RideApart Review: 2013 Honda CB500F ABS

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Two weeks ago, if you’d asked me to pick the perfect bike to do a 1000 mile week on, through some of California’s best roads with stints of highway in between, the new 2013 Honda CB500F ABS probably wouldn’t make the list of potential bikes. It’s a bike we journalists have found trendy to include in top 10’s for beginners or top 10 for under 6K. So how did it become one of the best bikes for this particular job?

What’s New
By now, you should have already read Wes’s review on the 2013 Honda CBR500R from the same trip. If not, go read it; if so you know that Honda just released three motorcycles based on this new 471cc, 47 bhp, liquid-cooled parallel-twin engine.

All three of these bikes are basically the same. Same 32 ft-lbs of torque. Same 8,500 rpm redline. Same 425 pounds (wet). Same tubular steel frame, 41mm forks, and preload adjustable Pro-Link monoshock. It’s the same motorcycle.

The only differences from CBR to CB are the lack of a windscreen, lack of fairings, and more upright bars. If I’m splitting hairs, the seat felt a little more plush as well than the CBR500R, but may have also been that I only road the 500R at the end of one of the nights and my butt was already plenty sore by then.

The Ride
Would you believe me if I told you this was the first motorcycle race I’ve attended? To be honest, I’d never really been interested in going. I’d seen the races on TV and the view looked terrible, you’re so far away and can only see one tiny portion of what’s happening.

Plus, I’m so much more interested in the tech side of motorcycles. I love watching companies produce better and better products and try and compete for market share and I get super into new bikes or gear that find innovative ways to make our experience as riders better. I don’t really care about who wins a race, and the culture of it all doesn’t seem that far removed from NASCAR or a Sturgis rally. Just with Rossi fannypacks in place of foam fingers or facial hair.

Wes promised a fun time, plus it was a good chance for us to hang out with the teams from various companies and brag about how we have the best readership profile in powersports media. Oh, and my family is from Monterey and they are a blast and I figured if everything else sucked I could just go hang out with them.

This was also my first ride on the “MotoGP route,” as I usually take the coast up or just get on the freeway and try and get it over with. I packed up my bags early, texted Wes to make sure he was only going to be a little late, and got on the road to meet him in Ojai. We had just picked up the bikes a day or so before and I hadn’t spent any time on it, and was a little worried about how such a small engine would do packed down and with a rider in full gear. While the CB500F has a relatively low top speed, and therefore puts you relatively high in the RPM range while cruising at 80-85mph, I had no problems with my initial highway stint outside of dressing for 100 degree Taft, yet riding through 57 degree Ventura.

From Ojai up the 33 to Taft, then back out the 58 to the 101, then up the 101 to Carmel Valley Road and my family’s place in Monterey, the ride was absolutely stunning. I was mad at myself for never having ridden that route before and was amazed at how beautiful each section of road was.

I can tell I’m already running long, so I’ll just be brief and say I was wrong about MotoGP and it was an awesome weekend and I can’t wait to go to more motorcycle races. I finagled my way into the pits when Marquez was in there, got hooked up huge with a pass onto the track during the two up rides (the most terrifying thing ever), and, even with my GA pass, was able to find a great view of the race.

From there, Wes and I parted ways. He headed back to LA with our friend Cody while I took off to see more family at our cabin near Lake Tahoe.

The ride from Monterey to Pinecrest Lake basically just cuts northeast across the valley, up the 120 and 108 into the Sierra Nevadas. That is the ONLY time during this trip where I actually wished I was on a larger, faster motorcycle. The roads are all two-laners through incredibly flat farmland, and you can literally see any and everything for 30 miles in between the infrequent bends. It was the first time I wished I were one something like the Hayabusa, as I would have been able to sit at 130mph+ for miles without the slightest hint of being unsafe.

Alas, that isn’t what the CB500F is all about, and as I soon as I hit the base of the mountains I was completely content with it again. As the hills turn to mountains, the long sweepers get tighter and tighter, and the little Honda was equally as happy flat out around a fast sweeper as it was in 2nd when it got really twisty (the fact that the logging industry lobbyists manage to have the roads repaved every other year or so didn’t hurt either). When I arrived, I was happy I had declined Wes’s suggestion we swap for the ride home, as the upright seating position on the CB was perfect for managing the dirt and rock parking lot.

48 hours later, I was back on the bike heading up over the Sonora pass. At almost 10,000 feet and with grades as steep as 26 degrees, it was some of the craziest pavement I’ve ridden. The Honda was absolutely brilliant on all of it, except for their decision to leave off the optional hang glider to make my decent faster. Down the other side, I connected with the 395 and headed for LA, wherein I discovered that there is not a limiter (as Wes suggested) when I hit 107 with a little help from a helpful breeze and the slightest of declines in the pavement.

It took me just over 8 hours to make it home from the lake, and while I cannot say I got home feeling comfortable and fantastic, I can say that the only other bike I’ve been able to do that kind of range on is the Goldwing. I’m just a big sissy and pretty much uncomfortable even in a lounge chair or hammock if left for any amount of time, and was incredibly impressed with how well the little Honda met my comfort needs.

The Good
I hate agreeing with him, but I think Wes hit it perfectly. The bike is incredibly comfortable. It’s fun to ride and can tackle pretty much every job, from around town to the canyons to long trips. I let a buddy ride it around the block who learned to ride a few months ago and is bike shopping and he couldn’t believe how easy it was to ride; while he was still able to keep up with us on much larger bikes, even when we went on the freeway.

The engine is not huge and does not make a ton of power, but the power is accessible and responsive. The CB500F is incredibly agile, while feeling stiff enough to hold your line in long, fast, sweepers. The brakes do a wonderful job at slowing the bike down and the ABS is incredibly unobtrusive until you really need it.

Personally, I think the size, fit, and finish are all incredible for a bike at this price point. Every person who has ridden it since we’ve had it has commented how they saw their reflection in a window and were struck by how they didn’t look huge on it, and were surprised by how nice it looked.

As Wes mentioned, the instruments were clear and easy to read, and included a number of additional useful measures. The headlight was also a nice surprise, when my ride home to LA turned dark and I was still able to see potholes and debris in our wonderful Los Angeles freeway system.

The Bad
The CB500F doesn’t have liter bike power or torque.

No one will be impressed that you bought a smart bike instead of a fast one (that’s the whole point, right?).

Preload is nearly impossible to adjust without some wacky tool that is not included, and the tool kit they do include is basically worthless since you need to add so many additional pieces.

Touring would be way more awesome if they could come up with some kind of windscreen accessory to help get some of the wind off your chest. It’s not the kind of thing I would want to leave on unless I was doing a ton of miles, but it would help make the bike better for that sort of application.

Being the data nerd that I am, I too would love to see a temperature gauge. I like to look and see what it says when I can feel a slight shift and it’s nice to have, especially when you’re on a long trip.

What Others Say
“…the F’s acceleration is never going to tear the forearms off anyone, but the smooth, linear power delivery means it can be hustled. That and the unassuming engine note meant I often found myself doing 15-20 mph more than I thought I was, and on open stretches it was easy enough to hit 100 mph without feeling especially fussed…it’s a terrific bargain for what it offers.” — Visordown

“…it is a proper little grown up bike in its own right and is not a pastiche in any way…It is also great value for money.” — MCN

The Price
The 2013 Honda CB500F has an MSRP of $5,499 without ABS and $5,999 with. That’s $500 less than the CBR500R and CB500X, $2,100 less that the Ninja 650R, $2,500 less than the Gladius, and $2,400 less that the FZ6R.

Personally, I prefer the CB500F to the CBR500R, as I felt it was a little bit roomier because of the bars and I think it looks the nicest. Plus, it saves you $500. On a bike this fuel efficient, that’ll pay for around 8,000 miles of epic trips like this one.

The Verdict
If you want to impress other motorcyclists, this is not the bike for you. If you want something that will run forever, get great gas mileage, stop when you need it to, and still be fun at reasonable speeds, this is an absolutely fantastic option. I agree with Wes that I would choose this over most of the other entry level options for pretty much everyone except the people I know who want to do zero city riding or commuting and just want to be able to come along when we take long trips.

When we first decided to take the 500s to Laguna, I thought it was a really cool story idea and I would put up with any of the bike’s shortcomings for the story’s sake. In hindsight, The CB500F can rub shoulders with any of the other options I would consider with arguments that can be made supporting it. I had a blast riding it and would happily turn around and do it again.

1000 miles on a $5,500 motorcycle that’s completely competent at high speeds, that stops when you need it to and provides tons of fun when the roads allow? I’m sold.

RideApart Rating: 10/10 (I hate giving bikes a perfect score unless I can unequivocally say it can’t be improved but, for 5k, I honestly don’t see how it could be any better).

  • Atreides Coridan

    I did this on a 250cc single rigid last year did 3000 miles in 9 days

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      You’re a tougher man than we are.

      • Aaron

        tougher for sure…..but smarter??? hahaha

      • Piglet2010

        I have met a couple of people who have done 3,000 miles in 9 days on a pedal bike (on RAAM) – not sure if they are tough or crazy?

  • HunteR

    These bikes seem like the modern version of the 400s Honda put out in the 70s and 80s. I just did a 1600 mile trip through similar territory on my 82 Nighthawk 450 and the impressions were the same as your reviews. Its not a fast bike, but its a bike that can be safely ridden at its limit on twisty mountain roads by a novice.

    Nice to see Honda (and other manufacturers) bringing back cheap, fun, utilitarian bikes.

    • Piglet2010

      My first bike was a 1980 Honda CB400T Hawk. Good for a novice, but still capable of longer freeway trips.

      • Martin

        Mine was a ’78 and I’d agree. I put 15k on that thing and, aside from having only drum brakes, it was a solid first.

  • Versys Jake

    i really like the look of this bike, but is it any better than the Kawasaki Versys? I’m 6’4″ and limited to which bikes I fit on.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      At that kind of height, you’re probably better off on a taller bike like the Versys. We’re taking a CB500X up to Washington next month. I think that’ll be a better option for very tall guys.

      • Versys Jake

        Yeah, the Versys is the best option I’ve found. Still waiting on the “Best bikes for taller riders article”.

        • Eric

          I’m 6’5″, nearing 40 and I sat on a CB500X (no CB500F found yet for me to butt sample), found it very comfortable. I’d say a bit more comfortable than the Versys. I am able to flat foot with both feet on either bike, but I had more bend at the knee on the CB500X. Tho if a few grand weren’t the problem, I’d go for the Versys. Hard not to like power.

          • Jase

            I have a CB500F. I found the X not as comfortable (I’m 6’2″). The X pushed me forward onto the tank too much and squashed my plums.

          • Eric

            Well I just put my money where my mouth is. Bought a second hand Versys last Friday for $3k in excellent condition. What an excellent bike, sorry Honda. You’ll get me next time, I promise!

        • Afonso Mata

          What about the Suzuki V-Strom 650? ;)
          As Kevin Ash would say it’s “The best bike you can buy”
          http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/motorbikes/2736534/The-best-bike-you-can-buy.html

          • Versys Jake

            Afonso, while it might be a great bike, the V-Strom takes motorcycling to a whole new level of ugly.

            • Afonso Mata

              The eye of the beholder accomplishes miraculous things :P

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

            I was going to bring that up til I saw he had versys in us name, then I figured I wasn’t going to sway any opinions

        • appliance5000

          Get on a pre gen ninja 250 for 3 months and every other bike will feel spacious. (A great engine though).

          • Piglet2010

            I do not feel particularly cramped on my Ninjette, and I have a 33-inch inseam.

            Fun track bike, as long as you keep the engine above 10K rpm. :)

            • appliance5000

              They’re really nice bikes. I found myself having to position myself carefully and still getting cramped up – could have to do with my gear. I do miss it.

  • JP

    This bike was made to meet a maximum HP and a minimum weight. Was it also designed to easily up that HP and drop that weight?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      What this bike was designed to do was pack as much capability into $5,500 as possible. That’s not to say that it’s built down to a cost, it’s to say that it’s amazing what you get for that money.

      • Piglet2010

        Well, these Hondas just fit into the EU’s Third Driving License Directive A2 class, which became effective on January 19, 2013: Motorcycles with a power rating not exceeding 35
        kW, with a power to weight ratio not exceeding 0.2 kW/kg and not derived from a vehicle of more than double its power.

        So Honda has a reason to not get more power out of the engine or make the bike weigh less if they want to sell one configuration worldwide.

        • appliance5000

          All vehicles are made to comply with specific regulations. Honda did what they do best and engineered the bikes from the ground up to be what the review describes.

          If you’ve ridden them and found them lacking let us know.

    • appliance5000

      I agree with Wes regarding the bike. This kind of argument is for paper jockeys.

      For retro fans: the 500cc BSA royal star (the last twin they made before Alf was turned out to pasture) made 22 hp .To push a point: this bike’s 470cc engine matches the beloved 650 bonnies and – in real life – the 750 bonnies.

      This is a modern sweet handling machine that will run day in and day out without complaint. Instant starting, high altitude/sea level – it doesn’t matter.FI/ABS and nice paint.

      • JP

        I think you are missing the point. This bike was designed to meet European A2 requirements. Does this mean a different mapping could easily increase the power? Is there something that can be replaced to drop the weight a little bit? It’s probably something to ask on a CB500 forum actually.

        Just because the bike is great at the cost doesn’t mean people don’t love to upgrade what they buy. The SV650 was a great bike, but people still liked to replace the fork with one from a GSXR600.

        I’m not shitting on the bike, I think it’s great.

        • appliance5000

          I hear you – it’s something you hear all the time and hard to figure the intent. Apologies.

          My guess is the usual suspects – exhaust for weight – some sort of bore kit up the road. At that point you’re near 690 duke or used f800s or st territory.

          At this point I think it’s a lovely bike to appreciate as is, and I think I’ll go for a ride this afternoon.

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          If you want to go fast on a budget, buy a beater 5-7 year old 600 and fix the suspension, brakes and tires.

  • webbiker

    The reviews are starting to sound more and more like sales pitches and less like actual reviews.

    • chupa

      Or the bike is just that awesome. Hater.

      • webbiker

        Thats me.

        • chupa

          Haha. At least you’re honest about it. It does sound like an awesome bike. Maybe my next bike for 2014.

  • Tommaso Gomez

    Between this bike and the new Duke 390, which makes a better starter bike? I would guess that the Duke is much snappier and more fun, but less comfortable over any longer distance.

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

      we haven’t gotten on the duke 390 yet. it looks awesome on paper and we look forward to reviewing it.

    • Matt C

      On paper, the Duke 390 is going to be about 115lbs lighter than the CB500s. With 43hp it should be a TON of fun.

  • Piglet2010

    “a pass onto the track during the two up rides (the most terrifying thing ever)”

    I find the only terrifying thing is trying to not fall off, even when the bike has a special gas tank with grab handles (J. Pridmore’s Gixxer Thou’). High foot-pegs mean your legs are nearly useless for staying on the bike.

  • Piglet2010

    I have a serious complaint about the CB500F – where was it when I was getting back into riding a few years ago?

    If I did not have a naked standard already, I would be heading down to the dealer for this bike. Probably better in most ways than my Bonnie, other than the Bonnie being cool and pretty.

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

      as someone who had a bonneville, it is better in pretty much every way. my bonnie had better acceleration and looked prettier, but that’s about it.

  • BillW

    My impression of 108 was that it was the twistiest road I’ve ever ridden that still had a center line. And there’s one REALLY scary turn at the bottom of a steep grade going westbound.

  • Bram675

    I’ve tested one of these today. I’m very impressed with it’s build quality and the ride. It corners as good aroud town as my Street Triple and feels just as light, gearbox is flawless and the brakes are good. It is offcourse not even half as powerful as my ST but it’s very useable. Great bike for a bargain price, i think could even be a better bike for my day to day 6 mile commute, but i’d miss the power on a sunday.

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

      Finally, someone who can corroborate as proof that Honda is not paying me to write nice things. Or at least if they are, that they’re paying me to be honest. (I’d like to think you guys would all be in favor of a nice check on the side for being honest)

      • Bram675

        I’m not on their payroll either. I just tested one out of curiocity and came to the conclusion that it’s just a really, really nice bike considering it’s price and limited preformance. I love my Triumph but i’l be the first to admit that i don’t need 106 bhp to get around town. I’m not going to buy one, but i’l recommend it to new riders and commuters. It’s charmingly clever. But for me, i think i’l keep the Street Triple and buy a secondhand CRF250 L in a couple of years.

        • Toly

          After my Street Triple got totaled, I had a choice to get another one, but went with the CB500F instead. It is not as good as the Triple on the hwy, does not sound as good, and doesn’t have the badge appeal. But I love it more… the 500 is much better fit to my riding skills, and I have a total blast. I have a feeling many riders would be better served by a bike like the 500 rather than something more powerful.

      • appliance5000

        Just had mine get its first service, after test riding it the mechanic – a Ducatti specialist – smiled and said:”This is a real nice bike.” It really is a real nice bike.

    • thegreyman

      Did I test ride the same bike? Makes me wonder, how can you go from a Street Triple to considering something so vanilla and elementary as this thing. That said, this is a great bike for a beginner, heck maybe even the best option for a beginner, but’s thats about it. For the price of one these things, when you add, tax, licensing, dealer prep fees, you can buy yourself a used low mileage FZ8, Ninja 650, Street Triple, and many more options. I even saw a moto guzzi griso for sale for 6,500 in LA. Just my 2cents

      • Bram675

        Don’t get me wrong, i love my Street Triple to bits. It is my only motorized vehicle and riding my 6 miles to work on wich i am officially not alowed to go faster than 30 mph, i can’t even rev it up to 6000rpm in second gear without risking to lose my licence. Not that i’m such a saint on the road but i’d feel like a complete tw*t if i’d always ride around town at twice the speed limit. Not that it’s the bike’s fault, the 675 is a fantastic bike with a broad torque band,it has perhaps even the most versatile engine in it’s class. You can ride it slowly below 4000rpm, and it is extremely manouverable while doing it, but in such situations a slower bike with smaller gear ratios like the CB500 is much more fun. And think about the money i could save on insurance, fuel and tires…
        I did however buy my motorcycle with my heart and i will continue riding it rather boringly to work, or risk my licence and ride a bit harder. And on any given sunday do it justice and take it to the hills and trash it trough the corners as if my pants are on fire. :-)
        If i’d buy a motorcycle with my mind it would be a CB500. The R model not the F, just because i think it’s prettier.

        • thegreyman

          sounds like it works for you.

  • thegreyman

    The Honda Civic of motorcycles. Nah, I’ll pass.

    • artist_formally_known_as_cWj

      Civics are fun to drive (without resorting to non-base models)?

    • appliance5000

      Interesting. I was just looking up the performance specs for the 750 Norton Commando S and the cb500f (470cc) is faster. I guess the Norton was the vw bug of its day.

  • Gerardo Astroball

    So.. where is the video of the 2 up ride!! You DID had a Gopro in hand, right??

  • Motorcycle Extremist

    Had they made this bike a 650 or larger I would have found it interesting…

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      So check out the NC700X.

      • Motorcycle Extremist

        The NC700X is a total snore-fest… I’d just get a Ninja 650
        instead of that ultra-scooter by a long shot. The new Yamaha FZ-09 looks really interesting, but I’d have
        liked a bit larger tank and lower passenger pegs for sure, but again, perhaps
        Yamaha will release another bike with that triple for 2014, and or even something
        with their new twin in it. Hopefully Honda can come up with something more fun
        and exciting with the rumored return of a bike using the VFR800 engine, now
        that sounds like something with potential! :)

        • appliance5000

          I find the CB fun and exciting.

          • Motorcycle Extremist

            I’m happy for you; want a cookie? :) lol

            • appliance5000

              Mom!? I told you to stay off my blogs – now bugger off.

              • Motorcycle Extremist

                ROFL! :P

  • Peter Middleton

    prettttty cheap… Monster 620 or one of these?…

  • Charles Quinn

    These new Honda 500s are learner legal here in Australia and I think I’ll be seeing a lot of them on the roads pretty soon. Right now I’ve only seen one CBR500 parked near me at work, and for the price it looks magnificent. Great to see Honda back on form.

  • Peter

    The Northface bags you have strapped on the back, are they just duffel bags that you’ve adopted for this use or are they meant specifically for that purpose?

  • Chang Noi

    As owner of a CB500F may I remind people that due to a design flaw in the cylinder-head-cover all models produced (in Thailand) until end Jan 2014 are consuming oil at a rate of about 500 cc in 1500 km. This problem becomes worse when riding at higher RPM. Honda is aware of this problem but says it is normal (yes for their bikes but not for other bikes) and refuses to acknowledge that there is a flaw in their design and/or production.

    As I demanded repair the cylinder-head-cover of my motorbike has been replaced. And so should actually at all until now produced CB500F/XR motorbikes.

    Knowing what I know now I would have never bought this motorbike, although for the rest it is a great motorbike.

    Be aware that this motorbike is produces in Thailand by AP Honda.

  • Ivo

    My Honda CB500F was consuming engine oil and I sold it back to the Honda Dealer. Read about it at http://hondacb500fproblem.blogspot.com/