A trend begun with the low-price/high-value CBR250R and CRF250L has picked up steam with Honda's introduction of six new 2013 models. Joining the CB1100 retro bike, the Harley-Davidson Road Glide-esque, Gold Wing-based F6B, and updates to the CBR600RR are three all-new 2013 models that show Honda is able and suddenly willing to deliver exciting, inexpensive motorcycles into a slowly recovering market.
The CB500 trio-made up of the fully faired CBR500R, naked CB500F, and adventure-themed CB500X-are virtually identical under the skin yet are the "game changers" for Honda this year. A fresh parallel-twin engine features a 180-degree crank configuration and a counterbalancer to quell vibration. Fuel injected and liquid cooled, the mill's twin cams bear down on eight valves through rocker arms (and shim adjustment), an arrangement similar to the CBR250R's designed for low cost and simplified maintenance. The nearly square bore/stroke dimensions (67mm bore, 66.8mm stroke) and modest 10.7:1 compression ratio suggest an engine designed for a broad torque curve rather than peak horsepower. Honda did not release power figures, but 45-48 bhp seems a reasonable estimate. Drive comes via a wet clutch, six-speed transmission, and an O-ring chain.
The shared chassis features a steel, semi-double-cradle frame with 35mm main tubes. The wheelbase for the CBR500R and CB500F is 55.5 inches, exactly the same as a Ninja 650's, while the adventure-styled CB500X has an additional 0.4 in. between the axles. Steering geometry is 25.5 degrees of rake with 4.1 in. of trail (the X has another degree of rake and quarter-inch of trail). The CBs share braking systems, which use a two-piston caliper and single 320mm disc in front and a single-piston clamp on a 240mm disc at the back. Amazingly, all three models will be available with non-combined ABS; we know that the system will be a $500 bump on the CBR500R and CB500F, and expect the same for the X model.
Where the three bikes differ most is in styling and riding position. The CB500X is like a miniaturized NC700X, with a beak-like forward fairing and "rugged" styling. An NC-style handlebar provides a sit-up riding position. Likely to be the best seller of the three is the CBR500R, which has aluminum clip-ons above the triple clamp for what seems like a comfortable, slightly aggressive riding position. Remove the CBR's fairing and replace it with plastic "cheeks" and a small instrument cover and you get the CB500F roadster. It has a superbike-style handlebar providing a slightly more upright riding stance. Three models, three distinct categories-basically one motorcycle under them all.
We've saved the best for last: price. At the introduction, Honda shocked the assembled journalists out of their appetizer-induced stupor by saying the sporty CBR500R will sell for $5999, and the CB500F naked for just $5499. (Prices have not been announced on the CB500X, but Honda reps hinted it would be "just under $6K," so we're guessing, umm, $5899 before ABS.) Perspective makes these figures even more amazing. Kawasaki's recently reworked Ninja 650 runs $7599 ($8099 with ABS) but worse for Team Green is that the enticing Ninja 300 starts at $4799 and runs to $5499 with ABS. Suzuki has nothing between the single-cylinder, $4399 TU250X and the don't-call-me-Gladius SFV650 at $7999. Yamaha's closest competitor is the four-cylinder, $7790 FZ6R.
Two of the three 500s will arrive in April, with the CB500X coming in July. They'll join the 2013 VFR1200F in Metallic Black ($15,999 manual/$17,499 with DCT), the CB1000R in Cool Pearl White ($11,760). Although not announced, Honda is expected to bring the NC700X back as a 2013 model with new colors.