For $5,500, the most important new bikes this year

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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.

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  • Glenngineer

    I like them too, but I hate myself for how much I want that new Goldwing Glide.

    • Gene

      I’m drooling over the CB1100. An ’80s 1100cc Honda with ABS & FI? Zoinks. I think I need a kleenex!

      • Julian

        remember this show bike? i want that…

        http://jalopnik.com/313674/honda-cb1100r-concept

        • Cameron Evans

          If you have the cash, you just found yourself a perfect winter project.

      • Roman

        Wow, it’s finally coming to the states and at a pretty reasonable $9,999. Honda’s on a roll baby!

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

    This is pretty damn awesome.

  • Sentinel

    I could see these being great beginners bikes, or for people just looking for an inexpensive form of transportation.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

    God help me, I like the beaky one best.

  • Bruce Steever

    My wife’s next bike is one of these. Although she is going to be pissed the first time i steal it for a trackday…

  • Holden and Annette

    Let’s hope this isn’t wishful thinking. Referring in the first paragraph to the NC700X as a success makes me wonder if Wes is viewing things with rose-colored glasses. And I mean I’m genuinely wondering; the local dealer didn’t see excited about the NC700X, so I would be mildly surprised if anyone outside Honda’s PR department has deemed it a success.

    It seems obvious that the future of motorcycling in the United States depends on the success of medium-displacement bikes like these. They will introduce people to this inexpensive and fun way of commuting. If enough people buy them, they’ll become cool, and then there will be a self-reinforcing cycle of strong sales. But how does the industry get from here to there? How do they market these machines when the niche has been ignored so long that it’s now stigmatized?

    You know what would be cool? If Honda teamed with Aerostich to sell a half-price Roadcrafter with each of these 500cc bikes. Get newbies attired appropriately right off the bat to sell them on the safety and fun of commuting on a motorcycle.

    • Bruce Steever

      Here in SoCal, a variety of factors make this state a looking glass into the American market as a whole (thanks mainly to money and weather).

      As a general rule, if we see a lot of a certain type of bike, especially if it was recently launched, there is a good chance that it is doing well overall.

      You know what i’ve seen lately? New FZ8s, NC700Xs and DL650s.
      You know what i haven’t seen lately? New 600s, 1000s, Busas, ZX14s, etc

      • Holden and Annette

        I’m so glad. I liked the NC700X OK. But a short walk away, there was a CBR 250 in the red-white-blue livery. Ooooooh. I wanted to take that baby to bed.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Sales are apparently pretty good. Bike dealers suck, what’s new?

      • Aaron

        too many are stuck in the $15K slow bike days.

  • John

    I’m fairly certain I see a CB500X in my future, though a more dirt road worthy version would be even more attractive. Once I get too much beyond that in money, the only thing that makes sense is a Tiger 800 or BMW 700GS to me and my wallet says “no” thus far.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Hey, TKC80s come in 17s.

    • Bruce Steever

      2012 DL650A.

      $8k buys you a bike that makes you forget the Tiger 800 even exists. HfL staffers love it. I’m buying one (and i was ready to buy a Tiger 800).

      • Aaron

        I think value is the only reason to pick a wee-strom over a Tiger 800.

        • Bruce Steever

          Ridden both, extensively, back-to-back.

          The Tiger has more engine but doesn’t feel or perform like it does. It does sound better though.

          The Tiger has a bit more controlled, sportier suspension. Brakes, accessories, comfort, features, all pretty much a tie.

          SV and DL twins easily last past 100,000 miles. Never seen a Triumph go into six figures.

          Suzuki service rates are significantly cheaper, and service shops are easier to find.

          In short, the Tiger is a little sportier and is the better motorcycle by a very small margin, but not nearly enough to justify the purchase price or running costs.

          Okay, maybe you are right, maybe it is just the DL’s value… but i think if you have two apples, and one costs 25% more, it had better be a damn good apple.

  • Core

    I really dig the Honda CB500X.

  • Rob

    I’m really hoping there’s a big aftermarket/tuning community once these come out.

    I ride a 25 year old CBR 600F (Hurricane) which I love dearly, so I was frustrated when the new “F” model didn’t come stateside. The RRs just have never been comfortable like the Fs.

    When you guys first scooped these 500s I held out hope they would come in in the 65-70hp range (my bike being 85ish from the factory).

    I fully understand (respect, love, and agree with) the logic behind the bike they’re releasing… but if I can’t squeak out just a little bit more oomph I’ll be back in the market for the right F4I.

  • Tad

    I’m glad that there is a resurgence in “common sense” bikes that are fun to ride. But I wish these entry level bikes had a little more to offer than say a 1987 Kawasaki EX500 (which I love BTW). Yes they do have fuel injection, but not much different than what was available 25 years ago. How much is a used Ninja 500??

  • Truehondafans

    Hi all you will be very disappointed with CBR500R as a sports bike. It have lousy front suspension (not inverted type) and useless digital display. The sub-frames looks very cheap. The CBR500R comes with a low compression cylinder and it comes with low horse power( I expect 60HP with a 500cc). After I seen the real CBR500R at the Thai expo I really feel very down because I am expecting more from Honda even it was manufacture in Thailand plant like the NSR150RR( nice 2-stroke small Cc). I myself have ridden NSR150RR, CBR400RR, NSR250 MC28 and RVF400 NC35. It was a true disappointment from Honda comparing the Bikes that I have ridden and it’s weight to power ratio! Get CBR600RR instead don’t waste time because when you ride a sports bike you will eventually go down to track CBR500R needs heavy modifications just to have some fun!

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawn.poorman.7 Shawn Poorman

    Truehondafans, You do realize that the base price on a CBR600RR is LITERALLY DOUBLE the price of one of these bikes right? For $5500-$7000ish, you aren’t gonna get much faster than that. Except for (fill in the name of bike that is NOT imported to the USA). Duke 390 comes to mind, but it looks like they were just teasing us when they said it would come here this year.

  • Stuki

    That VFR mentioned (pre VTEC) had non-inverted suspension as well. Hardly lousy, in my memory. In fact, was it even that long ago that GP bikes had such lousy suspenders as well?

    The CBR looks bloody awesome! The others look fine enough, but for some reason the CBR is the one that speaks to me aesthetically.And I generally don’t much care for sport bike looks, preferring nakeds/standards (Street Triple over Daytona for example.) Perhaps that is why I like this particular “softie” sportbike :)

    By the looks of these photos, Honda “cheapened out” on the X, and simply lifted it a bit in it’s suspenders vs the others. They should have lowered the pegs a bit as well. The X seems intended to be the tourer of the bunch. As such, Honda should have used the taller seat to give riders more legroom. It’s not like the average touring buyer needs higher pegs and more lean than the stereotypical CBR buyer.

    As it is, despite lower weight, probably equal range, lower price and exhaust placement that is not plain silly for a street based bike for luggage intenders, I’d still likely spring for the Vstrom if multi hour trips were on the menu. But what do I know, maybe Honda figured there’s not many adventure bikes out there for people with shorter legs (I’ve got 32.5″ inseams)

    Now we can just hope these bikes are “dull” enough to fly under the radar of the “badasses” who are so desperate to show off what cool bikes their lowlife selves can afford, that they create a strong market for stolen ones. No matter how light, fast and trick, a bike that is to be used for daily transportation, is pretty handicapped if one can park it anywhere for fear of thieves.