Anybody who is into motorcycles knows that the downturn in Western economies has not been kind to motorcycle manufacturers. New bike sales are way down over what they were just a few years ago. In response to poorer sales, most manufacturers have introduced much cheaper small displacement bikes in the 250-300CC range. These smaller bikes are selling well, especially with new riders. I actually had a 2012 Honda 250F, but I found it a little too small and underpowered for my 5'9" 185lb. body. I would imagine that most larger riders would feel the same way. So, when my local Honda dealer had a demo ride last week I was eager to try out the newish CBR500R. On the day of the demo, I eagerly gathered up my riding gear and headed on down to the dealership. When I got to there, however, I was disappointed to find that the CBR500R was already booked for the day. A little disappointed, I decided to take a ride on the CB500F instead. I have to say that I was rather taken with the CB500F's minimalist styling, which looked particularly sharp in Honda red. The exposed engine with its magnesium (they looked like magnesium, anyway) side and valve covers also looked very good.
Anyway, on to my riding impressions: The first thing that struck me upon starting the little beastie was how quiet and smooth the engine was. No doubt this was due to the Euro 4 emissions compliant muffler/catalytic converter, liquid-cooled and counterbalanced 180 degree engine and well-written injection software. The next thing that impressed me was how stable the bike felt on the road, and how well the suspension dealt with some of my city's rotten road surfaces. The 500F was certainly very confidence inspiring in the handling department. I should note here that only the rear suspension is adjustable for preload. The largish 41mm front fork has no adjustment but seemed to be well damped for the riding conditions that I encountered. Overall, the handling seems to occupy a middle ground between sportbike sharpness and cruiser stability. That is certainly not a bad thing considering the bike's intended buyers.
The Honda rep made it clear that neither the CB500F or CBR500R models are intended to be performance-oriented bikes. They are certainly not affordable alternatives to 120+ horsepower 600CC sportbikes. And while the 471cc parallel twin engine only produces around 45 horsepower at the rear wheel, it is tuned for lower RPM power delivery. The engine pulled very nicely while scooting around town, and should be able to do 'the ton' easily on the highway. That smooth and torquey engine power delivery, coupled with a low seat height of 30.9 inches, standard ABS (in Canada), a comfortable rider triangle, light clutch and a wide handlebar all contribute to the bike's user-friendliness, especially for newer riders.
About the only negative things that I can say from my brief experience with the CB500F is that the brake lever required a good pull to bring about any significant stopping power, the transmission shifting was a bit on the stiff side, and the bike has minimal wind protection from the small headlight/fairing assembly. Having said that, though, the brakes did work well, and a change of brake pads to a softer pad would increase braking performance. Also, the transmission shifting would likely loosen up considerably after the bike was ridden a couple of hundred kilometers (the demo bike only had 69km on the odometer). And, an aftermarket windscreen would solve the air management problem (I know Givi offers a good looking screen for around $150). Other than those small issues I came away from the demo ride with a very positive view of Honda's CB500F. And while I do not think that the bike will be too comfortable for riders over 6 foot, the 500R is certainly not CBR250R small, either.
2017 Honda CB500F MSRP (Canada): $6999 (about $300 less if not equipped with ABS) Engine Type: Liquid-cooled DOHC 8 valve parallel twin. Displacement: 471cc Bore x stroke: 67.0 x 66.8mm Compression ratio: 10.7:1 Induction: PGM-EFI, 34mm throttle bodies Chassis Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop 222F Rear tire: 160/60ZR-17 Dunlop 222 Rake/trail: 25.5 deg./4.1 in. (104mm) Wheelbase: 55.5 in. (1410mm) Seat height: 30.9 in. (785mm) Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal. (15.5L) Weight: 419 lb. (190kg) wet; 394 lb. (179kg) dry