Honda CBR500R new owner’s review: It’s a little cracker
Marc Ryan absolutely loved his MT-07 over his five years of ownership. So why exactly did he trade down to the ‘inferior’ Honda CBR500R? Nutter or sensible chap? It turns out it’s a bit of both.
I commute a fairly long distance all year round. Then I go out riding for fun at the weekends. I don’t really like getting off my bike. Which is why, after five years of abuse, the cracks were starting to show on my MT-07 and trade-in time was approaching.
If nature had taken its course then I’d have traded up to an MT-09, but my finances were in dire distress and I needed something even more economical than the MT. The time had come to take a deep breath and downsize.
Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t going to part with my other ride, a Tiger 800 XC – an amazing bike. But it’s heartbreaking squaring-off tyres and grinding away a bike like that on the same soul-crushing motorway five days a week. It costs a small fortune to service and I’d rather that those expensive miles were totally enjoyable ones.
Why would anyone in their right mind trade DOWN?
I changed jobs, so wasn’t doing the mega mileage I used to, it was down to 12 miles each way. I still wanted to keep the Tiger for the good stuff; I needed something smaller and more economical to haul my arse to work and back day in day out, and I still wanted to have some fun, which ruled out a 125. Sorry, 125 riders.
I did some research and narrowed the choice down to four bikes. Less about passion, more about logic.
The KTM 390 Duke looked a right old laugh while being capable of doing the job. The other three bikes were all Honda 500s. The CB500 comes in naked, adventure and sport flavours. There is also that, Rebel, thing, with the same engine but, that’s really not me.
Why the CB500? The mixture of economy and enjoyment looked good. Fuelly.com shows some people getting over 90 MPG and service intervals are every 8,000 miles, instead of the usual 6,000. That can make a big difference over a couple of years.
My local bike shop couldn’t tell me what my MT was worth. Most examples for sale are low mileage models. Mine was knocking on to 33k. I looked on eBay and Autotrader and still couldn’t find any with my kind of mileage. So I cleaned the Yam and took it to a big dealer for a tentative conversation as to what it was worth. I was lucky with my timing.
At that point, the CB500X adventure-y bike had been my first choice as a commuter but I’d sat on one, followed by the CBR500R, and found the sportier-looking bike to be more comfortable.
The dealer was overstocked with 2018 CBR500Rs while the 2019 models were shipping in so there were discounts to be had. 2018 models were reduced from £5969 to £4494. That’s a bargain in anyone’s book. I think the 2019 models were going for near six and a half grand.
Bear in mind some flashy 125s like Suzuki’s GSXR 125 go for around £4200, so this is bargain territory.
I submitted my MT to the dealer’s inspection and they offered a pretty fair £2,500 for my bike against a 2018 CBR.
That was a done deal.
Oddly, when I came out after the inspection, I nearly got on the wrong bike. Another MT-07 of the same colour was parked outside. I shuddered when I looked again. That one hadn’t been looked after. In fact it was a victim of neglect and abuse. I realised the MT’s Achilles heel at that point. Rust.
The bike I’d almost sat on looked like it would need a new swingarm soon-ish. That stylish, asymmetric steel swingarm, with its functionless hole in one side, catches all the salty gritty road water. The paint comes off first and then the rust sets to work. I found my own bike and felt more confident that I was doing the right thing.
Two grand out of my pocket (well, out of my credit cards) plus my MT got me on a new and very economical bike complete with a two-year warranty. That satisfied my commuting needs exactly. In the back of my mind I was thinking ahead, that an A2 friendly bike with supermodel looks would be very easy to sell when the time came.
I really was going the logical route instead of diving into debt for something expensive and impractical that would bankrupt me and destroy my license. Sensible chap.
The free tracking device
As with all their new bikes in the UK, Honda fitted a Trakking Adventure tracking device for free.
There are a ton of interesting features that I don’t need. It tracks my journeys, showing the routes I’ve taken and optionally the speeds I’ve done. Speed data can be turned off.
There’s a sort of accident sensing facility that will send a text to a loved one if it thinks something bad has happened. That could be a lifesaver, especially for those who go off the beaten track.
There’s a web page and phone apps for the tracker. When I go shopping I can open the app and pinpoint my bike to an accuracy of one parking space and ask for walking directions to get me there. That’s actually a great feature when I park in an unfamiliar city.
The real purpose of the device is in case of theft. Within 10 minutes of picking up my new bike I accidentally proved that it works by moving the bike six feet to get out of someone’s way. I neglected to turn the ignition on while doing this and shortly after received a series of text messages and a phone call.
The service costs £9.95 a month. If I’d had to pay that and the three hundred odd quid for the device and fitting I might have invested in a big lock instead. But I’m really pleased to have it. Thanks Honda! Fingers crossed that other manufacturers follow the example.
There are three downsides to this device.
1. You have to pay the ongoing charge. 2. If a thief looks under the seat, the device is right there, easy to disconnect. 3. It runs the battery down.
When I had a dose of flu I didn’t touch the bike for a couple of weeks and started getting handy emails telling me my battery was running low. That’s the future right there!
I live in a relatively civilised area but I still slap a big Oxford lock on the little CBR in a belt and braces style. If it did get nicked the process would be; I’d get a text asking if I’d moved the bike or it had been taken. If I reply with a yes then the location of the bike is withheld from me to prevent a retrieval and murder rampage, the police are immediately informed and they, if they’re not too busy, go and get the bike and the thieves.
I suppose, theoretically, it would be possible to say ‘No the bike has not been stolen’ and then go after it oneself. But nothing good would come of that.
So now I’d got it all I had to do was get used to the new bike and smaller motor. And get used to being, for the first time in my life, *shudder* a Honda owner. You know what they say. You meet the nicest people on a Honda.
Obviously, there would be bantz. I hadn’t told anyone what bike I was buying. First time I went out with a couple of mates was predictably hilarious.
‘No, it’s not a 125.’
‘Yes, it is pretty isn’t it.’
‘No, it’s not a 250.’
‘No, I’m not gonna buy one-piece leathers.’
‘Yes, I do look like a gorilla on it.’
As bantz intensified, my mate Tarquin provides my favourite comment:
“I didn’t know you had a daughter?”
“Well, who’s bike have you borrowed?”
Call me an ambulance, my sides are about to split. They left me in their wake. The 471cc engine isn’t ever going to keep up litrebikes. That’s not what it’s for.
First impressions of the Honda CBR500R
Opinions of a bike are always dependant on what you normally ride. It’s absolutely unfair to compare the CBR to my MT-07. But that’s what it’s replacing so comparisons will have to be made. It’s an unwritten biker law.
First impressions are that it’s a gorgeous little bike that looks like it could break the sound barrier. It manages to be more comfortable than the CB500X adventure styled variant thanks to having a really good riding position and a great seat.
When I first pulled away I noticed something odd. It vibrates! Only very slightly but I felt it through the seat, bodywork, pegs and bars. The CBR’s vibes are noticeable at lower revs but disappear once the speed increases, that’s the opposite of the MT’s motor.
The MT has a 270-degree crank and counterbalance giving it the same smoothness and firing cycle as a 90 degree V twin. The Honda has its 180-degree crank which, with its lower capacity (471cc not the 500 on the fairing), gives it less oomph to play with. The CBR puts out a carefully calculated 47 bhp making it as powerful as you can ride on an A2 licence. That peak 47 bhp lives further up the rev range.
I parked next to an old Honda CB500S and took a closer look. This one had about 80 thousand miles on the clock. These were sold from around 1997 to about 2003 and to me they look like really good workhorse commuters. Surprisingly they chuck out a healthy 58 BHP.
Which makes me wonder why the current crop of 500 twins has had a cut in power? Honda is obviously going for the A2 licence market, so I’m wondering if there are some more horses hiding in there somewhere…
Yamaha sells its MT-07 in a restricted and unrestricted form for full licence holders. Pass your test and get the restrictor removed. But Honda hasn’t taken this route. If they had I would certainly have gone for a more powerful version.
If I were migrating from a 125 to the CBR I’d be absolutely besotted with it. Honestly though, it’s been a bit of an adjustment coming down from the 72 bhp of the MT-07, most of which is available at the lower end of the rev range.
Honda’s advertising punts the CBR as a sports bike. Odd really since apart from the seat, bars and sexy red dress it’s identical to the (2018 model) naked and adventure variants.
But, I suppose they’re right because if you ride it like a sports bike, letting the revs climb all the way up before changing gear and constantly stirring that beautifully slick gearbox then it behaves like one. And you do need to rev it. And change gear. Quite a lot.
Riding in town is less fun than I’d prefer. It feels like the gear ratios are wrong for slow riding. I find myself either revving too high in first and second or stuttering almost to the point of stalling in third.
Handling is neutral verging on the boring. Having the same chassis and geometry as the other models it doesn’t suffer the limited steering lock of ‘real’ sports bikes. It’s easy to do a U-turn in one go rather than the fifteen point turn that defines a true supersport.
The brakes are extremely good, which came as a baffling surprise. That skinny single front disk is as good as or better than many of the twin disk setups I’ve had. True story. There is the compulsory ABS but I was pleasantly surprised to be able to get a little slide out of the back end. So you can go a little bit nuts with the braking.
The suspension is good and adjustable; softer than the MT but strangely less able to cope with the deeper bomb craters in my local streets. Riders who come equipped with testicles should note that the flat seat and humpy tank conspire to be a bit of a bollock-squasher when slamming on the brakes or hitting those pesky speed bumps. Once out of town it’s a lovely ride. In fact, comfortable enough to ride all day.
CBR500R mirrors are all but useless, but the riding position makes it very easy to swing around for a swift peep. Lifesavers and all that.
The riding position is definitely not a pure belly/chest (depending on your age) on the tank sports bike position. It’s pleasantly head forward but without putting all the weight on the wrists.
CBR500R as a commuting hero
It’s great! Not fast, but quick enough for commuter traffic. Being so skinny it shimmies between lanes of stationary motorway traffic nicely. Blipping past commuters on A-roads takes a bit more effort than on a larger bike. I find myself overtaking one car at a time instead of the seven or eight I was doing on the MT-07. You can still go a little bit nuts, but it’s very measured lunacy, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. Of course, I can’t help but wonder if an MT engine would fit in this frame.
A tank full of petrol gets me past 260 miles and as the engine started to loosen up the economy was getting better than 85 MPG.
The LED headlights chuck out a nice white beam which seems to bother some motorists. I’ve had a couple of cars pull over to let me pass. The main beam though just adds a slightly higher circle of light in the dead centre of the beam. It might be an unfair criticism because it’s probably not what the bike is designed for, but when I’m cautiously navigating tight twisty country lanes in the dead of night there’s very little illumination to the sides. The centre field of vision is fine, but the corners are scarily dark.
The verdict after a few months’ ownership
All in all, it’s a lovely little package with a very broad appeal. Lanky folks like myself and people of a shorter persuasion find it comfortable. It’s dead easy to control, confidence-inspiring. Ideal for someone moving up to their first big bike and still a ton of fun for a more experienced rider.
So there I was happily riding to work one sunny morning in May congratulating myself on what nice bike the CBR is and what a great deal I’d done when I came round a corner and got hit by a lorry.
Stay tuned as the drama increases.