WORLD FIRST TEST ‘More than just brilliant beginner bikes’
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.