First Impression: 1997 Honda CB 500
Looking for something different yet sublime? Tired of retro custom designs or 100-plus horsepower crotch rockets? Want an affordable price, excellent handling, low maintenance costs and a clean mixture of classic Japanese and Italian designs?
If so, and you don’t happen to live in North America, the Honda CB 500 may be for you.
The CB 500 is the result of a Japanese and Italian partnership. The ’97 version came as naked as a Playboy centerfold. And as sexy. The ’98 version is a bit more modest, sporting a tiny bikini faring.
The classic, late ’70s retro-styled fuel tank is flanked by a pair of plastic fiber pieces that protect the radiator.
A subtle cowl, an aluminum grab rail, and a wide, comfortable seat finish off the bike’s lines.
Above the chrome headlamp lies the instrument panel. Speedometer on the left, tachometer and temperature gauge to the right. Below the two dials lie the five standard indicator lights — oil pressure, neutral, turn signals, high beam and side stand.
The handlebars, brake and clutch levers, are dressed in black matte paint. The chrome headlight and a pair of round mirrors complete the command center. These classical lines, along with a a few splashes of modern technology — like the 498.9cc water-cooled, four-stroke parallel twin engine — make the CB 500 an eye-catching bike.
A word to the wise: This not a high-tech sportster. A basic pair of 37mm hydraulic non-adjustable forks support the front end, while the rear is flanked by a pair of preload-adjustable chromed shocks.
The CB relies on a single 296mm Brembo rotor with a two-piston caliper up front, and a single, 240mm Brembo rotor with a single-piston caliper replaces rear drum brakes. Attractive, 17-inch six-spoked alloy wheels shod with Pirelli MT 75s give it a touch of style.
The quality of the overall fit and finish is excellent.
Add to this mix a pair of Keihin VP 34mm carbs and a basic, two-into-one right side exhaust, and you get a basic, practical motorcycle.
Rider ergonomics are very comfortable. The handlebar and footpeg relationship feels just right. With its low seat height, narrow wheelbase and light weight, it feels much like a Ducati Monster.
And despite being assembled in Italy, the quality of the overall fit and finish is excellent. All the levers and switches have a smooth, sweet, Japanese feel.
The CB 500 is a very versatile bike. It’s a nimble, reliable city commuter. However, out in the countryside and mountains you’ll notice the low-tech elements of this bike.
As with naked roadsters, wind blast is uncomfortable at speeds greater than 85 mph.
Although it’s spirited, it’s not powerful, and when Honda claims only 50 hp at 9500 rpm, we aren’t about to argue. This is not a torque monster machine. Although its light weight and short wheelbase make this bike easy to turn, its soft suspension and hard-as-nails Pirelli NT 75s allow it to wallow and slide in corners.
The CB 500 handles best when ridden briskly, but not aggressively.
Then there is an Italianese motorcycle waiting for you.
There are areas in which we would like to see some improvements, such as an adjustable front end, better front brakes and better fuel consumption. As tested, we averaged a little over 30 mpg (6.5L/100km). Not bad for a car but poor compared to other bikes — we’ve had four-cylinder/100 horsepower bikes test better.
Still, if you’re in the market for an economical, sturdy little commuter backed by that famous Honda reliability, then there is an Italianese motorcycle waiting for you.
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