I'm lucky in that during any year I get the opportunity to sample many different bikes. But whether on an intense track test, a four-day sprint across Europe or a new model launch, I always ask myself if I could live with whatever bike I happen to be riding.
Although the answer is mostly 'yes', I would draw the line at anything with a cab or a diesel engine. Fortunately, for this year my new longtermer has neither.
I was keen to have Honda's 600 Hornet for lots of reasons, not least that I've found myself with a GSX-R1000 for the last three years and it was time for a change.
Being a child of the 70s I dribbled many times over a maroon Honda CB400-Four that was parked up halfway along my milk round. It seemed really dinky, and the four-into-one exhaust was a work of 1976 art. Seeing that particular tool parked up each morning was probably the highlight of those chilly 4.45am rises, beaten only by the eight quid wages that were handed over every Friday.
I see the little Hornet 600 as the 21st Century equivalent of the baby 400, a bike which, in my opinion, still appears timeless.
Like my WR250 enduro machine, the Hornet is a bike you are happy to use just to nip down to the paper shop on but, unlike my WR250, it is also happy cruising along at 90mph or showing pupils the way round Donington or Knockhill while instructing at my track days (although, admittedly, it isn't so good off-road).
I picked up my Hornet from the TWO offices after dropping off a monstrous BMW R1200ST that I'd just ridden back from the Nurburgring, which made the Honda feel more like a BMX. It felt about half the size of the BM and seemed to change direction with even the slightest of nudges. For the first few miles I definitely felt a bit vulnerable, but after a while we gradually became acquainted so I'm now looking forward to a long and happy relationship together.
I'm a touch old fashioned in that I like to run new bikes in, so I've been fairly gentle on her up to now. The upside being that I've so far managed over 140 miles on occasions before the fuel gauge has had an epileptic fit at me and demanded I spend money on more fuel. The 1998-spec CBR600 motor feels sweet but I've still to unleash the claimed 96bhp as I'm only revving her to around 7000rpm - 94mph in sixth - until I see 1000 miles on the clock. It has a slight on/off throttle flat spot but I'm hoping this will disappear with more miles on the clock and a good first service.
Poking around a new bike as you do, I noticed there is no possibility to fiddle with the suspension beyond rear preload adjustment, which I reckon is no bad thing. It means when I do want to pick up the pace on a track day I'll have to make the difference with my riding as opposed to messing about with suspension. I'm relishing the challenge already! At least the new USD forks and Michelin Pilot Road tyres mounted on three-spoke rims look like they'll do the biz.
I also like the minimalist but perfectly formed dash; it's very easy on the eye while incorporating all the essential information. The 'funky' theme throughout works nicely, from the four-into-two-into-one upswept flat track-style pipe, to the Slinky-covered top radiator hose and rear footpeg hangers that look like Bourbon biscuits. You'll know what I mean when you see them.
Not having a say in the colour of Hornet on offer I'm not sure the metallic burnt gold/orange would be my number one choice, but I'm giving it time to grow on me. It didn't help when my TWO colleagues commented on the colour and accused me of exploring my feminine side. Damn, I've been rumbled. Talking of feminine, this could be one for the ladies as James Whitham said his wife Andrea would love the light handling and low seat height (or could it be the tingly vibes from the back of the tank?).
So far I've found this an easy bike to live with and, apart from maybe distorted vision caused by vibrating mirrors, there is nothing I really dislike.
This year I'm planning to make some long distance trips, thrash round some racetracks and do a few stoppies and wheelies along the way, so watch this space.
'You're never too old to make a mistake.' That's what someone old, and probably wise, once told me.
Well, after 70 miles of motorway riding on the Hornet I couldn't believe the fuel warning light was on.
Cursing the Hornet's poor fuel economy (I don't like throwing my money away you know, and the tank was definitely full when I started), I decided that not only does the motor rev a bit too much on the motorway but it also needs a bigger tank. Then I noticed that I'd been in fifth gear the whole journey...
Bike full, and with sixth gear engaged, it managed a far more respectable 120 miles until the warning light came on, even cruising at 90mph! Lesson learned, and from that moment on the Honda has worked really well on the motorway.
I've got to say I'm ever more impressed by the Hornet. The engine is smooth, it's comfortable, and although it doesn't have a fairing this hasn't proved a problem during the 160-mile round trip to the Eurosport office in Slough when I have to do their TV commentary.
As well as the boring motorway hauls I've also been using the Hornet as an instructor's bike at Ron Haslam's Donington race school. Taylor, my eldest lad, has been on a few of the schools riding a CBR125 and I've been showing him, as well as a few other 'lucky' pupils, the way round on the Hornet.
Fair enough, the pace isn't stupid-fast but the Honda has proved itself first-class. Ground clearance hasn't been too much of an issue, although I'm sure if the pace was much higher it would be, but what has impressed me the most are the standard Michelin Pilot tyres. In the dry they are very impressive,
gripping really well and virtually refusing to wear out at all, and in the wet they are simply awesome.
Riding down the motorway in the wet I'd swear I was on dry tarmac if it wasn't for the rain dripping down my back.
Right now the Hornet is back at Honda for its 600 mile first service. I've been chastised by the workshop's lads as it's actually showing 1600 miles on the clocks - very, very sorry again - but they're obviously not that cross with me as it now has a ton of official Honda goodies just waiting to be fitted.
A pillion seat cowl (£100) should tidy up the rear, the hugger (£100) keep crap off the rear shock, belly pan (£225) make it looks a bit tricker and screen (£60) will help ease motorway miles. It's a few quid's worth but it's all genuine Honda stuff, so its colour matched and the quality is top notch. As for the colour matched engine decorators (£40), well I'm reserving judgement to see if they grow on me.
In the meantime the weather is good and I'm off to Scotland on holiday. Hopefully the Hornet will be ready when I get back as I have a few more days' instructing at Donington and Knockhill and I don't think that Taylor's bored of two-wheels just yet.
I WAVED FAREWELL to my Hornet recently and, while I wasn't sobbing uncontrollably, there was a tinge of sadness in my heart as my trusty, dependable companion departed into the winter gloom.
Honest and trustworthy are the two words that best describe the Hornet. It delivered total reliability every time I pushed the start button. An all-rounder that doesn't excel at anything isn't always a bad thing; I found the Hornet equally capable both instructing at Knockhill or cruising along for 140 miles between fuel stops en route to BSB races. It would also happily perform wheelies and stoppies - naughty, I know, but occasionally necessary when you're having a bad day.
Highlights of my year with the Hornet were showing my 12-year-old, Taylor, the quick lines round Donington at the Ron Haslam Race School, and being silly at Knockhill with the other instructors, seeing who could get the highest speed on the clock before braking for the hairpin (I managed to win that with 124mph).
I also did some hairy pillion laps at Donington, which had many of my track day regulars grinning.
That Knockhill braking test prompted the need for the only consumables of the year as I finished off a set of front brake pads within a few hours. I replaced these with Carbone Lorraine A3+ pads (call PMM UK on 0845 6094949 or go to www.carbonelorraine-moto.com). They gave more bite than the originals and were still going strong when the bike went back. I tried in vain to wear out the OE Michelin Pilot Roads, which I have to say performed exceptionally well wet or dry. If I were ever to ride around the world with Nick Sanders these would be the tyres I'd choose. Stickier rubber would be of no real advantage anyway, since ground clearance is limited by the low pegs.
After a visit to the beauty parlour my Hornet returned draped in Burnt Orange Bling, (nose fairing, belly pan, generator cover and pillion seat cover) most of which I liked. The seat cover looked the part but undoing the screws every time someone wanted to go pillion was too time consuming.
Like most Hondas, the 600 Hornet delivers without fail and will be a trustworthy friend however long the relationship lasts. I enjoyed our year together but unfortunately the time has come to move on.