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2013 Honda CBR500R First Ride

Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Honda aims to reestablish the 500cc motorcycle market with its all-new CB500 platform. The three-bike lineup comprises a fully-faired CBR500R sportbike, CB500F naked standard and CB500X adventure model. Billed as fun, easy-to-ride and affordable, these CB500 models are some of the most anticipated rides of the year. MotoUSA paid a recent call to American Honda headquarters in Torrance, California, for a quick ride on the CBR500R and CB500F; the CB500X will be available later this summer. (UPDATE: Read the 2013 Honda CB500F First Ride Review)

All three CB500 models share the same engine and chassis platform, a 471cc Parallel Twin wrapped in a tubular steel frame. The bikes are world models, meaning they roll off the assembly line in Thailand without any major revisions for the various global markets. Honda reps confirmed that the US and European models are identical.


The CBR500R is expected to be the top-seller in the U.S., catering to the America’s proclivity for fully-faired sportbikes over stripped down standards. The R also courts a slightly older 20-40 year-old demographic (the 500F aimed at 20-30 year-olds). Honda envisions its fully-faired 500 to be a step-up model for CBR250R riders, as well as a more affordable supersport-styled playbike for experienced (i.e. older) riders.

The R certainly looks the part of a proper sportbike, and makes its little CBR250 sibling seem, well, little. The relatively large tires – 120/70 front and 160/60 rear – help convey the big bike feel characterizing all the CB500 models. Get behind the controls and taller riders will appreciate the relaxed riding triangle, with reach to the pegs far less cramped than we recall aboard the CBR250 and Ninja 300 (as tested in our Ninja 300 vs. Honda CBR250R comparison). The 500R doesn’t feel like a little bike trying to be something it isn’t – it’s a comfortable middleweight akin to the 650 Twins from Kawasaki and Suzuki.

Most American riders are blissfully ignorant of tiered licensing (see sidebar), but indirectly experience its effects with this new 471cc Twin, which was purpose-built to meet 35 kW (47 horsepower) power restrictions for the EU market. Honda’s European websites confirm power claims of 47 horsepower and 37 lb-ft torque.

The Honda CBR500R riding position is comfortable, with more leg room than the 250/300 entry-level sportbikes.
Fire up the R and Honda’s new engine thumps out a mellow beat. It features a torque-rich linear powerband, building up to the mandated hp peak right at the end of its 8500 rpm redline. To say it’s forgiving doesn’t do the engine justice, as it can be mindlessly ridden in any rpm – with a steady pulse of torque everywhere. Honda is critiqued for sometimes over-engineering the soul out of an engine platform (like, say, it’s NC700X), and this 500 won’t change that… However, it is a masterful piece of work, producing an easy-to-ride engine platform for the masses.

The 500 mill does transmit some buzz up through the frame, which ebbs away dependent on gear and rpm. Otherwise the power delivery is flawless, with superb fueling and a smooth, smooth throttle – ideal for entry-level riders.

Displacement for the 500R slates it right between two Kawasaki rivals, also Parallel Twins, the 296cc Ninja 300 and 649cc Ninja 650. I reckon it falls in closer to the 300 in terms of performance, but with a completely different character – as its steady, street-friendly powerband contrasts the 300’s frantic top-end bias. MotoUSA aims to make this the subject of a future comparison review.

The 500’s six-speed transmission is pure Honda, with sure shifts and easy clutch engagement. No real fault can be found, though the addition of a slipper clutch to the Ninja 300 becomes that much more impressive in contrast. Still the 500R does not suffer from its absence, which would be an unnecessary addition that drives up costs.

Our brief test ride incorporated uneven city streets, a handful of sweeping corners and a half-dozen miles on the freeway. That’s not a lot of time to make definitive statements about the CBR500R handling. That said, the suspension package – a non-adjustable 41mm fork and pre-load adjustable shock – prove comfortable for the city and freeway. The few corners we tried to push found the chassis setup soft, but not flimsy by any means – and more stable than the CBR250R.

The biggest surprise may be the aforementioned tires – with the regular-sized Dunlops a far cry from the skinny tires we’ve come to expect on an entry-level mount. They may contribute to a more ponderous turn-in and transition than we recall from the slender profiles on the quick-turning 250/300, but the CBR500R feels planted and stable.

A single 320mm rotor and twin-piston Nissin caliper handle braking duties up front, with a single-piston caliper rear pinching a 240mm rotor. Performance is effective enough, bringing the claimed 429-pound machine to a halt with predictable force. Our test units came equipped with optional ABS, as Honda diverges from its C-ABS linked system for a less expensive non-linked system. The ABS adds only four pounds, and, most impressive, only a $500 addition to MSRP.

Honda has a well-earned reputation for fit and finish, and the 500s are no exception. One caveat is the ginormous horn button, placed on the left switchgear right above the turn signal. It didn’t take many miles to figure out that the numerous beeps from our test ride group were inadvertent. But that’s the one blight, and forgivable as the sturdy switchgear and instrumentation, which include an easy-to-read digital tach and speedo, feel more akin to Honda’s 600RR supersport than it 250R budget bike.

Affordability is a critical factor of the CB500 line, and the CBR500R base model sports a $5999 MSRP. The uniform engine/chassis platforms and Thai manufacturing location (which also produce the budget-friendly CBR250R and the CRF250L models) help keep pricing competitive. Honda made a conscious effort to factor affordability into cost of ownership too. The dual overhead cam, four-valve head incorporates roller rocker arms to allow easier access for shim-valve adjustment, thus reducing servicing costs. The valve adjustment intervals are widely spaced too, 16,000 miles after the initial 800-mile service adjustment. Honda is also keen to point out the 500’s 71 mpg fuel efficiency. Cash-strapped riders would net a claimed 290-mile range by filling the 4.1-gallon tank – good luck getting that from a 600 supersport!

All this talk about cost and affordability, of course, speaks to the target demographic. The cost of most motorcycles have pressed well into five figures, including the 600 Supersports, with the base model CBR600RR now $11,490. The CBR500R cuts that MSRP by nearly half. As manufacturers clamor for sales from Gen X and Gen Y to replace the aging Boomers, pricing will play a pivotal role. In this regard the CB500 models make a compelling case.

The CBR500R is perhaps the most intriguing bike to watch this riding season. It delivers an affordable and easy-to-ride sportbike platform for the everyman rider.


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35 kW Tiered Licensing Mandate
Most nations outside the US mandate tiered motorcycle licensing, imposing horsepower and/or displacement restrictions dependent on rider age and experience. Thus the 47 horsepower peak (i.e. 35 kW) for the CB500 models, mandated by Teir 2 restrictions, and the next step up for European riders from the 125cc tiered license. The 35 kW limit is one step below an unrestricted motorcycle license in Europe, which requires riders to be 24 years of age or have served two years’ time in the 35 kW ranks. At least that’s the gist we get after parsing the European Commission regulations, which the member EU countries source to make their own independent tiered licensing rules (for some brisk reading check out the European tiered licensing regulations).
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MCUSA Bart   October 3, 2014 08:44 AM
bigd4. First off, congrats on taking the MSF course and joining the riding ranks. Before you decide on a bike, complete the MSF course and then see how you feel. The 250s are ideal beginner bikes, but the 500 could work too. The MSF course will give you an opportunity to gauge your riding skills on smaller bikes. You also benefit from the feedback of professional instruction. After you finish the class, ask the instructor for a candid evaluation of your skills and whether he/she thinks you're best suited on a 250 or 500. Good luck!
bigd4   October 3, 2014 07:08 AM
im 17, about to take the msf learning course, and then im gonna buy my first bike. i have no experience what so ever, i mean i mountain bike alot but i doubt that means anything at all. i see sites that say this is an acceptable first bike like 250's are. is it?will it be too much?
Muzzy   June 22, 2013 01:04 AM
"Piglet2010 June 10, 2013 08:58 PM @ Muzzy - I know exactly what Frank S. means - supersports do not work well anywhere but the track and the canyons." all I know is that I rented an R1 today & the thing is a beast. It's an old KRJ LE model, 2005 I think. Has plenty of low-end power unlike the new ones. It handled everything I threw at it like a big cat, even grooved pavement that had been stripped for resurfacing. I thought it would be too twitchy for it, nope. Handled it with complete aplomb. Doesn't really need to be revved over 5k but always glad to comply if asked, corners like a freaking MLB curveball even at 75mph. The bike is awesome and I'm already regretting having to return it tomorrow and ride my own bike home. And so if that bike really has just about "the right" power for the street (I mean it doesn't just sail down the road like a ZX14 but what does? Even a Busa can't do that), then how can a supersport, a 600, be too much? It can't be. The only problem is the rider. The bikes handle the road just fine. Maybe the springs are a bit stiff for the street but basically yallz need to grow a pair.
Muzzy   June 19, 2013 05:46 AM
"A KTM Duke 690 will likely be faster everywhere but the track and freeways (and the latter requires a traffic lawyer on retainer)." wait, wait, wait....I thought that it was about what was more fun to ride...and as you should know very well, in life timing is everything :)
Muzzy   June 16, 2013 04:50 PM
" supersports do not work well anywhere but the track and the canyons." they work fine riding around town and as commuter-bikes, and they are ok on the highway once you get used to their responsiveness & learn to trust them, relax and enjoy the ride. And of course they work great at triple-digit speeds :)
Muzzy   June 11, 2013 09:54 AM
Maybe you and he should come to Carlisle next month for the bikefest and actually ride some supersports on some real roads. You might have actually liked Americade, where we did quite a bit of highway and backroad riding on just about every supersport you can name. Think, you can even whine about them based on your own experience :)
Piglet2010   June 10, 2013 08:58 PM
@ Muzzy - I know exactly what Frank S. means - supersports do not work well anywhere but the track and the canyons. A KTM Duke 690 will likely be faster everywhere but the track and freeways (and the latter requires a traffic lawyer on retainer).
Muzzy   June 9, 2013 06:17 PM
""modern 600's are ripping fast and high strung." I don't think that it matters whether that's right or not because I don't think it means anything significant to say that. "Ripping fast"? What the hell is that supposed to mean? How is a motorcycle "high-strung"? These are meaningless descriptions.
FrankS   June 1, 2013 10:39 AM
@ Biaggi/jfc1: I stick by my assertion that "modern 600's are ripping fast and high strung." I am really trying to decide if you are ruining this site or making it more entertaining. I have to admit that every time I visit Moto USA I am curious to check out your "keyboard soap-opera."
Piglet2010   June 1, 2013 12:21 AM
@ Biaggi (jfc1?) - What whining? And I did not say I did not like my F4i - I really enjoy riding it on track days and the paved county highways and township roads of the Driftless Area, but everywhere else I would rather ride a more upright "road sport" bike with a mid-range biased engine such as the CBR500R under discussion, the Ninja 650, or Suzuki SV650S.
ABN2nds   May 29, 2013 04:59 AM
Love the looks of the new 500R, very nice bike. My first street bike way bak in 83 was a VFR 750 Interceptor. Would have gone with the 500 but being 6'2", it was just too small for me size wise. I like the more "upright" riding position of this type of bike, my current ride, an 09 Aprilia DD 750 is perfect for comfortable riding. And when I jump on my 08 Husky TE 250, the feel is very similar. I think Honda made a great decision on bringing the 500's back, the styling is great, and the pricing is even better! I remember the "tiered" licensing system when I was stationed in Vicenza Italy with the 509th ABCT, being a US soldier though exempted us from that, so my Interceptor was shipped over and ridden in Italy for a year and a half, best riding ever!
Piglet2010   May 25, 2013 04:52 PM
@ Frank S - "Modern 600's are ripping fast and high strung. I find them harder to put around on than a liter-bike (but not go fast on). Actually, any sport bike is a chore at low speeds due to having a tiny turning circle and low clip-ons." Indeed, I find my CBR600F4i that has a considerably more upright position than the race replicas (and does not smash my thumbs at full steering lock) not much fun to ride around town (I would rather ride ride my NT700V or TW200). Being crouched over is great for high speeds on the track and attacking corners, but bad for everything else - especially keeping an eye on traffic behind and to the sides. As is a power-band that does not come on until one is at 50-mph in 1st gear. If I had only a CBR500R and a CBR600RR in the garage, the 500 would get ridden 95% or more of the street miles.
Piglet2010   May 23, 2013 10:07 PM
I like the CB500F better - to me a sport-bike should be track ready stock - but modest suspension, brakes and power are fine for an all-around standard. By the time one upgraded to CBR500R to track-day or racing level, the cost would approach CBR600RR territory. Honda should consider making a CBR500RR with about 60-HP, dual front discs, and fully adjustable suspension to slot between the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and the supersports. Or the other bike I would like to see is this one with the CB500F riding position, better wind protection, and standard hard bags - Honda could call it the ST500.
Piglet2010   May 23, 2013 09:58 PM
@ Superlight - Yes, some inexpensive ABS bumpers (as on the NT700V and ST1300) would provide protection from the low-speed drops that newer riders are likely to do.
AnthonyD   May 23, 2013 05:50 PM
Yeah were did that guy go? He used to post page after page of opinion. I didn't know that they censored this page.
cbr600stang   May 23, 2013 01:31 PM
Yikes. I'm new to owning a bike though I had ridden dirt bikes quite a bit, and I started on the street with a cbr600rr and i couldn't imagine anything less. but I also drive fast cars and had since I got my license. so the lead foot of my crazy days was long gone when I got my bike.
FrankS   May 23, 2013 11:07 AM
This looks like a great bike! I have heard too many people say "I just got my license so I'm gonna start with just a 600." Modern 600's are ripping fast and high strung. I find them harder to put around on than a liter-bike (but not go fast on). Actually, any sport bike is a chore at low speeds due to having a tiny turning circle and low clip-ons. This Honda is great for a beginner, but I suspect fun for riders of all skill levels; plus, being a 500, it can handle a freeway commute. The styling is nice and so is the proper sized rubber. I think Honda hit the nail on the head here.
FrankS   May 23, 2013 10:58 AM
jfc1 is back!!!
jimmihaffa   May 23, 2013 10:13 AM
Sheene, thank you for sharing with all of us our collective opinion!
ssalmons   May 23, 2013 08:15 AM
Sheene, I want to see specific examples that offer "a lot more power, slightly worse mpg at a lower price" It's hard enough to find a bike under $6k in the US. This is a great offering from Honda. The Ninja 250/300 doesn't have enough power for any length of time on the interstate where people routinely drive 80+ mph in cars, trucks and tractor-trailers. This bike should have enough speed to keep up and ahead of traffic. It's fast enough, it looks good, and price is affordable. BTW, 99% of motorcyclist don't buy a motorcycle for MPG, so any arguement about the economy is pointless.
Superlight   May 23, 2013 04:25 AM
It seems strange that as Honda catered to the fully faired sportsbike look they didn't integrate bodywork crash protection to help keep insurance costs down. The factory could do a much better job with this than the Aftermarket since they design the package from scratch.
grindathon   May 23, 2013 02:02 AM
Really i dont know where all the hate is coming from im in australia we have the tiered licencing (i currently ride a 08 600rr and orginally learnt on a 250rr 15 years ago). For a noob it looks the part and thats what alot of noobs just want, and will probably easier to go fast on than a 4 cylinder of the same hp due to twins torque. The other thing it will be good for would be a good commuter, i would rather this than a scooter, and i have a wrx yet would still rather ride even if its cold or rainy so that to me rules out the its still not a car complaint. Too many noobs are too keen to hop onto bike more powerful than they can handle, even if the people are older. Originally over here there was a 250cc limit when i started riding so we all went out and go rgv's and rs 250 2 strokes to get the hp, then they changed the laws so if you held a full car licence you could go straight up and get an open licence bike. This only lasted a little while cos gixxer 1k's were the rage and people who never spent any time on bikes were killing themselves them left right and centre. Now the rule is 100kw per ton with a max of 650cc works out like the eu hp rule. end of the day i think a modern 600cc supersport has more power than any noob can handle effectively let alone a 1k so i agree with the tiered licencing making this a good first bike in a tiered licencing system
Piglet2010   May 22, 2013 05:50 PM
Nice for its intended market, but where is a new CBR400RR for the US market - preferably making ~75-HP at the rear wheel and coming in at about 300 pounds wet?