2013 Honda CB500F | First Ride

Managing Expectations

By Zack Courts, Photography by Kevin Wing

They say: “Mid-size sport, maximum fun.”
We say: “Surprisingly different, and better, than the R”

Expectations can change everything in motorcycling. So it was that we at Motorcyclist were excited to ride the CBR500R (July, MC), anticipating a mid-sized bike with ample torque, taut suspension, and feline agility. But that wasn’t quite the bike we got. Instead of being a larger version of, say, Kawasaki’s Ninja 300, the 500R is soft and relatively lethargic—a mace to the Ninja’s stiletto knife. While we appreciate the 500R for its value and polish, we were honestly hoping for more.

Enter the 500R’s fraternal twin, the CB500F. Don’t be fooled by how different it looks, this is the same bike underneath. A lack of fairing makes the biggest aesthetic difference, helped by a 1.9-inch higher and 1.5-inch wider handlebar. A blue-tinted instrument face—as opposed to white—completes the transformation. Other than that, it’s identical. The same 471cc parallel-twin (that made 44.5 horsepower and laid down an ultra-flat torque curve on our dyno) pushes you down the road with a very smooth, inoffensive stream of thrust. And the same 320mm single-disc brings you to a stop. And it has the same slightly quirky gearbox, which is perfectly adequate but does not like, for example, multiple downshifts with one, sustained clutch pull.

But boy, what a difference a handlebar makes. The 500F’s attitude is changed completely from the R. A more upright seating position puts more weight on the seat and less on the grips, meaning acceleration feels a little stronger even though the 6-pound diet that the F benefits from is hardly enough to make a noticeable power difference. Those same relaxed ergonomics also make braking a little less strenuous, the higher bar offering a better brace during deceleration.

The plastic-clad 500R has relatively modest paint options, but even still the naked F is more mature. The Pearl White option has a tame splash of graphics on the upper cowl, while being much racier than the gloss black (your only option if you want ABS, incidentally). Saddlebags and faux carbon fiber bits are available as options (as they are for the CBR500R), allowing you to tune more or less sensibility into your own 500F.

The price, too, is decidedly mature. At a mere $5499, the naked bike is $500 less than the R. Also, as with the CBR500R, an extra $500 gets you effective ABS. The looks are tame and the cost is low, but Honda claims the 500F is aimed at a younger demographic than the R, predicting younger riders will be attracted by the price and the image of a naked bike.

The image, after all, is what makes the 500F so pleasing. The flat handlebar and simple headlight match the aesthetic of the plain tail section and eco-exhaust note so much better than the quasi-supersport plastic of the R version. As a result, you approach the F and plunk down in the saddle anticipating a peppy, willing city bike that is ready to take on whatever the day brings. And that’s exactly what you get. It’s all about expectations.

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