B eing the most premium, powerful and mature looking of the three, the only thing the Honda seemed to have going against it was its sheer size. Lined up with its rivals ahead of a big old blast on some spectacular roads, the CBR500R looked a right whale, not much smaller than the brand’s iconic Goldwing. In fact, I bet that’s what they based it on. Maybe I’m just being cruel, but I couldn’t figure why you’d work so hard to build a poky motor, only to go and stifle the bloody thing with a lardy old package to power. See, that’s the worst bit; the bike didn’t just look big, it smashed the hell out of the scales too with its kerb weight of 194kg – just 2kg lighter than a Fireblade. How the hell did that happen? Anyway, it was way too early to go judging this book by its cover, but it didn’t take too long for disappointment to start creeping in… wholesale.
Having hopped on it and fired its sewing machine-sounding 471cc motor into life, I soon clocked it was about as docile as an ancient Labrador. The bike didn’t feel particularly racy, either. It was big, bulbous and tall-barred; more like a naked with a fairing thrown onto it. Still, at least I couldn’t grumble about wrist ache or any such gripes. Even Boothy would’ve slotted in on it, complete with his appalling beer belly. Whether it had the oomph to power him around though was another question. Out on the street, the bike was feeling plenty steady with me on it. Here’s the thing, it only makes 47bhp and with such a high kerb weight, it was always going to feel like this.
On a chirpier note, at least the delivery felt smooth in a way most Hondas seem to, being pleasantly punchy in the initial stages of its revs, before everything went sour. Oh well. At least I had no gripes with the gearbox, controls or much else for that matter. The clocks could have been a bit sexier, but this is no £15k sportsbike. If it’d had an extra 15bhp hidden in the powerplant things would’ve been different, but the fact is even though the engine is bulletproof, it is no rocket. Think Rich Tea biscuits when you actually fancy a cocaine-laced cookie.
That lacklustre feeling carried through into the twisties, where the bike’s supple suspension made the whole feel thing a bit wallowy and under-supported. Just like a fat bird, the Honda was definitely the easiest to ride but it just wasn’t as rewarding once you’d got your leg over, feeling fairly lethargic as I wrestled it from side to side, which took far more effort than I was expecting. And it was all much of the same when we got it on track, as the added weight really did show when it tried to keep up with its A2 companions. Even though it was the most powerful, the Honda genuinely felt quite sluggish getting out of corners as those 47 ponies did their very best to pull the big ’ol 500 onto the straights.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the straights the Honda struggled with either, as it had as about much ground clearance as a Harley with three fat blokes sat on it, which really destroyed any hope of carrying the corner speed vital for a quick lap time. Going fast might have been an issue, but the Nissin stoppers did a pretty cracking job at hauling the old girl up. In all honesty, with the weight and the riding position being complemented by the constant soundtrack of scraping footpegs, the CBR500R felt more sports-tourer than Supersports.
When I think of 500s, I think about fire-breathing two-stroke monsters. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be any more different to that vision. The oldest of this trio, the CBR500R struggled to keep up with the competition, much like it has ono theth world ld racing stage. It’s th he most docile and comfortable ofo the lot, but as a sportsbike it leav ves much to be desired. Let’s hop e the updated jobbie (rumoured for next year) has been put on a diet.
AS A SPORTSBIKE IT LEAVES A LOT TO BE DESIRED.