Honda has proved surprisingly prolific with new-model releases of late. Big Red has added 19 models and counting to its powersports lineup in the last two years. Of that near score of new bikes, several are purpose built to engage riders as affordable, easy-to-ride entries into motorcycling. MotoUSA sampled the epitome of this new shift in market focus, with a brief first ride on the 2013 Honda CB500F.
The CB500F is the naked standard in the new CB500 lineup, joining the fully-fared CBR500R sportbike (reviewed along with the F) and the forthcoming CB500X adventure bike. The 500F sports the lowest MSRP of the three, at $5499 for the base model and $5999 with ABS. Like its CB500 siblings, the F sources Honda’s all-new 471cc Parallel Twin. The tubular steel frame, Showa suspension and dual disc stoppers are also shared with the other 500s.
Technical details of the new engine and chassis are spelled out in our CBR500R first ride review
. The 500F’s engine performance is indistinguishable from the 500R, with a smooth, forgiving power delivery that peps up in the top-end. The new Twin tops out at 47 horsepower and features a torque-rich, linear powerband.
The 500F departs from its sportier R sibling in styling and ergonomics. We’ll delve into the nuances of the naked look in a minute, but it’s the ergos that shift the bike’s attitude from sporty to a more relaxed standard. The F swaps the R’s clip-ons out for a riser and single handlebar, which lifts the bar height 1.9 inches (49mm).
Naked styling and raised handlebar differentiates the 500F from its sport CBR500R sibling. The ergonomic change facilitates a more upright riding stance.
It’s a subtle change, but the shortened reach to the bar makes the riding position more upright (while we didn’t ride the CB500X, one was in the Honda HQ garage and its ergos felt even more upright). Some riders may prefer the forward cant of the sportier R model, but I favor more relaxed upright riding positions afforded by standards like the CB500F – which felt quite comfortable during our short ride.
Hopping off the R and onto the F for the first time at a photo stop, the immediate sensation is it feels lighter on its toes and quicker to turn. Steering geometry on both bikes is identical – 25.5 degree rake, 4.05 inches trail and 55.5-inch wheelbase – as are the 120/70 front and 160/60 rear Dunlop Sportmax tires. The five pounds worth of bodywork shed by the 420-pound F (424 pounds in ABS trim) may contribute imperceptibly to the lighter feel, but it’s the extra leverage of the taller, wider handlebar that warrants the credit.
As a naked model the 500F does give up wind protection. We didn’t sample it on the freeway – rushing back to Honda HQ on I-10 aboard the 500R – but the F exposes the rider to more wind with its half fairing and small cowling. A long-distance tourer or daily freeway commuter may prefer the 500R.
As for the styling question, this tester has always been partial to the naked look – and the 500F is no exception. But I’m swimming against the current on this one, and the R is expected to far outsell the F in the U.S. market. American riders, for whatever reason, shun naked bikes. Fully faired sportbikes still drive sales in the non-cruiser road segments – and the naked standards that are so wildly popular in Europe have long struggled in the States. We don’t even get to see many of the best-sellers, like the Kawasaki Z750, now Z800, which has been the top-selling bike in France for some years. Honda has experienced this phenomenon first-hand too, with its 599 standard
, which disappeared from the U.S. lineup after a sporadic appearances.
Honda reps seemed cautiously optimistic that the 500F would not suffer the 599’s fate. The company is certainly peddling the F as one of its easiest sells with the $5499 base MSRP. As mentioned in the 500R first ride, the CB500 bikes are world models, unchanged for various global markets, and are produced in Honda’s Thailand facilities. Both facts contribute to the budget-friendly price tag. But the low pricing is even more impressive considering how much the Japanese manufacturers have suffered in recent years from currency woes. A strong yen and subsequently weak Euro have benefited the European manufacturers, at the expense of the Japanese. That the 500F in ABS trim can be had for less than 6K is an important, if unheralded, feat.
The 500F doesn’t feel cheap, with solid fit and finish. The instrumentation and switchgear, shared with the 500R, befit a full-sized street bike. And the 500F does emote a hair more panache with its blue-tinted display console, as opposed to the more monochromatic display on the R. Paint and overall built quality don’t feel like a budget bike. It is a pity, however, that the ABS version will only be available in boring black – as the Pearl White is far more fetching in person.
In our first ride evaluation of the CBR500R, we label it perhaps the most intriguing bike to watch this riding season. And in terms of volume units, it figures to have a bigger impact, but the importance of the 500F to Honda shouldn’t be discounted. The F is marketed to a slightly younger crowd (20-30 year-old) than the 500R (20-40 year-old), and Honda expects 500F customers to be less experienced and more price conscious.
American ridership started aging a decade ago – it’s now officially aged. While the grey haired crowd still commands the market, and drives sales (think Honda’s F6B Gold Wing), Gen X and Gen Y consumers are the most coveted demographics for brands. Honda is courting the youth market with these 500 models as fun, affordable mounts. And based off our quick ride assessment, we’d rate the 500F the most attractive entry-level offering in the Honda lineup.