Honda CBR500R: Modern Times Rock ‘N Roll

You don’t know how lucky you are.

Back in the day there were certainly less hurdles to jump when getting a full motorcycle license with only the old part 1 and 2 being required and the CBT wasn’t even invented. But once passed the whole world of motorcycling was there on a plate, from 250cc race derived two strokes through to unwieldy and laughably loose across the frame fours with everything else in between. One of the main problems getting onto the bike of your dreams once the freshly inked full motorcycle licence had arrived was the uncomfortable and ever increasing spectre of insurance, which back in the late 80s and early 90s was rising at an incredible rate. Then there were the bikes themselves, anything desirable was also uninsurable for a freshly qualified youngster and so ever increasingly thrashed and unreliable machines had to be sourced. knackered Elsies vied for attention with grey imports of unknown provenance as cheep speed was looked for and obtained. And if you were merely seeking transport it really was no better, with Honda twins going on forever whilst the rider desperately tried to justify his/her purchase amongst their peers.

Fast forward 30 years and for some time now there have, rather sensibly, been limits as to what you can and can’t ride based on age and experience which, in MotorMartin’s opinion, is a good thing. What we are concentrating on here then is the A2 licence category as for the majority, getting the A2 licence at 19 is the quickest and most cost effective way to progress to a full unrestricted motorbike licence, (Click here for a more comprehensive guide to the different motorcycle categories.)

Why the preamble? It’s because sitting outside MotorMartin Towers is the new for 2019 Honda CBR500R a bike about which Honda themselves say, With its aggressive new looks and low-end power boost, the CBR500R frees you from all constraints. And it’s A2 licence ready and that final sentence alone makes this new iteration of Honda’s sporting twin cylinder well worth spending some time with. As a new rider you want power, you want stratospheric acceleration, you want race track derived handling, you want to be Marc Márquez. The reality though is a little different, eminently more sensible and yet still immense fun with the right motorcycle underneath you.

Looking over the Honda for the first time and you’re certainly struck with how pretty it is basking in the summer sunshine, especially in the Matt Axis Grey Metallic of the test machine and that’s before you start to recognise the familiar family features of it’s bigger brothers, the CBR650R and legendary CBR1000RR. Re-sculptured for 2019 with more aggressive lines than it’s predecessor, that achingly gorgeous SuperSport family resemblance and superb attention to detail, it even sports unique aerodynamic winglets. It’s fair to say that someone at Honda really wanted their smaller sports bike to capture the attention in a way that perhaps hasn’t been done before. Alongside the looks of the CBR, there’s also been attention paid to the riding position with the clip ons now attached beneath the yoke for a canted forward riding position and pegs that offer decent ground clearance without inducing cramp on longer runs. A clever compromise.

What else? The CBR500R arrives with a chunky looking 41mm telescopic fork set up that is adjustable for spring preload, as is the Pro-Link rear monoshock, a steel diamond-tube frame designed to enhance feedback to the rider and an engine that is close to the swingarm pivot point which, Honda say, generates fast steering and easy handling. Crucially, Honda have resisted the temptation to add Superbike sized boots as the CBR offers up a front tyre of 120/70 whilst the rear is a 160/60, giving you a great balance between good grip and light, neutral steering. There’s also a seat height of 785mm meaning that nearly all riders should be able to get both feet flat on the floor, crucial if this is to be your first big bike after passing your test.

Sitting on the 500 for the first time and what strikes you is the quality feel of the grips, switches, tank and suspension. This CBR offers no compromises in quality to the newly qualified rider and feels even more sorted than bikes on offer for twice the price. Up front you cant hope but notice the excellent and all-new, inverse-display LCD dash with Gear Position indicator, rev counter and everything else that you might need. You didn’t get that on my Honda XBR500 I can tell you. A quick stab of the go button on the right hand clip on is all you need to wake the excitable 8-valve, liquid-cooled parallel twin-cylinder engine who’s revised camshafts and valve lift, according to Honda, have increased low- and mid-range torque for faster acceleration. Best find out then.

The CBR500R has been designed from day 1 to be fully A2 licence compliant and as such suffers no compromises when it comes to power and handling. Making 47bhp at 8600rpm and offering up 32ft/lb torque at 6500rpm may not sound but it is the perfect amount for real roads and those not as experienced as others, indeed as someone who has been riding since the summer of ’89 on a variety of machinery and capacities, the Honda’s compliment of horses is nigh on perfect on the right roads and also perfectly capable on the rest.

A favourite of MotorMartin is the ride from Bradford, West Yorkshire up to and across the North Yorkshire Moors to Britain’s first holiday resort of Scarborough before heading up the coast to take in the Gothic splendour of Whitby. The return journey takes the rollercoaster route alongside Fylingdales and Goathland before heading through Pickering, Helmsley, Thirsk, Harrogate and finally home. A journey of 197 miles, according to Google maps and one which includes every mix of road that you could wish for, from challenging B roads, twisting yet flowing A roads and stereotypical dual carriageways. The best bit? You get to ride the seafront at not one but two iconic stretches of stunning coastline.

Setting off with the early evening sun remaining high in the sky and the traffic filled route away from Bradford becomes an ideal test of any machine’s user friendliness and the Honda certainly doesn’t disappoint. The previously mentioned low (ish) clip-ons compliment the sporty (ish) pegs and lean you slightly forwards against the wind which, even at low speed, is a perfectly comfortable position and one which suffers none of the discomfort associated with more sporting across the frame, four cylinder machines. With it’s low seat height and light weight the CBR500R is easy to manoeuvre at low speed and amongst traffic, seemingly dodging between cars at will, the Honda’s generous steering lock and relatively torque laden engine also having a significant roll to play.

Out of town and the feeling you get from this twin-cylinder SuperSport machine is a surprisingly sporting one, helped in no small part by it’s eager engine. Riding between 3000 and 7/8000 revs is especially rewarding due to revisions to the inlet, exhaust and valve timing which have created 4% more power and torque over the previous model. Which, when giving it large through the North Yorkshire countryside heading up and over Sutton Bank before enjoying the twists and turns delivered in abundance between Helmsley and Pickering, the engine proves itself to be a willing and able companion. New riders will enjoy the instant drive and immense poise delivered in this reassuringly friendly package whilst the more experienced rider will revel in the Honda’s ability to change direction with the slightest nudge of the bars and and how it puts all of it’s available power through to the tarmac without causing you to end up in a fiery mess beside the nearest hedgerow. And then once you have decided that it’s time to be sensible, you can just sit back and relax, enjoying the Honda’s ability when remaining more upright. Cruising at 70mph is perfectly comfortable with the CBR’s fairing providing a decent amount of protection from the elements and the engine just getting on with it. Lovely.

There’s definitely something to be said for a delivery of (only) 47bhp in such a comfortable and lightweight machine as you begin to reconnect with why you wanted to ride a sports bike in the first place. After all, with speed cameras, speed vans and myopic car drivers applenty, there’s certainly enjoyment to be had when not wrestling 200bhp and settling for a far more usable 47. Satisfying doesn’t come close to describing the feeling of taking the CBR500R by the scruff of it’s neck and being able to explore the revs in full, enjoying the Honda’s shift light illuminating when further gears are required, continuing to build momentum through the bends before setting yourself up for the next straight.

All whilst remaining inside the national speed limit.

Pushing the front into corners, feeling the rear tyre dig in and grip is addictive for young and old alike and all whilst knowing that clever electronics are preventing hashed gear changes from inconveniently locking the back wheel and a superb single 320mm wavy disc front brake set up with ABS giving you measure of security that simply wasn’t available thirty or so years ago which is why this baby SuperSport machine deserves to move out of the shadow of it’s larger brothers and welcome riders new and old under it’s own steam.

There’s always going to be a market for the lightest, fastest machine at any one time but what is it that you really want from your trip out? To barely scratch the surface of your bike’s abilities or to continue your riding education on a machine that virtually begs you to explore the outer limits of your skill set whilst remaining the right side of the law with corner speed and smoothness becoming the goal. I know which I prefer and it’s only £6099. That my friends, is an absolute bargain.

You don’t know how lucky you are.

For new riders back in the late eighties and early nineties, the CBR500R would have offered up unbelievable performance, looks and reliability for an incredible attainable price. I wish I’d owned one back then. I wish I owned one now.

Where will you go?

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