Advantages Great VFM new or used, heaps of performance
Disadvantages Small poxy fuel tank, soft front end, clunky gearbox
Why and how We bought our Hornet: After a 7 year 40,000 mile love/hate relationship with our big V-Twin, came to an abrupt end on Easter Sunday 1999 (total write off), We, bike-less with £4000 of insurance money and savings burning a hole in our pocket, were looking for something reliable, easy to maintain and preferably a half or no fairing as we were sick of spending hours removing the previous bike's panels just to check the oil level or spark plug gaps!!. Oh, yes, it also had to cruise at the 'Ton' 2 up and be fun to ride. We chose the Hornet because it looked great, the finish was better than its rivals (Fazer, Bandit, SV650), and the price at £3900 OTR (Tilsons of Stockton) was £500 lower than anyone else was offering locally.Handling & ride: Fun, Fun, Fun, this bike brought out the hooligan far more than any of the other bikes owned. It's like riding a large enduro bike with the performance of a sports 600, "manic". In standard form it handles very well, inspiring confidence from the first moment ridden. The riding position is fairly neutral and allows the rider to balance and control the bike easily. This makes the Hornet easy to use in town and when commuting through heavy traffic. The seat is wide and comfy enough to outlast the contents of the tiny fuel tank (see "Living with it" below) and the pillion has no complaints (except when tall you loom quite high above the frontsman) as there is plenty of room and a user friendly grab rail. The bike's performance is excellent, you can sit at 90-100 mph all day even 2up and enjoy short bursts up to 130+ if you have the arms and neck for it! Motorways are ok but this bikes forte is twisty A and B roads where it's willing engine and light weight make it a joy to ride hard. Unfortunately the gearbox lets the side down with its clunky action and false neutrals if you are not ultra positive when selecting a new ratio. We have found that a good boot always works and so far the gearbox appears to enjoy this abuse, only time will tell. The 1999 model was the last one to have a 16" front wheel which can lead to the bike turning (or seeming to fall) into sharp corners too quickly for some. Fortunately for us our last bike also had a 16" front wheel so we were used to it. The brakes are good but when compared to other bikes like the Fazer they seem to lack bite. However, they have yet to let us down in any situation and they are very effective in wet or slippery conditions, where feel is more important than power. The biggest let down is in the suspension, which is very basic and lacks any adjustment other than rear pre load. The rear shock is generally ok but the damping and spring rate on the front is on the soft side and the forks have a tendency bottom out when asked to perform. The original Michelin Hi Sport tyres were excellent when warmed up but had a nervous feel in the wet.
Living with it: Fairly painless but as it’s a Honda we expected no less. It has been totally reliable with not even so much as a blown bulb in over 12,000 miles. Servicing is relatively cheap at about £85-£120 every 4000 miles. The original tyres (Michelin Hi sports) lasted approximately 8000 miles and were replaced with Koncord remoulds which came highly recommended by a friend & neighbour who is a well-known stunt rider (donut record holder) from the NE of England. The standard rear tyre size is 180/55/17 section, however, we are presently running a 170/55/17, and we are positive that this has improved the handling, allowing the bike to flow through corners, much more easily than with the standard tyre and it is much cheaper to buy, which is always good news. Fuel economy is ok at about 40-45 mpg but the real problem is the small fuel tank, which severely limits its range between stops. The best we've managed is 130 miles and the worst is 80 miles before reaching for the (far too small and fiddly) reserve tap. You then have about 30-40 miles to find some fuel, which in certain parts of the country, especially Scotland (where one of us work 5 days out of 7) can be a worrying problem. It is also a difficult and slow process trying to get 16 litres into the oddly shaped tank. Having no fairing means that everything around the engine and head stock is easily accessible, which is a good job because it also means that road dirt gets everywhere so you spend a lot of time cleaning it. Most of the bike is up to Honda's usual high standards, however, the bottom yoke on the front forks is starting to rust on my bike, and speaking to other owners this is not unusual for early bikes. There is useful storage space under the rather difficult to remove (but lockable) dual seat, with enough room for a U lock, puncture repair kit including mini pump and a useful cloth. Alternatively you could squeeze a pair of unlined overtrousers in. The tool kit also lives here along with access to the fuse box and rear shock adjuster. Lack of a centre stand means that you need a paddock stand to adjust the chain, but if you fit a automatic chain luber you wont need to do this very often.Accessories: The first thing replaced was the standard exhaust end can (too quiet, too heavy), which we replaced with a Scorpion Oval race can in stainless steel. No re-jetting was required on the dyno test and I gained 3-4 bhp at the rear wheel. Next to go were the indicators, which were exchanged for much smaller items in carbon effect plastic. Goodrich braided steel brake lines have replaced the standard rubber front items and have helped to improve the power and feel of the front brakes. The standard handlebars were replaced by Renthal "drag bike" bars which are 2" lower and 2" wider than standard which helps keep more weight over the front wheel, which in turn improves the handling at speed. Crash protectors as used by racers in the Hornet Cup are fitted to guard the engine, just in case we ever get it wrong. The last item to be fitted was a Pyramid Plastics Hugger to protect the rear of the bike especially the rear shock. This was simple to fit (but needed a little trimming to fit the non-standard pipe) and includes a chain guard, it looks good and is very effective at keeping the rear of the bike dirt free. Future modifications include progressive fork springs and fork oil change, EBC HH brake pads all round and possibly a small fly screen.
Would we recommend one? Hopefully that’s what we've just done. If you could change the fuel tank easily and for less than £250, we would keep it for ever slowly upgrading the weak areas as we went along, however, a bigger tank will cost around £400+ and so I will probably move on, as hugley long distance riding is a feature for us. The Hornet is in our opinion an excellent bike with more than enough performance for most riders and most roads in the UK and with the right improvements it could be the best bike we've ever owned.
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