THE BIKES THAT MADE US HONDA CB500 ‘I had a one-off CB500 race. That was the turn­ing point’ Leon Haslam

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Feature -

Most great mo­tor­cy­cles are good at just one thing, whether that’s a su­per­bike win­ning track days, an ad­ven­ture ma­chine prov­ing per­fect for tak­ing you around the world or a BMW R1200RT be­ing the ideal can­vas on which to paint po­lice liv­ery…

So ma­chines that are more than ca­pa­ble at TWO things are rare in­deed. But Honda’s hum­ble mid-1990s com­muter twin, the CB500, is just such a bike. On one hand it was a su­perla­tive around town road­ster. On the other, and some­what sur­pris­ingly, it also proved a bril­liant in­tro­duc­tion to rac­ing, mainly through the hugely suc­cess­ful, one­make Honda CB500 Cup se­ries. And it helped launch the ca­reer of none other than BSB star Leon Haslam.

“In 1997 I had just turned 14 when I had the chance to race in that one­off CB500 race at the Bri­tish GP,” the cur­rent Team Green rider said. “That was the turn­ing point. It was a big deal and I got lots of pub­lic­ity out of it. Beat­ing Tose­land didn’t do me any harm ei­ther…”

The 'Tose­land' Haslam refers to is James Tose­land who at 16, af­ter cut­ting his teeth in Su­per­teens, won the very first UK Honda CB500 Cup se­ries in 1997. As a re­ward he got a Cas­trol Honda ride in Euro­pean Su­pers­port and went on, fa­mously, to two World Su­per­bike cham­pi­onships. But he started on a CB500.

In truth, of course, the CB500’S be­gin­nings were far more hum­ble. Con­ceived as an af­ford­able, ro­bust, sim­ple all-rounder aimed at new li­cence-hold­ers, the new Honda’s am­bi­tions may have been mod­est, but its ex­e­cu­tion was ex­em­plary.

As a clean-sheet de­sign the CB ben­e­fit­ted in the first place by hav­ing a bril­liant four-stroke, twin cylin­der en­gine – some­thing which, af­ter all, four-stroke spe­cial­ists Honda have had plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence at per­fect­ing over the years.

Liq­uid-cool­ing and a pur­pose-built de­sign (rather than be­ing a vari­ant of a pre­vi­ous model) meant it was com­pact. Four-valves-per-cylin­der and a gear driven counter-bal­ancer also meant it was de­cently perky (pro­duc­ing a peak of 58bhp) and yet sur­pris­ingly smooth.

And al­though the straight­for­ward steel cra­dle chas­sis may have lacked frills (brak­ing was by a sin­gle, two-pot front disc, forks were non-ad­justable and the rear was old school twin shocks) it was well de­vel­oped and re­fined. Enough to han­dle sweetly and yet pro­vide bril­liant, fuss-free trans­port all at the same time.

Best of all, though, the CB500 was a HONDA with all the over­tures for qual­ity, re­fine­ment, dura­bil­ity and re­fine­ment that comes with it. So, no, the CB500 cer­tainly is no tech­ni­cal marvel – in fact there’s no so­phis­ti­cated tech­nol­ogy on it what­so­ever. Nor is it glam­orously good-look­ing (al­though de­spite its clas­sic mid-’90s gar­ish paintjob it is qui­etly hand­some). What it is, how­ever, is im­pres­sively able, de­cent fun and re­li­ably durable and ride­able which, all to­gether, makes the sweet Honda some­thing of a class act com­pared to more hum-drum ri­vals like Suzuki’s GS500 or Kawasaki’s ER-5.

All of which was enough to not just make the CB500 a win­ner on the street among new rid­ers but as a high-mileage work­horse among despatch­ers (with whom it be­came an in­stant hit) as well.

One of the for­mer is MCN reader Max Rossi. “I own a 36k-mile CB500,” he told MCN. “I do ev­ery­thing on it: com­mute, tour, the shop­ping run and even go round the out­side of su­per­bikes on track. It’s taught me many things about rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle but the most im­por­tant thing is that you don’t need a big bud­get to en­joy rid­ing. What a ma­chine.”

And the cherry on top? Yes, that slightly un­ex­pected, per­haps left-field even, track pedi­gree. OK, the CB’S no true racer (even if Messrs Haslam and Tose­land may dis­agree) but the lit­tle Honda twin is still good enough to be great fun on track, as many bud­get­strapped track-day­ers will at­test to this day. Try one for un­der a grand and you’ll al­most cer­tainly agree…

‘It taught me many things, the most im­por­tant that you don’t need a big bud­get to en­joy rid­ing’ MAX ROSSI, MCN READER

Gon­za­lez wanted cheap speed – he got that when he bought a CB500

A fresh-faced Leon Haslam on a CB500

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