It used to be, here in the West, that motorcycling was about buying the biggest, badest, mostest motorcycle out there. Nevermind your skill level, everyone knew your Viagra was working because your ‘Busa could go 200mph. But that all changed in 2008 when the bottom fell out of the economy and Boomers stopped buying bikes with home equity loans. In 2012, the success of practical, affordable models like the CBR250R and NC700X proves that practicality, affordability, accessibility and fuel economy are the new must-have features. This new 500cc Honda range — a CB, a CBR and an adventure-style X — brings that theme to something of a sweet spot. Starting at just $5,500 they’re enough motorcycle for everyone without being too much for anyone.
We got the chance to see and sit on all three models last week. They’re all coming Stateside and it’s that Honda CB500 that’s hitting the $5,500 price point. It uses the exact same 471cc parallel-twin as the $5,999 Honda CBR500R and no-price-yet Honda CB500X. It makes 47bhp and 31lb/ft of torque while returning 54mpg. Weight, fully-fueled and ready to ride is 425lbs.
Anyone who’s ridden a CBR250R or NC700X or Honda CRF250L will be familiar with the general theme here. On-paper, none of the above specs are terribly impressive. As enthusiasts of this whole motorcycle thing, we’ve been programmed over the last 20 years to seek unprecedented power and extreme light weight out of each new bike. The problem has then been price and focus. Bikes got faster, but also more expensive and more focused. Try doing all-day distance on any current 600cc sportsbike. You could have 15 years ago, you can’t now. You could on any of these three bikes.
Sitting on the CBR500R, it’s not all ass-up and head-down. In fact, I was reminded more of the old non-VTEC VFR800 than I was anything in the current CBR range. The seat is large and comfortable and, at just 30.9 inches, should be short enough for new riders and small riders while retaining a full-size feel for this tall-rider. The clip-ons strike the right balance between comfort and control and the pegs are low enough that my 34-inch inseam wasn’t at all cramped, but they were far enough under my ass that I still felt confident in my ability to take my weight through them and shift around the bike. The CB takes that a little more upright, the X does the same thing while adding a small windscreen.
And these bikes will be cheap to run too. In place of the de rigeur 180-section rear, there’s a 160/60-17 and a 120/70-17 front. You’ll be able to get real rubber in those sizes and do so without dropping close to $300 for the privilege.
None of these three bikes are going to be the stuff of adolescent fantasy. You’re not going to see them pasted on the walls of teenage bedrooms or Robert Matthew Van Winkle astride one, rescuing Kristin Minter from suburban boredom. That’s because Honda’s new 500cc family is about reality. Cheap to buy, cheap to run and likely fun to ride for a broad spectrum of experience levels, it’s bikes like these that are going to spread the motorcycle word to a wider audience.