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Cult bike Honda XBR 500

Heart-warming single cylinder from 1985

The single-cylinder Honda XBR 500 was an alternative to ever faster, more powerful superbikes and warmed up – anyway or because of it? – the hearts of many motorcyclists.

Thanks to the Suzuki GSX-R 750 and Yamaha FZ 750, Japan’s sporting goods manufacturers had just advanced into new performance areas, when two motorcycles appeared in 1985 that must seem like a reinsurance: Yamaha SRX 600 and Honda XBR 500 pick up on British traditions and build on the brave fighting spirit of a BSA Gold Star. The nicer design probably comes from Yamaha, while the more successful one from Honda.

Cult bike Honda XBR 500

Heart-warming single cylinder from 1985


On the move: Honda XBR 500 and Yamaha SRX 6

Single cylinder in comparison: Honda XBR 500 and Yamaha SRX 6

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Honda GB 500 Clubman in the studio

English style single cylinder athlete

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Powerful and easy-turning single cylinder

The Honda XBR 500 uses a powerful and easy-revving single-cylinder that had already premiered in an off-roader two years earlier. Four valves operated by means of rocker and rocker arms nestle – arranged radially – in a pretty hemispherical combustion chamber. It guarantees effective combustion, and in fact an XBR always delivers two to three hp more than the larger-displacement Yamaha.

A balancer shaft rotating in front of the crankshaft suppresses the vibrations typical of a single cylinder, but the muffled sound removes any doubt about the design in no time. Pragmatic, as Honda can sometimes be, they prescribed the 500 cc kick and electric starter, which also reacts to less hard kicks and starts reliably. Of course, it lacks the explosiveness of today’s single-cylinder, but it convinces with seldom good running smoothness: Where current monos mostly still chop, it takes the mixture from its Keihin constant pressure carburetor and ensures harmonious propulsion even under 3000 rpm. Shortly afterwards, a lot of thrust sets in, whoever turns higher than 6500 rpm doesn’t gain much. Measured against multi-cylinders, the XBR offers a very narrow usable speed range, and that’s exactly what makes it so attractive: you have to work with this engine if you want to move forward quickly.

Steering commands only have to be considered

The simply constructed chassis and the easily adjustable brakes of the Honda XBR 500 meet moderate, sporty demands, pretty handlebars dictate a gathered sitting posture, the large tank provides perfect knee closure. And then this ease. Not in numbers, 182 kg with a full tank, but felt. Steering commands only have to be considered, and the Honda XBR implements them precisely, keeps its lane quite cleanly even on poorer surfaces, never looks nervous and is handy, handy, handy. That makes you free, and it is precisely this freedom that many consider to be the core virtue of a useful motorcycle.


The coveted GB 500, also known as the Clubman, is very nostalgic.

Because the unexpectedly good country road performance of the small Honda XBR 500 quickly found many fans, its makers wanted to expand the success and created the GB Clubman, a retro offshoot with wire-spoke wheels, two-in-one exhaust system, and chrome rear fender, a narrower rear and other details like an English cafe racer. A corresponding 400 delighted half of Japan, the American market was served with the half liter, but only understood the train station, and so hundreds of these mostly black-green and very rarely burgundy-red beauties were diverted to Germany. Today, in good condition, they fetch wonderfully high prices here, whereas normal XBR change hands for around 1500 euros if the mileage is low. Both are among the last of their kind, because strictter noise and emissions laws drove not only XBR and a little later GB 500 from the market in 1990, but gradually all air-cooled and at the same time powerful single-cylinder.

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