First Ride: 2013 Honda CBR500R review

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

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