New for beginners
Victim of anti-pollution standards, the CB 500 leaves the catalog after having scoured the roads, motorcycle schools and circuits for more than ten years. Honda took the opportunity to modernize its entry level with the new CBF 500. Test drive.
Never equaled, the defunct Honda 500 CB was the true benchmark for small initiation motorcycles: not flirtatious, efficient, consistent and indestructible, it surprised its owners by going beyond its simple role of initiation.
Suffice to say that expectations are high for its replacement because even if sales of motorcycles under 600 cc are rather slowing down, it is an important niche in terms of image for the world No. 1, given the number bikers who discovered the motorcycle on its handlebars.
Honda has therefore completely revised this model to bring it up to date, even offering an optional ABS. Aesthetically, the new CBF 500 evolves considerably, borrowing a large number of parts from its big sister CBF 600 N (read) to give itself a modern and attractive look: the tank, the front fender, the headlight, the two-saddle stages, the rear shell and the taillight come from it as well as the rear suspension Monoshock. Because except on neo-retros and customs, motorcycles equipped with two rear shock absorbers are rather out of fashion. At first glance, it is therefore easily confused with the 600 and only the exhaust manifold with two pipes instead of four will betray the presence of the small 500 twin. Clearly, the now generous size makes the bike much more rewarding.
Honda hasn’t done things by halves: it’s not just the trim that comes from the 600, but the entire chassis. The back-bone frame of the Hornet, already used on the CBF 600, is still in the game. It consists of a central beam of large section passing horizontally above the engine and two side beams descending from the steering column towards the engine. These extend far beyond the two-cylinder engine, much narrower than a 4-cylinder 600. We can not say that the masses and dimensions are particularly optimized. !
More positive consequence of this transfer of organs, the fork goes from 37 to 41 mm and the swingarm is more widely dimensioned, which should make the cycle part more rigorous. Finally, the rims and tires are also those of the 600 and are therefore largely oversized: 120 / 70-17 at the front and 160 / 60-17 at the rear against 110 / 80-17 and 130 / 70-17 on the old one. Is this really necessary given the limited power to go to the ground? Maneuverability and liveliness, a major quality of the old model, are they not likely to suffer? This is what we will check.
Conversely, braking is improving: given the more limited performance and for the sake of economy, Honda has completely eliminated a front disc. Which is not a problem in itself, but it’s a shame to keep such a wide fork designed for a double disc (204mm center distance instead of 182 on the old one). On the other hand, very good mention for ABS, really unprecedented at this level of the range.
Obviously, if this organ sharing helps bring costs down, it pays off. The new CBF 500 weighs 188 kg dry, which is 15 kg more than the old one, with less center stand but more ABS (13 kg more without ABS).
On the engine side, you don’t change a winning team! The small 180 ° in-line twin is known for its playful character and legendary reliability: it blithely exceeds 100,000 km without major overhaul. Honda therefore contented itself with the minimum evolution to pass the new anti-pollution standards.
The now usual catalytic converters and the injection of air to the exhaust are part of the game and are paying their tribute: the engine loses 1 hp and 2 Nm compared to its predecessor (i.e. 57 hp at 9500 rpm and 45 Nm at 8,000 rpm). However, the intake and ignition are evolving for better control of low revs: flat-valve carburetors and throttle opening sensor linked to a map ignition. Again, the emphasis is on docility and ease of use. A logical choice for an entry-level bike, hoping that it will not stifle the character of the CBF 500! Because the old CB500 was a very simple small motorcycle but conceived as a homogeneous whole, while the small CBF gives a little the impression of having been built with what was in store … But let’s see what it gives to the test
On the handlebars, the developments are obvious: the raised rear requires you to lift your leg to get in the saddle. Yet the driver’s seat is particularly low (77 cm), although slightly penalized by a seat and a large reservoir at the crotch. Compared to its predecessor, it sits further forward and the very curved handlebars are particularly high. So much so that the position, more upright, is closer to that of a trail. Surprising at first, but it’s a guarantee of comfort and ease of handling.
The instrument panel taken from the Hornet 900 is finally modern. It is made up of two analog dials (speed and tachometer) surrounding a fairly complete battery of indicator lights: neutral, oil pressure, ABS, high beam, engine fault, fuel reserve. Finally, two indicator lights (right and left) are located under the meters. There is a digital odometer with two partial trips in the speedometer and a temperature gauge at the bottom of the tachometer. A rather rare and very useful attention to monitor the cold engine and manage the choke! But as often at Honda, we regret the absence of a fuel gauge…
The commodos are simple and rustic, bordering on austere. Note the automatic ignition of the lights with the ignition now widespread on the Japanese. Suddenly, a button to turn on the warnings appears on the right, in place of the old command to turn on the lights: a very useful attention in Parisian traffic jams even if the location of the button requires you to twist the right thumb while operating the throttle.
To make contact, you sometimes have to fight with the Neiman. Clearly, the finish of Honda manufactured outside of Japan (here in Italy) is no longer as exemplary as it used to be. As for the starter, it unfortunately left the handlebars to end up on the carburetor, left side of the engine. Still a little petty economy, which we find on the CBF 600.
Finally, pressure on the starter motor and the small vertical twin snort immediately, without even a trickle of gas. The tone has hardly changed from the first generation CB500, but the few modifications do seem to have alleviated the hiccups and various jerks that characterized it. The engine speed stabilizes very quickly.
The red ABS warning light immediately draws attention to the instrument panel: it goes out after a few turns of the wheel once the control unit has initialized. The second shifts with a box slam worthy of a Yamaha hypersort or a virile BMW gear selection, but the following gear changes are on the other hand precise and quiet … like a Honda! Finally, only the first / second shifts and the second / first downshifts are affected by this annoyance. No difficulty on the other hand to find the neutral point, which the beginners will appreciate.
In town, the engine purrs with a flexibility hitherto unknown. The ignition and carburetor modifications work wonders in terms of driveability and the twin hisses quietly, distilling its horsepower extremely smoothly. Sound aside, down to mid-range it almost looks like an inline four-cylinder engine, as the handling is smooth and progressive. The engine resumes smoothly at 2,500 rpm and the low-end jerkiness controlled by the clutch is a thing of the past. The little news will make people happy in motorcycle schools !
On city highways, the modest 500 cc cuts its hunk right up to the point of approaching 7,000 rpm. If the road clears, it gradually wakes up to reach the red zone (at 10,000 rpm) with an aggressive growl. Particularly efficient between 7,000 and 9,000 rpm, it is nonetheless linear and a little soulless. Exit the hiccups at low speed, the hole around 5,000 rpm and the peak torque at 7,000 rpm of the old CB500, the curve is now smooth and the engine behavior linear. It is progress: an indisputable plus in daily use that also generates a lack of character and personality.
On the performance side, despite a final gear ratio a little shorter than the old one (one more tooth at the crown) to compensate for the overweight and lower power, the revs are very long on the last reports and it must constantly flirt with the red zone to obtain correct raises.
Evolution is also important in handling. The more upright driving position and wider tires do not favor a lively and instinctive handling. Without being clumsy, the CBF500 loses the agility of its predecessor and seems a little fuzzy. You have to control it on the handlebars where the old one could go into a turn with the buttocks! Without doubt, the too soft fork does not help: the bike dives too much under braking and straightens up if you brake on the angle. As for the large tires, they do not make it easy to change angles. Straight as an i, the nose to the wind, we quickly return to a more reasonable pace while enjoying the comfort, the stability of a rigid chassis and the flexibility of the engine, while the ABS takes care in the event of braking emergency. This is a program rather suitable for a motorcycle intended for young drivers but we may regret the sporty behavior of the old one, ideal for learning not only to drive but also to ride.
The optional presence of ABS, a first on an entry-level motorcycle, follows the same logic: ease and efficiency. Although it is not as sophisticated as that of the VFRs and other big cubes of the Honda range (one brake pressure modulator instead of two, no combined braking), it does its job perfectly. In an emergency, no need to wonder: you can frankly crush the handle. If the grip decreases, then you can perfectly feel the brief releases of the brake pressure which allow you to regain grip. We would like a firmer fork and a little more bite from the simple 3 piston caliper disc, because in the dry the big front tire gives its full force and we are far from the limit of grip. But we still appreciate the efficiency of the system on slippery ground or under the effect of surprise, the absence of blocking allowing you to always keep control of the bike.
Comfort is good with a fairly flexible rear suspension. The saddle is rather hard but since it is well designed you can accumulate the kilometers without fatigue … as long as you stay at reasonable speeds, because aerodynamic protection is as inexistent as on any roadster. Honda also offers an optional screen for heavy riders. As a duo, the passenger is seated high enough with the handles well placed, but the soft fork generates variations in attitude conducive to exchanges of helmet blows with the driver! Finally, the modest power of the engine obviously limits the ability to travel in pairs. We are not on a Goldwing !
On the practical side, we appreciate the partial double trip, the temperature gauge, the warnings, the generous well-placed passenger handles, the larger reservoir, the brake lever spacing adjustment (but not the clutch, it is still entry level!)
But what about the removal of the convenient center stand? You will now have to go through the options … Likewise, the compartment under the saddle is much less bulky because of the central shock absorber. We cannot fit an ordinary U there, but Honda offers one in the right size. Hopefully it will also be at the right price … And as is often the case with unfaired roadsters, the lighting, identical to the Hornet, is rather poor.
The cost of maintenance will be weighed down by the price of large tires, but the valve clearance to be checked only every 24,000 km will be appreciated. Consumption remained between 6.2 to 6.5 l / 100 km during the test, a reasonable value but slightly higher than the old one. It allows a comfortable range of nearly 300 km.
Bigger, more rewarding, safer, more comfortable, easier than the old 500 CB, the CBF 500 is also heavier, wider, less precise and less maneuverable … In fact, it struggles to hide that it is only a CBF 600 modified to fit a smaller engine. It lacks overall homogeneity compared to its predecessor which was designed specifically around this small engine and took advantage of its compactness.
At € 5,800 without ABS, Honda apparently made a good effort by putting it at the same price as the old one, except that the center stand disappeared in the process. Its main enemy nevertheless remains its big sister, insofar as for 700 € more, the CBF 600 N is much more successful (read) and will probably sell better..
|Technical sheet (manufacturer data)|
|Type||Water-cooled 4-stroke inline twin-cylinder|
|Bore x Stroke||73 x 59.6 mm|
|Compression ratio||10.5 to 1|
|Distribution||Dual ACT chain, 4 valves per cylinder|
|Carburetion||2 VP carburetors ø 34 mm|
|Getting started||Electric starter|
|Lubrication||Pressurized, wet sump|
|Final drive||O-ring chain|
|Clutch||Multidisc in oil bath, manually operated|
|Frame||Backbone type rectangular steel single beam|
|Front suspension||41 mm non-adjustable fork|
|Suspension AR||HMAS shock absorber combination adjustable in preload (7 positions)|
|Front travel||120 mm|
|AR travel||128 mm|
|Front tire||120/60 ZR17|
|Rear tire||160/60 ZR17|
|Caster angle||26 °|
|Ground offset||109 mm|
|Steering angle||78 °|
|Before||Type: single 296mm disc|
|Caliper: 3 pistons (2 pistons on the ABS version)|
|Back||Type: 240mm single disc|
|Caliper: double piston|
|Overall length||2 170 mm|
|Overall height||1110 mm|
|Ground clearance||135 mm|
|Saddle height||770 mm|
|Dry weight||188 kg (186 kg for the ABS version)|
|Tank||19 liters including 3.5 reserve|
|Max power||57 hp (42 kW) at 9,000 rpm|
|Max torque||45 Nm (4.5 daNm) at 8,000 rpm|
|Also available in STD version without ABS with 2 piston front brake calipers|
|Colors||Blue, silver, black|
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