|Copyright MCN 2001.
World's first test on Honda's new Hornet 900.
Ride in Japan reveals it's easy to ride fast and a real dream on twisting roads.
10 Oct 2001
By Laurent Benchana
HONDA'S new Hornet 900 comes with an asking price of under £6000, a fun-loving attitude and a wild streak that will have you laughing time after time.
We managed to get a first ride on the new Hornet 900 in Japan and though the bike wasn't the exact same specification as the European model weâll get later this year, it gives us a clear idea about what the 22bhp more powerful European bike will be like.
The fact is it's fun in restricted Japanese trim. So itâs going to be an absolute hoot when it gets here.
Weâll also get a choice of blue, black and silver instead of the red and grey bikes we've tested here.
Itâs barely any bigger than the 600 Hornet to look at and barely distinguishable from it at first glance. On paper the ground clearance, seat height and length are not noticeably different from its rivals but on the scales it weighs in a full 14kg less than its current lightest rival, the Yamaha Fazer 1000.
The frame is basically the same design as a Hornet 600 mono-backbone frame but with a thicker tube running down the main central beam. The steering head has also been heavily increased and beefed up to cope with the extra power and speed of the bike, and the increased braking force. The new frame is only 6kg heavier than the Hornet 600 frame.
The front engine mounts are also new and feature a thick bar that comes down from the massive steering head to a cross pipe that the engine hangs off.
The motor itself is taken from the CBR900RR from 1998 and is only lightly modified. It has fuel-injection in place of carburettors and a different head and valvetrain to give the bike stronger low down acceleration and great throttle response· but less top-end performance.
Honda claims the bike has a 30-per cent improvement in the lower rev range with the Japanese-spec bike making 87bhp and 62ftlb of torque, while the full monty bike we're getting in the UK will make 109bhp and 68ftlb.
The seat height is only 5mm taller than the Hornet 600 - you have a short reach to the handlebars and your legs sit high up on the footrests. From the first turn of the wheels you know the resemblance to the 600 is more than just physical.
In fact it's so easy to ride fast, it's an absolute dream on mountain roads, even if we can't quite tell if the power of the bike will be anywhere near a match for the Fazer 1000, but the handling is right at the top of the class.
You can pitch it into corners hard and even fully cranked over the bike feels like it's got everything well under control, right to the limit.
And after no time at all it gently coaxes you into going faster thanks to the ease with which it changes direction and the fact that it has exceptional stability.
The suspension is softer than anything youâll find on a sports bike but the Hornet doesn't seem to mind, taking bumps as well as it takes corners.
It's only when you start going quicker on the bike that it starts to reveal where money has been saved. For example, there's no adjustment on the 43mm front forks and you can only adjust the rear shock for preload.
It's a shame because even in this lower-powered version, the modified four-cylinder Blade motor works beautifully with the bike. It has a smoother gearbox than on other early Blade motors and the brakes, which are slightly modified with 296mm front discs and calipers from the 1996 Blade, are spot-on.
Itâs not mega-fast but the engine absolutely thunders between 3000 and 7000rpm. And though it's not going to fill you full of adrenalin much after that, the Hornet 900 (in this state of tune) will be an awesome town bike and undoubtedly an even better blast on back roads in full tune.
But from a standing start between two sets of traffic lights up to 70/80mph, the modified Blade engine would spank the bike it's based on.
It has the same light handling in town as the Hornet 600. But on a twisty road with the full power engine this bike will be absolutely hilarious.
OK, so you're not going to want to go very far on it· there's minimal wind protection and a pillion seat the size of a couple of slices of toast, there's no centrestand and limited suspension adjustment. But if your idea of a good day out is blasting off from the lights and wringing a bike's neck up to 100mph, it'll be a great choice.