RideApart Review: 2013 Honda CBR500R

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WING0955

For novice riders, a 600cc+ sport bike is simply too much. For American tastes, a 250 is often too small. Could this new Honda CBR500R be just right? We think so.

Photos: Kevin Wing

What’s New:
The CBR500R is one part of Honda’s all-new, three-bike 500 range. A steel tube frame wraps the 471cc parallel-twin engine’s perimeter, connecting the non-adjustable 41mm forks to the pre-load adjustable Pro-Link shock. There’s a single, 320mm front brake disc with a two-piston caliper and ABS is a $500 option. All that’s then wrapped in a handsome, all-encompassing fairing that’s one part 2013 Honda CBR1000R and one part pre-VTEC VFR800.

If that sounds pretty basic, that’s because it is. There’s no huge engine or fancy suspension or trick electronics or unprecedented metallurgy reducing the number of welds in the frame. That’s a good thing, because this isn’t a cutting edge tool targeted at the fractional percentage of riders who need dialed-in frame flex. It’s a practical, affordable, economical, fun bike for the everyman.

Pro-Link is also used on bikes like the CBR1000RR, CBR600RR and Gold Wing.

Continuing to look at specs only, that liquid-cooled motor develops 47bhp at its 8,500rpm redline and 32lb/ft of torque at 7,000rpm. That motivates an all-up kerb weight of 425lbs.

These new 500s sorta span categories, but other accessible sport bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja 650 and Suzuki SFV650 appear to have it beat on paper. The Ninja makes 71bhp, 47lb/ft and weighs just 35lbs more. The Suzuki’s v-twin develops 66bhp and 47lb/ft and weighs 446lbs. Perhaps crucially, the Kawasaki goes for $7,599 and the Suzuki $7,999. The CBR500R? $5,999.

The cheaper Kawasaki Ninja 300 goes for just $4,799 but makes only 39bhp and 20lb/ft of torque, powering a 380lbs curb weight.

At first glance, that stacks the Honda up against some tough competition. A little more money gets you more speed, less cash gets you most of the way there.

The Ride:
Where most press launches take place on some fancy race track or an exotic mountain road — either carefully chosen to flatter specific elements of the new bike’s performance — Wednesday morning we just picked the bike up at Honda’s American HQ in a Los Angeles suburb, then tooled around local roads for the day.

A mix of congested city streets, stop sign-ridden suburban neighborhoods, flowing back roads, tight, bumpy corners and even a stretch of highway made up the day. In short, the exact environments in which this bike is going to have to perform.

Initial impressions are that the 500 feels like a more adult-sized Honda CBR250R. Its additional 70lbs don’t translate to the experience of shifting the bike back and forth between your legs and the additional half inch of seat height doesn’t make the 500 any less friendly.

Pull away and you’re again treated to a similar experience to that single-cylinder CBR250R. Low-speed balance is perfect and the controls intuitively precise, smooth and predictable. You feel at one with the CBR500R after the first five feet.

It’s not until you’re out on the road that the 500 begins to demonstrate the advantage of its greater displacement, moving through traffic with both more authority and ease.

The flexibility of the engine is actually the biggest surprise. It won’t bog or disappoint no matter where you are in the rev range. After switching bikes with another journalist during a photoshoot, I accidentally pulled away in third gear. Didn’t notice until I had to come to a stop and try and find neutral. Most other small to mid-capacity bikes would have simply stalled had I tried something similar.

That power continues in a completely linear fashion right up to the 8,500rpm redline. 4,000rpm is about half the total power, 6k is most of it and you can toodle around at 2 or 3k if you really want to. You get exactly what you expect out of the 471cc engine.

What’s more surprising is the handling. The CBR500R steers extremely rapidly (thank the narrow 160-section rear tire for that), but is also very stable. Again, the overall impression is of an intuitive man/machine connection. The Honda simply does what you ask of it.

Picking up the pace on the only three real corners within 20 miles of Honda’s headquarters, some limitations in the basic spec do become apparent. I’d hoped to show off by dragging knee for the photos, but through these bumpy corners at least, the relatively soft damping had the bike squirming around as we leaned far enough over to scrape peg.

The ergonomic triangle is open enough to make possible all-day comfort, without undue weight on the wrists or cramped legs, but also canted forward just enough to give you real control over the bike. Some other time, we are going to come away with knee down photos on this thing, it’s just going to need some smoother pavement.

The biggest difference to the CBR250R is on the highway, where the CBR500R’s performance is more than enough to command your relationship with other traffic. Top speed is 115mph-ish and it accelerates up to about 100mph with real speed.

After a while, the novel experience of riding a comparatively slow motorcycle wears off and you begin to appreciate what a cohesive package the CBR500R actually is. Sure, some bikes are faster. Others are cheaper. None simply gets on with the business of being a motorcycle as well as this little Honda.

What’s Good:
The fuel economy. 71mpg is better than the Honda NC700X’s fancy car-based engine and pretty much on par with the 74mpg CBR250R, while making 20bhp more. Combined with the 4.1-gallon tank and figuring $3.60 for a gallon of 87 octane, a $14.75 fill-up will carry you just under 300 miles.

And you can use that tank range on the CBR500R too, because it’s hugely comfortable. The seat leaves plenty of room to move front to back and side to side, while still facilitating body position for sport riding. The pegs are low enough to leaver your legs uncramped, but again just tall enough to allow you to easily shift your body weight. Same with the bars. Just perfect ergonomics.

Wind protection from the fairing and relatively low screen is also excellent. Again, contributing to both comfort an fuel economy.

The engine is willing and able to give you more than you’ll need anywhere. While I did find myself at full throttle a few times today, it was only when I was really trying to go fast. And, unlike on faster bikes, you’ll actually reach full throttle here and there, meaning you’re actually using your motorcycle.

We’ve repeated this word a few times here: intuitive. Everything about the CBR500R just feels right, working with you to make your riding better rather than getting in the way. The brakes bite when you expect them to, delivering the amount of stopping power you expect. The clutch lever engages when it should. The steering does what you expect it to. All that just adds up to a bike that will make you a better rider every time you ride it.

The quality is also astonishing. The paint, the panel fit, the movement of the controls; this feels like a $10k+ motorcycle, not a budget commuter. Check out the brushed aluminum belly pan on the right side. Nice.

What’s Bad:
The suspension is under damped for truly fast riding. Having said that, this is not intended to be a smaller CBR600RR-style race replica that’s only good for canyon carving. It’s an everyday fun, pretty quick bike that the vast majority of riders will actually be able to ride quickly thanks to its accessible nature.

Ground clearance is also somewhat lacking if you’re really pressing on. The payoff is the kind of comfort more focused bikes can only dream of.

The Price:
$5,999 for the base bike, $6,499 for one with ABS. That’s a sweet spot in the market, sitting comfortably between the $4,200 CBR250R and $7,500 Honda NC700X. It’s also just over half the price of the $11,490 CBR600RR, making it an excellent entry to the sport market. Put $1,000 down, and you’ll be able to finance a CBR500R for about the same price as your iPhone costs you every month.

It’s also usefully cheaper than the larger, 650cc competition while feeling like a more complete, cohesive, modern product. That, while delivering the kind of real world performance that smaller, cheaper bikes simply lack.

This is a real motorcycle that can really do everything, and make it fun, for just $6k.

What Others Say:
“…it’s easy to get on with and novice friendly, a doddle to ride, the power delivery will never catch anybody out – it’s brisk rather than fast but the pleasing surprise is that if you want to give it a good fistful of revs it’s truly engaging and fun…” — MCN

“With [its] unintimidating but torquey and responsive engines, strong ABS brakes and planted feel, [the CBR500R is] designed to reduce the number of opportunities for new riders to induce errors, and to do [its] best to forgive them when they do occur.” — Visordown

The Verdict:
Want to get into the sport of motorcycling? Start here. Seriously, don’t argue, just go buy a CBR500R and start developing your skills. You won’t find a more forgiving, intuitive, easy package anywhere else, regardless or price or capacity and you’ll be rewarded with a surprisingly fun, imminently practical package too.

Don’t buy an R6, that’ll just make you slow and dangerous. Don’t buy some janky old bike, it’ll just break down and cost you a fortune when it does. Sell your car, buy a CBR500R and ride it everywhere, you’ll have a blast and you’ll never look back.

RideApart Rating: 10/10 (the buyer’s guide will update with the new information shortly)

Gear:
Helmet: Schuberth S2 ($700)
Suit: Aerostich Roadcrafter Tactical ($897 before custom work)
Gloves: Racer Sicuro ($240)
Boots: Dainese Cafe ($260)

  • Toly

    Awesome review! I have the F model and couldn’t be happier. An amazing bike, and the review is spot on!

    • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Vinland

      I am very curious about the CB500F. I have to test ride one. I would love to throw some panniers on it and make a cheap sport/standard tourer.

      Currently I steal my wife’s CBR250 for long frugal rides as my RC51 is anything but frugal, haha.

      • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

        Review will be up shortly.

  • Stephen Mears

    The VF500 returns in it’s new form! I wonder if guys are already shoe-horning CBR600 shocks into this thing. Would ride!

    • zombarian

      Hardly, swap the hp digits and it would be close enough.

      • Stephen Mears

        it’s easy to think of it that way by looking at the numbers, but I’m willing to wager the two bikes are equal up to 90, and I’m a vf500 owner. the upright, sporting attitude of the CB (and the narrow frame) is nearly identical to the VF by appearance.

        • zombarian

          The fact that the new 500 is being compared to one nearly 30 years old at all says enough about its performance, and although the cbr has its peak torque lower, it doesn’t actually seem to have more, I’m not sure it would stay in front very long in any sort of race, unless optional abs makes that big of a difference.

          All that said I think both outdo each other at their individual goals, the vf is sportier, and the cbr is more budget and beginner friendly, unless you consider how cheap you can find an older bike, I bought my Miniceptor for all of $800 two years ago.

          • Stephen Mears

            Sporty for the mid-80′s isn’t saying much these days :) Those 18′s and that anti-dive suspension don’t compare whatsoever to modern wheels and rubber with sorted suspension -I know this too because I grafted an F2 front end and rear wheel onto mine!

            • zombarian

              Sure, and even the f2 is a bit dated, and the f3, etc but I still wouldn’t be surprised to hear that any of the aforementioned older suspension bits aren’t better than the new 500′s.

    • jfc1

      well, except for the lack of a v4 and at least 10 hp, sure

  • http://twitter.com/VagrantCoyote VagrantCoyote

    Very impressive, while I thought Honda was lost in the wilderness for a few years, they are coming back strong. Would love one of these.

  • BryonCLewis

    This vs a used SV650 S/N? SV has small suspension issues and the major trade off is the MPG for power. But a used SV for $3-4k vs this for $6k makes me wonder.

    • http://twitter.com/Miticale Marco Auriti

      Need to ask yourself in what direction do you think you’ll end up going – I’m SURROUNDED by SV’s at the track. That might be a push in the direction you speak of.

    • tobykeller

      FWIW I owned an ’02 naked SV650 and have rented a CB500F. The SV is quicker, the Honda is smoother, has better front suspension, and gets far better mileage. I’d still take a used SV.

  • The_Doctor

    10/10, would do my best Marquez impressions.

    Seriously though, this is the first bike that I have been excited about (in the realm of actual affordability) in a long, long time.

  • http://twitter.com/Devin_Byrnes Devin Byrnes

    My 1992 EX500 that I can’t bring myself to dispose of has a better stat block. I am not saying it’s a better bike, just saying that the power numbers are a little lacking 20 years onward. How does it perform two-up? That is the major difference I’d be looking at between this and the 250.

    Any return to Naked Motorcycles? I hate the look of fairings, and all these bikes with small cc’s are covered in plastic.

    FYI, in the text of the article, you give 10/10, but the graphical number is a 9.

    • http://twitter.com/0xefbeadde dead beef

      The CB500F is the naked version of this bike.

      • http://twitter.com/Devin_Byrnes Devin Byrnes

        That still has a bit of unneeded plastic on it, but it is in the right ballpark. There might be some aftermarket ways to get rid of it. Can’t wait until the Honda test ride transport rolls into town, I definitely need to ride that.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      We have updated the specs in our spreadsheets, but it takes a little time for them to push all the updates we make to it to the server to make the nice boxes all pretty and up to date. Growing pains.

      • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.joshua.silverman Daniel Silverman

        It’s a daunting amount of work.

        • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

          Everyone should thank Daniel . Updating the spreadsheets has been a huge team effort, but when Wes and I get called away to a launch or meeting or prepare a story about riding through Costa Rica, he’s the guy still plugging away at it and the main reason we’ve gotten as much done as we have.
          Thanks Daniel!

    • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Vinland

      It has almost exactly the same pillion seat/subframe as the CBR250R and believe it or not the 250 rides 2-Up in all day comfort. My wife is 5’11″ and I am 6’1″ 190lbs and we have done 200mile days with very little discomfort and the 250 will hit 85mph on the highway with a passenger.

      I can only imagine the 500 is better in every aspect in this regard. Hope this helps.

  • karlInSanDiego

    Immediately found myself googling 2004 Suzuki GS500F and thinking this is an old formula coming round again, but now with fuel injection. Not that I don’t appreciate the attention manufacturers are giving to small displacement bikes, which is great, and the coupled great mileage is one aspect where cycle makers were slow to come up to speed in the US. Personally, as much as want to embrace the age old British formula of the vertical twin, on paper and previous modern bikes, this layout is a 2lb. Kirkland block of cheddar, with pulsing that doesn’t inspire, but cheapens the experience. 8500 rpm, really? Perhaps some exhaust note tuning is needed to inspire and make us believe less (cyl) is more (see production USA Fiat Abarth shipping with NO muffler). Side note: when did the Ninja 650 get all Kirstie Alley? In 2008 it was dry weight of 393, and last I checked 4 gallons of gas and 4 liters of oil don’t weigh 72 lbs.

    I hope to see the flyweights not just be about cheap, but also have some evolution and innovation. Frankly, if it’s a first bike, it should probably be a 2nd hand bike for most. New bikes have way too much depreciation and you’ll be stuck riding a learner longer because you have more money in it, if that’s what it is to you.
    So Honda, let’s see a 120 degree 3 cylinder 350 with some innovative adaptive valving, meeting the milestones of 100 mpg or 68 hp depending on throttle position, remembering that the magic of high hp is high revs. If you can maximize redline, you’ve built reserve power without necessarily sacrificing benefits of small displacement fitting in small bike with fantastic mileage. Work for your power with revs when you are more experienced, but if you hide power up at the the top end, I’ll only use it once or twice on a ride and my mileage will benefit. And for when you pass this demon on to a learner, you could build in a learner mode and cut the redline and/or alter the whole throttle by wire curve completely. Try Fiat’s multiair model and license it. My money’s on Yahama or Triumph (someone has to give them a hint) to get there first.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    All they need next is a KTM 690 Duke version of this. Then you will have a clear winner

    • tobykeller

      The KTM 390 Duke already has a better power:weight ratio. By my math:

      KTM:
      HP:KG (wet) = .293

      Honda:
      HP:KG (wet) = .247

      • Jasiek Wrobel

        Did you add a rider weight for those calculations?

        • tobykeller

          Nope. Given a 75kg rider, the numbers drop to .195 for the KTM and .177 for the Honda.

          • Jasiek Wrobel

            See how the difference is smaller when you add the rider ;-)

            • yyzmxs

              Where I went to school they taught me that the difference stays exactly the same, it does not magically get lower. Should I get my money back? … :-)

              • Jasiek Wrobel

                Without rider, KTM has 118% of Honda’s power to weight. With a rider, this is 110%. I do not get your point. What stays the same?

                • jfc1

                  what stays the same is obvious
                  what changes is the power/weight ratio, also obviously

                • yyzmxs

                  Let’s put an elephant on a bike, right? The bike is still a heavy bike you cannot hide it applying percentages game… But go for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/oh.eric Eric Oh

    I bought a used Buell Blast ‘cuase I read that it’s a good starting bike. After spending the equivalent of purchasing price on fixing it (total times it broke down), I’m ready to blow it up and buy me a reliable new Japanese bike. I’m excited to go give the CBR500 a try.

    • Tony Thayer

      I’m in the same boat with my XB9S. I hate it and want to burn the fucking thing when its broken down. But when its running? “There are other bikes?”

    • Kamenashi

      Couple months later, I think I’m in the same boat.

  • roma258

    Feels like we’re entering the golden era of beginner bikes in the US market. When I was starting out back in ’05 my options were Ninja 250/500 (both designs from the 80s), Suzuki GS500 (also designed from the 80s) and Buell Blast which didn’t exactly have a stellar reputation. And that was pretty much it.

    Now in a couple months, if you want a lightweight beginner bike you have a thoroughly modern CBR250 and Ninja 300. Want a little more oomph, you’ve got the CBR500 family. Want a legit dual-sport, there’s the Honda CRF250L. Want a GS look-alike? You can get the NC700X. Play cafe racer? There’s the Suzuki TU250. Want something a bit more special? Duke 390 is coming. Want cool urban runaround but wouldn’t be caught dead on a scooter? Say hello to the Honda Grom. Just hope there are enough new riders out there to soak up all this awesome product.

    • Jay

      Golden age, indeed. Missing from Honda’s US lineup, though, is the CRF250M which would be even goldener.

      As an experienced rider that wants a mid-sized bike I would prefer lighter weight even at higher cost, but Honda has found a way to make money in an environment where most other makers are losing money, so I fully understand their business plan.

      • roma258

        One thing I’d like to see happen is Suzuki step up with a modernized take on the SV650. The SFV650 just ain’t cutting it. Give it a proper suspension/brakes and sell it around $8500? I guess with the Street Triple looming a couple hundred bucks higher, they gave up trying?

        • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.berndt.73 Jonathan Berndt

          i could not agree more!

    • jfc1

      “and that was pretty-much it”.

      …and that is pretty-much not true.

  • Jon Cibelik

    I need some advice Wes (and everyone else). I currently have a Ninja 400R (first bike) and was wondering if this would be a suitable step up for improving my skills, Perhaps a bit more fun as well? Or should I wait a bit longer and move to the 600s. I’ve been riding for 9 months now. I can put the knee down if I’m feeling brave. I haven’t had any spills etc. but that’s primarily due to the incredibly forgiving nature of the Ninja — and sheer luck, I guess. What do you think?

    • Jon Cibelik

      karIInSandiego, they haven’t released your comment, so I’ll reply here.

      I would say 9 months of proper riding, so its probably more than that — given
      the endless Canadian winter — I do have previous dirt-bike experience,
      and I’m trying to go to the track as much as possible (received minor
      training, too.). We also have endless — and mostly empty — backroads
      here in B.C as well, so that helps.

      But yes, all the things
      that you list concern me as well. I’m also thinking about a Fz6r, but
      the people I’ve spoken with have told me that it’s the wrong bike for
      where I’m headed and that the gsxr600 or cbr600rr would be suitable. I
      wish there was a lightweight 400-500 around with 60-70hp and good
      suspension.

      • John

        I’ve had a couple years of riding dirt bikes and my KLR 650. (I did the whole “learn in the dirt” thing before going onto the street.) While I’m still doing plenty of adventure runs, motorcycle camping, and so on, I want to get into sport bike riding. I’m concerned the CBR500r is going to be too expensive to make a transition from experienced dual-sport/street riding to street/novice sport riding. I’m looking at the FZ6R, the ninja 650, and used 600s.

        Without sport-bike experience, I’m not sure how much I should be looking at a learner/development bike vs. a straight-up middleweight sport bike.

        What “direction” are you going that SS models are better for you than the FZ6r? (Perhaps your clarity of purpose will help me find some for myself.)

    • jfc1

      “I need some advice Wes (and everyone else). I currently have a Ninja
      400R (first bike) and was wondering if this would be a suitable step up
      for improving my skills”

      when it comes to “suitably improving your skills”, focus on your instruction, not the bike

  • Stuki

    Sat on and pushed it around at the dealers a few weeks back. Just like you, I found the ergonomics spot on. And pre VTEC VFR was my first impression as well. To me it felt lots bigger than both the 250 and the Ninja 300.

    Curious why you rate the Ninja 300 so low (6/10 vs 2 10/10s for the two Hondas bracketing it). After simply pushing the three around, the 500 felt much bigger to me than the other two. Heavier as well. The ergos fit me better than the smaller bikes, but it didn’t seem as handy for a special purpose LA rush hour lanesplitter. Aside from the somewhat cramped kneeroom, I kinda liked the 300 best. So, I’m curious what you learned by riding the three that caused you to be so much more indifferent to it than the Hondas.

    • roma258

      Throw some Givis on it and you’ve got yourself a nice lightweight sport-tourer.

  • Sjef

    I ride a 1995 Honda CB500 twin. (http://diethiels.files.wordpress.com/2007/03/cb5002.jpg) Which is the predecessor of this sweet little thing. I still have to make a testride on a new CB500F but I can tell there are lot’s of similarities between the two. Only mine has around 10 more HP. They’re great starter bikes, really quick but never to fast. And plenty forgiving also had quite a few moments where I would’ve gone down on a sportbike but this one just gave me a little warning and went on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/martin.buck.338 Martin Buck

    Hmmm. The price of petrol here in New Zealand is more than twice your price. I’d wait for the CBR500X if you’re on the large size, it has a more open riding position. Honda is hitting it’s straps lately. The only thing lacking is passion and excitement, but that’s what KTM are for.

  • jfc1

    …70mpg, seriously?

    I might have to forgive the 50hp engine.

    • Ross Newberry

      It’s my first bike, and I’ve been getting a solid 50-55 mpg around the suburbs for the first tank. I could see 70 mpg if you were tooling around in top gear at 60-65 mph all day.

  • fazer6

    These new “RideApart” honda reviews feel as much as pandering marketing malarkey as typical H-D reviews on the glossy mags. HFL is dead.

  • fazer6

    So only comments that agree with Honda brass stay, others are deleted? WTF.

  • jfc1

    “For novice riders, a 600cc+ sport bike is simply too much”

    That’s a generalization that’s simply untrue.

    No bike is too much for anyone with the proper instruction.

    With poor instruction, every bike is “too much”.

  • dirtcheap

    I have a shadow RS and I want something that has more power and wind protection on the highway, something sporty with ABS. I am torn between CBR500r and new Ninja 650. I wish the CBR came in another color other than red. Do any of you have an opinion? Cannot demo the Kawi unless I go through the whole process, I can probably demo the CBR. I am just afraid the CBR will be to much of a lateral move from the 750 shadow. I have about 5k miles so far under my belt, so might be a moot point.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      You know, I actually think that would be a great upgrade path.

      Where the Shadow is only really comfortable with itself up to about 70mph on the highway, the CBR500 will cruise all day at a happy 85mph. Aerodynamics, suspension quality and geometry, riding position.

      It’ll also really help you learn to ride better. Real tires, real brakes, real suspension, just all in an accessible, non-intimidating package.

      The Ninja 650 is marginally faster, but lacks the Honda’s quality, general cohesiveness, price and fuel economy.

      • dirtcheap

        Great, this is what I needed to here from someone who has ridden a lot of motorcycles, not just random guys/girls on message boards.

        I believe you have sealed the deal in favor of the Honda. I think its possible to switch out all the plastic pretty cheap. So Ill probably end up with a bastardized white/red cbr500r. Thanks again Wes.

  • Bill

    Did you guys do a full review of the Ninja 300? Curious on a direct comparison between the two from rideapart.

  • Nik

    Where is the cbr500r made ?

  • Cameron Nichols

    I bought a janky old bike one week before the CBR500R was announced and now I want to kill myself.
    Hey anyone want to buy a “slightly used” Suzuki GS500F?

  • Gary Waltman

    I bought this bike yesterday after testing the 250 and 700 Honda. The CBR500R is the best bang for your buck and has power and style at a price the others can’t touch. This bike is an awesome ride, You will not be disappointed.