from the FireBladeâs shrieking highs, its engine still delivers one of the best power-to-weight ratios in its class, with excellent midrange power output that comes on strong the instant its throttle is turned. Its aggressive 4-into-2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system features expanding diameter tubing leading into the large-capacity dual ÎCentre-Upâ silencers to help draw out stronger midrange torque while producing an exhilarating exhaust note that makes up an integral part of the Hornetâs satisfying Îfeelâ and strong power delivery.
All these improvements to the engineâs low-to-midrange torque and power delivery combine to realise fully 30% stronger roll-on performance and quicker standing start acceleration through this range than the full-power FireBlade, which is geared more toward high-rev, high-speed power output.
Contributing to the Hornetâs lower high-frequency noise output is a solenoid-activated flap built into the large-capacity aircleanerâs intake duct, which opens and closes at low engine speeds to reduce the irritating whoosh of intake noise during hard acceleration while maintaining the engineâs strong, linear performance and its deeply satisfying exhaust note.
To keep the new Hornet 900 well within the limits of current EURO-1 emissions regulations, its pollution-reducing Air Induction system complements the high efficiency of the PGM-FI fuel injection system by feeding fresh air into the exhaust ports to help ensure more complete combustion of the exiting exhaust gases. The German market version also features a hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide-eating 100-cell type catalyser element built into the exhaust system.
The Hornetâs 6-speed transmission is essentially the same as that used in the FireBlade, though its final ratio was lowered to emphasise its low-tomidrange torque delivery.
One of the primary visual appeals of the Hornetâs configuration comes by way of its unique Mono-Backbone frame, which provides ample rigidity and responsive handling while allowing the engine to appear as if itâs hanging in space, unobstructed by conventional downtube cradles.
The Hornet 900âs lightweight, simply designed diamond-configuration steel tube frame features a large, rectangular-section steel tube Mono-Backbone like that featured on the Hornet 600. However, corresponding to its much stronger performance, the wall thickness of its main backbone tubing has been increased to 2.3mm compared to the 600âs 1.6mm.
Another major difference between the frames of the two models can be seen in the 900âs strongly reinforced steering head, which was designed to provide quicker, easier, and more assured handling at all levels of expertise and bank angle. Beneath this massive steering head, a single box-section downtube reaches down to a unique new front engine mount which incorporates an intermediate cross pipe to link the frame to the engineâs solid front mounts. Allowing the engine a precisely calculated amount of compliance, this specially developed mount plays a central role in the Hornet 900âs enhanced cornering feel.
Suspension, Wheels & Brakes
Owing to the Hornet 900âs higher performance specifications and slightly larger proportions and weight compared to the Hornet 600, a sturdy 43mm cartridge-type front fork was selected over the 600âs 41mm standard-issue stanchions. Featured on several of Hondaâs most highly tuned sport bikes, these forks provide excellent feel and response, as well as a comfortable and confident ride over varying road surfaces.
The Hornetâs monoshock rear suspension system features a heavy-duty remote reservoir damper supporting its massive yet lightweight aluminium swingarm. Featuring a large, one-piece cast pivot block and triple-box-section spars terminating in solid machined aluminium axle holders, this swingarm ensures the frame maintains a superb balance of rigidity and control, with excellent tracking and feedback. The high-performance damperâs remote reservoir helps reduce heat build-up while achieving the same effective volume and operating characteristics of a much larger and longer-stroke single-body damper. It also features 7-step adjustable spring preload for tuning to virtually any ride and road conditions.
The Hornet 900âs lightweight 3-spoke cast aluminium wheels are stopped by a powerful pair of 4-piston callipers like those used by the â96 FireBlade, providing strong, assured response to all braking inputs. At the rear, a lightweight single-piston calliper stops a large 240mm rotor for effective performance and reduced heat build-up. The wheels themselves mount the same wide-profile tyres featured on the Hornet 600 (and the FireBlade, as well), and feature new specially designed holes in their hubs and slimmer profile spokes to realise both reduced un-sprung weight and a bit more lateral flex that translates into more responsive feel in the corners. Larger-diameter axles (compared to the Hornet 600) also contribute to the Hornet 900âs more aggressive riding control. All combine to ensure the Hornet delivers a superb balance of roll and yaw characteristics leaning deep into corners, and light, responsive handling.
Another feature of the Hornet 900âs frame design is its emphasis on Îfeel.â Rather than being designed to convey a feeling of silky-smooth operation, the frame was tuned to emphasise the engineâs scintillating sensation of performance, particularly in the lower range of 150 to 400Hz. This gives the rider a more visceral feel of the Hornetâs power while minimising higher frequency mechanical noises and resonances that others around could find irritating.