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2013 Honda CBR500R vs Ninja 300 & 650

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

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2013 Honda CBR500R Comparison Review Video
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See how Honda's all-new CBR500R stacks up against its Ninja competition in the CBR500R comparison video.

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2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 vs CBR500R Review Video
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The Ninja 300 shredded the CBR250R in its earlier shootout evaluation, but how does it fare against the CBR500R? Watch in the Ninja 300 vs. Honda CBR500R video.

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2013 Kawasaki Ninja 650 vs CBR500R Review Video
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The Kawasaki Ninja 650 benchmarks the CBR500R in this comparison. Watch the Ninja 650 vs CBR500R video.
Not that long ago the entry-level motorcycle market was all but barren – particularly for aspiring sportbike riders. Thankfully, manufacturers have since zeroed in on the segment and cultivated several new mounts for the newbie ranks. Foremost in the sportbike class are the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 and Honda CBR500R.

The Kawasaki 300 is a substantial redesign of the seminal Ninja 250, which for many years ran unchallenged as the de facto entry-level sportbike in the U.S. market. At long last Honda took up the 250 cudgel, developing its single-cylinder CBR250R in 2010. Kawasaki responded to the CBR challenge by stroking out the Ninja’s Parallel Twin for an extra 47cc, adding fuel injection and chassis tweaks, not to mention surprising upgrades like a slipper clutch.

Honda’s CBR500R builds off the success of its 250 sibling. And the CBR500R is just one of several entry-level Hondas to debut in recent years. Big Red has been downright prolific in its development of all-new designs to initiate new consumers into the riding ranks. The 2013 CRF250L dual-sport, which shares the CBR250 Single and is being utilized by our resident newbie in his Learning to Ride Series, is another example. There are also the two CTX700 models and the NC700X (a 2012 model) which share the same 670cc Twin. Add to the mix Honda’s trio of 500s – the fully-faired CBR500R, naked standard CB500F and adventure-oriented CB500X. And last, but certainly not least, is the $2999 Honda Grom – one of the most buzz-worthy rides of the year.

So that’s eight, count ‘em EIGHT, all-new budget-friendly designs oriented toward newer riders from Honda alone within the past two years. Add the promised debut of Suzuki’s GW250 later this year, as well as KTM’s 390 Duke – presumably in the upcoming riding season. There’s now a lot more options out there for small-displacement rides.

Ever since our first ride evaluation aboard the Ninja 300, we’ve wondered how it would fare against the CBR500R. The plucky Kawasaki outperforms expectations from its relatively modest 47cc displacement boost. And the manner in which the Ninjette ripped apart the CBR250R in MotoUSA’s 2013 comparison only whetted our appetite for another head to head with the bigger CBR.

And MotoUSA’s CBR500R first ride left us eager for a heads up comparison too. The brief ride displayed the 500’s easy-to-ride nature, but left us wanting more sporty confines to test the chassis. Its 471cc Twin felt an obvious increase over the 300, but we weren’t sure exactly where it stacks up in the sportbike class. Honda is all alone in that 500 segment, with Suzuki dropping the GS500F six years ago and Kawasaki’s Ninja 500 supplanted by the Ninja 650.

That leaves us with our current comparison – the Honda CBR500R squaring off against a pair of Ninjas. The CBR conveniently splits the difference of the 300 and 650 on the spec sheet in terms of displacement, weight and pricing – but how about on-road performance?

MotoUSA followed our usual testing regimen, rolling all three onto the scales and dyno. Then we hustled them around the roads of our Southern Oregon headquarters for riding evaluations. Test riders include the author, plus Cruiser Editor Bryan Harley, who gleefully swapped his usual cruisers for seat time on these zippy little sportbikes. Associate Editor Byron Wilson lends a particularly relevant perspective, himself an entry-level rider and the exact target demographic for these rides.

Despite sharing a number of similarities, each bike exhibited a markedly different character during our testing which will appeal to various rider demographics. Each mount delivered a pleasing riding experience, newbie or not, and they demonstrate how far the entry-level class has developed in a few short years. Here’s how our editors benchmark the new CBR.

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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ConvinceMe   October 24, 2013 03:23 PM
I wonder what kind of results you'd get if you took a poll of the owners of these bikes, assuming that when they bought the bike they'd have the choice of buying either one. Of course there are those who bought the Ninja 300 before the CBR500 came out but they should have known that other bikes would come out that were just better bikes that would be available for a competitive price. Or did they think that the #1 selling bike would have no serious competition in the retail market. But be that as it may...in the end you are left with certain facts. The 500 is going to cost more to insure. Absolutely it provides more power than is really necessary to move the bike down the road, even at highway speeds. It weighs more. It's a 500, and that number simply matters, just as the numbers 300 & 650 matter. I think it really comes down to open-mindedness. Are people going to prejudge the issue based on the stats or open their minds up and perhaps take a financial hit in exchange for better performance? Clearly some will and some will not. Same as always. But the simple fact is that you can buy a used Gixxer 1000 or even 750 which will handle as well, even as nimbly, as any bike in this test, that won't cost more than a new Ninja 650, while providing far more power and braking. Maybe not ABS, maybe not 60mpg but still, a much-better overall bike. Throw on some softer springs and higher bars and you've got a great bike that will last you for years if ridden sensibly. But that simply will not appeal to the new rider who has to have a new bike. Instead they will argue, in complete ignorance, that a Gixxer 1000 has too much power. And lacking ABS and suffering from much-higher insurance there's a clear difference between a used literbike and a Ninja 300 for most riders. But what if you could add ABS to a bike that doesn't have it already, and do so for a reasonable cost? Is that a better idea than slapping a bore-kit and/or a turbo on a Ninja 300 or even a CBR500, which would in the end just give you a sleeper Ninja 650? You can run circles around this all day long. The simple fact is that some bikes just don't have enough power but they are cheap & easy to buy, insure and ride. And some bikes have more than enough power and they are a little-bit more of a challenge. But the fact is that Kawasaki alone makes a wide range of sportbikes, from the Ninja 300 to the ZX-14R and there's a good reason for that. If 300cc was even close to enough, if ground-clearance and light handling made that much of a difference, then why would there be a real market for big-bore bikes? And simple economics tells you that if a 300cc bike is worth $6k then a bike with 3x the displacement would be worth 3x the price, even in a country where the national speed limit is half of the top speed of the 300cc bike. The rest is arguing with ignorance.
Poncho167   October 8, 2013 01:23 PM
Why is $2999 Honda Grom highlighted. Do people actually think that is a fair price? Is this a way to conditon the public that this is a reasonable price?