HONDA CBR500R/CB500F

WORLD FIRST TEST ‘More than just bril­liant begin­ner bikes’

Motorcycle News (UK) - - New Bikes - LIAM MARS­DEN WEB PRO­DUCER liam.mars­den@mo­tor­cy­cle­news.com

The Honda CB500 is a leg­endary name in mo­tor­cy­cling. The old air-cooled model was used and abused by test cen­tres, new rid­ers and dis­patch­ers - loved for its ease of use and bul­let­proof build qual­ity. Then some­body had the great idea to race them. Heard of James Tose­land? As a young racer, he made a name for him­self in the one-make CB500 race se­ries. The old CB500 was dis­con­tin­ued in 2003 and wasn’t re­born un­til 2014, when it re­turned as the sporty CBR500R, naked CB500F and ad­ven­ture-spec CB500X. Col­lec­tively the new CB fam­ily has sold 30,000 bikes in Europe and 90,000 world­wide. For this year the changes are min­i­mal, but are the di­rect re­sult of cus­tomer feed­back.

Both mod­els get an ad­justable front brake lever, a new ex­haust for a deeper sound and bet­ter mass cen­tral­i­sa­tion, preload ad­justable sus­pen­sion which has also been made smoother on the ini­tial stroke, im­proved air flow to the en­gine, and styling changes which are a huge im­prove­ment over the out­go­ing range. The CB line-up is also brought into the 21st cen­tury with the in­clu­sion of a hinged fuel cap; a lit­tle change, but a wel­come one - no more bal­anc­ing a loose fuel cap some­where when­ever you need petrol. The dash is ba­sic, show­ing speed, revs, time, fuel and ei­ther trip, odo or fuel con­sump­tion. A gear in­di­ca­tor would be a nice touch and some­thing which newer rid­ers may find help­ful.

De­spite the UK his­tor­i­cally be­ing a sports­bike na­tion, the naked CB500F out­sold the faired CBR500R in 2015 - 424 mod­els sold to the CBR’S 368 - and it is on the naked variant that our test be­gins, in the thick Span­ish fog. Both the CBR and CB have a low seat height of 785mm and, be­ing par­al­lel twin, they’re quite nar­row which makes them ideal for shorter rid­ers. I, how­ever, am not a short rider, but at no point dur­ing the test did ei­ther bike feel cramped or too small. The bars on the naked are nat­u­rally higher than on the sportier R, and 40mm wider, forc­ing you to sit slightly taller and giv­ing you more lev­er­age to ma­noeu­vre the bike. Around town this makes the F in­cred­i­bly nim­ble, dart­ing through gaps in traf­fic and around mini round­abouts with ease.

The brakes - now with an ad­justable span front lever - are sur­pris­ingly sharp for a bike aimed pri­mar­ily at new rid­ers. They’re by no means as fierce as those on a sports­bike, but the sin­gle front disc and Nissin two-pot caliper pro­vide more than enough power to bring the 190kg F and 194kg R to a stop in a hurry. The CB fam­ily has ABS as stan­dard, which isn’t at all in­tru­sive, only mak­ing its pres­ence known when ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary. The CBR’S ex­tra weight doesn’t seem to af­fect its brak­ing or ac­cel­er­a­tion per­for­mance, but it does help it feel more sta­ble dur­ing cor­ner­ing and at higher speeds.

When it’s time to open the throt­tle on the twisty moun­tain roads sur­round­ing Seville, the CBS are will­ing and don’t dis­ap­point. The A2 li­cence-friendly 47bhp en­gine pro­vides enough go to get both bikes up to speed quickly, and mo­tor­way cruis­ing isn’t a prob­lem. Top speed is lim­ited to 112mph and vibes

‘Im­prove­ments to the en­gine’s air flow make this year’s CBS more fuel ef­fi­cient, sharper and more ea­ger to rev’

are min­i­mal through­out the en­tire rev range. Im­prove­ments to the air flow to make it more fuel ef­fi­cient also make this lat­est crop of CBS slightly sharper and more en­thu­si­as­tic to rev, too, and there’s just about enough torque to keep progress swift if you find your­self one gear too high.

Sur­pris­ingly the naked F is the more fun of the two bikes. The wider bars and slightly more upright rid­ing po­si­tion re­ally make you feel in charge of the bike and make it much more re­spon­sive to in­puts through the bars. It feels much less se­ri­ous than the R and can be rid­den sur­pris­ingly fast in the twisties. The slightly re­worked sus­pen­sion never crashes over bumps, it sim­ply soaks them up with lit­tle fuss, feel­ing solid and planted all the way to the pegs touch­ing down.

It’s this cheeky na­ture of the F that makes it my favourite of the two. Nat­u­rally the sporty-look­ing CBR model ben­e­fits from a bit of wind pro­tec­tion, which will no doubt come in use­ful dur­ing win­ter, but it’s sur­pris­ing just how much dif­fer­ence the bar po­si­tion makes. With han­dle­bars that are 40mm wider than the faired CBR and higher too, the naked F model puts you more in the mood for fun. But in re­al­ity there’s very lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween the two.

Per­haps one of the best com­pli­ments I could give the CB is that you don’t think about it. When it comes to tight switch­back moun­tain roads, you can com­pletely for­get about the bike and just con­cen­trate on the cor­ners ahead. Both the R and F will hap­pily sol­dier on, buzzing away un­der­neath you and tak­ing ev­ery­thing in their stride.

Honda’s ‘baby Blade’ CBR500R has a sharp new look to match its A2 li­cence-friendly per­for­mance

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