From Honda's press material:
Honda's 599--an American-style hot-rod.
If there's one idea every red-blooded American understands, it's hot-rodding. Like both jazz and rock and roll, it started here first, and on a singularly simple premise-the most bang for the buck. And if that meant shoe- horning a fire-breathing engine into granny's sedan, so be it; just stand back and let the fun begin.
That same train of thought lay behind the creation of Honda's original middleweight Hornet, released in 1998 in Europe. Namely, stuff a 100-horsepower inline-four engine into the chassis of one of Honda's most-popular domestic models in the 250 ranks. The result? The best power-to-weight ratio in the class, plus handling so responsive it seemed telepathic.
Euro-riders immediately fell in love with the 599's versatility, an exhilarating blend of performance, simpler naked-bike styling and exemplary day-in, day-out comfort. They bought this new Honda 600 in droves, to the tune of 20,000 units each year from 2000 to 2002, making it the single most popular bike on the Continent. As sales of middleweight standards in Europe far outpaced supersport sales, they also became the largest, fastest-growing segment in motorcycling. And the 599's stunning performance has also made it wildly popular with club racers, with its own single-brand series called the Hornet Cup. All in all, that adds up to success with a capital S.
The first 599 mated the cutting-edge liquid-cooled dohc 16-valve inline-four from the AMA 600 SuperSport champion CBR600F3 to the frame of the Hornet 250. To enhance the 599's versatility, Honda changed the engine's state of tune slightly-smaller carburetors, longer intake tract and longer headpipes for the exhaust-for more punch at low-to-midrange rpm. The chassis itself, based on the Hornet 250's well-engineered steel mono-backbone frame with massive aluminum swingarm, was more than up to the task at hand. For suspension, the 599 hewed to a classic, simple, tried-and-true formula of conventional telescopic fork in front and single shock at the rear. Racing-width cast alloy wheels were shod with the same tires as used on Honda's CBR900RR at the time, 130/70ZR16 front, 180/55ZR17 rear. Disc brakes front and rear handle stopping chores.
In concept and execution, Honda's middleweight 599 proved itself so profoundly and magnificently correct that it received only a single substantive change in five years of production. For the 2000 model, Honda fitted a 17-inch front rim and incrementally narrower tire.
But for the European 2003 599-the same motorcycle now offered in the U.S. market-Honda felt the time was right to implement a host of detailed changes based on customers' requests. Those requests included a longer maximum range for even more versatility, firmer suspension rates to expand the 599's already-sharp sporting capabilities, and a more aggressive look.
Engineers made subtle styling changes do double duty. Not only is the new fuel tank more angular and aggressive, it holds 1 liter more than the previous vessel. The new tank also aided in designing a new seat cowl with a saddle that improves rider comfort, and also shifts the rider 15mm farther forward for even better mass centralization. And for the suspension, Honda recalibrated the damping rates front and rear for more progressive action and ease of handling.
The engine benefits from new and revised tuning specs that enhance performance. And a low-emissions catalytic converter on the California-model, with a fuel cut-out system to prevent raw gasoline from reaching the catalyzer, makes Honda's 599 even more enviro-friendly. In addition, the latest 599 features an air injection system with internal rather than external air lines.
Elsewhere, Honda concentrated on detail changes; small touches that make the difference between a magnificent motorcycle, and one that's merely great. For instance, the 599 now has a new, unique headlight with two bulbs, a lightweight polycarbonate lens, and a similarly lightweight computer-designed free-formed die-cast aluminum multi-reflector. The combination adds up to a significant improvement in lighting.
Along the same lines, the 599 now features all-new, highly accurate, fully electronic instrumentation that's easily read, and also contributes to a more aggressive-looking front end. As with other current Honda sport bikes, the 599's instruments put on their own special show. On startup, the speedometer needle sweeps to its stop and back again, followed by the same routine for the tachometer. Other changes yield significant improvements that enhance the 599's feel of quality, such as rubber grommets for the fuel tank, and rubber mounts for the saddle, both to minimize noise and vibration.
What hasn't changed, though, is the 599's original mission profile: to be a thoroughgoing hot-rod with a potent engine in a chassis that offers the sort of razor-sharp handling previously exclusive to supersport motorcycles-and with a versatility that supersports could never match. All the changes made to this latest middleweight 599 enhance the bike's fundamental virtues, while still providing that most enduring of American maxims: providing maximum bang for the buck.