The motorcycling world is experiencing a kind of scrambler mania right now. A number of manufacturers are returning to basic, stripped-down simplicity in a nostalgic borrowing from yesteryear. Having taken the scrambler concept to its zenith back in the ‘60s with its wildly popular CL72, Honda is perhaps the most legitimate brand to foster the category’s emerging rebirth.
The 2023 Honda SCL500, the Japanese moto company’s new scrambler, serves a growing generation of riders seeking a retro mount with an upright seating position and an appealing balance between looks and functionality. The SCL500 perpetuates Honda’s long-held reputation for proffering fun on two wheels and, emboldened by the company’s famous roots, it is imbued with two other popular Honda traits—dependability and a very attractive price tag.
The Young Old-timer
Possessing classic scrambler styling, the new SCL500 is an appealing package of simplicity with an un-intimidating presence that will appeal to new riders. At the same time, it delivers adequate enough performance that it can grow with beginners’ skills. The SCL500’s aesthetics manage to capture the essence of the original scrambler right down to the fuel tank pads without being stuck in the era. The bike also boasts some modern design cues with increased suspension and a decidedly more nimble chassis than its ancestor.
The original concept of the scrambler was to strip down a street bike and infuse it with a freedom-inspiring “go anywhere” persona. The SCL500 fully owns this look, enhanced by wide semi-knobby/deeply-treaded tires and downswept header pipes that trail under the parallel-twin engine before emerging with a flair to mimic the first CL72.
The new SCL500 is cooked with key scrambler ingredients, including a flat, ribbed seat and chopped fenders. With blacked-out mechanical elements for a rough and ready look, the engine takes center stage. A small round LED headlight and unobtrusive turn signals reinforce the minimalist mandate. The width of the handlebar, proportional to the size and heft of the machine, provides generous leverage and speaks to versatility, the essence of the scrambler mantra. Circular mirrors, rubber fork boots, and an exposed trellis frame all contribute to the scrambler’s old-school theme.
Although the original scrambler was also a parallel-twin, it doesn’t have much in common with the new machine in terms of internals. Smooth-running with decent throttle response, the 471cc liquid-cooled engine provides an uncanny ease of operation. An extremely light clutch pull further enhances the powerplant’s easygoing nature. The engine works well at low speeds and rpms, which suits the endless traffic and the stop-and-go nature of city riding the best.
However, there’s a surprisingly robust spirit to the parallel-twin when you get it up into the higher revs. There’s enough pep there to put a smile on your face. A low-friction cam chain helps reduce excess engine noise. One of the most reassuring aspects of the SCL500 is that legendary, bulletproof Honda reliability, which puts the rider’s mind at ease.
Getting off the line with the new Honda is almost second nature. Highly intuitive clutch engagement and smooth gear transitions come together for succinct shifting. The power comes on predictably and has an even spread—all combining to make the SCL500 a solid base to learn on. The six-speed gearbox is well spaced out, with the first gear giving the bike good slow-going manners. Meanwhile, the sixth gear provides comfortable enough speed for freeways (although you need to focus on on-ramp acceleration in order to merge with traffic comfortably and safely).
Honda engineers have fitted a slipper clutch into the SCL500, which augments downshifts and regulates engine rpm with tire rotation to help eliminate rear wheel hop. The actual mechanical and operational aspects of the slipper unit serve double duty as they also dramatically reduce resistance, which contributes to the extremely light feel of the clutch lever. It all adds up to the ease of operation, providing predictable throttle response and clutch engagement—tailor-made for riders who may still be perfecting their skills.
A Regular on Roads, A Visitor on Trail
Like everything else on this bike, the suspension components are simple. In the front, you’ll find a non-adjustable 41mm front fork, while two rear shocks with five-position spring preload adjustability suck up bumps in the rear. Ultimately, the front-end travel is 5.3 inches, with 5.7 inches on the butt side. The suspension performs adequately in every situation you might reasonably put the SCL500.
The wheels have a Y-shaped spoke pattern, with a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear configuration. They are fitted with deeply grooved tires that offer enhanced traction should you wander off the pavement for light adventuring (within reason).
ABS comes standard, marrying the single 310mm disc at the front with the single 240mm rotor at the rear. The front’s two-piston caliper does a decent job and, when paired with balanced application of the single-piston rear brake, it gives the SCL500 solid stopping power and stability even in hard braking situations. The ABS system cannot be turned off, so I advise caution when riding on slippery gravel surfaces or in the dirt.
A Nimble and Functional Scrambler
The SCL500 has comfortable and accommodating handling characteristics due to the low seat height and carrying its 419-pound wet weight low in the chassis. I found the bike to have a nimble, balanced feel with a surprisingly planted nature in the corners for such a small machine, whether I was squeezing the brakes or initiating a turn-in.
The suspension is also respectable, soaking up road irregularities and providing a sufficiently plush ride over a wide range of riding conditions. The versatile factory settings subvert the lack of adjustability. At freeway speed, you’d be smart to keep a keen lookout for potholes and divots, as the hit in encountering those kinds of sudden shocks will travel up through the chassis and into the rider.
The cockpit is well laid out, with the critical handlebar-seat-pegs configuration accommodating a wide range of physical sizes. You get a sure and flat-footed plant when stopped, thanks to the low seat. The riding position felt relaxed for such a small bike, without any hint of cramping you up.
The SCL500 does exactly what it is supposed to do. It’s a functional, basic, versatile motorcycle that promises both fun and practicality. Whether it’s an everyday commute to the office, a dedicated school vehicle, or perhaps just an occasional jaunt—and even a mount to get you to an overnight destination—the SCL500 will accommodate your desires.
The SCL500 speaks to the basics—that’s the appeal of the scrambler genre. As a result, there are no electronic rider aids, save for ABS. Sitting astride the SCL500, the rider is presented with just the essentials of throttle, brakes, and clutch, with everything neat, tidy, and simple. The dash couldn’t be any more straightforward. A small, round unit, it conveys speed, gear selection, fuel, turn signal indicators, and trip meters.
The Bare Necessities
Taking the bike’s stature and intent into consideration, I didn’t really encounter any negatives to speak of. The bare essentials present their own kind of joy, enough so that I found myself having fun riding the narrow backroads of Santa Barbara County in a kind of untroubled state of mind.
Part of the retro scrambler mindset is individuality. To satisfy this desire, Honda offers a host of accessories that allow SCL500 owners to customize both looks and function. Honda has available an off-road-inspired Rally pack, as well as a Tour pack, which provides additional storage.
The 2023 SCL500 is a simple recreational mount that will serve around-town riders. It can justify its purpose for the adventuring souls on some trails and unpaved situations to get you to a favorite spot (although discretion is strongly advised). Certainly of interest to new and returning riders, the SCL500 is a low-maintenance motorcycle that benefits from Honda’s large dealer and support network.
+ fun, simple, and affordable—all under the Honda name
- massive muffler may burn passenger’s legs
Distributor: Honda Powersports
Engine: parallel-twin, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 4-valve, DOHC
Power:46hp @8,500rpm; 32lb-ft @6,000rpm
Transmission: six-speed, multiple slipper wet clutch, chain final drive
Weight (wet): 419lbs
Seat Height: 31.1in
Fuel Capacity: 3.2gal
Fuel Consumption: 65mpg (estimate)
Fuel Grade: premium
Colors: Candy Orange, Matte Laurel Green Metallic