Review: 2013 Honda CBR500R
Disclaimer: The author is not a motorcycle journalist (or any other sort of journalist for that matter) and actually has no business writing a motorcycle review. But I’m writing one anyway.
For 2013, Honda has introduced three brand new models featuring the same parallel-twin 471cc engine: the faired CBR500R, the naked CB500F, and the adventure-style CB500X. I believe that this is definitely a step in the right direction, and hope that other manufacturers will follow Honda’s lead by introducing more middleweight motorcycles for beginner and less experienced riders. For the past number of years the middleweight class has been lacking, with showrooms stocked full of physically huge, heavy, powerful bikes. New riders wanting a sport-style bike had a choice of buying a 250cc (thankfully Honda has discontinued the way-too-small-for-North-America CBR125…if you can’t handle a 250, do yourself a favour and buy a mountain bike instead), which they’ll outgrow and re-sell in two months, or a 600cc rocketship of a sportbike that they don’t yet have the skills to handle safely.
I had the opportunity to test ride one of these 500’s at the Ride For Sight in Gander this past weekend. Though I much prefer naked bikes, the 500F wasn’t available so I settled for the plastic-coated 500R. When I sat on the bike, the first word that came to mind was “unintimidating”. The bike’s 428 lbs felt so small and light, I would’ve bet money that it was a 250. The seat height is just under 31”, and the seat is narrow so shorter people can reach the ground confidently at stops. I’m only 5’5” and I could flat-foot the bike easily. The ergonomics are very comfortable, sporty but relaxed with low footpegs and high clip-on style bars. The clutch pull is effortless, and the clutch engages right where you think it should. A slight tap and the bike is in gear, and is easily maneuverable at parking lot speeds.
A caveat: If you believe that “loud pipes save lives”, you will want to put an aftermarket exhaust on this little Honda. The bike comes to life very stealthily, I had an “is this thing on?” moment. However, if you need to leave your house or arrive home at odd hours of the night, your neighbours will love this bike.
The one thing I didn’t like about the bike was that I found it a bit lurchy at city speeds. I was at around 4500 RPM, and it felt…odd. Maybe this is a fact of fuel-injection I’m not aware of as I have only owned carbureted bikes, or maybe I need a little longer on the bike to find its happy place in the rev range.
Out on the highway this bike has enough power to keep up with traffic, but it’s very tame and controllable, and quick passes are possible if you wring her out to 7000 RPM or so (redline is at 8700). Braking is good but not stellar from the single disk up front, and the windshield works well only when you lie flat on the tank. If you’re not in this position all you’ll feel is buffeting. Personally I wouldn’t want to take a long highway run on this bike. Having just ridden the 330-ish kilometers from St. John’s to Gander on my 1200 Sportster, the CBR felt less than extremely stable at higher speeds, and this was on a very calm day. Admittedly this is comparing apples to oranges, so you can take that observation with a grain of salt.
I wanted to love this bike, I really did. I wanted to come back from the ride, put my YZF up for sale and buy a shiny red CBR500F to use for commuting and city riding. But this bike hasn’t got nowhere near the power and braking of my Yammie (apples and oranges again, I know), and there’s something more intangible that I feel this bike is lacking. The 500R is very refined, maybe too much so. I feel that this bike lacks character, it lacks soul. It didn’t leave me grinning from ear to ear after the ride. Perhaps this is a quirk of my own riding personality, as the bike is getting rave reviews from people who actually ARE motorcycle journalists. That being said, I will definitely recommend this bike to all new riders, and also to people ready to move up from a 250. It’s the perfect size and has the right level of performance for a beginner/novice bike, and you won’t get bored with it after one season. It’s a bike that inspires confidence, it will make you a better rider while forgiving your newbie mistakes, and has enough jam to keep up with your friends on their race-replicas or big v-twins.