‘Take your pick!’ says the incredibly friendly man in the Honda shirt. For any motorcyclist, this really is the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
You see, we’re on the iconic Isle of Man and Honda have agreed to lend us a bike to use during TT week. There are Fireblades, Africa Twins… a few GoldWings, and even a couple of little 125s parked up in the corner of this private workshop, hidden away in central Douglas. In fact, the only thing I can’t see in this big boys toy box is an RC213V-S MotoGP replica. Maybe Guy Martin has taken it out for a bit of extra curricular practice on the course… Or then again…
But there, shining at me like a beacon is a bright yellow CB500F. In terms of glamour, this £5299 commuter is about as far away from the golden ticket as it gets. Today though, it is smiling at me like a cheery old friend. Even though we’ve never met before, the CB500F immediately makes me feel at home. I think we’ll be good companions over the next few days.
In Honda’s own words, the CB500F ‘won’t intimidate those moving up to a more powerful motorcycle, nor will it disappoint experienced riders looking for an affordable alternative…’ I’m a pretty experienced rider but today is one of those days when the island is at its worst. Proverbial four legged pets are falling from the sky and I’ve travelled light. While my attire may not be the best for a slog back to our flat on the other side of the island, a ride on the CB500F is like slipping on a favourite pair of slippers. It is most definitely the right tool for today’s job.
To the experienced rider, a glance at the CB500F’s spec sheets isn’t going to set the heart racing. Honda has designed this bike (along with the other CB500X and CBR500R, which share the same platform) to appeal to new riders. As such it can be ridden on an A2 licence. Power output from the 471cc twin is 47bhp (35kW), which is the maximum permissible for A2 riders, but this is not some kind of restricted or retro engineered powerplant – Honda designed the CB500 range specifically with A2 in mind. Under UK licencing rules, a CB500 can be ridden as a first big bike at the age of 19. As a bike to cut your teeth on, it’s a seriously impressive set of wheels.
Honda currently has four models based on the 471cc platform. As well as the F, the CBR500R offers sportier styling and a racier riding position. The Rebel gives Harley-styled cruiser looks and an super low seating position for riders short in the inside leg department, while the CB500X brings taller adventure bike styling and makes a brilliant budget commuter for even the more experienced rider.
But back to the CB500F… At £5299 it the cheapest of Hondas 500s, but also the best looking too – in my humble opinion. The streetfighter styling echoes the bigger CB1000R and has a very European look about it, with flat bars, sharp angles and an aggressive looking single headlight. Colours are youthful too, with bright yellow, orange and red options joining a perennially popular black alternative in the Honda catalogue. Personally I LOVE the ‘Lemon Ice Yellow’ of our test bike. It might be a bit too ‘hi-vis safety vest’ for some but I am totally digging it. It’s making a statement and helps visibility in traffic. Winner!
Riding is a piece of cake. With a 785mm seat height and a nice narrow midriff, the CB is accessible to all but the very shortest of riders. Fuelled up, Honda claims a weight of 190kg. That’s heavier than some of the slightly bigger bikes like the Yamaha MT-07 and Kawasaki Z650 but it carries it well feels nicely balanced and manoeuvrable in traffic and at speed.
Open the throttle and it lacks the aggressive thrust of those aforementioned middleweights, but it drives well enough from zero to around 6,000rpm – when it all gets a bit buzzy. While I found that the seat was comfortable enough, the gentle vibes gave me a bit of a numb bum after 35 minutes or so.
Maximum power comes right up at the 8500rpm redline and if you want to make good progress you’ll have to work the sweet six-speed gearbox. The controls are all light and easy to use, and shouldn’t be intimidating for riders moving up from a 125. Such was the weather in the Isle of Man, I spent a lot of time on sopping wet roads. While not exactly the most enjoyable riding of my life, the easy going nature of the Honda fully justified my decision to choose it over it’s most illustrious cousins that were left behind in that Aladdin’s cave in Douglas. The single disc up front provides drama free stopping while the ABS is unobtrusive. Wheels are standard 17” items shod with Dunlop Sportmax D222s (120/70 up front and 160/60 at the rear). Ultimate grip as good as you’d expect from a ‘commuter’ bike and worked way better than I’d expected in the soaking wet conditions.
When the sun did shine, so too did my little Honda. It’s not the natural weapon of choice with which to take on the Mountain course, but it certainly isn’t out of depth. Suspension does the job asked of it without too much complaint. It’s no Fireblade, but you don’t need me to tell you that, but it certainly looks the part. At first glance it can easily be mistaken for a bigger bike and it’s only details like the single front disc and right way up telescopic forks that give the game away.
It is well screwed together too. Quality of finish is superb. It feels sturdy and all the finishes are in line with what you would expect on a more expensive Honda. My test didn’t return definitive fuel consumption figures but expect well over 60mpg.
So is it all good? Well yeah, mostly it is. There are a couple of things I’m not totally mad keen on though.
That light vibration at higher revs was a bit of a pain in the bum for me, and while the digital dash looks cool it’s also quite small. That made it difficult for me to read. There’s also no gear indicator, which would have been a welcome addition as the engine does need you to dance on the gearbox to get the best out of it, especially up hills or with a passenger on board.
My biggest grumble is the left hand switchgear, which has the horn and indicator switches the wrong way around. The horn button is on top, and massive, which meant that I too often found myself fumbling for the indicators and/or whacking the horn by accident. It seems to be a Honda thing and, as a potential owner, it shouldn’t put you off. You’d get used to it but I am kind of just thinking ‘why?’
Why too the large H.I.S.S. logo next to the ignition switch? Acronyms went out in the 1990s, and even then they proclaimed sexy stuff that made more power, like decadently named fuel injection or ram air systems. H.I.S.S. is Honda’s immobiliser system. It’s a good thing for sure but do I really need to be reminded about it every time I glance down at the speedo? Hurray for H.I.S.S. Boo for the H.I.S.S. logo!
Yep, that’s the kind of pedantry you need to lower yourself to if you want to take a pot shot at the CB500F. Going lower, I’m no fan of the font used to write the model name on the rear flank either – it kinda reads like B00F. In fact, the name itself just doesn’t seem right.
That’s because, in my mind, an F suffix stands for four or faired, and this CB is neither. It is, however, a good looking, well built and affordable starter bike that has few peers. It’s fun, funky and fit for purpose… Take your pick as to what the F stands for.
|ENGINE TYPE||Liquid-cooled parallel twin, DOHC, eight valves|
|BORE X STROKE||67×66.8mm|
|MAXIMUM POWER||47bhp (35 kW) @ 8500 rpm|
|MAXIMUM TORQUE||43Nm @ 7000rpm|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||41mm telescopic forks|
|FUEL TANK||16.7 litres|
*Based on our average customer 52 year old, 9 years NCB, garaged, WA14 postcode, no claims/convictions, 4000 miles Comp cover is £238.56 with a £250 excess.
Insure your Honda through Carole Nash.