If dictionaries had a picture for each word, the Honda CB500F would be the perfect thing to stick next to the entry for ‘motorcycle’. Because it is really is just a motorcycle - simplicity and useability are the order of the day here.
There’s a reason why these things are so popular for riding schools and as a rider’s first ‘big bike’. They’re unintimidating, easy to ride and have an A2-license friendly engine which is still pokey enough to feel fast for a noob.
It’s not dripping with tech, which keeps the price down, but the stuff Honda did carefully choose for the spec list will help a fresh rider. These include a slip and assist clutch to lower the chance of a rear-wheel lock during a high-RPM downshift, and ABS, which should need no introduction.
It’s a Honda, so you won’t have to worry about reliability, and the build quality is fabulous. There isn’t a single nasty bit of trim on this thing, and it looks far more expensive than it really is (the price of the latest 2021 version has gone up but it’s still only £5,849). So far, so good, but we really ought to talk about the engine, which is the bike’s greatest asset, and also why the bike isn’t for me.
It’s a liquid-cooled 471cc parallel-twin developing exactly 47bhp straight out of the box, so you can ride the CB on an A2 license without having to get it restricted. However you ride, the fuel economy is brilliant, with ‘our’ CB500F loaner averaging 86mpg over just under 700 miles. On a couple of longer trips, I got over 90mpg. Granted, these are indicated figures according to the trip computer, but even accounting for a decent margin for error, that’s a bloody good result.
The 500 is, as discussed, reasonably quick. 0-62mph times aren’t really a thing in the bike world, but to give some sort of comparison to cars non-riders will understand, the CB should be able to do the deed in about five seconds with a good enough launch. After two and a half months I wasn’t left wanting for extra go, particularly since the mid-range is so gutsy.
I’ve ridden more powerful bikes, but the trouble is, there’s only so much you can use on the road. The CB500F is fun because you can extract its full potential frequently without risking your license. The power isn’t the issue - no, where this engine lacks is character.
A parallel twin with a conventional 180-degree crankshaft (giving an even firing order) is one of the least interesting engine configurations in the motorcycling world. Kawasaki livens things up a tad with its current 650 twin models using a fruity air box, while Yamaha goes much further in ‘CP2’ 660cc-powered like the MT-07 by fitting a 270-degree crank to offset the firing order for more rumbly goodness.
For its middleweight naked bike contender, the Trident 660 (a bike we’re testing currently - more on that soon), Triumph simply adds an extra cylinder. This gives some of the smoothness of an inline-four with twin-like mid-range gutsiness. And yes, a big helping of character thanks to a fizzy exhaust note.
The CB’s engine on the other hand is just a bit… meh. It sounds too apologetic in the mid-range, and a little weedy when you get to its upper reaches. As someone who solely wants to ride for fun, the CB500F doesn’t quite cut it.
The prospect of that engine becomes a little more tantalising when it’s slotted into the budget adventure-spec CB500X, or the sportier, fared CBR500R we tested a while back. Or if you want more power in essentially the same package, Honda does do an inline-four-powered (and very good) CB650R plus the fared CBR650R.
If you’re not buying primarily for fun, though, the CB500F does make masses of sense - perhaps if you’re a bike courier or are regularly commuting on a bike. That being the case, it’s hard to imagine something more ideal than the 500F, with its impressive fuel economy and relatively soft suspension. Just bear in mind that when you take it out of the garage for the odd weekend thrash it won’t be as fun as some other options out there, options that don’t cost a whole lot more.