"Historically, the upper limit for motorcyc1e engine displacement seems to have been a function of the effort a man could reasonably be expected to apply on a kick-start lever. And much of the time, there have been at least a couple of mode1s bui1t very near that limit available to the public. That is to be expected. People who ride motorcycles are performance-oriented - one might even say performance-fixated - and the easiest, most certain way to get an almighty straight-1ine surge is with a big engine. Everyone knows that, and that's why any new mega-inch Superbike draws a crowd in dealers' showrooms. Even those who can't afford that kind of bike come to look, just in case their fortunes improve.
Somewhere in that crowd there will be one or two guys who admire the big boomer, marvel over its pure ability to roll up pavement like a rugs have a bank balance that would allow them to buy the thing on the spot - and haven't the slightest interest in owning it. These guys probably are a bit older than the average for motorcyclists, a bit more thoughtfu1, and their minds are subtle enough to appreciate that there is more to riding enjoyment than being able to go fast enough to turn telephone poles into a picket fence.
For such riders qualities like agility, smoothness, and balance between braking, cornering and acceleration assume the greatest importance. Speed counts for something with them; they just don't think pure brute muscle is worth what it usually costs in bulk and weight. Riders of this type almost invariably find that elusive point of balance right at the 500cc engine displacement level.
Somehow the smaller-displacement bikes always seem to overwork their engines; larger bikes tend to overwork their riders. A 500 does neither, and that has for many years made it the thinking man's motorcycle, the darling bike of those who have a feeling for the motorcycle sport's finer points.
Anyone who has been paying attention will have noticed that the Honda CB-500 K2 Four has become fairly popular, and those who are performance-fixated may wonder why. The bike is after all not overwhelmingly cheaper than its larger and faster brother, the CB-750. An easy answer is that some people are so dollar-conscious that they care about the price difference.
You could also say that some people simply do not want to ride as fast as the 750 Four will haul them, or even that smallish riders find it easier to get their feet down on the pavement from the CB-500's seat. There may be an element of truth in all these things, but none can be a deciding factor.
There's only a half-inch difference in seat height, about $300 in price, and the CB750's performance is entirely controllable. It doesn't do anything sudden and what it does is purely a function of how you twist that right handlebar grip. But there is a largish difference: the CB-500 is 70 pounds lighter than the CB-750, and that weight difference makes itself felt in several directions.
We can begin with the difference in straight-line performance. The CB-500's engine gives its big brother a 50 per cent displacement advantage but, being lighter and smaller, isn't much slower. It takes another 8/10ths of a second to do the standing-start quarter-mile, and is six mph slower at the lights than the CB-750. That's a sizeable difference, but not as large as is suggested by engine displacement variances.
Top speed? Both Hondas will exceed 100 mph quite easily, and once you get past the century mark riding on the public roads - even in Nevada, where it isn't specifically forbidden by law you're out of your skull anyway. In fact, the biggest functional difference between the CB-500 and CB-750 is that the smaller Honda Four has to be twisted a little tighter and coaxed along with the transmission a little more cunningly. You just can't have torque without displacement.
Nobody could object to keeping the revs up when riding a CB-500, as the only strong indication a rider has that the engine's crankshaft is spinning rapidly is the position of the tachometer needle. There is no sense of straining anything even up at the 9,300 rpm redline, nor should there be with the pistons moving up and down less than two inches and piston speed at a modest 3,000 feet per minute where the engine is redlined. But those are just numbers and there's more to it than that. Engineering, even in its most bloodless, computerized form, still is, at least in some measure, an art.
So some engines naturally prove to be better than others, despite all the learned diligence of the men with the slide rules. Occasionally all the decisions that go into the creation of an engine prove to have been especially happy ones, and the finished product is especially good. That appears to have been the case with the Honda CB-500 Four. It does not differ much in overall specification from the CB-750 engine designed by the same team. Yet, it has turned out better.
Not more reliable, or anything coldly quantitative, but simply better in terms of that indefinable something we call feel. it's smooth, free as a turbine, and you know it's going to keep right on spinning merrily away for as long as the road lasts.
This feeling of willing lightness on the engine's part is complimented by the CB-500's road manners. As noted, the weight difference between it and the CB-750 is 70 pounds. The difference in fee1 is greater. You can't rationally fault the CB-750's handling: the bike never darts about, wobbles or in any way misbehaves. But it never entirely lets you forget that you are straddling one big collection of machinery.
You can get it down a twisting road very quickly; it does require that you take a good, solid grip on the scruff of its neck and force it through the turns. The CB-750 is wonderfully steady, but heavy. Not so the CB-500. It is lighter, with a lower center of gravity, and you can get it to go along with your every vagrant whim without a struggle. The steering is nicely light and responsive, and as precise as you'll find with any bike having the Honda's soft, comfort-oriented springing. Freeway expansion strips have a way of changing many bikes' suspension units into what feel like solid struts; the CB-500 takes these without a hitch, as it does those squiggling rain-grooves so many motorcyclists have complained bitterly about.
Motorcycle suspensions cannot at present be stiffened enough for good cornering properties without being too stiff for ride comfort, nor softened enough for ride without getting pretty sloppy in corners. Honda has hit upon a compromise with the CB-500's spring rates and damping that is exactly right.
Good steering and suspension don't mean a thing without good tires - which the CB500 also has. They aren't what you'd call roadracing tires, but there isn't a thing wrong with the way they perform within the cornering limits imposed by hardware hanging down along the Honda's sides. With the rear springs on maximum preload which is the only way we set them on our test bikes when we're out fooling around, the limit in right-hand corners (our limit anyway) is reached when contact with the pavement begins to fold the right bootleg.
That only occurs with the bike over fairly far and you wouldn't want to be cornering harder than that on the pub1ic roads no matter what kind of tires the Honda was wearing. But you can't get around left turns with anything like the same vigor. Try it and you may land right on your ear, because while Honda has tucked the pipes in nice and close, the bike's stands have not been given the same attention. Both side and centerstands ground hard in left turns, producing an unsettling lurch. We hated this bonus surprise enough to fire up the shop torch, heat the offending structures and hammer them back up where they were unable to give such frightful offense.
Only innate restraint kept us from doing something similar with the CB-500's shift mechanism. In our report on the Honda CB350 K4 (January, 1973) we noted that Honda's engineers had resorted to using the legendary Johnson-rod in the bike's gear-shift mechanism (Johnson-rod: a thing of many sections, loose hinges and joints, held in place by gravity, centrifugal force, springs, necromancy and secondary entanglements). We may have offended Honda with those remarks because they apparently decided to take revenge with the CB-500 we were given to test. This particular bike had an inordinately stiff shifting action, and an overwhelming affinity for the neutrals between first and second, and third and fourth. Most of the CB-500s we have ridden were inclined toward this kind of nonsense; our test bike was just purely dreadful.
There isn't much good to be said for the test CB-500 K2's shift action; the transmission ratios have been altered from those in the original CB-500, and cannot be faulted. Low gear is the same, but all the rest are different, taller, which lends the CB-500 K2 uncommonly high speeds in all of the top four gears. Second gear is good for almost 65 mph before the tachometer redlines, making it astonishingly effective for rocketing past slow-moving trucks on narrow roads.
And you can run the Honda past 100 mph in fourth gear-which gives the bike the sort of leverage needed to humiliate mountain grades. These tall, tall gear ratios are exactly right for an engine that spins as willingly as the CB-500. They make the CB-500 Four feel a lot like a genuine roadracer - but without all the noise.
Noise you don't get. Honda's efforts toward silencing have been remarked upon by many, and the company has been particularly successful with its CB-500. Back when jet aircraft was first coming into use, the popular press carried a lot of stories about how the things were spooking their pilots, who could hear all the gurgling and clunking of a plane's hydraulics and the whine of servo motors that had previously been masked by the booming of the piston engine's exhaust and the threshing of its propellers.
Honda's CB-500 is a little like that, with strange buzzings and janglings to worry the rider until he realizes that he's hearing things like the rear chain, and the singing of clutch plates when he eases away from a stop. Remarkably, you will not hear the usual air-cooled engine's piston slap, and we marvelled at the silence of the valve train. One would expect at least a slight rattle; its absence suggests that Honda cams have some very sophisticated clearance ramps, though the valve clearances - at a mere .002inch and .003-inch, for the intake and exhaust valves respectively - are tight enough to prevent much possibility of clatter. There is an advantage with overhead camshaft valve actuation at least as important, in present-day context, as its benefits in terms of high-revving horsepower.
Cruising at 65 to 70 mph you don't hear anything over the roar of the wind around your helmet but an occasional jingle from the drive chain (reminding you that it needs oiling every 500 miles). There is a high-frequency vibration that begins to blur images in the rear view mirror at exactly 60 mph, indicated. You might wish for this to be gone, just to clear up the view in the Honda's mirror. It isn't obtrusive enough to be worrisome, and it gives us something to anticipate beyond the CB-500: four-cylinder, in-line engines have perfect primary balance, but leave the secondary shaking forces - which are generated at twice crankshaft speed, in the plane of the cylinders' axis -uncompensated.
Maybe someday Honda will add small counterweights, driven at twice engine speed, to smooth out even this last external manifestation of reciprocating action. Much the same thing could be accomplished with a little rubber bushing in each engine mounting - which would make the CB-500 absolutely turbine smooth and leave us with one less picayune item for complaint.
To continue with the picayune, we'll say that we think the CB-500 is wonderfully comfortable to ride for long distances, where comfort counts, except for two things. First, the kick-start lever's folded position isn't folded enough: it digs into your right calf unless you slide your foot back on the peg and take a grip with your toes. When you fire up the torch to curl your CB-500's side and centerstands closer to the pipes for cornering clearances hit the kick-start lever a lick unless you can't bear the thought of scorching the chrome. Better yet, take the lever off and leave it hanging on a garage rafter.
The other long-ride discomfort is one which is easily removed if you are given to overkill. Here's the problem: Honda has put a throttle-return spring on the CB-500 that fights you for every inch of throttle movement. Holding the throttles open is a strain; winding them up and down as you swoop through the mountains will put a genuine Charles Horse in your arm, in no small part because the stiff return spring's resistance is combined with a slow throttle action. You have to crank the CB-500's throttle open like a faucet, and it turns too far to be comfortably managed with wrist action alone.
The technique is to reach around the twist-grip until your wrist joints hit their stops before grabbing the throttled and then crank your wrist clear back to the opposite end of its travel. After you've stretched the tendons a bit the throttles may wind completely open with the first handful. The process is helped along by doing what We did, which was to disconnect the throttle-return spring and replace it with a longer, softer one. Honda's CB-500 has a pull-open/pull-close throttle mechanism, so you can dispense with the spring if you feel like chancing the consequences of a broken closing cable.
Braking? Honda's CB-500 has the disc front brake we have come to expect on the better motorcycles, and it works as expected. There is the typical disc brake's tendency to squeal with light braking, with the typically linear relationship between pressure at the lever and retarding force at the wheel. Good control, and tremendous, tire-howling braking - up front. The rear brake is a drum, and not an awfully impressive example of the type. It is far too sensitive, with a habit of locking under light pedal pressure, and this is only partially compensated by the fading that occurs quickly with hard use. it's more an aggravation than a danger: in a really hard stop the extremely powerful front brake's action transfers most of the weight off the bike's rear wheel.
Fuel economy probably doesn't mean much in do1lars to the man who has enough of them to buy himself a four-cylinder Honda. But this factor does become important when it is translated into cruising range. On average, the CB-500 goes 110 miles before the tank has to be switched to reserve, using 2.7 gallons and giving about 41 mpg, which means that the bike will go just over 150 miles on its total 3.7 gallons of fuel before it runs completely dry.
We should note here that the 41 mpg mileage figure given is our test average. Riding with the throttles retracted a bit less than is our wont stretches the mileage to about 50 mpg and that number probably more accurately reflects what the average, non-maniacal CB-500 owner can expect.
The most surprising, and revealing, thing we can tell you about Honda's CB500 is that it takes some getting used to - for a variety of reasons. The rear brake is an obvious case-in-point, and there's no need to elaborate on its failings more than we have. You'll also have to get accustomed to an engine that just hasn't any flywheel effect worth mentioning. Without a load, the engine will shoot from idle right to its redline in a blink, and drop back to idle just as fast.
This combines with the shifting notchiness to produce a 1ot of lurching when gear changes are made until you become really practiced at coordinating throttle, clutch and gear pedal. The same lack of flywheel and extreme willingness to spin could get you in trouble with overshooting the redline, but there isn't much excuse for that as the power curve feels substantially flat all the way from 6,000 rpm to 9,300 and you can use the excellent gear ratios to stay comfortably below the danger mark. The bike's handling isn't as quick as its ability to churn up engine speed, but it is quick enough to allow you entertaining games.
Put all these things together and you have history's pluperfect, triple-distilled and classic 500-class motorcycle. It takes a bit of skill from its rider before giving its best. Yet. behind the bike's almost nervous responses there is a willingness to rescue you from any really serious errors you may make. You can force the CB-500 to pitch you into a hedge; it won't help the process along with a fit of wobbling. You can overlook that red pie-slice on the tach, and the engine will overlook your lack of attention to its best long-term interests.
That's the kind of thing the traditional rider of 500s likes. That's the Honda CB500."
"In the States the Honda was transformed into the CB550 from the 500 in 1973 and, subsequently, the CB550F in 1974. So the latest derivative in Europe is more than just an upstaged CB500. Having been though its transition period as the CB550 in the States, the bike is just about on the ball and it's been well worth the wait.
Honda now appear to be designing machines specifically for the European market rather than merely insulting European taste with that sit - up - and - beg riding position that sells so well in the US. It's a trend we noticed with the CB400 first tested in these pages in July '75 and which became consolidated in the CB750F, a greatly improved version of four-piper CB750s.
Seating position on both the 400 and the new 750 was good and it's equally accommodating on the CB550. Footrests sprout just to the rear of the engine and the rider leans slightly forward on to the handlebars raised a couple of inches above the head-stock. The bars are wide enough to afford bags of control through the turns, yet they're sufficiently narrow to maintain the rider's body in aerodynamic' balance for those long motorway bashes. Performance is not excessive but at least it's all usable and it's available in quantities that will please all but the looniest speed freaks. The Honda nips up to well over 90 mph — VASCAR permitting — at any time of asking and keeps up 70 mph at a leisurely 6,000 rpm in top. Yet if you're anxious to find that extra 10 to 15 mph on top speed the throttle has to be screwed viciously and fuel consumption rises in sympathy. When that's all in aid of knocking a couple of minutes off your ETA the strain seems to be an exercise in pointless-ness. Tramping hard along the M4 unmerci-lessly using revs, the Honda struggled to average 38 mpg. Even with more subdued and realistic riding, petrol consumption only staggered into the low forties. That's the price of performance, but proved quite acceptable in the Honda's case.
I can almost hear the potential customer mulling over the comparisons between the 40 lb lighter and, at the time of writing, £166 cheaper CB400, and the heavier and £250 more expensive CB750, as well as pitching it alongside the GT550 Suzuki.(At the time the British pound was worth roughly 2.5 times the US buck). Yet the CB550 is much more than just an in-betweenie in the Honda range; more than merely a compromise between 750 cc beef and 400 cc cheap thrills. The CB550 provides one of the finest balances between performance, economy and handling quality in today's motorcycling arena. That may sound like a tribute normally reserved for the two grand-plus machine, but we thoroughly enjoyed the CB550 and consider it to be one of the better bikes to emerge from Honda's design team in recent years.
At £975, the CB550 is cheap enough to fall within easy HP reach of most bikers and possesses performance that makes you wonder why you ever considered buying the
CB750. We dubbed the CB400 a Poor Boy's Musclebike; the CB550 is that and more. More weight, more muscle, more torque and more pure motorcycling enjoyment.
Thumbing the starter button on the right of the handlebar induces the crank to revolve and the Honda ticks over with the precision of a quartz wristwatch. Yet such is the efficiency of the fashionable four -into - one exhaust system that it creates a false impression that the 550's.engine is mechanically noisy.
Round town the Honda felt more like the 750 than its smaller 400 cc brother, yet it was maneuverable and the tractability of second and third gears provided the right combination of acceleration with minimal use of revs. However, continuous subdued start-stop riding showed up a couple of flat spots below 5,000 rpm and with an overly strong throttle return spring I occasionally grabbed more revs than was really necessary. Still, right down to walking pace the machine felt balanced. Even tall dwarves of 5 foot 6 inches can foot their way through the traffic with a seat height of 31 inches.
The frame is basically identical to that used on the CB500, although the front forks have come in for some internal redesigning and the rear suspension units have been uprated and more heftily sprung. The Honda's performance, sporty appearance and excellent seating position encourage spirited riding, but push the 550 to its limits and you'll discover that the handling isn't quite up to the standard it's led you to expect. Chasing hard into a bend, braking, changing down and peeling into the turn in one swift motion induces a tail-end wiggle which serves as a warning that the CB550 is not, after all, a GP racer. Brake and change down well before you're into the neck of the bend, accelerate right through it and the Honda drives round just dandy.
It's just a question of tuning your own riding style and abilities to tit the feel, performance and handling of the 550. Once you've done that you'll discover how easy it is to drag the collector box across the blacktop on right-handers, contrasting with the much better ground clearance on the spartan but functionally attractive left side of the bike. Comments on roadholding have to be subjective in this instance since our test machine was shod with a pair of nonstandard Continentals which broke away on several occasions in the dry. Wet weather performance remained untried due to the total lack of rainfall during the test period.
But it's out town where the fun really begins. Wind open the throttle to around 5,500 rpm and the Honda begins to come on strong. There's no power surge, just an enthusiastic urgency about the way the revs climb usefully to 8,500 rpm before power tails off. Revving to the 9,300 rpm red line has little effective value in terms of road speed and merely increases petrol consumption. All the time the exhaust remains quiet and the rider, in helmeted isolation, is barely aware of the high-pitched but heavily muffled scream that inoffensively finds an orchestrated passage through the system. There's just a faintly perceptible mechanical rustle from the motor to keep the rider company.
The brakes have evidently been set up to suit the machine's bulk and potential performance. Grabbing a fistful of the 11 inch front disc from any speed left it fade- and grab-free, and the rear drum brake just helps keep things in a straight line when you begin to stand the 550 on its front wheel.
Exterior dimensions of the 550 motor are identical to those of the CB500 but internally there have been many modifications. The clutch and gearbox have come in for some particularly extensive revision. The engine was hogged out by 2.5 mm per bore raising the capacity to 544 cc. and max torque output moved 500 rpm down the scale to 8.500 rpm.
Numerous styling changes have given the CBS50 a fresh, polished image. Its reshaped petrol tank now holds 3.7 gals and the toolkit is housed on the underside of the seat. Out front there's a large twin-dial setup of speedometer and rev-counter, with an idiot light console neatly tailored to go in between them. The 550 shows its American connection only in the tiller cap, which in bath-plug style is chained to the inside of the tank, and in the flap which hides the whole caboodle.
We tried to find serious fault with the 550 and failed simply because it's a competently designed motorcycle. Okay, so maybe the seat is an ass-deadener after 100 miles, and the rider is always aware of a high frequency buzz too fine to be called vibration, but nevertheless noticeable. But apart from the bleeping turn indicators the CB550 is not plagued with gimmicks. The styling is clean, even subdued, available only in just blue or orange. No flashes, no stripes, no unnecessary fuss.
The CB550 is an enjoyable motorcycle to ride because it's so "together": each facet of its design complementing the next. In the same way that the RD400 is the optimal development of the road-going two-stroke, we reckon the CB550 enjoys similar status in the four-cylinder four-stroke market, at least in the sub-900 cc category."
Source Bike Magazine 1975
"First into the Future!" Coming from anyone else, those words would just be more tired huckstering. But coming as they did from Honda's ad men announcing the new-for-1978 Honda CX500, they demanded at least a bit of attention.
Honda CX500 Claimed power: 48hp @ 9,000rpm Top speed: 106mph (period test) Engine type: 497cc overhead valve, liquid-cooled v-twin Weight (dry): 441lbs MPG: 45-55 Price then: $2,398 (1979) Price now: $700 - $1,700
In today’s world of massive, 1,800cc cruisers and 150-plus horsepower sportbikes, it’s easy to forget that middleweights once ruled the road. While there were plenty of big bikes around in the late Seventies, the middle ground of 400cc to 650cc machines was a hotly contested category where Japan’s Big Four pitched their wares to mostly newer, younger riders. By 1977, Yamaha offered four mid-sized machines in two- and four-stroke guise, Suzuki had no less than seven, Kawasaki six and Honda four.
The beefiest of Honda’s middleweights was the CB550 Four. A smooth, capable machine based on the Honda CB750 introduced in 1969, it was decidedly old-school and hardly the machine to entice a new generation of riders. Enter the Honda CX500.
Keen to preserve its reputation as a pioneer in motorcycle design, a reputation garnered most notably by the CB750 and the water-cooled, horizontally-opposed GL1000 introduced in 1975, Honda assigned the task of designing a new middleweight to Shoichiro Irimajiri, the man responsible for the Honda GL1000 and, later, the legendary six-cylinder Honda CBX.
Working from a clean sheet, Irimajiri and his team came up with a machine that drew almost nothing from the past and instead looked to the future of motorcycle design. What they came up with was unlike anything ever built by Honda: a water-cooled, shaft-driven V-twin. Water-cooling was hardly new, but it had never been applied to a V-twin. The same with shaft drive, but so far Honda had only used it on the massive GL1000. Yet Honda had never produced a V-twin, and this was to be a twin like no other.
To begin with, while everyone was singing the praise of overhead-cam engines, the 48hp CX500 made do with simple pushrods. This kept the engine height low and dispensed with the complexity of running separate cam chains to each cylinder. To make things interesting, Irimajiri twisted the heads 22 degrees inboard to pull the carbs in closer to the middle of the bike and out of the rider’s way. This had the benefit of splaying the exhaust pipes out for a stronger visual statement of power.
To help lower the center of gravity, the counter-rotating (to fight the longitudinally-mounted engine’s twist under power) five-speed transmission was located just below and to the right of the engine. All of this was hung as a stressed unit from a spine frame, supported by standard telescopic forks at front and adjustable shocks at rear. Importantly, the CX500 was the first production bike equipped with tubeless tires.
Response from the press was mixed. With its huge 4.9gal tank and big cylinders hanging out in the wind, testers found themselves less than excited about Honda’s revolutionary twin. In a February 1978 review Cycle Guide editors said, “Our first look at the machine was quite a letdown,” while Cycle World singled out the CX's engine, saying it “looks like an air compressor.”
But once they climbed on board, criticism turned to praise for the bike’s smooth suspension and excellent handling. “We must consider the CX500’s handling as excellent,” Cycle Guide said, while Cycle’s May 1978 issue praised it for its excellent ground clearance and responsiveness, calling the bike’s steering “wonderfully neutral and light, it seems almost to sense your desire to make slight course corrections.”
Buyers were a bit skeptical at first, and early problems with the cam chain tensioner and alternator probably didn’t help fire CX500 sales. But Honda stuck to the model, and as time ticked on the CX500 built a loyal following of owners, many using the twin as a long-haul touring machine or daily commuter.
In 1979 the Honda CX500 lineup was expanded to three with the addition of the Custom and Deluxe models, which proved so popular the standard model illustrated here was dropped in 1980. 1981 saw the addition of the Silver Wing and Silver Wing Interstate, featuring a rear-mounted accessory box on the former and a full factory-made fairing on the latter, while 1982 saw the introduction of the baddest CX500 of them all, the 82hp CX500T turbo.
The CX’s last hurrah came with the uprated 650cc CX650 in 1983 (a 97hp turbo was also offered), after which it was dropped to make way for Honda’s new line of liquid-cooled V4s, which were yet another in a string of pioneering motorcycles from Honda.
Overall, the CX500 was a good seller for Honda, and a well-earned reputation for being bulletproof means the CX survival rate is high, so there are still plenty of good examples out there. Almost all bikes will have had the timing chain tensioner fixed (three punch marks in a triangle next to the engine’s serial number confirm the fix was done), and aside from that, the biggest issues are dirty cooling systems and improperly adjusted valves, which had a tendency to go out of spec quickly, especially on early models.
Unlike its bigger brother, the legendary Yamaha XS650, the two-cylinder XS500 (first introduced in 1973 as the Yamaha TX500) never really caught on.
Why? For starters, it developed a reputation as being wildly unreliable, with reports of a balancer and cam chain arrangement that needed constant attention, and heat dissipation issues that caused valves to burn up and cylinder heads to crack.
he vertical twin’s performance didn’t make many hearts flutter when it was introduced, either, as the bike posted below-average quarter-mile speeds in its class and reviewers noted problems with drive-train backlash and dodgy throttle response on early models.
On the plus side, the bike boasts many of the features that made classics of the XS650 and the three-cylinder XS750. Its combination of a 180-degree crank with a vibration damper, electric start and twin carbs makes for a smooth and easy ride, and its styling lines are clean and were quite fashionable in the day. It's still a handsome bike today.
Yamaha logged the complaints about the 500, made refinements and continued to produce it until 1979. A surprisingly high survival rate suggests they weren’t nearly as unreliable as many believed, as nice examples surface regularly.
Based on the V50 that Moto Guzzi introduced in 1977 as a down-sized option to its successful 850cc V-twins, the sporty Moto Guzzi V50 Monza was an attempt to inject some excitement into a bike the U.S. market simply didn’t find attractive.
Where the standard V50 was somewhat austere and devoid of any gee-whiz factor, the Monza had the go-fast styling of its celebrated big brother, the LeMans. Its 490cc V-twin pumped out a respectable 48hp (the same as Honda’s CX), and like most Italian sport bikes it was endowed with excellent handling, something you couldn’t say about all its Japanese competitors.
An aggressive seating position and excellent high-speed manners inspired frequent runs up to the bike’s claimed top speed of 109mph, while Guzzi’s controversial linked brake system (the left front and rear calipers are linked to the foot pedal; the hand lever operates the right front caliper) with triple discs was more than adequate to bring the bike’s modest bulk to a quick stop.
Unfortunately, the Monza’s reputation for quirkiness — coupled with a sticker price north of $3,000 — helped guarantee success for bikes like the CX500, which offered the added promise of Japanese reliability for almost a grand less. Low production and slow sales mean survivors are few and far between, but they are out there, and most are still in good shape thanks to enthusiastic owners.
Here's a few words written by Martin Hodgeson for www.pipeburn.com;
"To create a motorcycle so good that passers-by ask you when the factory started selling them, you need a designer, fabricator and builder capable of bringing such a bike to life. With his CX500RR, Mike Meyers has proven he is all three and starting out with the much maligned 1980 Honda CX500 he only made the task harder. But with a love for the look of the CX’s engine design and ready to prove the doubters wrong he built a café racer that would easily take pride of place on a Honda showroom floor. As a builder myself, (that's Martin Hodgeson talking here. Not me!) I always like to focus on the engine first after the design phase has been completed. Not only is there no point in building a beautiful bike that doesn’t run but it saves damaging any new paint and cosmetic modifications as you swing the spanners, leak oil and wrestle rusted on exhaust bolts. Following this rule Mike decided he’d begin with a full engine rebuild something that might not have at first appeared necessary with only 10,000miles on the clock, but the green slime oozing from the pulse generators cover was the first sign not all was well.
Worn out parts, imperial bolts jammed into metric holes and a few other surprises during pull down confirmed it had been the right thing to do. With money generated from selling off some unwanted parts, Mike was also able to shell out for a set of new Mikuni’s from Murray’s Carbs and the motor was purring..."
The motor sounds ultra smooth and obviously Mike is taking her through her paces at possibly not strictly legal speeds, judging by the very neat rev-counter giving the game away.
"Honda's newest middleweight sport bike—actually, the first middleweight sporting machine from that company since the beloved CB400F of the mid-Seventies—the VF500F, also has a distinct personality: It's the Mikhail Baryshnikov of the motorcycle world. Baryshnikov, for those of you who aren't familiar with the name, is an internationally renowned and immensely talented ballet dancer. He moves with extraordinary grace, and despite his relatively small size is, pound for pound, one of the strongest athletes in the world.
That description could just as easily apply to the VF500F, the US. market's smallest Interceptor. Derived from a 400cc V-Four-powered model that Honda produces for Europe and Japan, the 500 comes in a small package; but its 498cc engine hammers out a claimed 68 horsepower, enough to propel the 432-pound bike (gas tank half-full) into performance parity with its 550cc and 600cc air-cooled inline Four competitors.
The VF500's engine is something of a mongrel in that it combines parts and technology borrowed from the VF400F and the VT250, a 250cc V-Twin mini-Interceptor also sold in Europe and Japan. The easiest way to envision the 500's engine is as a strengthened VF400 bottom end with a pair of VT250 top ends grafted on side-by-side. And, in fact, the 500 Four puts out exactly twice the horsepower that Honda claims for the VT250 Twin.
Other engine details are typical Honda V-Four fare. The highly oversquare motor is liquid-cooled, with a 17-row radiator mounted in front of the frame's front downtubes and snuggled up to the forward pair of cylinders. The cylinder banks are angled 90° to one another and have three undersized fins on each side, partly for additional cooling but mostly as a styling exercise. A quartet of carburetors, 32mm Keihin CVs, is nestled between the cylinders and takes in air through a pleated-paper element in an airbox just below the gas tank. The airbox's location means the tank has to be removed for filter servicing. Inconvenient but necessary, given the space limitations and the need for a fairly straight intake tract.
As with the other engines in Honda's V-Four group, each cylinder in the VF500 has four valves, opened by finger-type followers driven by double overhead camshafts. Valve lash is set via threaded adjusters. Looped around each cam is a double-row roller chain, which makes three different types of chains that Honda has used to drive the camshafts in its V-Four engines. The 750 Interceptor uses inverted-tooth Hy-Vo type chains, while the 1000 Interceptor gets by with single-row roller chains. Honda claims, however, that the 500's double-row roller chains are the most efficient. And while the power-transmitting differences between the three types of chains are minimal, at the revs the 500's engine is capable of attaining—redline is set at a stratospheric 12,000 rpm, a full 1500 rpm higher than the class' previous rev-king, the Yamaha FJ600—even the tiniest of differences can be important.
A hydraulically activated clutch is used on the 500; and because it, too, was derived from the VF400's clutch and only uses four springs to press things together, the 500 gets nine friction drive plates and eight steel driven plates to handle the increased power its pumped-up engine puts out. The clutch connects the engine to a six-speed gearbox in which gear selection is accomplished by a planetary gearchange mechanism, unique to the VT250, and the VF400/ 500. This design gives a crisp feel to the shifting procedure and encourages a light touch on the shift lever. Sometimes too light. Several times during our 3000-mile-plus test session, the rider engaged a higher gear only to have the gearbox shift back down a gear by itself. A lightly firmer tug on the lever always assured that the gearbox stayed in the chosen gear.
Just as ballet-goers are more interested in Baryshnikov's arabesques, pirouettes and tour en I'airs than his bio-rhythm chart or electrocardiogram plots, would-be 500 Interceptor buyers will likely care more about how the bike's engine works than about the technical details of why it works. And if anyone is concerned that a 12,000-rpm redline means lots of clutch-slipping to get underway and an engine that falls flat on its face below 8000 rpm, his fears are unwarranted. The VF500's engine will never be classified as a torque monster, but it pulls with surprising oomph from just about any rpm, and it rushes to its redline with nary a peak or valley in the power curve. Yes, for really impressive acceleration, the tach needle needs to be kept in the upper one-quarter of the rev-range, but dropping into the middle rpm regions won't cause the bike to blubber like some sort of 125cc motocrosser with turn signals.
Wide powerband or no, most riders will keep the 500's engine wound up anyway, for it revs so freely that it entices such behavior. As one of our staffers so aptly put it, "This thing lives to bury the tach needle."
Bury that needle for a half-mile or so, and the VF will be running in excess of 122 miles an hour, which is faster than either the FJ600 or GPz550, and just a tad slower than Suzuki's GS550. At the dragstrip, the Honda clocked a 12.66-second run at 102 mph, which is identical to the GPz's performance and slightly below that turned in by the FJ and GS. Bear in mind, however, that these quarter-mile numbers were clocked over a period of nine months at different tracks using different riders. In other words, they are not directly comparable. But they do show that the VF500F, regardless of its displacement handicap, is in the hunt, acceleration-wise.
Despite all the high-revving fun our test 500 was put through, it still managed to return more than 50 miles to the gallon of gasoline. The bike generally went about 150 miles before the quick-fill-lookalike petcock needed to be switched to reserve, which was good for about another 50 miles.
There are a few criticisms we can direct toward the engine, but they are comparatively minor ones. The engine is mounted solidly in the frame, for example, so it transmits a small amount of vibration to the footpegs and handlebars. At cruising speeds the rider really has to search for the vibes to feel them, but as the revs increase so does the level of vibration. Still, it's more of a throbbing than it is a high-frequency buzzing, and it's nowhere near as annoying as the vibration felt on most other mid-displacement bikes.
Cold-starting also presents some problems for the Interceptor. The engine leaps to life easily enough in the morning, but with the choke full-on the engine turns at a way-too-high 4000 rpm. Backed off to a still-high 3000 rpm, the engine will slowly lose revs until it stalls. Consequently, a VF500 rider soon learns to let the engine rev for the first few miles of travel and then move the choke to the full-off position, simply because the bike is reluctant to run anywhere in between.
Some riders also complained of a small amount of snatch in the 500's driveline, enough that indelicate operation of the throttle in first and second gear would result in some jerkiness. Smoother riders or those with experience on snatch-prone shaft-drive motorcycles didn't feel there was any excess freeplay in the driveline.
Despite those complaints, the VF's engine is easily its most exotic component. But that says more about recent strides in frame and suspension technology than it does about any shortcomings in the Honda's chassis, which is about as up-to-date as possible.
In the front, a 16-inch wheel and a wide Bridgestone Mag Mopus tire are kept in contact with the road by a fork assembly that incorporates Honda's TRAC anti-dive system. An aluminum brace ties the black-painted fork sliders together—important because the TRAC mechanism works only on the left fork leg—and serves as the only mounting point for the plastic front fender. Each 37mm stanchion tube has an air fitting, and Honda recommends 6 psi as the maximum static pressure. Unlike the bigger Interceptors, the 500 has no damping adjustment on the fork, a concession to price in the cost-conscious middleweight class.
That Showa-built fork heads up a frame constructed of silver-painted, rectangular-section steel. Well, at least the majority of the frame is rectangular in section; the parts of the frame that are covered by the seat and side panels use standard-issue round tubing. The swingarm, however, doesn't need to be painted silver to resemble aluminum, for it's already made of that material, in cast form. The arm attaches via needle-bearing-equipped links to a single shock buried in the middle of the bike. The Kayaba shock is air-adjustable (Honda recommends 7-21 psi), its air fitting reached by taking off the left sidepanel. To get at the rebound-damping adjuster, which is a small, four-position knob atop the shock body, the seat must be unlocked and removed.
All of this type of hardware is quite common in today's exotic sportbike market, but there's nothing at all commonplace about the VF500F's handling. For just as the 500's engine lives to bury the tach needle, so does the chassis live to bend its way around corners. The bike really shines on twisty backroads—in fact, the twistier the better. On a dream backroad, one that spins and slues and ties itself into knots, one with a minimum of literbike-favoring straightaways, this Interceptor could very well be the quickest way to snake from Point A to Point B.
With near-maximum levels of air pumped into the fork tubes and rear shock, and the TRAC anti-dive and rear rebound damping both adjusted to their highest settings, the Honda is about as neutral a handler as there is these days. No matter how crazily the horizon gets tilted, the VF always seems unruffled, as though it still has plenty in reserve. As a result, the bike is a confidence-builder par excellence.
The rider doesn't feel any less confident when those corners get extremely fast, either. Despite a fairly steep rake of 27 degrees and a relatively short, 56-inch wheelbase, the VF simply refuses to get unsettled when taken through top-gear sweepers. Likewise, S-turns don't bother the Interceptor, meaning that flicking the bike from hard-right to hard-left and back again is anything but a white-knuckle experience. In fact, the Honda handles these maneuvers with such ease that it almost dares the rider to go back and take that last corner at a faster speed or bank over a few degrees further or delay braking for another heartbeat or two.
Not only is the 500's chassis up to that level of enthusiasm, but so are its brakes. Three 10-inch discs are squeezed by new-style twin-piston calipers that are a little lighter than last year's versions and very much have a Fast-Freddie-uses-ones-just-like-this look to them. The front brake lever takes a fairly firm pull—not much happens during the first part of its movement—but from that point on, the feel is good and the stopping distances are short. During hard stops, the rider is aware of the TRAC mechanism's presence, but only when it's set to the No. 4 position. The front end still compresses fully, but at a slightly reduced rate.
One of the elements that makes the Interceptor such a backroad weapon detracts slightly from its abilities as a straight-line tourer. The bike's seating position, which is ideal for charging apexes and hanging off in fast corners, is a little cramped, especially for riders who crowd the six-foot mark. The culprit here is the relationship between the seat and the footpegs. The pegs are placed high and to the rear so they stay off the deck during full-tilt maneuvers, but that location also forces an awkward bend in the knees. The seat does its part, as well, to keep Gold Wing lovers from becoming Interceptor-mounted tourers. Thin on padding because of its scooped-out shape, the seat allows only one position, which soon becomes tiring. Run one tank of gas through the 500 without encountering a series of curves to break the monotony, and it's time for a leg-stretching, butt-denumbing rest period.
Any other complaints about the Interceptor fall into the category of nit-picking. A couple of staffers thought the calibrations on the 150-mph speedometer were too crowded for easy reading. The rear-view mirrors also came under fire for being too convex. They give an extremely wide-angle view, which is good for peeking at what's coming up on either side, but they also make it hard to judge distances. And like the majority of narrow-gauge sportbike mirrors, the 500's don't provide a clue as to what is approaching from directly behind without the rider tucking in his elbows.
It's hard to criticize the 500 Interceptor's styling, though. Honda hit on a winning formula with last year's 750 Interceptor and has carried it through first to the 1000 and now the 500. And if anything, the 500 is the crisper-looking of the three. All the Interceptors may have been cut from the same block of stone, but the 500's sculptor used a finer chisel. During our travels on the VF500, the bike's appearance always drew the same reaction from people. From motorcycle nuts to gas station attendants to little old ladies, almost all finished their unsolicited critiques of this particular Honda with, "Nice bike."
Indeed it is. But that doesn't begin to tell the story of this motorcycle. A bike that looks this good, handles this well, has such a wonderful engine and costs no more than its competitors is more than just a "nice bike." It's damn near irresistible.
And not irresistible to just the blood-ied-knee canyon-crazies. Cycle World's staff is as diversified a group of motorcycle enthusiasts as you're likely to find, and to a man they picked the Interceptor as the middleweight bike to have when it comes time to blast down a winding country two-lane. The GPz550 might be a better choice for all-around transportation because of its more-spread-out seating position and rubber engine mounts. But for straightening out the kinks in a twisty piece of road, the 500 Interceptor is the best bike in its class. Or, for that matter, maybe even in any class."
Source: Cycle World 1984