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First L.A. Times ride: Honda's new CBR500s

May 21, 2013|By Charles Fleming
  • Putting the Honda CBR500R through its paces on a Palos Verdes twisty.
Putting the Honda CBR500R through its paces on a Palos Verdes twisty. (American Honda )

Honda continues its aggressive roll-out of new models -- six new machines launched since February, and 19 over the last two years -- with the impressive CBR500 trio of R, F and X units.

They're long on style, performance and value, and short on price, part of Honda's commitment to put new riders on Honda motorcycles.

Built in Honda's new Thailand factories -- like the company's new CBR250 and dual purpose CRF250L -- the CBR500s feature a parallel twin, fuel-injected, 500cc engine. It's a lightweight, low-vibration power plant, built on the same engine platform as the CBR250 and designed to run maximum miles with minimum maintenance.

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The three models are priced competitively -- aggressively, even. The CBR500R, the road race model, lists at $5999, with a $500 kicker for the ABS braking package. The CBR500F, the "naked" style urban model, lists at $5499, plus $500 for the ABS. The CBR500X, the "adventure" version, doesn't yet have an MSRP but will be in the same ballpark.

The three units feature many of the same elements -- same motor, gearbox, wheels, suspension, brakes, and more. The R sits a little forward, with clip-on bars, behind a small fairing. The F sits a little more upright, with taller, wider bars, and no fairing. (Both have seat heights of about 31 inches.) The X has a higher ground clearance. All can be personalized with "carbon style" aftermarket parts, including fenders for some models and luggage for others.

And each promises 70 miles per gallon or better.

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Honda is positioning them as, in the words of the company's Bill Savino, "not beginner bikes but entry-level bikes." They might be a step up, for a rider used to a smaller machine who wants something a little faster, or a step down for a rider who wants something more nimble or economical. Importantly, though, Savino says, they must appeal to younger riders. "We need this market to grow," he says. "The boomers are going out. We need new riders coming in."

The company expects the F to appeal to 20-30-year-olds, the R to 20-40-year-olds.

I expect them to appeal to almost anyone who rides them. I liked both bikes. Riding them at a Honda-sponsored day on the streets and hillsides of Palos Verdes, I kept forgetting two things:

One, this is only a 500cc motorcycle, and two, this is only a $5,000 motorcycle.

Lightweight but solid on their feet, sprightly in and out of the corners, quick on point-to-point acceleration, the bikes were also quiet, comfortable and very easy to ride. They show their size a little at speed, beginning to vibrate above 60 mph, but they also show their size in a positive way: A dash panel readout says the bike, even at that speed, is still getting 61 mpg. 

I liked the R better than the F, but not by much. The R, with its forward position, seemed to roll into the corners more easily, and I always like a little fairing when I'm on the freeway. But I can see how a rider more accustomed to sitting straight up would like the F better.

Both are easy on the eyes, easy on the wallet and easy to ride. Honda should have a good run with the CBR500 line.


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