The 500RR is a playful partner in the corners, and stable enough to help novice riders.
In recent years Honda has done more to draw new riders to the sport of motorcycling than any other company. They’re a company steeped in engineering tradition and one that continues to innovate two-wheeled transportation both technologically and stylistically, sometimes with controversial results (have you seen the NM4?). But it’s the way Honda continues to appeal to potential riders that earns the biggest kudos from me because the more motorcyclists there are, the more motorcycle choices we’ll all have, and choice is good.
Honda’s Junior Red Riders program (http://motorcycle.honda.ca/iwannaride) encourages youngsters as fresh as 6 years old to throw a leg over a tiny dirt bike and get a feel for the thrill of riding. And for those looking to hit the streets on two wheels for the first time, Honda has offered a lot of great options (and encouraging marketing programs such as the one that offered a free riding jacket and insurance deal for new riders), and continues to do so today.
While the new-for-2015 CBR 300 is intended to be the entry-point for sporty/commuter bikes in the Honda line-up, I’m going to suggest you skip the 300 and go right for the bike you see here: the 2015 Honda CBR500R. It’s not that the CBR 300 isn’t a good beginner bike and an excellent value – it is – but like its 125cc and 250cc forebears, it’s also the sort of bike that one could be looking to step up from in short order. This CBR500R, on the other hand, offers more grown up styling (and a 160/60/17 rear tire that doesn’t look like it belongs on a fat-tire bicycle the way the 300’s little donut does) and doesn’t run out of breath at highway speeds.
What’s more, the 500R, with its slightly greater mass (425 lbs wet weight versus 357 lbs) seems to be far less affected by wind turbulence at highway speeds than the gust-prone 300, leaving the rider with greater confidence at higher speeds than the littlest CBR. The full fairing gives decent wind protection and the raised clip-on bars take some of the pressure off the wrists, making the 500R a reasonable choice ever to try some sport touring riding.
As a commuter, the CBR500R does well, too. The lightweight and low seat height (30.9”) and narrow width across the front of the saddle give novice riders a comfortable and confidence-inspiring sense of control. Plus, those elevated handlebars make it more maneuverable in tight urban spaces than the lower, race-like clip-ons of, say, a CBR600RR.
“But the low power of the smaller 300 is better for new riders!” some will say. The reality is, with 47 horsepower, the CBR500R is still a very manageable machine and thanks to its precisely measured fuelling, smooth throttle inputs are the order of the day here. At no point does the CBR500R feel jumpy or that it’s at any risk of unexpected wheelies for a timid rider. The liquid-cooled, 471 cc parallel twin provides reasonable torque for around-town riding too, helping to keep ahead of the cagers when leaving a stop light. The six-speed transmission doesn’t have the super-crisp snick-snick feel of the CBR600RR, but then, this bike doesn’t cost what the RR does either!
Adding to the safety of the CBR500R is the optional ABS brakes (fitted to our test bike). ABS is feature that should be at least optional on all road bikes (are you listening, Yamaha?), and Honda is wise to make it available here given the demographic that’s likely to choose this bike. The front, single disc – a 320 mm wave unit, and rear 240 mm wave disc, provide decent stopping power, but don’t have the bite of true sporting brakes.
The 500RR is a playful partner in the corners, and stable enough to help novice riders learn and push their skill further. Advanced riders will find the suspension pretty soft with lots of dive on braking. It might be tempting for young riders to chase the bigger power numbers of a bike like Yamaha’s FZ-07 with its more frisky parallel twin engine, for not much more money, but the Honda always feels faithful, reliable, composed and willing to let you improve your skills at your pace – or be perfectly content puttering along as a happy commuter bike that just happens to look cool too (especially in our bike’s bright red paint).
Honda has done a fine job drawing in new riders with its excellent, rider-friendly 300 cc offerings, but if you’re considering one and can swing the cost jump to the 2015 Honda CBR500R, ($6,999 with ABS), you’ll be happier in the long run.