Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Honda Introduces Three Nifty Half-Liters

January 8th, 2013.

Honda Powersports US is bringing three new middleweight models to their production lineup; the sporty CBR500R, the naked CB500F, and the adventure-styled CB500X. Honda is hoping that riders looking for an entry-level or intermediate level motorcycle will associate their new offerings with the larger, advanced-level bikes in their lineup. With a new engine, new frame design, and striking looks, these three new bikes are making a splash in the press and on riding forums around the internet. But how do they compare? Let's take a look.

First up, the fully faired CBR500R takes the styling of Honda's top-of-the-line 4-cylinder supersport CBR600RR and CBR1000RR and wraps it around a beginner-friendly parallel-twin engine. As an accessible sportbike marketed with an emphasis on agility over power, this bike is definitely aimed at a rider looking for something in between an entry-level 250 and a twitchy supersport.

Mid-sized naked standards have been making an overdue appearance on many manufacturer lineups and the new Honda CB500F fits right into this trend. Honda would like you to notice how similar this bike looks to their twice-as-big CB1000R. The CB500F is marketed as a versatile commuter or all-purpose bike with enough power to get around on the freeway.

Adventure bikes are another category increasing in popularity lately and Honda is hoping to cash in with its new CB500X. Honda is labeling the CB500X and its big brother, the NC700X, as “adventure-styled.” While I wouldn't necessarily want to attempt to ride a CB500X off the pavement, the lengthened front forks, widened handlebars, and increased suspension travel should increase rider confidence on long trips and poor road conditions.

To keep costs down, all three of these new bikes share the same engine and frame. The engine is a 500cc parallel-twin that can essentially be described as a detuned version of the new motor that made a splash debuting in Honda's NC700X a few short months ago. This new engine took a very different approach in its engineering, with a heavy emphasis on fuel economy and low end torque. The engine features roller rocker arm dual overhead camshafts, an engine counterbalancer, preloaded scissor gears, and many other details that add up to a fuel efficient engine that doesn't lack for power. This engine is bolted to a diamond-shaped 35mm steel tube frame, providing additional rigidity and allowing for a much lighter overall design.

All three bikes have the same single-shock rear suspension system, cast aluminum wheels, and wave-style disc brakes with twin piston calipers. The CBR500R and CB500F share a lot of the same specs, with 55.5” wheelbases, 25.5 degrees of steering rake, 4.3” of fork travel, and 30.9” seat heights. However, the adventure-styled CB500X needed to sit a bit taller, and thus boasts a 55.9” wheelbase, 26.5 degrees of steering rake, 4.9” of fork travel, and a seat height of 31.9”.

From the looks of things, Honda is definitely aiming at the half-liter niche recently abandoned by the venerable Suzuki GS500 and Kawasaki Ninja 500, and they're doing so with a fresh marketing strategy aimed squarely at newer riders, emphasizing reliability, accessibility, and fuel economy over 0-60 times and top speeds. Bike history buffs may recall that this is not the first time Honda used a strategy of reframing the US motorcycle market by doing something entirely different. Back in the 1960's, Honda marketed its new Cub to mobile, active youngsters, and by doing so, was able to gain a strong foothold in a market completely dominated by American makes. It seems Honda may be looking for a chance to repeat history.