First Ride: 2013 Honda CBR500R review

What's in a name? We ride Honda's 'sporty' new 500

Posted: 19 February 2013
by Sachin Rao
Hanging out in car parks, looking cool...
Lower, shorter bars and fairing differentiate the R
The range is powered by an all-new DOHC twin
CBR500R in European Junior Cup guise

EVER since Honda, that most sensible of manufacturers, announced their new family of 500s, that most sensible of classes, in November, the interwebs have been buzzing about the 2013 CBR500R. Which goes to show that there are a lot of people out there who get excited by sensible stuff.

Moral of the story, and truer than ever in the current economy, is that it's not always 150bhp and third-gear wheelspin that gets the juices flowing, but simply answering yes to the questions 'Can I see myself owning that good-looking bike? And can I afford it?'

As you know from reading our 2013 Honda CB500F review, the CBR500R is the sporty sibling in Big Red's new family, flanking the naked F and the adventure-styled CB500X. (Actually, because the three bikes are mechanically identical, it's the same child, who wears football kit one day, a school uniform the next, and beach wear another day.)

Quick aside: surely it ought to be the CB500R? Carrying the hallowed CBR tag makes me want it to have four cylinders and rev to five digits. I'd understand if it was christened the CBR500F, too, as the CBR600F has always been the CBR600RR's sensible foil. But here, I'm not sure whether it's setting itself up to be an underachieving sportsbike or an overachieving naked...

Of course, the majority of Honda's target market – A2 licence holders moving up from a 125, car drivers moving to biking, and bikers who just want to slow down a bit – wouldn't really give a fig what it's called. All they want a motorcycle that earns approving stares, doesn't misbehave and doesn't break the bank. And here, the CBR500R is more than the sum of its Rs.

The differences between the F and the R are that the latter has a fairing, a different handlebar set up (clip-ons 40 mm shorter and positioned 49mm lower than the F) and is a marginal 2kg heavier.

While the bars are not low enough to be truly sporty by enhancing front end feel, they succeed in making you feel a part of the bike while keeping the the riding position comfortable. The weight difference is more or less unnoticeable, so what we're left with is the fairing, which I think looks great and gives the bike far more personality than the F. It's useful too, as tucking in at speed does save you getting buffeted by windblast if you're doing motorway speeds (or, ahem, more), and should you want a higher screen, it's available as an accessory.

The fairing is carefully designed to show off the 471cc, 47 bhp engine that powers all three models. The DOHC parallel twin is all-new and Honda has put a lot of effort into it: couple balancer behind the cylinders to reduce vibration, compact crankcase and small cooling pump, patented anti-turbulence guide plate in the air cleaner box and minimised distance between the air cleaner and intake port for maximum efficiency. It even has some similarities to the CBR600RR engine, such as grooved pistons, bore size and interval, and the same gearchange arm structure and link mechanism.

On the whole, the 500R is a well-proportioned, good-looking bike – especially in the white Honda tricolour scheme – which any new/young/returning rider could feel proud to own and look at.

The R's acceleration, braking, handling and suspension are the same as the CB500F; it handles urban streets, ring roads, backroads and twisties just as well, provided you aren't a mentalist. At a session at the Parcmotor circuit in Catalonia, it was evident that the bike can be pushed hard - but will the R's intended ridership push it that hard? With their unintimidating but torquey and responsive engines, strong ABS brakes and planted feel, both CBs are designed to reduce the number of opportunities for new riders to induce errors, and to do their best to forgive them when they do occur.

While to my mind, the CBR500R really ought to have been a hotter version of the CB500F (yes, yes, I know – A2 licence, modular construction, etc etc), it's got enough zip for everyday use, and to prove the point it's now the official bike of the European Junior Cup championship for 14-to-19-year-olds.

It will certainly be all the bike a boatload of people need; there's not another A2-compliant new bike out there which gives you as much for your five grand. Sportsbike moniker or not, the CBR500R is a real good sport.

Model: Honda CBR500R

Price: £4,950

Colours: Graphite Black, Seal Silver Metallic, Pearl Himalayas White



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Golly, why not go the whole hog and just produce one chassis across the whole range, and then you can just specify which engine you want? Then when you want to upgrade just drop the engine and plug in a newer unit. :facepalm:

Posted: 20/02/2013 at 10:46

Every time I see this model I can't help but think its just a new Kawasaki GPZ 500s...and that model had a naked and off road siblings in the ER-5 and KLE500 too.

Posted: 24/02/2013 at 08:35

There I was thinking, 'Well, at least its got the old CB500 motor' (an amazingly tough and versatile unit). Only it hasn't.

And the vet's lopped off enough of the bits that matter to ensure it produces what, two-thirds of the power of the old model.

And the report suggests it doesn't have such good handling either.

In fact the only bright spot in the comparison - and one that's not even mentioned - is at least it should be able to 'legally' take radial tyres. (Yeah I know the CUP or Thunderwhatever series CB500s do use BT03s now, but they're greyish for road use even if they are far better).

Posted: 26/02/2013 at 19:23

What, only half an engine!?

Posted: 26/02/2013 at 21:00

I really don't get these new CB250r's and 500r's

I mean Sure I get the principle of a low cc entry level sport bike, with good economy that plays into the new licence structure.

But why oh why are they trying to make these bikes look like those cheap Chinese copies of sports bikes from about 5 years ago.. Why do they have zero spirit in them at all.

Where is the squat aggressive poise of a bike that wants to attack corners?? This thing looks more like a bicycle than a 500cc Motobike. Does the 'R' just mean faired these days? perhaps its R for Regular, or recliined

I mean seriously... look back 10 years and there was a plethora of small to mid size sporty motorcycles that were genuinely sporty.. They looked like mini GP bikes and handled much like them too.. Aside from the 2 Stroke gene pool which we can understand has been sidelined for emissions reasons, there were FZR250's & 400's, CBR250's & 400's GSXR400's, ZXR400's etc

All of these bikes above rocked in their own way, and all of them looked the part too, with the only real issue being that they were a touch on the small side chassis wise. I had an FZR250R for many many years, and the thing rocked with its 16,500 RPM Red-line, and 115Mph top speed, it kept up with most things fine anywhere up to that, through a heady mix of formula-1-esque exhaust notes and a flurry of gearchanges... Keeping it on the boil was involving and absorbing, and combined with pin sharp handling it brought many smiles over the years.
This was 10 years ago! The modern equivalent of these should be amazing, not a cheap as chips commuter with some token plastic strapped to it.

Seriously why bother with these? there are plenty more older machines around that offer more excitement and probably similar levels of economy with a marginal price-tag and less than perfect bodywork already so no bother if you drop it.

Posted: 27/02/2013 at 11:07

I just think the 18 year old prospective motorcyclist deserves something a bit more serious looking than this! Why bother bringing out this R version at all. Just bring out the 500f and throw loads of aftermarket stuff out there so people can make their own identity of bike and tune its looks to be more sporty or not.

Posted: 27/02/2013 at 11:13

All these comments are completely missing the point. I agree it shouldn't be called a cbr but its not designed to be a baby blade. Its meant to be a frugal 47bhp commuter that looks good. If you want a screaming engine buy the 600rr, this bike was not designed for you. If they had made a new version of the cbr400 it would be crap for novices, would burn loads more fuel and would cost 7-8 grand. It's like these people are moaning that the cbf 125 isn't as exciting as their old nsr. Its not meant to be.

Posted: 28/02/2013 at 09:46

For those harking back to the era of the supersport 250/400, I understand where your coming from, these bikes were great fun, but with exception of the NSRs and ZXR400, I'm not sure any of these were imported into the UK in any great numbers.

Also can anyone, especially newly qualified riders afford to run these bikes, with fuel at around £1.40 a litre? Many of the 400s had as much technology as the 600 and 750s they were loosely based upon, so the costs of any brand new "interesting" smaller bikes would be close to that of the current crop of supersports 600s - ie. too much for most novices.

It seems to me that these bikes are aimed squarely at people who in the past might have bought the CB500, GS500, GPZ500, ER-5 and KLE500, in fact there are surprising similarities between the new range of Honda and the old range of Kawasakis. There's little doubt the new bikes are an improvement. The other japanese manufacturers may have to follow suit, if these prove popular.

Posted: 28/02/2013 at 14:19

@ewganhoff - you're spot on. Honda saw a potentially large market with the A2 segment and realised that it could also use the same machinery for the Asian market which is becoming much more important than the few thousand miserable old gits who ride 'proper' bikes in the UK and will moan about just about anything.

I am coming 'down' from a 750 Honda with almost twice as much power to the CB500F. The bike still has loads of go, but is so much nicer to ride. The brakes are excellent, the handling telepathic and the build quality second to none. There is no way to look at these bikes as anything other than a bargain. They're also the future, so get used to it.


Posted: 09/04/2013 at 14:31

I like your riding philosophy but that's not what these bikes are about. Most riders are in the city, so shifting for boiling the pot isn't as much fun at 30mph and a bus behind you. New riders could be intimidated by the type od riding you describe. They're also made for specific licensing standards.

That said, I think you're underestimating the bike - it's filled with modern engineering, abs brakes, FI and will outlast any of the bikes you mention and do it with minimal upkeep.

They aren't that inspiring to look at but, though the old cbs are gaining new appreciation (especially among the new cafe crowd) they were quite conservative for their time; only age as given them the patina of cool.

So for pretty short money you're getting a lot. And if they sell well - in the US there's no competition - the aftermarket mods will come fast and furious and the sun will shine. I can see them as a great back roads tourer possibly 2 up.


Posted: 12/04/2013 at 18:46

Honda will sell shed loads of the cb 500 proving there marketing strategy right.And after all profit its what its all about in the end .

Posted: 23/06/2013 at 07:39

I get a bit of the suzuki GS500f vibe on this one. It had 48 bhp, not more than the new honda, allthough it was a more oversquare engine with higher rpm, which give it a worse fuel economy. It was a dinosaur engine with low compression (9:1).

It looked ok without the fairing as being a beginners utility bike. With the fairing slabbed on it looked ugly.
The new Honda looks a bit better though,, but with a sports-bike look the low reving torque engine with just 48 hp, seem a bit odd..

The ninja 300 despite of having a smaller engine and less power than the new honda cbr500r actually came on top in a review with two guys and a girl.
The hole package of the ninja 300 just ticked their boxes more in being a fairly lightweight sportsbike for the beginner.

The F and X model with their different styling and riding position seem like a better fit for the bike overall nature.

Posted: 28/08/2013 at 14:19

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