Honda CB500F vs. Honda CBR500R


Sabrina Giacomini is CMG’s newest bike reviewer. She’s been riding all kinds of motorcycles for more than a decade, cutting her teeth on the mean streets of Montreal before moving to Toronto last year.

She also reviews cars for four-wheeled websites and publications, but the less said about that, the better.

I called her up and asked her about Honda’s new 500s. She didn’t spend much time on the CB500F – just long enough to know it wasn’t comfortable – and she hasn’t ridden the 500X, but I asked her to go ahead anyway and give us an opinion on the two. I’m impressed – we’re going to be hearing a lot more from Sabrina. – Ed.


The ideal beginner motorcycle is something small, light and underpowered: everything to make first-time bike ownership easier. Remember the short-lived CBR125 that sounded like a mosquito? It drove like one, too.

Since then, the entry-level offerings have hit the gym and beefed up a little, now reaching 300cc, but the problem is still the same: you meet their limitations very quickly and the number of used, sub-400cc motorcycles currently on sale doesn’t lie. A 300 is a great option if a) you’re stingy or b) you’re a 12-year-old.

If you are neither of these things, then direct your attention to the next displacement category in line, one almost exclusive to Honda. Behold — the 500cc.


Step right up for a head-to-head comparison! In the right corner, the CBR500R, the sportier ride with a fierce fairing and a slightly more aggressive riding position. In the left corner, the CB500F, the stripped-down, road-dedicated model with wider handles and a straighter riding position. We’ll call them Sporty 500 and Naked 500.

Not too much plastic to break when you drop the Naked CB500F, which is always a good thing. / Photo by Sabrina Giacomini

I placed my bet on the Naked 500. After riding the 300 versions of both models last year, the little naked one made up for its lack of power with riding enjoyment, so I expected the 500 to up the ante and rise to the occasion. Except it didn’t.

I’ve ridden the Naked 500 twice now. From Honda’s head office, and to Honda’s head office, which translates into roughly 100 kilometres. I hated every bit of it. After a little while, my right hand twisting the throttle grew numb and my long, 5-feet-8-inch-girl knees ended up numb. Worst of all, despite being gifted in terms of a natural seat, said seat also ended up numb. I thought I’d enjoy sitting with my back straight and without having to bend over the gas tank. I thought it would relieve any strain on my arms and would make for great handling. In that it succeeded, but it put a strain on everything else. Your feet are positioned right under the body, which makes for a slightly uncomfortable bend in the knee, adding some pressure to the joint.

The bars are a little lower on the CBR500R – not much, but just enough to make all the difference in the world. / Photo by Sabrina Giacomini

However, while I expected the Sporty 500 to be overrated and too cocky for its own good, we ended up getting along very well. The riding position feels right: it has a more aggressive stance, but the body inclination is actually quite comfortable, slightly bent forward but without putting too much weight on the wrists. And despite both models having the same seat height and the same position for the foot rests, my legs didn’t feel as tired and sore after a while The weight distribution is shifted by the slightly lower handlebar.

It all comes down to the riding dynamics since the Naked 500 and the Sporty 500 are virtually the same motorcycle: same specs, same weight, same seat height, except each has a definite purpose within the lineup. They’re like twins with two entirely different personalities, and like befriending twins, one of those personalities will fit yours better.

What’s new for 2016

Both models received pretty much the same updates this year, with a few noticeable upgrades. The most striking is the new, feline-looking fairing of the sportier 500 with its narrow LED headlights. It finally looks like the semi-sports bike means business. As for the Naked 500, the new single headlamp reminds me of a ninja’s throwing star, with its three intricate tips. I kind of miss the arrowhead-shaped light of the former version; the shuriken doesn’t do as much for me. Both bikes also received a new muffler, shorter on the naked one, as well as an adjustable brake lever, an improved shifting mechanism and a bigger fuel tank. The Sporty 500 shed a few pounds too, which is both a great and a slightly annoying thing – I’ll get to that later.

Oh, and if you like women in prison, the Naked 500’s color schemes are right up your alley: Candy Orange and Matte Black Metallic. This orange really is the new black.

20160609_133453_HDR20160615_093903_HDRPower inversion

Looking only at the numbers, it’s virtually impossible to tell the twins apart, except for the slightly more generous fuel tank on the Naked 500. They have the exact same set-up between your knees – a 471cc, parallel twin engine with a 10.7:1 compression ratio and electronic fuel injection – though they use the available resources in a very different way, and for this, the victory goes to the Naked 500. It’s more efficient in its use of power. While the sporty bike sounds whiny and high-pitched and will feel underpowered at times, the low growl of the naked one feels more mature and more capable. Power and torque feel available for longer.

The different riding position determines how comfortable you are zipping through town or tackling some twists and turns, but both models handle a variety of roads really well. Both are equipped with preload-adjustable front suspensions, which allow the rider to customize to the preferred level of stiffness. At the back, they have Honda’s Pro-Link single spring and damper suspension, which improves wheel stability. The Sporty 500 has better aerodynamics, thanks to the reworked fairing, but it takes a little bit more work to ride on a highway because it’s more vulnerable to crosswinds. All that plastic and that lighter weight have a cost to them. God forbid someone in the car next to you should sneeze!

Bottom line

The sporty 2016 CBR500R was a lot more enjoyable for me to ride than the naked 2016 CB500F, but both models still have a lot to please. Both have a basic price tag below $7,000; both are a great introduction into the beautiful and exciting world of riding; and neither will bore you after just a few months.

That’s what a rear tire looks like after less than 100 km of not very happy riding. / Photo by Sabrina Giacomini

The full-fairing model comes in at $6,699 for the standard, non-ABS version – that’s a hundred bucks less than the naked model. It all comes down to three letters: A-B-S. The basic Naked 500 is equipped with standard ABS, while the basic Sporty 500 is not. In fact, the ABS-fitted Sporty 500 makes a $500 leap, sitting at $7,199.

And another rear tire, pushed a bit harder into the corners on the Sporty CBR500R. / Photo by Sabrina Giacomini

As for a winner, I’ll have to give the title to the Sporty CBR500R, thanks to its more comfortable riding position, but you might prefer the Naked CB500F with its more capable engine mapping. Beauty is in the eye, and the wrists, and the seat, of the beholder.

[This article has been clarified since first publication to explain the price difference between the two bikes. Ed.]


Check out all the pics that go with this story!


  1. My son(30 y.o.) and son in law(33 y.o,) are the beginners. My son in law own CBR500R , my son own CB500F. I rode their bikes and I like more CB500F. This bike was my choice.Why? Better sitting position for guys over 30 years old, like me and my boys. My son in law bought his bike without my recommendation, because he living in different city. When I rode my son bike I found couple things, that I fixed. I installed center stand on it for chain lubrication and also is good for more safely parking position . Also I ordered windscreen for his bike, because on the speed over 100 km/h I felt air pressure and my body moved back. Naked bike you always can upgrade and this is good, because you can use your own fantasy and skill. This two bikes have the same engine, but different sitting position, handlebars and fairing. CBR also possible upgrade and as soon as my son in law visit me I will see what I can do for his bike.

  2. I have driven for over 45 years and had almost all manufacturers. My last one was a Suzuki GSXR1000 with 161 hp. But after a track crash that took 2 years of recovery, I just downsized to a 2017 CBR500 ABS last year. I had a grand year – this bike is fun and more than comfortable with two additions – some Helibars to lift the bars and bring them back 2″ towards me and a Corbin seat as manufacturers have clearly never figured out how to make a saddle comfortable for smaller bikes. But with those two additions, it has been great. I’m still riding and enjoying the sport and intend to do so for many more years. Smaller never means less fun!

  3. I have had increasing ergonomic issues as I have aged, and nerves and tendons have become less flexible. When I started out there were no sport bikes, other than a few old weirdos on British cafe racers, and a few wealthy Ducati owners. So the sit up position was my default ride, no fairings at all, yet somehow we rode hundreds of miles without too many problems. Getting soaked and frozen in rain squalls, falling over when the firm asphalt suddenly turned into deep gravel courtesy a road repair crew, having carbs seize up in the full throttle position after said rain got into the carb slides, these were all the “interesting” events that happened on a long ride, along with getting completely lost in a distant city. These were counterbalanced by a 90 mph cruise in a T Shirt because it was too hot for the leather jacket, and discovering the hard way that even a two stroke required checking the gearbox oil…

    But I have NEVER been able to comfortably fold myself into the “call to prayer” position required by modern sport bikes. Just can’t do it. I haven’t tried cruisers yet, but these might be even more relaxing than my standard style bikes. I have a Suzuki Freewind, based on a DR650, that has the best seat and suspension comfort of any bike I have owned to date.

    But yes, I do like women prison TV series, although that orange Honda offends my delicate retinas. And why can’t they get their heads around a round headlight? Anything else is weird.

  4. Poor reviewer ..Maybe she was having a bad day. This is the first bad review I’ve ever heard about the CB500F. Not to mention everyone raves about the standard riding position and the fact that you get true non buffeting clean air [no need for earplugs ]. The 67 mm bore size is the same as used on the CBR600RR.The oil pump’s internal relief structure uses the same design as found in the CBR1000RR, which reduces friction, improves aeration performance.The lightweight pistons use the same advanced manufacturing process as those found in the CBR600RR. Seems like a great mid weight sport bike to me, I’ve spent over 5,000km in the saddle of my 2016 500F, sometimes for more that 6 hours at a time.

    • Beside the jokes that I didn`t really appreciate I believe that the rest is a good review considering it was a short riding impression , for the riding position it does come a surprise since most would tend to find it more comfortable than the R but we must keep in mind that we are not all created equal and judging by the text it also come as a surprise for her I believe.

      Good comment ,you could maybe consider writing reviews about bikes.

      • I wonder if the changes to the 500F’s headlight were partially responsible for the opinion. Seriously, that original headlight design was butt ugly, but cut wind very very well.

    • I was equally surprised as I also expected to prefer the riding position on the CB500F. Some people will indeed love it; the CB has a lot to please. But obviously in my case, it didn’t work out as expected.
      And you are right! I *was* having a bad day: my disappointment for not liking the bike as much as I thought I would was great!

  5. Regarding pricing, the 500F is actually lower priced, because ABS is standard and worth $500 based on Honda Canada pricing. Very important consideration when comparing the F and R versions.

  6. As a very happy CB500F owner, I am confused as to how you could possibly find the more natural upright seating position of the 500F to be so uncomfortable? I think most would agree that the F is a more “comfortable” ride than the R. Anyway, I just want to add that I chose the more upright F due to a serious and unfortunately permanent spinal injury; (the result of a bad fall in the workplace) this has got to be the most comfy bike I have ever ridden. All of this fun for so little money, and still able to get a whopping 84 mpg. (imperial gallons) Way to go, Honda!

    • Most would agree that the F is comfier but we must keep in mind that we are not all build the same and I think she might have been the first surprised about the R being comfier for her. Glad though that you found something comfy that you can ride with your injury.

  7. Quand Honda va sortir des Naked 700-750 avec au moin 70-75hp pour aller contre la SV650 et FZ07?
    Mon Grom a besoin d’un grand frère et il a rien à part du 500 à 47hp…

    • Je l’espère car l’an prochain je magasine un 2eme bike et pour l’instant Honda a rien à part du CB500F.
      Je veux aussi un 2eme Grom pour rider avec ma femme pour ses premières années. Au pire j’attends 2 été…

    • Honda ont deposer les dessins de brevet mais ca ne garantie pas qu ìls vont le sortire par contre ils vont devoire faire de quoi vue que la competition est forte et les NC ne plaisent pas a tout le monde, au moins ca les aiderait avoir plus de puissance. Moi aussi ca vas etre l`an prochain finalement pour une nouvelle moto.Super si ta femme te suis , qui sait je vais peus etre vous voire passer ensemble, possible que le premier Grom que j`ais vue soit le tien.

    • Honda a déjà un moteur 650 cc assez moderne 4 cylindre en ligne utilisé dans leur CBR650F. Sa serait un moteur idéal pour un naked vs Kawasaki Z650 ,Suzuki SV 650 / GSX-S750 et yamaha FZ-07.

    • I know the Rally Raid Products CB500X quite well and rather sad that Honda didn`t make it like this in the first place as the price of the mods + the price of the bike itself unless one has the bike in the first place open the door for other more off road worthy options , wouldn`t have cost them much more to put longet travel suspension and larger diameter spoke wheels but still i quite like the X but less so in the brown coloured option that they have,unlike us they often have more limited colour options in North America. Thanks for the video tip , i will surely watch it.

    • I would see this as a good option and it`s quite in the same spirit as the TDM , presonally for me it would be more than enough to do more than a few miles considering i`m doing some long trips on a 200.You might miss the grunt of the TDM but you should like if for what you are looking fore.

    • Met a guy in Zeebrugge with old Honda CD175. Rebuilt with barrels off a CD200 he was returning home in North Yorkshire from a trip to Barcelona & had no problems with the bike!! It’s like that old song ‘It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it’!,,,,,,, Take care 🙂

  8. if a) you’re stingy or b) you’re a 12-year-old. !!! I know quite well that you don`t like small bikes in North America but to keep it short and somehow polite this is mean and offending. Not everyone buys a smaller bike as alearning step only , some prefer something smaller,lighter and more agile, others can`t physically ride something bigger or simply can`t afford something bigger and prefer a new motorcycle to a used one as i do.

    • I thought the stingy/12-year-old comment was funny. I have four motorcycles and all of them are under 400 cc but have owned several bigger bikes in the past. I took years to figure this out but it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than it is to ride a fast bike slow. Most “real” sport bikes can exceed Ontario’s roadside license suspension speeds in first gear, so unless you like lugging a race engine, you never really need to shift. With a 300, you can blast up to the redline a good three times before getting close to worrying about the police. The 300 class machines are also easier to move around in the garage if you bought too many bikes for the limited space you have.

      • Yes some of the good or should I say best reasons for riding a smaller bike. And note that I am not against bigger bikes or people that buy them and I did owned bigger bikes before , well biggest was a 900 but still bigger than a 300 ,yet I have a preference for smaller and lighter bikes and in great part due to the point you bring here , budget ( I don`t buy used anymore so the bigger used bike option is out ) and a certain fear of losing my license as my bigger bikes have been used at well over the speed limit more than once and although more mature now I might still be tempted by some extra adrenalin. Space is also a good point and I do have this lack of space issue in the garage. As for the a) -b) thing you are well allowed to like it and I know that most will , and maybe I would have found it funnier if she would have mentioned some of the points of my initial comment.

        • It was meant as a cheeky comment 🙂 A lot of beginners will opt for a 300 thinking it’s plenty and end up selling after the first season or two. If you get a 300 wanting a 300, knowing what it implies, they are zippy, fun little rides, perfect to tackle winding roads.
          But as I am one to (normally) ride a motorcycle every chance she has, including daily commute, I found highway trips to be a bit of a strain on a 300. For that reason, I prefer a bigger displacement.

          @Terence, what at terribly great problem you have! (lack of space in the garage)

          • I commute daily, usually on an R3. On a closed course with a professional rider that looks suspiciously like me on a public road, the R3 pulled past 165 km/h up a slight grade with a head wind and was still accelerating. While a litre bike will throttle wheelie at that speed, I’m not sure you *need* more. Top speed is around 190 km/h. The only thing you notice is that when cruising along in a fuel saving sixth gear is that you need to drop at least two gears to accelerate, but that just makes it more interesting. Being cheap means that for some of us, we can have variety. It’s nice to switch it up between sport bike, dual sport and supermoto on any given day. It keeps it fresh.

            • I rode across the US in 2013 on a Harley-Davidson Switchback — to many people, the ideal bike for such a trip. It was planted in the desert crosswinds, had hard luggage, a windshield, etc.

              While I was in Colorado on my large bike, I met a guy on a CBR250 who had ridden the quarter-litre thumper there from Quebec. Kinda puts it all in perspective.

            • I remember when I had a Honda CBR500 for a few days for rally scouting. I had myself and a week’s worth of luggage on board. in the rain. On what the same closed course of which you speak, I hit 160 kph uphill, with plenty room left on the throttle. I then wondered why on earth I would ever need anything more for sporty touring, and considering the human body is really engineered to travel at much lower speeds, I suspected I would have been fine with less.

              None of this is to say that bigger, faster bikes aren’t more fun, but it is indeed all a matter of perspective.

              • Agreed on all accounts. You don’t need anything more than a 250 to have fun and go anywhere but bigger bikes are a blast. I sometimes miss the rip-your-arms-off acceleration and ridiculous highway wheelies but not enough to want to get rid of my little bikes. I also suspect that I would be stuck taking the bus to court within the first month after getting a litre bike.

                • I rode all over the place on an XS360C and then an RD400F. The next bike was a KZ650C, but it did not give the giggles/mi. that the RD offered. The RD is still the One That Got Away.

                  I would be inclined to get a 300- or 400-class bike again. I’d rather ride a slow bike fast than the other way around.

          • Sabrina – A couple of years back, I the opportunity to borrow a CB500F for a weekend. Being 6 foot, 190 lbs (what’s that in metric) I had no comfort issues BUT the wind blast was a touch annoying. In typical Honda fashion, the powerplant was so competent as to be boring.
            The overall impression I had was that of my 1972 CB450 (significantly) upgraded for the new millennium.
            If you’re given the chance, try a Yamaha R3 or maybe a KTM RC390 – much greater hooligan factor, better coverage and not much down on power to the 500s.

            • I certainly will! I really wanted to like the 500F. After an elbow injury, I thought sitting tall would do it for me, but it seems like my entire body didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought.

              But I can see how this opinion will differ from rider to rider and if it’s not for me, I’m sure it suits a lot of other riders. That’s one more 500F availabe for someone who really enjoys it!

          • I guess it was and maybe I should feel good being compared to a 12 years old as it make me much younger , being known as quite a cheeky person at time I shouldn’t ‘complain too much but now I won`t be able to help myself but to associate you with the Cheeky Girls.

            When I arrived in Canada on a very limited budget I bought a CBR 125 that was almost given away , it was a great little bike for the price but motorways were not is forte whatsoever , I changed if for a 200cc Aprilia which is great for traveling but an extra 5hp at least wouldn`t hurt it on the highway or fast B roads so a 300 for me would be quite an improvement considering it`s been quite awhile since I had a bigger and quite used riding a small one. Of course if you or someone get to ride bigger bikes more often ending up on a 300 it can feel quite anemic.

            I didn`t notice at first who wrote the article so obviously that it was your first assignment here but I like your review and dearly hope that we`ll get to see more of you , I think that you`re a great addition to CMG and it`s very refreshing to have a woman in the team and not to mention that many women have taken on to motorcycling.

            Well done Cheeky girl !

            p.s do expect cheeky future comments from my part in the future 😛

      • I’m with you on this Terence B. I also own a Honda 300F and love riding in it’s powerband .It makes it’s peak power in that 7 to 8000 rpms .It’s purpose built single engine will cruz at 130 kms all day long down the highway and still have more room for passing [ and your not killing it]. And your right …people tend to lugg bigger bikes. I’ve ridden all kinds of bikes from Goldwings to Harleys to 1000 leader bikes and must say I really prefer the Smaller bikes for every day real riding. Insurance tends to be more attractive also…Size should not matter if you now how to get the best out of the Machine

    • The CB500X occupy’s 1 of 2 spots in my stable & was actually 1 of 3 until I decided to see my 07 DL650. I am impressed by it’s light weight & fun factor. It will haul my lady & I around without issue, I do have to shift more on some of the steeper hills here in the West compared to the Wee strom. For the price of admission however it is a capable & fun bike.

      Yes it’s beginner bike friendly (had 2 friends buy variations), but if you can park your ego, it’s fun for experienced riders too

    • Never tried one but i think it`s a great bike at a good price and i quite like it, like the R and F too but as you mentioned in your other comment the X is a better option on longer rides. I can understand the need for a few downshift where you are , it`s not molehills you have there.Obviously) i have no ego problems being seen with smaller/beginner bikes and i have been riding since quite a while , i like and had bigger bikes but i prefer smaller displacement as does my budget at the moment.

  9. Good article but I think it should have been a triple bill. I own the CB 500X & have ridden a friends CBR 500R. On longer rides I think the 500R would be tiring on the arms.

    FWIW I have an issue with the footpeg/seat relationship on my X & will be adding lower pegs to it next season

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