I’m in the middle of a decreasing radius corner and I’m wondering if I’m about to get stung. No, there’s not a wayward bee in my helmet, but from the buzzing in my crotch there’s no doubt I’m on a 600; the Hornet 600, or Honda 599, depending on which part of the globe you’re in. There’s a lot of sting here but it all seems to be directed at the road, which, after pushing the 919 hard is a really pleasant surprise. The 599 is not serious fun, it’s anything but serious.
Instead it’s giddy, illicit, veering, party-like-a-rock-star and then do it all over again in the next corner fun. If the 919 is the Queen of the Hive, then the 599 is a lighter, faster, nimbler, and more industrious worker bee – who’s shunned the work part and applied its ethic to partying-on-down. It has some serious “canned heat in its heels”.
So why am I surprised by all this? For one, when out romping on the 919 we found the chassis and suspension a little soft and wobbly in corners when pressed really hard. So when spying the 599’s non-adjustable front and 7-position pre-load rear suspenders I was literally bracing for the worst. Truth is, the smaller hornet handles the twisties with a dexterity that it’s bigger sibling would do well to emulate. It’s almost as if one engineer at Honda said let’s save some dollars and lowball the suspension, and another came along and made sure that the chassis and suspension was good enough it simply wouldn’t need much tweaking by mere mortals like magazine editors and commuters… The editors especially, they always make a hack job of it in ways engineers never dreamed of, “testing” they call it. Postulating about how it all came about pushed aside, the result is a small, nimble bike that leaves you with a manic grin from entrance, to apex, to exit – to quote Goldmember, “It’s soooo toit!” Push those wide bars, press that inner peg, shift off the seat a little, and apply a lot more throttle. Shift your weight a bit more forward and onto the bars and it gets even better. Warning, you could well mortify a few sportbikers out there while you’re at it, because if you really want to push it, the 599 is there for you.
In traffic the story is the same; left to right swervies and veering is delinquently easy. It’s perfect for the aggressive urban commuter, the occasional emergency avoidance or the hooligan in you. Regardless, grab a little front brake, press the wide bars and suddenly the SUV behind you is looking for the nearest drycleaners – it’s shit disturbingly nimble.
So all this talk of nimble, speed, and cornering – if you got the idea the 599 can be a lot of fun then you’d be right. As a bonus it’s real world fun; the 599, unlike its engine donor CBR600RR, feels fast when you’re going fast. The CBR600RR only feels fast at speeds that are seriously extra-legal. The 599 feels fast at 110kph – it may be a function of the airflow, which blocked by the headlight and instrument cluster was mysteriously cleaner at speed than the 919, or it could be the engine.
Some engines are revvy, some are rev-happy, and this one? Lifted from the CBR600F3 it’s just rev-delirious. I’ve always found revvier engines to perceptually feel faster. The 599 requires some serious winding up; the first half of the bike’s 13,000 RPM redline goes fast and you get little pull to show for it. At 7,000 RPM the induction howl starts and the engine, shrieking like Celine Dion being painfully genetically merged with Christina Aguilera, gives good pull.
Indeed the bike doesn’t really hit its stride until 9,000RPM – leaving 4,000 ear-piercing RPMs to go before a shift is mandatory. Damn it’s not pleasant, but in some S&M way you’ll revel in making this bike yowl! Of course it is a 600, so all the while this is going on the bike is buzzing. Dubbing it the Hornet is a surprisingly accurate marketing faux pas.
I’ve ridden long distances on a 600 before, Vancouver to Phoenix and back on a Bandit 600. I now remember why I bought an ST1100 right after that ride; the 599 brings back those memories of angry, throbbing, buzzing– through the bars, the pegs, and the seat.
For a while it’s fun… that in-seat tingle could almost result in a bike-sexual experience. You think to yourself, maybe it’s just fondling me, feeling me up, maybe the bike is just asking me to third base or fifth gear. But soon you realize it’s just a tease. There is no follow-up to the foreplay; there is only more buzzing. Buzzing and the induction howl. It will get to you over the long distances, even with ear plugs, unless you drop to below 7,000 RPM and then there’s just no pull. So here’s where the hornet stings you, in your ears, your numb hands, and the arse – which leaves it a mystery as to why Honda would slap a fairing on it, detune it, and turn it into the CB600FS – essentially an insufferably buzzy Pan European 600 for the German market, complete with ABS to supplement the already competent binders.
For reason of engine alone, the 599 becomes a toy, impractical for longer distances or a commuter for in-city hauls. A day on the 599 and the howling buzz will drain the life force from you. But a spirited romp on the local coffee run and you’ll find more than enough maniacal giggling fits and face cleaving grins as you frenetically lever-play the transmission. Shifting is solid and maybe a bit clunky. Not as refined as its sibling 919, but it’s not inconvenient and showed no false neutrals and only a little clunk from first to second. Even first gear offers up a few amusements. Toodling around parking lots doing low-speed maneuvers with the bars locked, the bike feels a bit top heavy, but as soon as you ease back even the slightest from the stops a whole new career path opens up. Just don a fez, and start figure-eighting around the big top and change your name to Bobo. Well, if you’re 6”2’ anyway, as for the taller folks this bike might be a bit on the cramped side, though our Cameraman at 5”10’ had no issues with the 31.5-inch inseam. The only problematic step in the low speed song and dance is the carburetion.
In a world that’s gone all Atkins, “carbs” is almost a dirty word, so too with the world of bikes. We’ve tested so many fuel-injected bikes of late that the rich analog feel of carburetion has almost been forgotten, so excuse us when we shamefacedly admit that we almost missed the choke – though not the warm up. We’re not abusive after all. Pulling from a stop the 599 requires a bit of a tender touch to throttle and clutch bringing it to 3000 RPM before the bike develops any power at all, after which this analog beast offers sweet linear throttle response – almost like the warm fuzzy sound of vinyl compared to fuel injection’s crisp digital CD response.
The braking is busy being impeccable too; it comes across as being very well matched to the 599. Actually, it feels better than should be delivered from the parts-bin dual 296mm rotors in the front being born down upon by twin pistons and rear 220mm disc with single piston. It may have a lot to do with the weight of the bike being brought down from speed, a mere 401 lbs/182 kg dry as well as the traction offered by the fresh Michelin Sport-Pilots mounted to our tester. Once scrubbed-in, these buns let us revel in the delight of new tire adhesion to asphalt and the rhythm of the corners.
So where does the 599 fit in the MP3 playlist of bike-dom? The naked bike is a well-known and loved standard, but the 599 it’s one hell of a remix. It grabs you and drags you out onto the floor all frantic and grooving. Before you know it the time is later than you thought, your ears are ringing, and you know you’ll probably be sore the next day. Is it a commuter? Absolutely, if you like arriving at work grinning like an idiot and so wired on adrenaline that you’d likely be sent home for reasons of mental incompetence. Damn another day off… the horror, thankfully with the 599 there’s no need to wait till the clubs open.
So which would we choose, the 599 or 919, judgement is served… with a nice dessert wine.
Test Bike Provided By:
Carter Motorsports Coquitlam
#11-1300 Woolridge St.
Phone: (604) 519-0000
Fax: (604) 519-0008