Comfortable, uncomplicated, and easy to ride, the updated 2016 Honda CB500F is a predictable (in the best possible sense) mid-size sportbike that will take care of commuting and around town duties during the week, as well as deliver a bit of fun weekend-warrior riding in the hills and canyons. The minor improvements don’t change the friendly character of the CB500F, and they do make it a better bike.Most obvious of the changes are cosmetic, and Honda did an excellent job of modernizing the CB500F’s appearance. I didn’t really feel like last year’s bike looked dated, but the new look is completely contemporary with more angularity in the plastic and exhaust, as well as a more spare appearance. There’s even a new LED headlight, which is cool.
The middle child in Honda’s 500 twin family, the CB500F’s ergonomics slip between the sportier CBR500R and the taller, slightly more upright CB500X adventure bike, striking a nice balance for the straightforward naked bike. The just-under 31-inch seat height will suit a good chunk of the riding population and, at 414 pounds ready-to-ride, it is the lightest of the Honda 500 twins and easy to handle.Throw a leg over the 2016 Honda CB500F’s seat and check out how natural it feels. Wide handlebars provide good leverage for maneuvering, and controls fall naturally to hand. The clutch engages smoothly, so getting underway is a routine affair. Importantly for riders with smaller hands, the front brake lever is now adjustable for 2016, and it takes only seconds to do so while at a stop. This is more than a comfort detail, as having to overreach to squeeze the front brake lever compromises safety.The barely oversquare parallel twin 471cc engine is a bit soft on the bottom, making it a perfectly friendly bike that won’t cause surprises. Click up a few gears as you move down the boulevard and enjoy the CB500F’s mellow low-end, which lets you focus on the world around you instead of managing your bike. It’s a perfect companion for the ’burbs, and ergonomically comfortable enough for an all-day ride.Should your tour around town take you through rough-and-tumble urban tarmac, you’ll notice the budget suspension. There’s nothing unstable about it, but nothing plush, either. The good news is that it’s no cause for concern, other than you’ll wonder where your gas tax dollars are being spent; they’re clearly not improving the inner city streets. Suffice to say, riding the Honda CB500F at a moderate pace is not as comfortable when conditions are less than pristine.With a flat torque curve that stretches from 2500 rpm to 8500 rpm, you won’t be shifting much around town once you get up to speed. Along the way, the upgraded transmission returns a smooth and precise feel as you click through the cogs. Finding neutral once stopped, however, was sometimes problematic. A gear indicator on the dash would be welcome, of course. The clutch lever has a moderately light pull, which is expected on a bike like the CB500F.The easy handling CB500F makes a great commuter bike, especially if your weekday route involves lane splitting. While the bars are not narrow, they’re not overly wide, and the bike’s smooth power delivery doesn’t distract from keeping a close eye on the cars around you.The rear brake is a useful in these conditions, as well, finessing your speed with a light touch at the pedal. Of course, ergonomics are in your favor with the upright body positioning which keeps you fresh and doesn’t compromise your line of sight. The thrifty CB500F goes a bit farther on a tank for 2016, as the capacity has been increased just over a quart, now holding 4.4 gallons.Should you choose to kick things up a notch, the 500F can oblige. Weighing in at just over 400 pounds, the CB500F is light, agile, and not fatiguing. Power is not lacking on the CB500F, either—it’s just a bit later in the rev range than expected.Although the horsepower builds linearly, a sweet spot kicks in just above 6000 rpm and there’s enough torque on tap to aggressively pass on the freeway or accelerate with authority around town. The power continues to 8000 rpm, flattening out just before the 8500 rpm redline.It’s nice to have that capability, and the power won’t catch less experienced riders out as you have to purposefully rev the motor to get some real power. For those who want to tap that power, they’ll appreciate the transmission updates, as you’ll be shifting frequently to keep it on boil.The supersport-styled CBR500R is certainly the canyon blitzer of Honda’s 471cc brothers, but the CB500F is no slouch. If you’re willing to twist the throttle and ride the bike hard, the naked sportbike will show you a good time—as long as the pavement is good. On a relatively smooth canyon circuit, the 500F will hold its line firmly through turns—credit the conservative 25.5 degrees of rake—and transitions well from chicane to chicane thanks to its light weight, narrow chassis, and compact wheelbase (same as a Kawasaki Ninja 650 and Triumph Street Triple R). Plus, it’s confidence inspiring (and fun!) to be able to ride hard without feeling overpowered.The Dunlop Sportmax D222 tires are more than up to the requirements of the CB500F’s engine and chassis. I was able to lean over as far as I liked when riding enthusiastically, and nothing touched down or felt untoward on the smooth roads. On rougher road, the suspension is the limiting factor, not the tires.The single 320mm front disc is well matched to the midsize machine. When riding aggressively, I never felt like I needed to back off, and the response from the front lever is predictable and convincing. The braking system works well for both the experienced rider, as well as a newer pilot. Our test bike had ABS, but between the tacky tires and the docile braking, the well-calibrated ABS never engaged unexpectedly.The naked bike has a clean, appealing look. With the DOHC twin on display, the 2016 Honda CB500F is a muscular looking machine that doesn’t grab your attention with flashy graphics or bold colors, but has an understated approach–basic black–with bronze engine cases and valve cover that pick up the color of the header pipes. Unexpectedly, the fork caps are an anodized royal blue accent, visible mostly to the rider and a nice touch.You won’t miss the windscreen until you’ve pushed into the mid-80s on the freeway. At this point the bike’s mostly upright position leaves you collecting too much air for comfortable riding, though the CB500F’s chassis is fully stable at this speed. For convenience, there’s a small locked storage compartment under the passenger seat where you might stash a wallet, phone, or other small items.The updated 2016 Honda CB500F remains a great choice for those looking for a midsize upright bike with sporty capabilities. While aimed at new riders, and hitting the mark perfectly for those moving up from the 300 class, even experienced motorcyclists can appreciate what the CB500F has to offer, especially as a versatile commuter.Photography by Don Williams Riding Style
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.