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Long-term test: Honda CBR500R review

Can 47bhp and 194kg be fun? Evidently yes

THIS isn't strictly a long-term test. It's actually a three-week-term test. I’m hoping to ride a number of A2-compliant motorcycles over the coming months, each for three weeks. The CBR500R is the first. The result will be a kind of long-term comparison test.

In case you live under a stone, and haven’t heard, A2 is a new licence category carrying a limit of 47bhp and 0.26bhp per kg. It's the best new riders under 24 can get.

Those figures won’t seem terribly exciting if you’ve just ridden to work on your BMW S1000RR.

But let’s get some perspective. Yamaha’s RD350LC made 47bhp. No one accused that of being boring.

The A2 rules have ended a kind of development paralysis in manufacturers, which had created a void in their line-ups between 125 and 600cc. That vacuum was boring. When Brussels finally made up its mind what the new licence rules would be, manufactures began to fill it. Some have been conservative in their interpretation of the rules. BMW evidently took the numbers as referring to dry weight. The G650GS is bang on the power-to-weight ratio limit with no fluids, at 175kg. Others have taken it to mean wet weight – and government says they can. So KTM’s A2-compliant Duke 390 makes 41.5bhp and weighs 139kg. Surely that sounds worth a go? The RD250LC weighed the same and made less power.

But the Duke 390 is for another day. This week I’m riding one of Honda’s several A2 offerings.

The CBR500R weighs 194kg wet. Not pushing the envelope, then. But you wouldn’t necessarily know. The thing about these kerb weight figures is that, because manufacturers used to only quote dry, they make bikes sound heavier than they are. The CBR500R feels like a small motorcycle, in bulk and mass.

For its price it feels sophisiticated. Last week I rode Royal Enfield’s good-looking new café racer, the Continental GT. It’s also A2 compliant. At £5,200, it costs £101 more than the CBR500R. I gave the GT a positive review. It’s got so much charm it's difficult not to like it. But it’s much harder to see as a sensible use of five grand from the CBR's saddle.

You can feel decades of development between them. The CBR feels like a well-rounded, do-anything, modern motorcycle. No crazy vibes. Not cutting out when you open the throttle from idle. It wouldn’t dream of it.

The riding position is sporty but comfortable. The dash, instrument panel, inner fairing and screen are all very nice to look at. Everything seems high-quality. You could live with it and cherish it.

Recently I’ve ridden some Hondas that feel like they’ve had a fun-ectomy, and been made only to do a job, like a kettle. I won’t name names (you know who you are, NC700D Integra).

The CBR500R doesn’t suffer from this. It’s got a bit of cheek and character. The parallel twin engine is torquey. Not exactly punchy, but eager. The optional Akrapovic Slip-on Exhaust could be helping. 

It picks up cheerfully from as little as 2,000rpm. There are no great surprises as the needle rises but no disappointments either. I've heard people question whether the CBR500R can really be fun. It is. Fighting through London Traffic, it's easy liveliness puts you in a good mood

Fighting through London traffic is pretty much all I’ve done on it so far. I’ve had it for five days, commuting from one side of town to the other. I’ll stretch its legs a bit more for my next update, and bring you some fuel economy figures.

Its mirrors are roughly at the same height as those of cars, which isn’t great for filtering. Other than that I’m finding the CBR500R a very convincing five grand’s worth of A2 metal. I'd be tempted by one myself, and I'm not even restricted to 47bhp.

Will I think so after riding a Duke 390?

Model: Honda CBR500R

Price: £5,099

Power: 47bhp

Like this? Then you'll love these:

Long-term A2 test: CBR500R part 2

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First ride: CBR500R

Review: CBR500R

CBR500R vs Ninja 300

First ride: KTM Duke 390