Your first motorbike. You’ll never forget it, whether it’s an Italian dream machine of a clapped out CB900 with 80,000 miles on the clock. But you don’t have to remortgage your house, or ride around on the worst dregs from the local Loot classifieds to get started.
The Honda CB500 four stroke twin offers genuine 100mph performance, easy handling and decent brakes, in a durable package that´s likely to get you hooked on motorcycling forever, despite its modest image.
Honda sold over 1100 examples of this humble middleweight during 1999, (both faired S version and the naked model combined) giving it a narrow lead over the Kawasaki ER500, which is exactly how the bikes compare on the road.
The Honda feels that bit easier to ride in every way, looks slightly better finished all over, has the best front brake, plus its engine is simply sewing machine smooth. From the moment you step on and thumb the button, it simply gets on with the job and lets the rider concentrate on the road ahead.
But that´s the irony about commuter bikes like these; people expect so little of them, yet they deliver the same fun as any other two wheeler. Yes, you read it right, I did associate the word fun with a 500cc twin. Why? Because the CB500 is a bike that lets you learn things fast. Confidence soon becomes real skill.
Back To Basics
The DOHC, four stroke, 499cc, liquid cooled engine isn´t some highly tuned track refugee, despite it being the basic ingredient of the CB500 Cup series. Like virtually all Hondas, it has an ultra smooth spread of power from 2500rpm, all the way to the frantic side of 10,000 revs, with no surprises for the novice road rider hidden along the way.
Making a claimed 58bhp at 9,500rpm, the Honda is easily the most powerful of the three bikes tested, with the Kawasaki and Suzuki punting out 50bhp and 52bhp respectively by comparison. That 6-8bhp advantage might not sound much, but it makes the Honda something like 15% more pokey than its competitors and what´s more, the extra power is all in the midrange, where you can use it best.
On the road, the CB500 feels in a different class.
This sort of basic thinking by Honda (give the bike an edge over the competition in every way) is carried over in the chassis and braking too.
When it was launched back in 1994 the Honda wore a four pot Nissin front brake caliper, which was fine and dandy, but it now has an even better Brembo caliper upfront, which offers outstanding feel at the lever. If we hadn´t been testing the bikes on the slippery, cold tarmac of winter, the Honda would have probably outbraked the Suzuki by 20 feet into every roundabout and the Kwacker by ten. For a single disc, it is superb.
The CB500´s 37mm forks and twin shock rear end are basic, conventional chassis technology, but they deal easily with all kinds of urban obstacles. The CB500 gives the rider immediate confidence with balanced, predictable handling, much more so than the other two bikes in fact.
You can adjust the pre-load on the shocks to bump things up a bit harder when taking a pillion passenger, but the Honda is a useful compromise, 90% of the time, straight from the factory. Some bikes simply `fit’ the rider and the CB500 is one of those understated machines.
At just 173kgs dry, the bike is light enough to chuck about on the twisty stuff all day long, as you practice the skills that will eventually get you up to the bigger sportsbikes like `Blades, R1s etc. But a year on a CB500 will teach everything you need to survive, it is such a forgiving little motorcycle.
Like most Hondas, the CB500 is an accomplished all-round package on the road, much more than the sum of its parts. At £4000 on the road, it´s the most expensive of this trio, but if you shop around it can be had from as little as £3250 for something pre-registered for example.
If you´re starting out biking and think that the CB500 is too small, underpowered, or lacks street cred – whatever – think again. It has more talent than you do, it just doesn´t like to shout about it.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda cb500.
Engine……….Liquid cooled, 499cc four stroke, twin cylinder, 8 valves, cc 499
Claimed power (bhp)……….58bhp @ 9,500rpm.
Carbs……….X2 34mm Mikuni.
Estimated top speed……….110mph
Chassis……….Tubular steel cradle frame.
Suspension……….37mm front forks, twin rear shocks, adjustable for pre-load only.
Brakes……….Single 296mm disc, four piston Brembo caliper. Rear drum.
Wheels……….cast, six spoke 17 inch front and rear.