First ride: Honda CBR500R & CB500F review

With a restyle and no fewer than 200 changes, Honda is aiming to make the CBR500R and CB500F the ideal A2 bikes. Has it hit the mark?

HONDA first unveiled its revised family of 500cc parallel twins at the end of last year and it’s just launched the first two – the new CBR500R and CB500F.  I won’t reel off every change made to the CBR500R and CB500F, but the jist is that each bike has been given a significant restyle, now has preload-adjustable suspension, a new exhaust and air intakes, and has benefitted from approximately 200 smaller changes.

Honda’s work on the 2016 bikes is designed to instil each with a greater sense of identity and aggression.

As with the outgoing 2013 bikes, the new CBR500R and CB500F share the same key parts including engine, frame, suspension and brakes.

Honda says the new exhaust sounds better than the old one. It also claims the new bikes are slightly lighter, have improved fuel consumption and throttle response and are better quality. Now, it’s saying that all these changes culminate in the most complete A2 package out there.


For 2016 the CBR500R has been dolled up with a sharper, more aggressive look that, at first glance, makes it appear instantly more deserving of the Rs in its moniker.

In textbook marketing fashion, Honda says its carrying the DNA from its CBR stablemates, but aside from more purposeful shape of the 2016 bike, I’m not convinced by this. Why? Because unlike the CBR600R and Fireblade, the CBR500R lacks clip-ons, doesn’t have a particularly aggressive riding position, doesn’t have a big tank to lock in to (although the tank has been made bigger – it’s now 16.7l) and hasn’t got the kind of expensive and stiff fully adjustable suspension you’d expect to find on a sportsbike.

Considering who this bike is aimed at, that is of course is a good thing; the 500R’s soft suspension and relaxed ergonomics are all present because the CBR500R is meant be a capable and sporty first big bike. It’s a machine that makes sensible and necessary compromises in the right places; thanks to its high bars, low 785mm seat height and ergonomics, it’s superbly suited to riders who aspire to sportsbike ownership but might not be quite ready to jump into the world of high rearsets, low bars and a seat that’s somewhere over the front wheel.

The new CBR500R is good looking and after I’d taken in the more purposeful shape of the new nose and seat unit (which is mounted on a new subframe), the ride position was the first thing that struck me. It’s fairly upright and as a consequence the CBR500R is a comfortable and unthreatening place to be. The low pegs and high bars put me in a neutral position that was as useful for devouring Spanish dual carriageway as it was for hustling along a mountain road. If anything, it might be a bit too neutral because during the time I spent on it, I never got the sense that I was on a sports bike, just a very composed fully-faired machine that’s comfortable and capable of working through everything that came its way without any fuss, mostly.

It is possible to get the 500R flustered because the suspension is soft. Largely, it wasn’t a problem and for the most part the preload-adjustable conventional front fork deals with road imperfections without complaint but it isn’t hard to push the forks out of their comfort zone. On the twister sections of the launch route, when the forks were being subjected to an onslaught of hard braking, cornering, changes in camber and acceleration, they could sometimes struggle to keep up as the pace intensified. Although the plushness of the 500R’s ride was never compromised, I occasionally found myself wishing the forks were a bit stiffer and quicker to react.

The preload-adjustable rear shock also does its part to give the 500R a plush ride but is similarly soft and easy to compress. That doesn't detract from the ride; if anything I enjoyed feeling like a hero as I drove out of corners and felt the rear of the bike squat as I applied the power.

Still, that’s not to say both bikes wouldn’t benefit from a some more preload and perhaps a bit more compression damping because at the front, the forks also compressed too quickly for my liking. Obviously, this was always noticeable when using the front brake and it amplified the sensation of strength from the two-piston front Nissin caliper but although the front single-disc front setup has adequate power, initial bite isn’t earth shattering. However, the brakes are more than enough for the 500R and during a couple of tests when I was trying to get it slowed to a near-stop quickly from speed, they felt good as I was trying to wring every last ounce of bite from the pads and discs, helped by the ABS.

And here’s where the well-specced Dunlop Sportmax tyres come in to the equation – as well as being grippy enough for aggressive braking, they stuck fast as I carved round hot, dry roads and when leant over, the 160-section rear hoop never felt troubled by the 47hp being meted out by my right hand.

Speaking of horsepower, it’s about time I got to the engine. The CBR500R is still powered by an eight-valve 471cc parallel twin and alongside the 47hp on offer, the other headline figure is 32lb/ft of torque.

The motor is super smooth and versatile, but lacking a bit of character and charm. What it does have is a pleasing spread of power, the majority of which can be found between 4,000 and 8,000rpm, at which point it quickly tails off before the 9,000rpm red line. Crucially for new/inexperienced riders, there are no nasty surprises waiting at the end of the twist grip and the power on offer is easily accessible and useable, minus a serious risk of the 500R doing anything untoward or unpredictable. There’s enough grunt available for motorway-speed overtakes, although when I was trying to make rapid progress more often than not, I just got busy with the smooth gearbox and changed down a gear to keep the revs high.

Fuelling is crisp and the throttle response is similarly faultless. Honda says that the 500R’s new front intake and new air intakes on the seat make for a crisper throttle response compared to the previous bike. I couldn’t find fault with it, but I haven’t had the chance to ride the previous model so can’t yet comment on whether it's better than the previous model.

The majority of my time on the CBR500R was spent devouring fast and flowing roads where it felt in its element. A more powerful bike would have undoubtedly enticed me to go faster but I never felt like the CBR was lacking.

It’s so stable and predictable that it’s effortlessly useable and I could just enjoy connecting each corner, safe in the knowledge that me and the Honda were on the same page, the title of which was ‘Go fast and enjoy’. The engine exists in the same vein – it’s not going to be fabled, but has enough power to entertain and it should keep new riders engaged. People who might be downsizing in capacity will likely enjoy thrashing it.

The CBR500R isn’t as sporty as it thinks it is but as a well-rounded stepping stone A2 bike that'll allow new riders to improve their riding, bike control and confidence on a ‘proper’ big bike, Honda has nailed it.

I took my test on an old CB500. It was easy and OK to ride, but also a maroon coloured bus of a bike with the bare minimum of shaping and styling needed for it to be recognised as a motorcycle.

Look how far we’ve come – the new CB500F looks sharp, desirable and thoroughly modern. Does the ‘F’ stand for ‘Fetching'? If I had to pick the better looking bike, CBR500R or CB500F, I’d plump for the F because it’s just a bit cooler (isn’t it?) and its styling isn’t trying to lay claim to something it isn’t – there’s less pretence with the CB500F.

The 500F differs to the R because its wider and marginally higher bars create a more upright riding position. Because of the lack of wind protection, the CB500F gave me a more immediate sensation of speed, which was fine for the majority of the test ride, which mostly took place on serpentine mountain roads. I didn’t spend much time riding it on motorways/dual carriageways but on long journeys, I reckon the wind blast could become draining over 70/80mph.

The 500F’s defining facet is its wider, higher bars. They make for enormous fun on tight roads and allowed me lever the bike into corners with gleeful persuasion. I won’t go as far as busting out the ‘it’s really flickable’ cliché, because its suspension can become limiting, but on the road, I definitely enjoyed riding it through nadgery corners because its ergonomics make it more open to being playfully bossed around, and a bit more rewarding as a result. However, on faster more flowing roads, the 500F loses out to the 500R purely because of the fairing and screen.

The CB500F isn’t trying to lay claim to anything, and is a good, useable naked bike, that like its faired brother is resplendent with the kind of top notch finish and build quality you’d expect from Honda. Like the 500R, it’s also got enough power to keep most people entertained, most of the time and there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be popular and appealing to new riders, downsizers and commuters alike.


Model tested: Honda CBR500R and CB500F

Price: CBR500R - £5599 / CB500F - £5099

Engine: 471cc liquid-cooled eight-valve parallel twin

Power: 47hp at 8,500rpm

Torque: 32lb/ft at 7,000rpm

Weight: CBR500R – 194kg / CB500F – 190kg

Suspension: Front - Conventional forks, 41mm diameter, preload-adjustable, 9-stage preload adjustable shock

Brakes: Front – Nissin two-piston caliper and 320mm wavey disc. Rear – Nissin one-piston caliper and 240mm wavey disc

Tyres: Dunlop Sportmax

Fuel capacity: 16.7 litres

Seat height: 785mm

Colours: CBR500R – ‘Ross White and Millennium Red (Tricolour)’, ‘Lemon Ice Yellow/Graphite Black’, ‘Graphite Black/Candy Energy Orange’*, ‘Millennium Red’*, ‘Pearl Metalloid White’*, ‘Matt Gunpowder Black’ / CB500F – ‘Ross White and Millennium Red (Tricolour)’, ‘Lemon Ice Yellow/Graphite Black’*, ‘Candy Energy Orange/Macadam Grey Metallic’, ‘Millennium Red/Macadam Grey Metallic’*, ‘Pearl Metalloid White/Macadam Grey Metallic’, ‘Matte Gunpowder Black/Matte Krypton Silver Metallic’*

* = colours available in the UK

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