Last weekend, Honda Canada flew a gang of moto-journos to Ingersoll, On., so they could get a quick (as in a day) sample of their new-for-2013 lineup – the svelte CBR500 and CB500F, the retro CB1100 and the fat bastard F6B.
Since Zac was looking for a way to get to Toronto so that he could pick up his Harley and do the American dream thingy of riding across the continent to Arizona, we thought he should be the one to do the deeds.
So here’s the skinny, from Monsieur not-so-skinny Zac.
CB500s – Mildly menacing
These bikes are obviously interesting to beginners, but let’s face it, the CB500F and CBR500 aren’t getting a lot of experienced motorcyclists all hot and bothered. Most experienced riders (and sadly, most inexperienced riders) are looking for something with a bit more power. Why, they ask, would they slap down a wad of hard-earned plastic $20s for either of these bikes?
The answer is simple, both these 500s are a lot of fun. While Honda’s previous sporty beginner bike, the CBR250 (still in the lineup), required lots of shifting to stay on the boil, the 500s come with enough torque to enable you to have fun without furiously rowing through the gearbox or contorting yourself into a crouch on the tank to reduce wind drag.
They pull from the bottom all the way to the top, without the peaky snap found on other sporty bikes, but also without that abrupt encounter with the rev limiter found on Honda’s recent 700 series. The power you want is there when you need it, and when you expect it; it actually reminded me of a V-Strom’s delivery, although there’s obviously less of it.
The bikes also stop very well, and very quickly; ABS is standard on the naked 500, and is an option on the faired CBR. The 500s have the same brakes as Honda’s 700 series, with the front and rear rotors machined from the same steel slab, to save costs. The brakes bring the smaller bikes to a halt in a hurry; the ABS is likely a good idea for new riders.
I was surprised by how much wind made it around the CBR’s fairing at highway speed; if someone wanted to buy this bike for long-distance hauling, a taller windscreen would be in order. Conversely, the F model surprised me in its wind-blocking capability; for a naked bike, it does a good job of keeping the wind blast off your knees and chest; there’s very little difference, in my opinion, between the CBR and F here.
Where I did find a difference was in the riding position. The turned-down handlebars on the CBR may offer the look sportbike riders want, but I found it put too much weight on my hands and wrists, with no real advantages. The F may lack that full-fairing styling, but makes up for it with a higher handlebar that puts the rider in a more commanding position. The taller bar made the F much more fun to handle, especially in low-speed or around-town work. I’d love to go for a rip on the roads from last year’s Dawn to Dusk rally on this machine.
Not that either bike is bad-handling. Compared to a European supersport, their power-to-weight ratio may be on the lardy side, but the machines are unintimidating to manhandle into a garage or push around a parking space. These bikes are being raced in the European Junior’s Cup, so you know they’re also capable of trackday fun when they’re under speed.
As for suspension, I’m heavier than the average person who’s going to be aboard these, and I had no issues. For someone who wants to turn one of these into a track day tool, the aftermarket is likely already working on trick bits.
So, while these bikes are primarily aimed at beginners, a returning motorcyclist, or a biker on a budget, might also want to consider one. You won’t leave your supersport-riding buddies behind in the dust, but you should still have a big smile on your face when you hit the twisties. Top speed isn’t terrifying, but there’s still enough power to force you into a a close encounter with The Man.
CB1100/F6B – Quick Encounter
I didn’t spend much time aboard the CB1100, because Honda only brought around 75 into the country, and they’re all sold already. I also didn’t spend much time aboard the F6B, because I’m not really familiar with touring bikes of this size, so I’m unable to make much of a judgment on it – the last ‘Wing I rode was a GL650 Silverwing. But here’s what I did notice:
The six dozen or so people who bought the 1100s are going to be very happy. With this bike, you’ve got a retro-styled oil-cooled inline-four that looks straight from the late ’70s or early ’80s. All the visual cues are right, even down to over-extended mirror stalks.
This throwback is meant to be ridden hard, though. There’s enough power that you could easily endanger your license, as long as you could hang at speed – with no fairing on the bike, the rider catches a lot of wind when the speedometer starts to wind up.
The bike actually has proper suspension, too, unlike all those clapped-out inline-fours featured in a Kijiji ad near you.
And as for the F6B – this stripped-down Goldwing is a very well-balanced, well-thought motorcycle. It turns quickly and precisely, with none of the shaky lurching that typified my previous Silverwings.
I can see why so many people pick these for cross-continental rides. Unless I was looking for two-up comfort, I likely wouldn’t look at buying a bike like this, but if you want a radio, a fairing, big rear bags, a tough bagger look, and Japanese reliability, this is your ticket.
I was quite impressed at its combination of get-up-and-go and stopping power; for such a heavy bke, the flat six still puts out all the power needed, yet if you need to make an emergency stop, the binders are more than up to the challenge.
The past few years have been hard for the motorcycle industry as a whole, and Honda is no exception. The sales just aren’t there in North America as they were; the market segments showing the most improvement are the beginner and luxury bikes.
That’s where Honda’s efforts are aimed; the 500s are cheap enough to give beginners a good bike for the buck that they won’t outgrow after a season. The CRF250L which was introduced late in 2012 as a 2013 model is also reportedly flying out the door.
On the other end, the CB1100 is priced well out of the reach of most first-time riders; Honda knows this is a niche machine, and it’s priced accordingly, and has been imported in small numbers. The well-heeled have already spoken for all of them. The F6Bs aren’t all sold out, but from what we’ve heard, there’s been plenty of interest in them at the shows.
Honda’s doing more than providing the market with models fitted to current trends; they’re also working on several events intended to introduce new riders to their cycles. At the launch, all the motorjournalists were signed up through Honda’s Ride the Red program, same as any off-the-street Joe would at a dealership demo.
We got the standard “don’t be an idiot out there’ speech, were told we’d pay our own speeding tickets if we had an unlucky encounter with Johnny Law, and then headed out on a series of fairly simply roads without any intimidating twisties.
Honda’s ride leaders didn’t head off on a peg-scraping pace; a beginner should be able to keep up.
As well, Honda added a bonus day to the launch, by taking all the writers to Gopher Dunes for some of dirt riding. There, track staff put us through the Junior Red Riders training program.
While it was amusing to see well-known Canadian journos twisting through pylons on CRF150s, the day showed that Honda is concerned not only with selling bikes, but in making sure their riders are well-equipped with skills necessary for the years ahead. If you’re a parent who wants to see their kids started out on two wheels, check it out – your children are much more likely to enjoy motorcycling if they start off right.
Zac can be seen in the Rev’It Sand 2 dual sport gear and Shuberth C3 Pro helmet that he is using as his Gear for the Year. We’ll have an intro piece shortly followed by the appraisal of how it performed at the end of the year.
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