Hondas sensible starting point

Written by New York Times | Updated: Oct 25 2014, 05:04am hrs
The 2014 Honda CB500F is a middleweight that punches above its weight. It gets a versatile new 471cc parallel-twin engine. While the industry is making an effort to offer affordable entry-level motorcycles, the CB500Fs main competitors are its mechanical siblings, the sport-oriented CBR500R and adventure-style CB500X (either one, $6,609). Shoppers might also browse similar-size models with different layouts: the retro-flavoured Yamaha SR400 ($5,990 plus delivery) and V-twin Harley-Davidson Street 500 ($6,799 plus delivery).

A Honda CB500F languished in my garage for several days after it had been delivered. A tidy package that was a snap to wrangle through tight spots even with the engine shut off, it seemed so minimalist and small, compared with the hulking Moto Guzzi touring bike that previously occupied the same spot, that I wasnt sure what to do with it. But finally I ventured out for an errand. I was gone and back so quickly, I got the Didnt you leave yet query on my return. I was initially reluctant to get on the freeway with such an unimposing 2-cylinder motorcycle, but soon I was riding confidently circling the highway.

What were my initial apprehensions over Perhaps something related to the effect of the Reality Distortion Fieldto borrow the phrase that was once a popular description of Apples ability to captivate consumersafflicting motorcycling that would have us believe bigger was always better.

When I began to ride more than 40 years ago, a 500cc bike was considered a big bike. In 2014, when the escalation of engine displacements has made a 1,000cc engine seem like a good starting point, and bikes have ballooned in bulk and complexity, a 500 can seem puny.

But the CB500F is a capable middleweight, a class that logically includes machines as big as 800cc. It is astonishingly easy to ride; I wish I could have learned on a bike so agreeable. I found it surprisingly comfortable, even for longish trips. An upright seating position and handlebars that rise a bit in traditional standard bike style helped in this regard.

It was stable, with exceptional balance. And it was fun to ridemanoeuvrable and easy to thread the needle through trafficespecially at low speeds, making it an ideal choice for new riders.

It felt a lot lighter than its ready-to-ride weight of 420 pounds. It wasnt powerful enough for extreme shenanigans, a sensible consideration given its target market.

I couldnt seem to run it out of gas. I finally calculated the reason: I was getting over 70 mpg. You can travel almost 300 miles on the tanks 4.1-gallon capacity.

As economical as it proved, the Honda was no laggard. Acceleration was brisk, and it could quickly get you to any legal speed. It has great brakes.

The straightforward suspensionno fancy electronicsprovides 4.3 inches of travel in the 41 mm front fork and 4.7 inches from the single-shock Pro-Link rear end. I would have preferred stiffer damping; spring preload adjustments are not easy or convenient to make.

Another nitpick: Downshifting didnt always yield predictable results, at least with the test bike, as neutral and first were sometimes hard to find.

While the new twin-cam engine is smoothcredit goes to a counterbalancer and 180-degree crankshaft layoutand is linear in its power delivery, it winds up to more than 6,000 rpm at freeway speeds. Even though it has a 6-speed transmission, it feels as if it needs a seventh gear.

If most of your riding is at highway speeds, you will at some point wish for a windscreen. Hondas answer is the sportier CBR500R, which comes with a fairing and windshield. The CBR500Rs handlebar is narrower, a bit lower and does not angle back as much, essentially putting the rider in a bit more of a tucked-in position.

Given Hondas reputation, its logical to expect that a new rider would not have to spend much time fussing with upkeep. Honda has simplified engine servicing: After break-in, valve clearance checks are specified at 16,000-mile intervals. Honda offers a number of accessories and trim accents for riders who want to personalise their machines.

I would rate it as perfect for the novice, a student (youll never want for a parking space), a commuter or an owner of a range of bikes who needs one that checks the box for sensible.

Jerry Garrett