2013 Honda CBR500R and CB500F: Budget Bikes with Gusto

Text: Alfonse Palaima • Photography: Kevin Wing

Honda’s new entry-level 500s, the CBR500R and the CB500F, are budget bikes with gusto. With fuel-injected parallel twins that are as smooth as four cylinder bikes, the newest micro racer and sport standard are impressive world-market machines.

Since February of this year, Honda has introduced six new models to its line-up—19 within the last two years and there are more on the way! Poised to deliver value and selection, Honda doesn’t stop the DQR (dependability, quality, and reliability). That traditional Honda fit and finish carries on with the new CBs. They are solid machines aimed at serving every market with affordable prices.

Honda is well aware that they are late to the race in respect to serving the original middleweight displacement bike market, but they have put together a stout and well-priced package. All three new machines (CBR500R, CB500F, and CB500X) are based on the same 471cc parallel twin DOHC engine, each of them distinctly different despite their core and composition. With 50 to 60 percent of their components shared among the styles, the manufacturing processes used to create these world-model bikes helps to keep the prices low overall. They have created a good bike at a good price.

Their target for the upright standard F-model is a 20 to 30 year old rider with social riding in mind (college campuses to neighborhood romps). Meanwhile, they point the sporty R-model at the slightly older rider that knows what fun we more experienced riders have in the twisties. Meant perhaps as a stepping stone bike from a 250cc or a scooter, the CBR500R is the townie bike that can also make a run up the canyon on occasion.

The all-new, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 500s are fed by twin 34mm throttle bodies. It sounds light at 116 pounds, but that’s nearly one quarter of the bike’s total weight of 425 to 430 pounds (depending on the style and ABS options).

Barely perceptible cylinder vibes keep the hands from going numb and the eardrums from bleeding; it nearly feels like an electric bike. At highway speeds (because every ride in Los Angeles includes a freeway stint or two), the bike was small but felt planted, capable, and friendly. Holding steady at 65 mph and 5,250 rpm, a 1,000 rpm bump in the passing lane delivers a non-offensive rush to 80 mph.

Each model rolls on the same 17-inch, cast aluminum wheels (shod with Dunlop Sportmax tires) that are sprung from a big 41mm front fork and a single Pro-Link rear shock and are halted by a single 320mm wave rotor with a 2-piston Nissin caliper in the front and a 240mm/1-pot combo in the rear. Optional non-linked ABS systems add only 0 to the sticker price.

Ergonomics

On a short city ride around the LA and Long Beach basin, swapping versions along the way, it was remarkable how different the ride can be with a mere 2-inch rise in the handlebar. While the 16 pounds of fairing and windscreen constitute a considerable drag on such a small bike, the bar position alone makes the most considerable change in handling. Functionally, the handlebar position, the overall weight of the bikes, and the fairing styles are the only differences between the R and the F. The 35mm diamond-shaped steel tube frame rides on a 55.5-inch wheelbase. From the ground up, the two saddle heights are exactly the same at 30.9 inches.

The F-model carries its switchgear 49mm higher than the fully faired R-model and has much less of a front end with just a bikini fairing for a headlight nacelle. Each bike employs Honda’s horizontal flow design ethic as seen previously on models like the DN-01 and the F6B. The long and low design and features translate to a lower center of gravity.

Dash

Both models carry the same dashboard and include the usual suspects: a bright LCD with digital fuel-bar indicators, a bar tachometer, a speedometer, dual trip meters, average fuel consumption, plus a few common lights for oil temp, low fuel, and neutral gear. But you’ll also find a few techy things that fuel-conscious buyers will like, such as a real-time mpg reading, so you know exactly how light you are on the throttle while limping to the next service station. And for the rider that isn’t friendly with math, there’s a fuel consumption counter that counts up the number of gallons used since reset. So if you put in 3.2 gallons last time and reset it, in theory you’ll have 3.2 gallons of riding to do before you’re walking. With the claimed estimate of 71 mpg, that might take a few days (if not weeks) to drain for the commuting rider. One feature missing, which could benefit beginning riders, is a gear position indicator.

Pricing/Delivery

At the time of our ride, both the CBR500R (Base MSRP $ 5,999) and the CB500F (Base MSRP $ 5,499) were shipping to the dealers’ showrooms from Honda’s Thailand plant. By the time you read this, they’ll have the higher-saddled, adventure-styled CB500X as well.

Honda’s designers also created a raft of Genuine carbon-style accessories for both of these bikes that include seat cowls, headlight trims, taller windscreens (for the R-model only), and a style-matched set of saddlebags and trunk (for the F-model only).