Honda CB900F Hornet
Just when we were at risk of changing this section of the mag from ‘Our Bikes’ to ‘Guido’s Bikes’ – Guy Allen’s large and exotic fleet is certainly an excellent and ready source of MT articles – I thought I’d throw in an update on my humble and unassuming steed, a Honda Hornet 900.
No, it’s not exactly collectable (maybe in another century or so) and no, it’s a far cry off ‘red plate’ club status here in Victoria (it’s a 2006 build), but it’s certainly a well-used machine, practical, flexible, and exactly what I need from the best bike in my collection – okay, the only bike in my collection.
Truth is, with the relatively recent arrival of kids, a mortgage and the proverbial (and literal) bills to pay, minimising my overheads is my top priority. Yes, there are cheaper ‘all-rounders’ out there, but having a bit of poke was also on my agenda. Cue the arrival, five years ago, of my Hornet 900 – a former Honda press fleet bike, which I picked up with just a handful of kays on its clock.
The Hornet is my prime source of solo transport, with my venerable VS Commodore (for weekend family duties) and intermittent spins on test bikes filling the gaps. The Hornet’s made the trek up to my folks’ place in Port Macquarie, NSW, twice (a round trip of about 2500km), but other than very rare Sunday strops, it dutifully handles my weekly commute – around 500km a week.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
The model itself is pretty simple in concept, design and execution. Not to be confused with the CB900s of the early ’80s, the CB900F Hornet followed in the wheel tracks of the CB600F Hornet launched in 1998 (and the Hornet 250 launched in Japan in 1996), although the CB900F didn’t actually arrive until 2002.
Essentially a pared-back streetfighter with an upright ride position, relatively flat ‘bars, no fairing and spirited performance, the Hornet 900 scored the 919cc, liquid-cooled inline four from the 1998 Fireblade, but retuned for more midrange and with fuel injection instead of carbs. It’s good for a claimed 81kW (110hp) at 9000rpm and 92Nm (67.8ft-lb) at 6500rpm – sprightly enough in a package weighing a claimed 194kg (dry).
The model lasted until 2007, and other than a suspension upgrade in 2004 – to a fully adjustable front fork and a monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound – it remained virtually untouched. Proof enough of a good thing, I reckon.
Marketed by Honda as a balls-out back-street brawler when new, with the passing of time the Hornet 900 has slipped comfortably into middle age, trading its 14-hole Doc Marten
boots for a pair of moccasin slippers. A bit like me, uncharitable types might say… “Bland but capable” seems to be the harshest charge levelled at it today, but depending on what you want, that’s no bad thing.
THE STORY SO FAR…
So, with the odometer now nudging 60,000km, roughly 99 per cent of which are mine, what’s life’s been like with this do-the-lot machine? In a word, ‘easy’. I’ve owned a string of Hondas, including a Hornet 600 for a few years, and very little goes wrong with them. In the case of this Hornet 900, I’ve only had two issues in all those kays.
About 18 months ago the headlight blew, or so I thought. It turned out to be down to a broken wire in the handlebar switchblock. And about 35,000km into its life, the OEM brake discs warped a little – I have no idea why. On went a set of aftermarket wave discs – Chinese cheapies – and that horrible pulsing at the lever was a thing of the past. With Goodridge braided brake lines and Bendix pads, she now stops like a good un’.
I’ve run a variety of tyres on it but the last set, provided by Pirelli, has simply been the best by far. The Pirelli Road Angel STs ($189.00 for the 120/70-ZR17 and $289.00 for the 180/55-ZR17) grip well wet or dry, deliver a fine level of feedback and last incredibly well. I hadn’t got more than 14,000km out of a set of hoops on the Hornet before, but the Road Angels have now covered 17,000km, and they’re not quite done yet – how good’s that?
The OEM chain went to god with around 30,000km on it, but my replacement – a top-shelf RK GB530GXW ($289.00) – looks like it will last a good measure beyond that distance. The gold finish costs a few bucks more, but it looks the goods (provided you keep it clean).
A couple of years back I had Motologic (03 9357 9705) in Melbourne swap the standard springs out for stiffer aftermarket items front and rear to better suit my 95kg weight. It was a simple operation worth around $650, and it transformed the bike’s ride – it’s carved rock-solid lines through corners ever since.
BAGS OF PRACTICALITY
As for extras, the factory fly screen ($206.03) and centrestand ($499.40) went on when I bought it – both essentials, in my book, for comfort and practicality – but just recently distributor Kenma (02 9484 0777) sent me a set of Aussie-made Oggie Knobs (from $140.00) and a Ventura Mistral Touring-kit ($489.00). The Oggies went on in about five minutes and they’ll pay for themselves in an instant by protecting the engine cases in the event of a spill. The Ventura system, meanwhile, has revolutionised my commute.
For years now, I’ve carted stuff around on my bikes with a shoulder bag. Now I simply chuck everything in the new Mistral bag, which slips on and off the matching rack in seconds. The Mistral has a generous 47lt capacity and, unlike older equivalents, it keeps its shape, even when empty, thanks to its moulded panels.
Installation was as simple as unbolting the pillion grabrail and bolting on the Ventura rack – about 10 minutes all up. The Mistral bag simply slips over the frame and is secured with two plastic clips, and when you’ve reached your destination a couple of shoulder straps convert it into a backpack. It’s well made and super convenient, and importantly it doesn’t affect my ability to filter through tight traffic. I’ll give you a full rundown on it in six or so months, after it’s copped some abuse.
COUNTING THE COST
Overall the servicing costs have been moderate, mainly because I carry out much of the work myself – oil changes, filter changes, fitting the new chain and sprockets and so on. The last valve check (done every 24,000km) was carried out by Sixty Degrees Motorcycles (03 9562 6603) in Melbourne’s Notting Hill – I like the shop’s personalised service, and the $550 seemed very reasonable compared to the roughly $800 quoted by other, far bigger operations.
On the road the Hornet is a delight – comfortable, great for lanesplitting, and responsive. The gearbox isn’t Honda’s best work, but it gets the job done, and with the uprated springs the suspension is sorted. With an average fuel economy of around 17km/lt, I generally find myself filling up at around the 280-290km mark; no complaints there. I run 91RON fuel – no need to line the oil companies’ pockets any more than I need to, I figure.
Is it bland? Well, in comparison to more sporting fair, sure – but it still beats any four-wheeler and a good many bikes from a standing start and it’s a beaut wheelie machine, so it’s hardly got one wheel in the nursing home.
The paint and plastics are holding up really well, although the header pipes are now looking downright daggy. That’s okay, it’s a work hack – I can live with that.
So, that’s life aboard my Hornet 900: fuss free, fun, and affordable. At this stage I don’t think I’ll ever sell it, so maybe we’ll take another look at it in these pages with 100,000km under its wheels…
Honda CB900F Hornet
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-stroke, 16-valve, in-line four-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 71mm x 58mm
Compression ratio: 10.8:1
Fuel system: EFI
Type: Six-speed, constant mesh
Final drive: Chain
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Steel mono backbone
Front suspension: Conventional 43mm fork, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adjustable for preload and rebound
Front brakes: Twin 320mm discs with four-piston Nissin calipers
Rear brake: Single 260mm disc with single-piston Nissin caliper
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Dry weight: 194kg
Seat height: 795mm
Fuel capacity: 19lt
Max power: 81kW (110hp) at 9000rpm
Max torque: 92Nm (67.8ft-lb) at 6500rpm
Price (new, in 2006): $13,990*
Price (now, as seen): Approx. $5000
*Manufacturer’s list price excluding dealer and statutory costs