Back in the Milan EICMA Show 2012, Honda surprised the motorcycling world by unveiling the trio of CB500-series, namely the CB500F, CB500X and CBR500R. The trio is what Honda hoped to rejuvenate interest among the young adults to take up motorcycling, as they were designed to take advantage of Europe’s A2-license and mostly everywhere else (except for Malaysia, which needs a B1) intermediate license in legally riding a bike.

Rather than targeting riders preferring bigger capacity motorcycles, Honda reckoned there’s a huge market out there globally among the young adults – Millennials, Generation Y and Z, to take up motorcycling. What these newer generations face is objection from their parents regarding motorcycles in general, which is pretty much evident not only in US and Europe also in China as well as South East Asia.

Of course, countries in South East Asia like Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam are huge markets in mopeds and scooters for the likes of Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha. The demand for smaller bikes like mopeds and small scooters are indeed booming but that is not the case for bigger capacity bikes, which is experiencing a decline in the developed countries. Hence the manufacturers like Honda need to look for other growth area, and to do this, it needs to develop machines that easy-to-ride for the newcomers.

As the case for the first versions of new models, the Year 2013-2015 CB500-series are lacking in certain features found in their bigger siblings. Chief among them is adjustable front suspension, which is missing in the trio. The next basic feature is a rather odd-looking exhaust canister/pipe, which seems to be made of tin can. Even the fuel cap is totally removable from the tank upon unlocking, and there’s no gear indicator in the LCD speedometer.

Nevertheless, the trio succeed in conquering the market for A2-license holders globally, with the CB500X even become the “must-have” touring bike in some of the afore-mentioned South East Asian countries. And the trio are among the fuel-efficient machines ever built, with each model capable of reaching 425km mileage with at least a litre remaining!

For 2016 and beyond (until Year 2020), the CB500-series have been upgraded with extra features. The 2 main limitations have been addressed by Honda. The new models now come with adjustable front forks (preload only) and a newer, sporty muffler for the exhaust pipe. The fuel cap is now part of the tank, which is non-removable but the lack of a gear indicator is still not been addressed by Honda.

From my experience during my reviews on the original CB500-series, I did not find any of them wanting other than the occasional tendency of having to figure out which gear I was in while riding them in aggressive mode. There’s one difference in performance between the CB500F and CBR500R, which I will get into later as the issue has been solved by Honda.

For the 2017 duo reviewed here – I have already done the 2017 CB500XA previously, this article only deals with the F and R editions. Having picked up the CBR500R from Boon Siew Honda, I rode it to my usual route for most of the Honda bikes I have reviewed as the office is along the way towards the Ulu Yam-Batang Kali roads for the required journey up to Goh Tong Jaya and Genting Highlands. Like the CBR250R, riding the CBR500R up the same routes is double the thrill as the better acceleration allowed me to overtake slower vehicles encountered more efficiently.

The Honda CBR250R came equipped with “Made in Thailand” IRC rubber, the same type used by Kawasaki and Yamaha for their respective Ninja 250R and R-25 motorcycles. Both the 2017 CB500F and CBR500R are fitted with Thailand-made Dunlop Sportmax D222 front/rear, the same default tyre as available in the original 2013 models, as well as their respective bigger capacity siblings, the CB650F and CBR650F.

If I am riding the CBR500R on dry terrain, there’s no worries of getting the bike sliding off or skidding while tackling the bends and twisty segments. However, in the wet, it is a different story. While the routes up to Goh Tong Jaya was accomplished in the dry, the higher up towards Genting Highlands, the cooler atmosphere there had given way to medium drizzling. But the rain had stopped when I reached the main roundabout of Goh Tong Jaya, with the road still wet.

While I don’t feel the Sportmax D222 slipping or vibrating riding on wet surface, there was a moment after completing a right-handed V-shaped corner the rear tyre gave way, but I managed to save it and lifted the CBR500R upright again. Since the Honda is a bike devoid of electronics (the review unit has no ABS too) and traction control, it’s quite normal for this to happen whenever a rider overdid it at the corners. Anyway, that was the only time the CBR500R’s rear tyre lost traction in the wet weather throughout the time I was having it.

The lack of electronics and riding aids also meant the CBR500R isn’t so pleasant to ride at other routes I rode it on especially since I had also taken other bikes with electronic aids to the same areas. Instead of feeling the rear tyre slipping, the issue this time around was tendency to overshoot a tight S-Curve in the process whereas the other bikes with electronic aids allowed them to negotiate those segments with ease and within the width of the road.

Well, the CBR500R is an entry-level midrange offering without electronics, and meant for newbie riders. And it is not designed for aggressive riding in stock standard set-up. I don’t think any newbie would subject the CBR500R to the same aggressiveness as I had in reviewing it for this article.

Apart from one being a naked sport and the other a full fairing type, both the 2017 CB500F and CBR500R are essentially the same bike. The older 2013 CBR edition has a slight edge over the 2013 CB500F, as the full fairing with integrated windshield of the former allows for better aerodynamics against wind protection. This results in a top speed difference – 185km/h for the CBR and 176km/h for the CB500F. It also took the 2013 CB500F longer to get to 176km/h as compared to the CBR, which could do it easily. And the naked design also resulting in higher fuel consumption overall – 385km vs. 420km mileage on the CBR on their respective 15.7-litre tank of fuel.

The amazing aspect of their respective 2017 successors is both fuel economy and top speeds are now the same, with the CB500F reaching 187km/h, same as the newer CBR albeit it did take a while getting there while the latter just hit it without a sweat. Both bikes now have higher capacity tanks – an increase to 16.6-litre, great for uninterrupted ride of between 435km and 465km mileage at cruising speeds.

Finally, the new CB500F and CBR500R come with LED headlights – a single unit for the former and dual-type for the latter. Unlike the CBR250R and the older 2013 model, where the left unit is utilised for normal and the right side for High-Beam, the new CBR500R’s dual LED headlights light up simultaneously. For High-Beam usage, a second set of LED lights complement the normal beam for a wider and clearer view of the roads in front for night time riding. By the way, the LED at their normal beams are bright enough for daytime riding. The CB500F also utilised the High-Beam counterpart to complement the normal light beam when it is activated by the rider.

Posted by Philip Chong

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