5 Apr 2013

Tested - Honda CBR500R

@Dogknob1 reviews Honda's new, budget 500cc sports bike, the CBR500R

The other day I got a ride on two of the new Honda road bikes, one was the excellently executed CB1100 where style and substance had been brilliantly blended together; the other was the CB500R. This sort of makes the start of this report sound like it’s all going to go a bit pair shaped for the 500? Let me assure you that this is not the case.

First thing first: Yes it is made in Thailand. Yes it has been built to a budget. Yes as an experienced biker you’re going to be able to notice these two things!!!! However is that relevant?

If you’re new to biking and looking for that first jump from a 125 then the market has suddenly become quite interesting. Kawasaki kicked it off a few years back with the introduction of the GPZ250R (now GPZ300), a sporty little thing with big bike looks and a buzzy twin cylinder engine. It must have made quite good sales figures as in no time at all Honda had a CBR250R single out to capture sales in this growing segment. Trouble is that if you wanted something a little more,well, bigger the next step is a 600.  These may be frowned upon by insurers, or parents, or your licence limitations?

In the past you could have had a Suzuki GS500, Kawasaki GPZ500 or even a CB500 - all good bikes in a desperately dull commuter style. These were bikes born for the commute, the overwhelming need for practical transportation in a no frills frugal world of the 9 to 5 working week - certainly not bikes that inspired you to part with your hard earned cash. Admittedly these bikes cost sensible amounts of money and for this you got bikes with great little power plants, bikes that were easy to ride and live with. Unfortunately you didn’t get a stirring of any emotion or even the creation of a sparkle in the eye. There is no lusting after sensible 500s.  Until now perhaps?

Honda have raided their DNA cupboard for this new CBR500R, making the way it looks generic of the CBR range of bikes. This is no bad thing at all.  On the test day we only had it in one colour - Honda racing white with corporate red and blue graphics (black or grey are the other choices) .

Power is provided by an all new 471cc DOHC liquid cooled parallel twin, pumping out an A2 licence friendly 47bhp and 31ft lbs @ 7000rpm. Which doesn’t sound much, especially when compared to its weight of 194kg wet (wet as in oil and fluids in it, not left out in the rain) but it does get along perfectly well on with those figures and has the decency of returning mid to late 70s mpg to boot

All of this is wrapped up in a steel perimeter frame with a pair of 17” wheels hanging off the ends on standard 41mm forks and Prolink rear swingarm. ABS braking is by a 2 pot 320 single wavey disk at the front plus a 240 1 pot at the rear. Truth be told I forgot to look at whose brand of tyres was on it but Honda tell me they’re 120/70 and 160/60 at the back so again making the all-important LOOK just right

Right Ho once again its riding time!!

The CBR500R had just returned from a previous test ride so was warm and ready to rumble (I’m blaming PJ and Duncan for that thought right there). The seating position was one of being on top of the bike, reach to the bars was fine, in a balance of not too sporty but not sat up (there is a naked CB500F for those of a less prone persuasion). 

Switch gear all felt ok but did lack that Honda click to its operation! May be a sign of the budget build agenda? Levers are none adjustable but had a good feel to the clutch and brakes. Dashboard is housed in a plastic pod with an all-digital read out, (aping the CBR1000RR) revs by bar graph, speedo in numbers with a whole load of other stuff like mpg, trip, blah blah blah. 

Thumbing the starter button the little 500 burst into life with an enthusiastic buzz, and we're off. 

On some open roads the CBR showed normal Honda traits with good fuelling in all the gears and a linear power delivery, pulling cleanly in all the easy-to-select gears, as long as the right gear was selected in the first place for the job in hand. 

A handful of brakes didn’t seem to upset the ride and had quite a reassuring feel. Now if only we could ignore the whole suspension thing this bike would be great but, we can’t!  Its ride is quite harsh with no decent damping that I could feel.  It certainly picked up every lumpy bump, transferring them through the seat, bars and pegs. It is here that I think Honda have made a large saving on the budget - perhaps one saving too far? 

 To be fair the test route was on bloody awful roads and the bike was box fresh.  Maybe with a few miles on the clock things would improve? Now, nothing the suspension did was wrong! It didn’t throw me off line or wallow around like a drunken pig.  It just didn’t feel as accomplished as the CB1100 I’d just jumped off after riding the same test route. On some of the smooth-surfaced corners it tipped in easily, held its line and drove out on the throttle just like any bike should. Also, ergonomically, on the move the bike worked fine and dandy.

So bar being a little stiff and incompliant in the suspension department is it a good bike?

Errrr, Ummm, Ahhh?

If you’re an up and coming biker and looking for that first real bike that’s going to fill all your biking criteria, of a bit of commuting, touch of touring and general hooning around then this bike is spot on. Especially considering its bargain price £4950. For a Honda! 

 Let’s also not forget that’s cheaper than the Kwak GPZ300. Yes there has been some cost cutting on this bike but none of which I think you are going to notice. As it does everything perfectly well just maybe not as well as a CBR600RR but then you can’t have one of those yet can you?

If you’re an experienced rider with quite a few bikes under your belt looking for something smaller or to take you to work and back then I’m not sure you’re not going to notice some of the budget build in this bike. OK you could probably sort the suspension out with a bit of time and fiddling or even a re-valve by someone like Maxton.  But in reality you’d have to ask yourself should you have to bother adjusting a new bike that much? 

Conclusions are then, for a half sensible amount of money Honda have a decent bit of kit for you right here, with the added bonus that each further Honda you own will almost certainly be better than this one - and I don’t mean that in a negative way but I do like my buttons on a Honda to click with a certain feel that they’ll last forever