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2013 Honda CBR500R Comparison

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Comparing all three, the Honda’s fit and finish shines through. Honda raised the bar in this regard with its CBR250R. Consumers should be grateful, as the Ninja 300 has improved instrumentation compared with its predecessor. The CB500 models are manufactured in Thailand, like the CBR250, and the 500R feels like a solid, well-made machine. The Ninja 300 lags somewhat in fit-and-finish by comparison, our biggest gripe being unsightly gaps in bodywork panel seams. The build quality of 500’s controls and levers feel sturdier as well. The one big demerit for the Honda, however, is the awkward placement of the horn button on the left switchgear where rider’s expect the turn signal toggle.

The Ninja 300 dash (top) improves on the 250 predecessor, but our test riders found the CBR display (bottom) easier to read with its large, centrally-located digital speedo.
The instrument console on the Ninja 300 is much improved, as mentioned before, but is not as easy to read as the clear LCD dash on the CBR. While the Honda lacks the analog tachs which dominate both the Ninja information clusters, its digital tach displays right above the large digital speedo – and the powerband is so broad rider’s won’t be keeping much of an eye on it anyway.

In the styling department the Ninja appears sportier, perhaps. But Honda, with its larger tires, conveys a bigger-bike attitude. Bryan sums up the styling difference well, noting: “Styling is subjective, but I prefer the more aggressive looks of the Ninjas to the softer, rounder lines of the CBR500. It’s like a sportbike-light, it gives you the taste, but not the full flavor of the real thing."

Some riders will prefer the more aggressive lines of the 300, which effectively mimic the angles of its larger Ninja kin. But the Honda sports a nice everyman racer vibe, and does a decent job passing as the CBR600’s sibling too. The Ninja 650’s styling, which still includes the striking offset, horizontal shock and low-slung exhaust, is both familiar and fun. We’ll let the readers decide which bike looks best, as our testing crew was decidedly split on the issue.

More significant is pricing. Natural rivals on the sales floor, the 2013 Ninja 300 rings in at $4799 for the base model and $5499 as tested in ABS trim. The base model CBR500 is $1200 more at $5999, with the ABS version $6499 – though the Honda’s also include a $310 destination charge. The Ninja 650 is $7499 for the base model and $7799 as tested in ABS. Again, the CBR500 once again splits the difference. (UPDATE: Kawasaki’s MSRP for the 2014 model year have jumped $200 for all the models save the as-tested Special Edition 300 with ABS, which remains $5499. Kawasaki also offers a non-SE ABS-equipped 300 for $5299.)

Value is critical aspect of a successful entry-level mount. The options for new riders have increased in recent years, but so has MSRP. The Ninja 300 is a significant boost in MSRP from the old Ninja 250, and it’s worth noting that this base model CBR500R is literally double the price of a 2007 model Ninja 250. Raising costs are a barrier to motorcycle ridership, but Honda has done a good job keeping the MSRP tantalizing enough to tempt new owners – though we’d say the $5499 CB500F naked is more alluring.

At the end of our testing, all three riders appreciated the niche of each bike in this test. The Ninja 300 is the most uncompromising, an unapologetic sportbike with a gutsy engine that can punch above its weight and deliver a grin-plastering riding experience. Its big brother, the Ninja 650, may be a bit over the head of the true newbies, but the 650 Twin is a terrific mid-displacement mount. It’s a fun ride for intermediate riders, or those intrepid beginners that wish to jump into the deeper end of the pool.

As for the new Honda CBR500R, it picks up where the CBR250R left off, as a major threat to Kawasaki’s once unchallenged entry-level sportbike dominance. The 500’s engine performance is both practical and unintimidating. It’s easy to ride, and a bike that beginners will be able to learn and progress upon for multiple riding seasons. Splitting the difference isn’t the sexiest tagline in bike branding, but it does make for an ideal beginner bike.


Bart Madson - Managing Editor - 6'1" / 205 pounds:
First off, the Ninja 300 is an absolute hoot to ride. I found myself constantly chuckling as I leaned over further, and further… My only issue with the little Ninja is that its, well, little. Comfort is perfectly fine for occasional long days, and it a blast to ride – but if I’m dropping my own money on a bike I want to feel comfortable on it all the time, and the 300 just doesn’t fit my dimensions.

Instead I find myself drawn to the CBR500R. I think it looks good and feels high quality. The riding position is sporty but offers plenty of leg room. I liked the handling well enough, but I can see where improvements could be made. It’s a reasonable price and as far as engine performance goes, I think Honda’s 500 Twin is better than the low-revving mill powering the NC700X. It’s a pity there’s not a little more snap in the 500, to give it a little more playful personality, but it’s so smooth on the throttle and easy to ride it’s hard to find serious fault.

Bryan Harley - Cruiser Editor - 6' / 220 pounds:
Out of the three bikes, I liked the versatile Honda CBR500 best. The Ninja 300 handles amazingly well and the extra cc is a marked improvement, but I’m just too big for it. The Ninja 650 rocks, I love when the engine hits its sweet spot, but the CBR500 has it covered on the low end and is an amazingly easy bike to ride. It literally is the happy median between the two, capable of doing everything it’s tasked with efficiency and precision.

Byron Wilson - Associate Editor - 6' / 185 pounds:
Overall, the CBR was my favorite bike as a new rider. The riding position felt slightly more upright than on the 300 or 650 and was nice and relaxed. You could still tuck your head down and get added relief from buffeting, but it was largely unnecessary because wind was hardly a problem even at highway speeds. Power delivery was always smooth. I thought the transmission was the best of the bunch; there was hardly a discernible moment of power transfer when releasing the clutch, it just flowed. It was nice to have more engine power on tap (compared to the 300) because you didn’t have to move so quickly through the gears during those stop-and-go moments.

2013 Honda CBR500R Comparo Gallery
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See how the Honda CBR500R lines up with its Ninja 300 & 650 competitors in the side-by-side spec sheets: 2013 Honda CBR500R, Kawasaki Ninja 300 and Ninja 650 specifications.
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pacman52   December 24, 2013 01:44 PM
I've seen the CBR500R in person and it looks great and with the Honda’s fit & finish and reliability. it's a winner for sure! Perfect bike for a beginner or an experienced rider who wants to have a ''good at everything'' bike for daily use...
neo1piv014   October 28, 2013 09:11 AM
I owned a 2010 Ninja 250 and upgraded to a 2009 Ninja 650R, and you really cannot say enough good stuff about the 650. I haven't ridden the CBR500, so I can't speak for its highway capabilities, but I can say that I did several days in a row of 500+ miles on the Ninja 650R with the stock seat and the Sport Bars. When it comes to a versatile mount, the 650 is hard to beat for a street bike. A 0-60 time that puts sports cars to shame, fuel economy that beats a Prius on the highway, decent comfort, and good looks is a great combination.
FactsisFacts   October 13, 2013 02:58 PM
So that raises the legitimate question of why do people want literbikes & 1200s and so forth, bikes like the Busa & ZX-14R, to ride them practically 100% on the street, if even a 650 is plenty-fast enough for the street & there are still 800s before you get to literbikes, & we have these ridiculously-low speed-limits & the bigger, heavier bikes don't corner or maneuver as well as lighter bikes? It's really simple. Because with low-power bikes you don't get anywhere near the acceleration at high speeds that you get at low speeds, not to mention uphill at high speeds. On the other hand the handling doesn't suffer all *that* much with increasing weight. Plus steering-lock doesn't really depend on weight. So you have some big heavy bikes that are easy to maneuver at low speeds, and some light bikes that aren't, simply because they don't have enough steering-lock. And the width of the mirrors and handlebars is a big factor in low-speed handling too. So, the relatively-large amount of cornering-clearance and the relatively-low weight are like an excessively-high IQ. You don't need to be ultra-smart to be successful, just smart enough. Same as with anything. It's not just one trait, but a good combination of traits. Just as some could say that the Ninja 300 is an excellent bike because of the handling, some can say that it sucks because of the engine. And that is how we arrived at this comparison. You take away that 50deg max lean-angle & 380lb curb-weight and what do you have. And remember that the Ducati 1198 Panigale has the same 50deg max lean and 380lb curb-weight. With 5x the peak HP. Plus TC, ABS, multiple engine-mappings, etc. And it looks a lot better too. All for maybe 3x the price of the Ninja 300. So you're left with looking at the Ninja 300 as a "starter-bike", but why pay $6k for a "starter-bike"? That doesn't make sense either. The bike only makes sense for people who have no intention of riding fast, at all. Ever. Now you think they're going to go out and corner it at 50deg lean-angles on the street on cheap street tires without having it brought home on a truck?
FactsisFacts   October 13, 2013 01:45 PM
It took me about 15 min of Googling to find a review of these bikes that actually had 1/4-mile and 0-60 times. I found a CBR500 forum that seemed to indicate that many CBR500 riders were a) hitting about 5.2sec 0-60 b) lamenting the low setting of the rev-limiter on the CBR500. I have seen data indicating about 5.5sec 0-60mph for the Ninja 300, which is indeed really close [for the Ninja 300 that's 11k in 3rd gear, 6800rpm in 3rd for the CBR500, and 7k in 3rd for the Ninja 650]. But come to think of it, what does it really say when one bike has an 8500rpm redline, the other has a 13,500 redline, and they both are well-undersquare, el-cheapo engines on el-cheapo bikes? Heck the Ninja300 runs on 87oct gas for chrissake. The point is the rev-limiter of the CBR500 is probably just keeping CBR500 owners from suffering the ultra newbie-biased under-tune of the engine. It is clearly making a lot less power than a 500cc motor should make, but on the other hand 35Hp peak is not all that much out of a 300cc engine either. But on to the times. (drum roll, please). For the Ninja 300, we have: Measured horsepower: 33.0 bhp @ 11,000 rpm, Measured torque: 16.9 lb.-ft. @ 9800 rpm, Corrected 1/4-mile: 14.23 sec. @ 89.85 mph, Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 9.36 sec. For the CBR500R, Measured horsepower: 44.5 bhp @ 8700 rpm, Measured torque: 28.9 lb.-ft. @ 7000 rpm, Corrected 1/4-mile: 13.63 sec. @ 93.80 mph, Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 8.26 sec. So the CBR500 is about 80ft ahead at the 1/4-mile trap, the difference in 0-60 is slight but even a 1/4sec advantage to 60mph means a savings of 25ft, but at the end of the 60-80mph top-gear rollon the CBR500 is about 110ft ahead. Why? Because rollons at cruising speeds stay in the middle of the power-band meaning the Ninja 300 can't get anywhere near its peak torque or HP, while peak performance metrics allows the Ninja 300 to use all of its powerband and thus close the gap on the more-powerful but less-revvy CBR500. I had to go back to '12 to find the Ninja 650 data from the same source but here it is: Measured horsepower: 63.1 bhp @ 8700 rpm, Measured torque: 2.9 lb.-ft. @ 6900 rpm, Corrected ¼-mile: 12.32 sec. @ 105.70 mph, Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 4.40 sec.They don't have the 0-60 times but I'm guessing that 5 seconds would be a good estimate and you've seen above how much even a 1/4-second differece in 0-60 matters. It's huge. A half-second in a 0-60 test would work out to about a 50ft advantage, almost 10 bike-lengths. Over the CBR500. Not to mention the Ninja 300. The Ninja 650 knocks over a SECOND off the CBR500s, ,1/4-mile time, at 85mph that's 125 feet, 20 bike-lengths. The Ninja 650 is almost insulted to be compared with these other two bikes. You keep ratching up the power and the gearing also goes up and that means fewer shifts along with faster acceleration...when you get to bikes with over 100HP and 50ft-lbs of torque which can do 60mph easily in 1st gear this is no contest. Which is why even an 800cc motor is such a huge advantage over both the Ninja 300 and the CBR500 without putting-out so much power as to be outright excessive for the street. The FZ8 would make a much-better buy than any of these 3 bikes even for most riders regardless of skill-level. You won't get 60mpg on one but otherwise it will give you far more of what you're buying in a Ninja 300 or CBR500 for about the same price.
MuckingAboutWithData   October 11, 2013 01:28 AM
ps remember that these bikes are all about the same length and not all that much different in weight either, especially factoring in the weight of the rider. The outstanding difference is in width, but it would be the same for a V-twin of much-higher displacement assuming the frame, cowl and radiator were the same width. The clipons are by far the widest part of these bikes. The Ninja300 is just about the same weight as a 1200cc Ducati Panigale and a lot of much-wider, much higher-displacement and far more powerful bikes are close to it in weight also. Which could be the basis of an interesting article or two.
MuckingAboutWithData   October 11, 2013 01:22 AM
That depends on how you look at it. One mans' "shockingly close" is another mans' "gaping chasm". Here it would be nice to have more hard data and not such a reliance on subjective impression. Summarily-speaking, just looking at the dyno-chart and the curb-weight data, the Ninja 300 should have to ride at lower gears and do a lot of revving to keep up with a rider on the CBR500. But where is the data to prove this objectively? Are the dyno-chart and the curb-weight data enough to see this? Hm. And still, how many gears lower and how much more revving would they have to do? Would it even be possible? One can only guess, reading this review, which seems to have tried to avoid objective performance-testing.
Poncho167   October 9, 2013 08:08 AM
The Honda is shockingly close in power when compared to the 300 Kawi, so that would lead me to believe that it wouldn't walk away from the little Kawasaki.
WhatElseIsNew   October 4, 2013 11:09 PM
"The Ninja 300 is the most uncompromising, an unapologetic sportbike with a gutsy engine that can punch above its weight and deliver a grin-plastering riding experience." Be serious. It's by far the slowest bike in the test, with by far the least low & midrange torque. It may be the lightest, but not by much. It's not even all that cheap relative to the others. It will consistently get beat and beat badly by the other two despite its "uncompromising sportbike gutsy engine" which ironically will make it harder to ride fast. How can this seriously "plaster a grin on your face"? Yes it may have a ground-clearance advantage, but do you think a noob is going to want to exploit that to make up for a weak engine & short gearing? The last thing I would expect a noob to want to do is to want to lean a bike over very far. And wait until you buy it and get on it and start it up and it vibrates at idle like an old Model T.
3Cheers   October 3, 2013 04:49 PM
Wish this article had been posted a couple of months ago, but it makes me REALLY happy that I chose the Honda over the Ninja 300. My comments about the ergo's match the three test riders, and at 6'2", the Ninja felt smallish... I know a lot of people prefer the "sportier" shifting associated with the Ninja 300, but for me, the CBR500R is going to be a better match for my preferred riding style (laid back & fun) THANK YOU for a great article, full of comprehensive comparisons...this article will be a great reference to many newer riders who want this exact comparison.