Title photo: Adam Semple
This year we bumped the Dawn 2 Dusk rules to allow bikes up to 500 cc from the previous 250 ceiling. Honda, who sponsored the rally for 2014, kindly lent us a CBR500, and local Honda dealer Toys for Big Boys doubled it up with a CB500F.
That gave CMG the chance to put a lot more seat time on these bikes than we had at the 2013 launch and here’s what each of us thought after it was all over with.
I wrote the original reviews on the 500s when they first came out. I was hoping to include the 500X, conspicuously absent from that test, in this little write-up, but sadly it was not to be. In any case, over August, I got to put down quite a few more miles on these machines, and get a better feel for them.
I managed to put several days in on the CBR while doing last-minute scouts for this year’s D2D, starting with a highway run from Moncton to Saint John while loaded down with luggage. I discounted the idea of ever using this bike as a sport tourer until I actually tried it; despite the fact I had my own less-than-svelte self on board, and a load of luggage strapped down, I was still able to pull uphill at speeds that, in Ontario, would have seen the bike seized. (Of course, I did that during a diversion to the top-secret CMG testing facilities).
Wind protection is a bit lacking for someone my size, so a few aftermarket add-ons would greatly enhance this bike’s utility (a luggage rack is a must). However, if someone was looking for a low-priced bike that could haul them across the continent without any drama, I would tell them to check this machine out. You might have to rev it up a bit to get it up to speed, but it can handle it.
Unladen, the bike handled the back roads well; nimble and light enough to be a lot of fun in the twisties, though it was let down in the suspension department. While the suspension works fine for decent pavement, it’s not really up to the pothole paradise of backwoods NB (this would have been a perfect environment to test the 500X). All in all, though, by the end of my time aboard the CBR, I was thinking it might not be a bad investment for someone looking for a budget bike.
Then, during the D2D, I managed to sneak some time in aboard the CB500F, and my initial impressions of that bike came rushing back: I much preferred the naked bike’s handling, thanks to the wide tubular handlebar. It might have a face only a mother could love, but it handles the tight stuff better than the CBR, plus the $5,999 CBR500 doesn’t have ABS (it’s $500 extra) whereas the CB500F does, and for the same money.
I think Honda may have missed the point with these 500s. Sure, they’re well made, comfortable, go, stop, handle (though personally I found the suspension to be a little rudimentary on New Brunswick’s dire roads). Everything that is needed from a motorcycle … but that elusive soul.
The motor packs no punch and requires the rider to snick up and down that (admittedly) perfect gearbox at anything below 6,500 rpm, where it would have trouble pulling the skin off a rice pudding.
Above that and you start to get some power to work with but even then it’s nothing that would trouble the adrenal gland any.
And while I can understand that being part of the plan for the naked F, it’s in exactly the same state of tune for the CBR, and in my opinion, if you add that R then it needs to mean something other than race styling.
How hard would it have been for Honda to tune up that motor even a bit? Surely it must have plenty of leeway for some extra horses. Even bumping it up from 47 to the low 50s would likely transform the ride..
What we have here are two very competent, entry level motorcycles that do nothing wrong, but nothing really right either. Honda has somehow lost the fun of its CBR250 and failed to add a touch of the insanity of the CBR600, that a 500 should be all about. Although I respect the company for trying hard to backfill in the hole of entry level suitable bikes, I’m not sure why the 500s exist.