Road testers say... - Ducati UpNorth

Road testers say... - Ducati UpNorth

Road testers

Simon Hargreaves

Age 34


Simon’s ridden

almost every new

bike in the last 10

years. He was at the

1992 launch of

Honda’s first naked

’retro’, the CB1000.

Britain’s most

experienced tester?

Honda Hornet 900

918cc, £6299

Tom Bedford

Age 26


As an experienced road

tester and former

racer, Tom has been

testing bikes for a

variety of magazines

for the last five years

You name it, he’s

toured, cruised and

raced the lot.

FireBlade motor in a

600 Hornet frame –

sounds like an explosive

combination of high

power and low weight.

On paper, anyway.

First ride December 2001.

Jim Moore

Age 28


Road riding for more

than 10 years, road

testing for six years,

freelance tester Jim

recently swapped his

prized R6 for a

CRM250 to

preserve his

battered licence. the


Honda’s Blade-engined 900 Hornet, Triumph’s 955i-powered 2002 Speed Triple and



955cc, £7999

Ducati’s 916-driven Monster S4 – ultimate hooligans or ideal learner upgrades?

Triumph Speed Triple 955i

The latest version of

Triumph’s Daytona

flagship race rep filters

down to an updated

version of the familiar

Speed Triple chassis.

First ride December 2001.

Ducati Monster S4

916cc, £7700

The legendary 916

motor lives on in

Ducati’s trellis frame

and big-name wheels,

suspension and brakes.

Latest version of a now

classic Ducati. Last

tested May 2001.



Silver, blue, black

88 B MARCH 2002

IF HONDA SAID, at the start of Blade-mania in 1992, they

were making a streetfighter CBR900RR you’d have had a

coronary. The biggest bike manufacturer just built the most

exciting bike, so a naked version must be fearsome.

Maybe not. Experience says don’t get excited about

‘retros’ using up detuned stocks of yesterday’s sports engines

in budget chassis (early Bandit 1200s aside). They’re never as

mad as they promise. No, if anyone should get excited by

the Hornet 900, it’s Hornet 600 owners looking to trade up.

There’s much in the 900 they’ll find familiar, although

parts are different. The 900’s engine is a 1998 918cc in-line

four Blade with a crucial 20bhp lopped off the top (114bhp

to 94bhp), and fuel injection instead of carbs. The FireBlade

also contributes brakes, wheels and tyre sizes, but everything

Price £6299 power 94.6bhp top speed 140mph (est)


(from left): Hornet clocks are

clean and uncluttered and, er,

sorry, where were we? The 1998

Blade motor makes 94bhp as

reliably as only a 120bhp motor

can. As it happens, the 1994

Blade Nissin brakes also stop

the 194kg Hornet as effectively

as they do a 185kg FireBlade

else is 600 Hornet-derived – frame is a reinforced version of

the 600’s steel spine, tank three litres bigger, seat 5mm taller,

weight up 15kg, wheelbase up 40mm and steering geometry

roughly the same. Insurance is a group higher and the asking

£1650 steeper at £6299 (cheaper than the Speed Triple or S4).

The bits are different, the philosophy’s the same: like the

600, the 900 is no brain-off shit-kicker but a simple, solid,

bike ideal for recent converts. Despite dimensional increases

over the 600 Hornet, the 900 is tiny (ladies and dwarves

form a queue). It looks it from behind, with VFR-ish waisted

rear end and twin understeat cans. It’s easily manoeuvrable,

with nifty steering and just-so throttle response. Engine

pick-up is sharp and efficient (almost too sharp, thanks to

enthusiastic fuel injection), the budget suspension is quality,

and one-size-fits-all riding position perfectly placed for

optimum nipping in and out round town. Narrow bars are

low on style, high on convenience – they lower the Hornet’s

frontal area and don’t overstretch arms. This is good – wide

bars look cool but hurt on the road. The Hornet cruises at

100mph – Triumph’s Speed Triple is agony over 90mph.

To keep Horneteers from scaring themselves, the docile

Blade motor surfs through its neat gearbox with such

ruthless inconsequence it’s hard to imagine anything more

civilised and less memorable. There’s enough gearing to

overtake without changing down, but not the torquewrench

of big-bore retros like Suzuki’s GSX1400 or the top

end zasp of Yamaha’s Fazer 1000. It leaves the Honda flat and

characterless – it could use the loopy powerband and sonic

the test

Performance criteria for

the test are all marked

out of 20, making a

maximum possible 100.

booming of the new VFR800. As it is, the only way to make

the Hornet more user-friendly would be to include a free

chauffeur with every bike to ride it on your behalf.

The understressed engine will run forever, but finish is

poor – rust showed on the exhaust skins after a couple of

days. Less serious, but as annoying, is the inaccessible choke

mounted behind the cylinder block. It’d take Honda five

minutes to find elsewhere to put it. But that would be four

minutes longer than they took coming up with the idea of

the Hornet 900 in the first place. In the same way the

original FireBlade was a flash of unalloyed genius, the

Hornet 900 is a masterstroke of mediocrity, plugging a post-

600 Hornet, pre-FireBlade gap. A perfect upgrade for novice

bikers, but never did a bike more deserve to be painted grey.


1998 Blade motor is

missing 20bhp at the top

end. It’s nippy and

responsive without being

memorable. Run forever.

Gearbox is good.


Budget Honda is always

a notch above other

manufacturers’ budget

stuff. Brakes and

suspension work well.


Compared to the Ducati

S4 and Triumph Speed

Triple, the Hornet is a



Honda quality inside let

down by suspect outside.

Chrome exhaust skins rust,

choke invisible, no

centrestand. Rear

mudguard rubbish – rider

gets sprayed up the back

with road crap. Messy.


The grey bike is uniformly

dull, but even the blue

ones fail to rescue the

Hornet from car park


TOTAL 70/100

It didn’t have to be a

nutter’s bike, but it could

have been a bit more

interesting. But no – the

sharp edges have been

filed, the point blunted.

Honda built the gun, then

to make it safe left out the

firing pin.

MARCH 2002 B








Black or red (that’ll be

red, then)

90 B MARCH 2002

THE MONSTER concept began in 1993 as an air-cooled,

two-valve 900SS with no fairing, flat bars and lots of attitude.

For seven years it stayed the same, bar minor styling, engine

and chassis mods (and fuel injection in 2000). Then, in

2001, came the S4 label and an overhaul. Ducati repeated

the trick – they de-faired their outdated sports tourer, the

916-engined ST4, and styled-up what was left with big-name

chassis parts: 43mm adjustable usd Showa forks, adjustable

Sachs rear shock, Brembo brakes, lightweight five-spoke

wheels and more carbon than you can shake a hugger at.

If the Hornet is a logical progression from its smaller,

600cc bro, the 900 Monster is an illogical progression from

the 750cc and 620cc Monsters. Where the Hornet is so

mainstream it’s drowning, the Monster is ankle-deep in a

Price £7700 power 100.1bhp top speed 144mph


(from left): clocks are almost as

dull as the Honda’s, but at least

the flapping flyscreen takes your

mind off them. Meanwhile, the

Sachs shock is buried behind a

maze of carbon fibre, chromemoly

trellis frame and alloy

hangers. And the brakes might

be Brembo, but road salt is still

road salt

cultural backwater, the choice of connoisseurs and perverts.

Where the Hornet has one annoying flaw, the Monster has

many. And where the Hornet is reliably dull, the Monster is

either entertaining or irritating, depending on your point of

view (ironically, Bike criticised the S4 in our first test, May

2001, for having less character than the original Monster).

This is not a bike for novices. They’d hate the snatchy

low down V-twin power that makes dawdling a pain, and the

weight of the controls – clutch is too heavy, brakes too sharp

for newbies. And they wouldn’t understand why the mirrors

blur, and even less why the restricted steering lock gives the

Monster a planetary orbit-sized turning circle. There’s no

sidestand lug either, so you can’t get a foot on it to flick it

down. In fact, you don’t have to be a novice to find this

distressing. I’ve been riding for 20 years and it bugs me.

But senior ed Hugo, whose long termer this S4 is, has

ridden for centuries and loves the Monster. “It’s a top

motorcycle,” he says. “It’s so much fun, it’s all I want.”

What Hugo likes is involvement with a bike which goes

beyond getting on, pressing the starter, riding it, and getting

off. And the S4 delivers. From ignition to engine stop, you’re

intoxicated by a visceral overload of hot metal and oil,

bellowing airbox and exhaust, and rough-hewn V-twin

vibes. The S4’s 100bhp comes from a different place to the

Hornet’s 96bhp. The Honda has a smooth, innocuous rush

of power, the Ducati makes you feel every suck squeeze bang

blow. The riding position is odd, too – the raised clip-ons tilt

the rider into an aggressive, forward-leaning stance,

the test

Performance criteria for

the test are all marked

out of 20, making a

maximum possible 100.

shoulders spread and feet tucked neatly below. It’s not

uncomfortable but it’s different. With the flyscreen, it makes

the S4 the most comfortable long distance, or at speed.

Handling is different, too. The Hornet demands no work

– every operation is preordained, directed by remote control

from Japan. The Italians just get on with it – on stock

settings the S4 doesn’t have the ride quality of the Hornet.

Ducati sets up its bikes, from race reps to sports tourers, for

bum-smooth racetracks. If you want them to work anywhere

else, tough – that’s what damping screws and ride height

adjusters are for. In the meantime, feel the bumps and hear

the engine bark under pressure – this is real motorcycling,

not for beginners. Yes, an imperfect upgrade for novice

bikers, but never did a bike more deserve to be painted red.


100bhp 916-derived

effort, feels fit and

delivers Ducati-style

progress. Still a pain at

low rpm – so rev it more.


Has the names, but just

because they work on a

996 doesn’t mean the

same goes for a roadster.

Too harsh for sitting back

and plugging around.

Brakes feel pants, too.


Lots of money – nearly a

grand and a half dearer

than the Hornet, which is

a lot of money to pay for



Doesn’t ooze quality –

wouldn’t take too many

winters to rot the

downpipes, corrode the

banjo bolts, seize the

calipers, etc. Lots of

niggly places for crap

to build up, too.


More stand out than the

Hornet, less than the

Speed Triple. Doesn’t look

as good as the old

Monster, we reckon. The

916 engine was never built

to be beautiful to the eye.

TOTAL 69/100

Too charismatic to score

highly – you have to be a

Ducatiphile to get the

point, and if you aren’t

besotted with the marque

you’re unlikely to be

converted by the S4. If,

on the other hand,

you’re sure you want

a naked Ducati, you’ll

love it to bits.

MARCH 2002 B









Blue, pink

92 MARCH 2002

OF THE THREE bikes here, the Speed Triple is the cheekiest.

If the Hornet is a Blade engine in a 600 Hornet chassis, and

the S4 a restyled ST4 minus the fairing, then the Speed Triple

is built on the Daytona 955i production line right up to the

very end, when Triumph fits a fairing and clip-ons to one

bike and bug-eye lights and flat bars to another.

It’s so close I’m surprised Triumph doesn’t just sell the

Daytona with a quick-release fairing and a conversion kit.

Take around 30 seconds to swap them – bingo! Two bikes for

the price of one. The seat unit, seat, frame, subframe, brakes,

engine casings, major engine components, front wheel,

forks, shock, mudguard, tank, even the new clocks are a ripoff

(the digital speedo looks disembodied, yet strangely

pleasing, hovering above the pair of headlights). The factory

Price £7999 power 112bhp top speed 125mph 0-60mph 4.2s


(from left): now this is more like

it. Triumph nick the clocks

straight off the 955i Daytona

and, rather than change the logo

on the clocks, rename the Speed

Triple instead. The engine is the

most visually stimulating of the

bunch, even with the Valentine’s

Day massacre-style bolts

can’t even be arsed to remove the 955i logo from the tacho –

it’s cheaper to stick the number in the bike’s name instead.

The only substantial differences between the two are the

Triple’s single-sided swing-arm (the stock Daytona has a

conventional swing-arm) and the Triple’s 112bhp compared

to the Daytona’s 130bhp (achieved mostly by dragging the

Daytona’s rev limit forward 1000rpm). And it doesn’t matter

a fig, because those changes are enough to make the Triple

completely different in character to anything else in

Triumph’s range. Or in anyone else’s, for that matter.

The Speed Triple’s motor dominates the bike in a way

neither the Hornet’s nor the S4’s do. It’s the most powerful

of the group, with gargantuan mid-range and a totally

meaningless top-end rush, but what really sets it apart is its

sheer effortlessness. It’s so potent and smooth it’s possible to

spend many miles in fifth gear, thinking you’re in top. It’s

not built to be seen – like the 916-engined S4, the motor

looks best hidden behind a fairing – but the machinegunned

bolts in the casing look funky enough.

As does the other main styling feature of the bike, the

headlights. They’re cool – they work well, but the best thing

is you can see, in each chrome casing, a wide-angle reflection

of yourself as you ride. It looks like a mad, split-screen onboard

video, and it takes your mind off the pummeling your

upper body and neck is taking from the lack of fairing. A tiny

fly-screen is available – spare your osteopath and get it. The

immense lack of wind protection seriously restricts the

Triple’s usefulness.

the test

Performance criteria for

the test are all marked

out of 20, making a

maximum possible 100.

The riding position doesn’t help. The high, wide bars are

a long way from the seat, stretching arms so it gets harder to

use the clutch and throttle as you go faster. Once you get up

to around 100mph, it actually becomes difficult to roll off

the throttle.

Given how close the Speed Triple’s chassis is to the

Daytona 955i, it’s no surprise to find it handles. Brakes are

class, steering neutral (but remote – the wide bars take away

the immediacy), suspension controlled and supple. It works

as well as the bike needs, without intruding.

All these things make the Triple a suitable bike for new

riders, a bit of a tool for serious riders and a good-looker for

driveway queens. Never did a bike more deserve to be

painted any colour you like. As long as it’s not pink.


The best here. Pulls from

low down, stacks of midrange,

good top end. All

this and character too.


Not as nimble as either

the Honda or the Ducati,

but not exactly a bus.

Suspension gives a better

ride than the Ducati, and

the brakes are stronger.


The dearest here, by a

few hundred quid –

worth being easier to use

than the Ducati and more

interesting than the

Honda? You could do a lot

of modifying to the

Honda for £1400.


Triumph paint scores

highly, while nothing

rot-worthy of note.


The best here again. Bugeye

lights are a turn on, the

imposing motor gives the

bike a retro-industrial look.

Whatever that is.

TOTAL 74/100

Good engine, good

chassis, good looks, no

bad habits. Only the high

speed wind protection

limits its usefulness, but

it’s a naked bike


MARCH 2002 B








Top speed

Fuel consumption Best






Fuel system



Front suspension


Rear suspension


Brakes front; rear

Tyres front; rear



Dry weight (claimed)

Seat height

Fuel capacity


NU insurance group

Service intervals


Spares prices




Living with it...

And your pillion...

Dyno graphs explained

The Hornet’s 94bhp – a mere shadow of the

125-odd bhp the engine is capable of – is

roughly the same shape and size as a CBR600,

only 3000rpm down the rev range. The

Monster is a bit more frisky, with a steep

bulge at 6500rpm and a good peak. But the

Speed Triple aces the lot, with 112bhp.

Thankfully it’s not all top end – if it was, the

Triple would be fairly useless because it has

the worst high speed riding position (excellent

for cruising, though). But the Triple is big in

the mid-range too – not fat, you understand,

but cuddly.

70 /100

Honda CB900 Hornet


140mph (est, weather prevented testing)




918cc, four-stroke, 16v,

dohc, in-line 4

71 x 58mm


fuel injection

6-speed, chain

steel box-section spine

43mm telescopic fork


rising-rate monoshock


2 x 296mm discs/4-piston calipers;

240mm disc/1-piston caliper

Michelin Hi-Sport

120/70-ZR17; 180/55-ZR17





19 litres

24 months/unlimited


4000 miles




No centrestand, good mirrors, poor finish

on chrome exhaust skins prone to rust.

Relatively easy to clean engine. Will run

forever on minimal maintenance.

Big, wide grab rail, comfy seat and low

pegs make the Hornet a sensible two-up

choice. Will give the bike a tendency to

wheelie, though.

69 /100

Ducati Monster S4


144.0 (figures from May 2001 test)




916cc, dohc, 8v,

90° V-twin

94 x 66mm


fuel injection

6-speed, chain

chrome moly steel tube trellis

43mm usd telescopic fork

preload, compression, rebound

rising-rate monoshock

preload, rebound, compression

2 x 320mm discs/4-piston calipers;

245mm disc/2-piston caliper

Pirelli Dragon Evo

120/70-ZR17; 180/55-ZR17





16 litres

24 months/unlimited


6000 miles




No centrestand, mirrors vibrate, steering

lock limited, sidestand hard to use, comes

with immobilising ignition. Needs regular

servicing by a sympathetic dealer (tea and


Pillion seat narrow, grab rails under the

seat on the subframe at each side. Short

trips only.

All prices are on-the-road, including the pre-delivery inspection (PDI), number plates and a year’s tax

74 /100

Triumph Speed Triple 955i






955cc, dohc, 12v,

in-line triple

79 x 65mm


fuel injection

6-speed, chain

tubular aluminium perimeter

45mm telescopic fork

preload, compression, rebound

rising-rate monoshock

preload, compression, rebound

2 x 320mm discs/4-piston calipers;

220mm disc/2-piston caliper

Bridgestone BT-010

120/70-ZR17; 190/50-ZR17





21 litres

24 months/unlimited


4000 miles




Vibey mirrors are a pain above certain

revs. Nuts and bolts have to be watched or

Loctited. Takes a lot of looking after but

the rewards are worth it.

Is positioned nicely. The pegs are okay, but

there’s no grab rail and the extra weight of

an average weight pillion messes up the

handling too much.

Freezing weather conditions prevented top speed testing and optimum acceleration figures. Data is only comparative to this test.

(above): in a rarely-seen, superstitious

biking ritual, Tom, Jim and Simon swap

leather jackets

(below): the quantity of filth gathered yby

a five-minute, cross-fen, mid-winter jog

has to be seen to be believed. Half of it

ends up sprayed across the rider’s back – –

the Honda needs a longer rear mudguard d

or a wider numberplate

(bottom): unlike Honda’s previous bigbore

naked effort, the CB1100X, the

Hornet has unlinked brakes. Which

means you can misbehave

Honda Hornet 900

94.6bhp @ 8840rpm

60.9lb-ft @ 7620rpm

Ducati Monster S4

100.1bhp @ 8440rpm

64.9lb-ft @ 6870rpm

Triumph Speed Triple

112.6bhp @ 9450rpm

66.9lb-ft @ 7840rpm

* Bikes are measured on BSD’s

fantastic Dynojet dyno using the

EEC power standard

Honda CB900 Hornet

Ducati Monster S4

Triumph Speed Triple 955i

* Refer to our insurance ready reckoner on p157 for a

rough guide to the cost of insuring these bikes with

Norwich Union.

On all our road tests and European adventures,

we’re covered by RAC breakdown and European

assistance. Phone 0990 722722.

Motohaus Marketing for Nady MRC-11 Radio

Communicators (01256 704909).

BSD Motorcycle Developments (01733 223377).

the test

Road testers say...

Simon Hargeaves

Tom Bedford

Jim Moore

The Hornet is a good bike, which is fine except we’ve come to expect

great bikes from Honda – VFR800, Blade, CBR600, etc. It actually has

less attitude than a 600 Hornet and is more like an overgrown CB500.

The Ducati is too specific to have mass appeal, but if you like naked

V-twins, this is the one. The Speed Triple, though, combines the best

of both character and usability. At a price.

The S4 is my least favourite because I think Ducati V-twins don’t work

in anything other than sportsbikes. They’re too lumpy at anything less

than full bore. Riding position feels odd too. I can’t split the Hornet

and Speed Triple. I like the Hornet for ease of use – perfect for a

novice – but a bit bland. But the Speed Triple is more exciting and has

quirky styling. It’s a tough choice.

The Honda’s the most useful of the three, but also the most bland. It’ll

sell well, though. My heart sides with the Triumph, which is the most

rewarding to ride. A great road bike which would be even better with

a screen. Then there’s the S4. I make no secret of my liking for Ducatis

– to me they’re more than bikes, they’re an experience. And the S4 is

the best experience offered by a Monster yet.



AS USUAL THESE DAYS you can’t buy a bad bike, you can only buy the wrong one. The Hornet, Speed Triple and

Monster S4 are the right bikes for the right people – and the Hornet will be the right bike for more of the people,

more of the time. It’s easy to use, easy to run and the least intimidating. Perfect for novices or casual bikers, it also

costs a packet less than the other two. The Ducati Monster S4 is the hardest to use, the most time-consuming to run and has

enough quirky bits to fill a big box marked ‘Quirks Only’. People with patience call this character. People who just want to ride

and not worry about it will find the S4 irritating.

The Triumph is between the extremes – more funky than the Honda, less annoying than the Ducati. The engine is beefy,

the handling reassuring and the riding position purpose-made for preserving your licence (fine up to 90mph, intolerable over

it). Only the price is a downer – it’s way too rich, and instantly excludes it for most people. And once you‘ve added

the list of extras (most of which other manufacturers fit as standard) you‘re looking at the best part of £8000,

almost two thousand pounds more than a Hornet.

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