The Better Twin | 2013 Honda CB500F Review

Honda’s CB500F shares multiple technologies with its twin siblings, but the riding experience is something entirely different

The US economy hasn't been kind to Honda in recent years, and slow-growing motorcycle sales figures haven't made the Japanese manufacturer's life any easier. Big Red has taken its lumps with impressive resilience though, and thanks to bikes like the NC700X and CBR250R, Honda's been able to stay near the pointy end of the burgeoning new-rider market. The CB500F, R, and X look to keep that momentum going, and in recent weeks we've come to find that the naked version of the 500, the CB500F, comes with an unexpected appeal that could significantly bolster Honda's presence in the commuter-bike category.

Honda has made it clear that none of the CB models—the F included—are intended to upset the performance-oriented apple cart and that the intention is to offer new or returning riders an affordable alternative to 120-horsepower sportbikes and tourers. The bikes’ shared chassis and engine drive this point home via non-adjustable suspension, easily accessed power, and userfriendly handling characteristics, yet there’s more to the lineup than what the literature and low MSRP suggests.

The Thailand-built CB500F shares a few things with the CBR600RR for instance, including 67.0mm bore measurements, 7mm bore interval, and shift linkage components. The difference between it and the middleweight machine taper off from there, but to recap, the 471cc paralleltwin engine runs a gear-driven counterbalancer behind the cylinders for better mass centralization and reduced vibes; twin 34mm throttle bodies; forked rocker arms with camshaft rollers for reduced internal friction; and piston skirts with striations for like benefits. The engine produces right around 45 horsepower at the rear wheel, or just enough to make it legal for A2 license holders in Europe.

A diamond-shaped steel tube frame cozies up with the parallel-twin engine and is "approximately 15 kilograms (33 pounds) lighter than comparable machines," according to Honda. The geometry is underlined by 25.5 degrees of rake, 4.1 inches of trail, and a 55.5-inch wheelbase, and as mentioned in previous issues, these numbers are common across the CB lineup. The suspension package is shared as well, and comprised of a non-adjustable 41mm Showa damping-rod fork with 4.3 inches of travel and preload-variable shock with 4.7 inches of travel. A single 320mm brake disc paired to a two-piston caliper mounts directly to the F's 17-inch cast aluminum front wheel and is matched to a 240mm disc out back. More unique is the bike's Dunlop OEM-spec D222 front and rear tires, which you'd expect to find on a larger-displacement bike and measure 120/70ZR-17 and 160/60ZR-17 respectively.

The CB500F’s looks won’t turn sportbike fans into enthusiastic skinny-dippers over night, but the F’s fairings are tasteful and more in line with the CB family’s design brief (remember that we said in our review of the CBR500R that the bike’s supersport-inspired looks fooled us into believing its performance envelope had been pushed past a higher threshold, which it hadn’t). Compared to the fully faired R model, the F boasts a handlebar that’s wider and taller, in addition to an LCD dashboard that differs only in its blue backlight.

The F’s seat is set 30.9 inches off the ground, which adds to the CB’s new-rider-oriented feel and allows anyone with a normal-length inseam to plant both feet firmly to the tarmac. You can tell that Honda has put some thought into the F’s rider triangle too; a longish reach to the footpegs boosts long-range comfort, and a nice bend in the handlebar takes a thankful amount of pressure off of your upper body and wrists. It’s not exactly built for six-foot-three-inch riders, but the 500 isn’t Ninja 300-small either.

The F’s running gear is identical to the R’s, meaning freeway, canyon, and around-town performance is negligibly different. The only variance, in fact, comes in the form of less wind protection on the freeway, which subsequently turns 70-plus-mph runs down the interstate into a neck workout. Negatives trickle off from there: The fueling is crisp and throttle response precise, the torque curve beneficial in stoplight-to-stoplight riding, and the controls light enough for newer riders to easily acquaint themselves with. There are larger strengths, including the CB’s ability to quell vibrations past 4000 rpm and remain buzzfree as revs increase, plus its capacity at the fuel pump—our test unit averaged 54 mpg.

All of the CB models will feel more at home around town, and that’s especially true of the F, which navigates city streets with competence and has only a few shortcomings. The primary deficiency—and it’s hardly a fault as it helps off-the-line performance—is a short first gear, which you blow through in a matter of feet. The transmission feels tight too, so the succeeding gear shifts require more effort from your feet and a decent amount of coordination between your extremities.

In the canyons, you're forced to use the 500's transmission less than you would on entry-level bikes like the Ninja 300 or CBR250R, and we were happy to find that the suspension's damping was firm enough to keep the 500 from wallowing all the way through a winding road—though bigger bumps still test the spring rates. The steering effort is less on the F model thanks to the wider handlebar, but still moderately higher than we'd have expected at the initial turn-in point due to the flatter profile of the rear tire. Once the CB is on its side it feels amazingly planted and stable. Bigger riders will appreciate the preload adjustment in the rear, too.

ABS is optional on the CB500F, just as it is with the R, but in this case we tested the standard model and walked away happy with overall performance. Immediate stopping power requires some forearm strength, especially as you move toward the latter half of the pull, but feel and feedback is actually quite good.

So would we recommend the CB500F to a newer rider? Or, more importantly, over the CBR500R? Absolutely. The naked-bike version of Honda’s new parallel twin epitomizes what the CB family is all about, and it doesn’t lead you to believe it’s something it’s not with sporty fairings and a supersport-oriented designation. The F is exactly what a small-displacement, entry-level bike should be, and it should definitely keep Honda’s momentum rolling.

Specifications

2013 Honda CB500F
MSRP: $5499 ($5999 with ABS)
Engine
Type: Liquid-cooled DO HC parallel twin, 4 valves/cyl.
Displacement: 471cc
Bore x stroke: 67.0 x 66.8mm
Compression ratio: 10.7:1
Induction: PGM-EFI, 34mm throttle bodies
Chassis
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop 222F
Rear tire: 160/60ZR-17 Dunlop 222
Rake/trail: 25.5 deg./4.1 in. (104mm)
Wheelbase: 55.5 in. (1410mm)
Seat height: 30.9 in. (785mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal. (15.5L)
Weight: 419 lb. (190kg) wet; 394 lb. (179kg) dry

A $500-more-expensive ABS model is available, but the standard brakes we tested require some forearm strength the farther you get through the pull, although power and feedback were actually pretty satisfying.
An 8500-rpm rev limiter and 45 peak horsepower lead us to believe that the CB’s 471cc parallel-twin engine will be fairly bulletproof. Bear in mind, however, that Honda requires a valve clearance check at just 600 miles—or only a few weeks after you’ve purchased the bike depending on how enthusiastic you become once the helmet goes on. A subsequent check is done at an elongated 16,000 miles.
The CB500F’s headlight setup and lack of fairings means 70-mph runs down the freeway are more a strain on your neck, but the F’s nakedbike design is more in line with the CB lineup’s design brief.