This is highly unusual, a one-time thing. Really. I mean it. Here it is, early April and we still haven’t received any Honda CB500-series testbikes. Despite being introduced late last year and actually on the road in Europe, the American press has seen nothing and heard little more than the word “delayed.” Indeed, Honda Europe held its press launch in February. February!
Time passes. The grass fills in on the lawn. Opening day in baseball comes and goes. Still no CB500s.
And then I heard that the CBR500R had arrived at U.S. dealerships. Where are the testbikes, then? A quick call to Honda: “We don’t have them yet.” When will the launch take place? “Sometime in May.” You have to know that the “sometime” modifier is code for “late,” possibly “not even in May.” Occasionally, in the world of PR, there really is a May 42nd on the calendar.
How badly do I want to test what could be one of the most important bikes in Honda’s 2013 lineup? Badly enough to (gulp) buy one.
A bit of backstory: My sweet wife, Martha, is a longtime rider and, until recently, covered most of her miles on a first-generation Suzuki SV650. She loved the bike, especially its charismatic engine and mini-Ducati sound (thanks, Akrapovic). But after our close friend was gravely injured in a motorcycle accident, she intended to give up riding. At her behest, I sold the SV. She put the money toward a trip to Japan. (Is that “upcycling?”) The SV was also, to cut this finely, just a tad too tall for her, despite running the suspension soft and shaving the seat. Every so often I’d see her struggle with it and worry.
Cue last December’s Long Beach International Motorcycle Show, where the Honda CB500s were on display. I had Martha throw a leg over one and she fell in love. “It fits me perfectly,” she trilled. “Like Honda made it just for me.” Every so often, from that day in December until early April, she’d ask me when I was going to bring one home. I never had a good answer.
While American Honda’s testbikes remain lost somewhere between Thailand and the Colonies, I found out that Huntington Beach Honda had a couple of red, ABS-equipped CBR500Rs in stock. One phone call and about 90 minutes on a sunny Saturday morning with HB Honda GM Greg Guthrie later, we own the CBR you see on this month’s cover. For that, I’m about $7200 poorer. Which, incidentally, makes it the most I’ve paid for a motorcycle since my last BMW in 1996—indicating nothing more than I get stingier with age.
Martha, for her part, is delighted. She had previously tried the Ninja 300, but felt the engine character was too manic. “The little Ninja is just too much like a toy,” she said. “It fits really well, but it’s not for me.” Obviously, she hadn’t ridden the Ninja on a twisty mountain road, where its terrier-like personality is so enthralling... The CBR500R, on the other hand, was immediately satisfying. “It’s really sweet,” she says. “Not a lot of character compared to my SV, but very easy to ride. So smooth.” She was the first to ride it, too, a mere 7 miles on the odometer. Within a week, it was ready for the 600-mile service.
Unless our media competitors got the same idea and bought CBRs of their own, this will be the first actual road test you’ll read—complete with performance numbers, a spin on the dyno, and extensive comparisons among benchmark motorcycles. Martha giggles when she thinks of her little part in this charade.
I suppose Honda has inadvertently proven a point here: That the new 500s represent the kind of value that can make even a grizzled motojournalist open his wallet. Like I said at the beginning, this is just a one-time deal. At least I hope so.