THE LATEST IN A2-FRIENDLY BIKES MAKES AN ENTRANCE WITH THE ARRIVAL OF A NEW MEMBER OF THE CBR FAMILY...
WORDS: ALASTAIR ’SHERGAR ’N’ FRIES’ FAGAN
PIC: ZEP GORI
There’s something historically chic, mixed with some real malice, when the mind conjures up Honda’s 500cc motorcycles. From the death-defying NSR500 GP racer that Lawson and Doohan tamed in the 80’s and 90’s, to the widowmaker-behaviour of the CR500 ’crosser, Honda has created some badass bikes with those magical digits.
But back to the 21st century, and the generation screwed by H&S legislation; behold the CBR500R and CB500F! These two bikes are spawned from an identical chassis and engine, with some different bits and ergonomic bobs to differentiate the pair. There’s also a runt of the litter, the CB500X, which is a cross-adventurer type and wasn’t present on the launch.
Make no mistake, the CB range is a massive deal for Honda. With said licensing laws (which you should already know about) buggering new riders and bigger capacity new bike sales, it’s the A2-friendly bikes grabbing all the attention and supporting sportsbike sales figures. Consequently, there’s a host of new 46bhp bikes being designed specifically for the job.
Honda’s 500 threesome has also been introduced to bridge the gaping chasm between 125cc L-platers and rev-hungry supersports bikes. The fact that you can pass you car test in a Ford Ka and leave the test centre in a 1000bhp Bugatti Veyron isn’t an issue for the suits who introduce these rules... In recent years, stepping up from a 125cc to a 250cc four-banger has hardly been an upgrade. For example, the CBR125 is only marginally slower and less powerful than the CBR250. It’s like turning up late when you’ve paid £25 for Speedy Boarding; you’re left shortchanged with no benefit whatsoever.
The CBR125 and CBR250 do nothing for Honda’s flagship badge and heritage, other than selling in decent amounts. With zero sporting pedigree and as much personality as a dead badger, only some fake racer-type aesthetics cover up what is, essentially, a massive pile of steaming sewage.
But praise the big guy upstairs, this trio of Honda 500 cousins look to be different. Those with diminished vision would be forgiven for thinking the CBR500R was a Fireblade. Only on closer inspection is its sub £5k budgetary DNA a giveaway, but the 500R still has a real essence and substance to it. Multi-spoke wheels go a long way to adding big-bike sensations and boosting the CBR’s ego.
Granted, the R looks like a race-spec assassin, but the riding position is comfortable and upright, accommodating for a whole slew of sizes. With low-slung, rubber-mounted pegs greeting you, you could be fooled into thinking this was a tourer but, thankfully, the CBR likes to party hard.
The bike itself feels neutral and well balanced, evenly biased at both ends. Comfort aside, the first thing you’ll notice is how quick and willing the steering is. As long as you’re not feeding in 45-degree lean angles, (which will see you chewing hedges), the CBR’s front end responds with frisky, yet super-stable, handling. 194kg should be treated as just a number, because the CBR is a proper ballet dancer and really puts the rider in total control. It holds a line, changes direction quickly, and genuinely rides like a big bike.
Although soft during the initial stroke, the suspension never feels cheap or threatens to launch you from the cockpit. It lacks the progression and infinite damping control to take heroic liberties during cornering, but supreme bump management is an attribute the CBR boasts. Spain is financially fecked, as are the roads, but the Honda surprised me with its pliable tactics.
After a nice legal(ish) session on the Spanish highways, it was time to punish the CBR. Regulars will know Parcmotor circuit has been the home for our Sportsbike of the Year test in recent years, and Honda must have had a little confidence in the R’s ability – Parcmotor is like a safe Cadwell Park, undulating and twisty, and highlights any discrepancies.
Only the ground clearance spoilt the party on tighter corners, but the CBR felt planted and assured, ripping up sections of circuit we’d never expected it to. The front end takes a punishing and rewards you with pin-point steering accuracy. You really can put it anywhere. Again, it’s only when you introduce the pegs to Tarmac that the mechanical grip vanishes and the Honda started to shimmy across the Tarmac, but there’s plenty of warning. Ultimately, it’ll depend on the rubber that’s fitted.
The intrinsic sporting talent will please the 32 teenagers signed up for the European Junior Cup, racing CBR500Rs and travelling with the world superbike circus, and also Mr McGuinness who’ll be racing one at the TT that will need a serious fettling to compete...
The powerplant, however, isn’t a disappointment. The CBR’s 471cc motor is the first Honda engine to be built outside Japan, which is another massive deal for the Big H. Assembled in Thailand along with the rest of the bike as a cost-cutting measure, the super-smooth parallel twin brags a decent midrange that gets exciting at 4,000rpm. The R’s puff fizzles out at 7,000rpm but silky fuelling and a balancer shaft ensure a vibe-free and glossy bottom end, and means you don’t have to keep feeding gears or abuse the clutch. It’ll wheelie, in first gear at 5mph...
As we left the mountain twisties, the CBR didn’t get laborious. It’ll happily cruise at a ton without attempting to chuck its guts through the cases, although the claimed 80mpg might take a battering in the process. Likewise, in town the rest of the bike is fluid in its function, with a light action throttle and clutch. Even the gearbox didn’t throw any nasty surprises.
There’s some clever tech inside, too. Mimicking the philosophy of some aftermarket air filter companies, Honda has introduced a plate between the two inlet funnels to reduce turbulent air and, consequently, tidy the bang. When you’ve got a horsepower castration of 46bhp, every little helps. Honda has also purposely made the engine as wide as possible to imitate the bigger CBRs.
The CBR and the CB are everything you desire considering the target demographic and the restrictions the EU has put upon them. It’s all too easy to over-hype and get excited (like we did), only to be let down with budget guff (like we have). Intuitive and easy to ride, yet still packing nuggets of mischief when called upon, the Honda is very good but we can’t help thinking they could have injected a little badass, and widened rider parameters to cope with the more experienced.
But when you consider that all UK-spec models come with excellent ABS as standard, the fact that they won’t fall apart like a cheap Chinese commuter, they’ll probably just require fuel and tyre checks, and are priced at under £5k, it looks like Honda’s CB range has made a decent resurrection. Er, the 500 is back...
ENGINE Honda has worked on giving prominence to the engine, with the distinctive DOHC ‘eye-balls’ first seen on the CB450 in the 1960s. The engineers worked on 471cc being the optimum capacity and focused on the 46bhp parameters for A2 riders. Frictional losses reduced by roller rocker arms and grooved piston surfaces are seen on the CBR600RR, and the bore and 7mm bore interval is also the same as the RR. The 500 uses the same gear change arm structure as the Fireblade, too. A couple balancer reduces vibrations, while the cooling efficiency allows a small water pump.
CHASSIS With four frame hangers, the engine becomes a stressed member of the chassis. A new steel frame has been worked on, with balance of flexibility and rigidity. ABS is standard on the CBR and an option on the CB500F. Suspension utilises a 120mm stroke at the front and the 41mm fork is non-adjustable, while the rear is sorted via Honda’s Pro-link and has a nine-stage preload adjuster. Lightweight aluminium ’Blade-look-a-like wheels look boss. Optional extras include a 45 litre top-box, panniers, a high screen for touring, a rear seat cowl, and heated grips.
TECHNICAL HONDA CBR500R
Type | 471cc, liquid-cooled, parallel twin
Bore x Stroke | 67mm x 66.8mm
Compression | 10.7:1
Fuelling | PGM-FI with 34mm throttle bodies
Claimed Power | 46bhp
Claimed Torque | 43Nm
Frame | Steel tube
F Suspension | 41mm fork, non-adjustable
R Suspension | Pro-Link monoshock, preload only
Front Brakes | Twin-piston caliper, 320mm disc
Rear Brakes | Single-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Wheelbase | 1,410mm
Seat Height | 785mm
Dry Weight | 194kg
Fuel Capacity | 15.5L
Price | £4,950
From | Honda UK www.honda.co.uk 0845 200 8000
ABS as standard
Won’t be useless
FAST ROAD 6
McPint is doing the TT
NEW RIDER 10
Name of the game
A1 if you’ve got an A2
Easy to ride usually means boring, but Honda has blended the right mix of fun and frisky handling. The CBR is a bike finally worthy of ditching L plates...
+ ENGINE, CHASSIS, BRAKES, SMOOTH, BLOODY EASY TO RIDE
- COULD BE A LOT BETTER, NOT AN NSR...