Way back in '65, when the Beatles were yet to write songs about being 64, Honda launched a bike that redefined the Japanese motorcycle industry.
|AT A GLANCE|
|Engine: 471cc liquid-cooled dohc 8-valve fuel-injected parallel-twin; 35kW (48bhp) at 8500rpm; 43Nm at 7000rpm.|
|Frame: Steel-tube spine frame with double-sided square-section steel swingarm; 41mm telescopic forks with no adjustment; preload-adjustable rear monoshock.|
|Hot: The best new bike that anyone can buy for less than $11,000 is capable over a wide range of uses and roles.|
|Not: ABS should be made optional for this model rather than deleted altogether; footpegs touch down early during spirited cornering.|
The CB450 served notice on the European bike-building establishment that the Japanese were capable of producing more aspirational bikes of larger capacity than the dirt-cheap tiddlers they were famous for, and its launch was the prelude to Honda's main event - the debut of the CB750 Four at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1969.
With the release of the new CBR500R 48 years later, Honda finally has a bike of similar cubic capacity and engine format as the ancestral 450, and the two bikes show how much market perceptions have changed. The 450 was considered a bona fide ''big bike'' almost 50 years ago.
Not so the new 471cc 500 today. It's so compact, cute and cuddly in times of 1000+cc 190bhp road-legal motorcycles, that it earns official approval as a suitable learning tool for fledgling bikers.
The CBR500R doesn't deserve to be pigeonholed as a bike purely intended for learners/commuters as it has a much wider focus than that. It is a more complete bike than the other parallel-twin series Honda launched last year - the car-inspired NC700 models. Where the sliced-in-half Jazz hatchback engine of the NC700 shuts up shop abruptly at 6500rpm, the new 500 won't call closing time until 9000. What's more, 6000rpm marks the point where the newest CBR lives up to its model designation by delivering a harder kick that is a joy to chase with the slick-shifting six-speed gearbox. The clunky shifts of the NC are a distant memory as you revel in quick-fire ratio changes and powertrain characteristics that are immediately identifiable as those of a sporty motorcycle rather than a nana's car. The CBR also slays the bigger Honda parallel-twin in acceleration, taking 5.2 seconds to accelerate from 0-100kmh, roughly one second less than the NC700.
Despite the sporty attributes of the powertrain, and the CBR600RR-mimicry of the bodywork, this isn't a bike that should be categorised as a sportsbike either. There's far too much civility shown by the 500's easy-riding suspension and rider-friendly ergonomic tailoring to live up to such a hardcore classification.
Fuel use is more reflective of the NC's outstanding performance than that of any fire-breathing CBR. Unlike many Learner Approved Motorcycles of modest engine capacity, the 500 feels quite relaxed when cruising at 100kmh on the open road, with the engine turning over at just 4800rpm in sixth gear. In this application, it displays a similarly parsimonious attitude to fuel use as the NC, delivering 27km of highly-enjoyable travel for every litre of fuel.The 15.7-litre fuel tank of the CBR might seem a trifle small but the bike can roam for more than 400km between fuel stops if ridden gently.
Honda has definitely paid attention to the details of what is an affordable motorcycle at $10,495. The well-sited mirrors stay miraculously clear over all revs and speeds, and the switchgear is instantly located by the rider's left thumb with no need for visual confirmation once you get used to the indicator switch having bottom-billing on the left-side switchblock.
This is also a relatively roomy motorcycle for one so compact and svelte.
You do pay some penalty in cornering clearance for the bike's generous legroom, however, as the rider's footpegs are likely to touch down quite early compared with those of competitors like the similarly-priced Kawasaki Ninja 300. This could be an impression encouraged by the better OE tyres of the Honda. Both bikes might be made in Thailand, but the CBR wears proper Japanese-made Dunlop Sportmax tyres while the Ninja gets inappropriately-named IRC Road Winners that share its state-of-origin.
The 191kg Honda's steering matches that of the lighter CBR250R single for nimbleness, and the budget suspension of both Thai-made Hondas is well set up, particularly the front ends, which is just as well as there's no provision for adjustment on either bike. Out back, you can adjust the spring preload of the CBR500R's rear monoshock, and it's worth adding extra as the soft spring rate is obviously targeted at riders in Asian markets.
The CBR500R is the most affordable bike of a three-model range, as both the CBR500F streetbike and the inevitable CBR500X ADV variant get ABS brakes as standard equipment. Not that I ever missed the anti-lock feature while aboard the 'R' as the setup of the brakes is a model for other LAMS bikes in their initial bite, overall stopping performance, and sensitive feedback. A full-sized 120/70ZR17 front tyre with decent all-weather grip also helps braking performance in the CBR500R's case.
This is a bike that directly hits the bullseye if it's a target located smack in the middle ground between two ideals - performance and efficiency. As a result it offers such wide appeal that the CBR model nomenclature could stand for Category BusteR in this instance.
- The Press