Nick has been out on the new Honda CL500, giving it a run for its money on the road and a few gravel roads. Check out what he thinks of the tribute machine… Words: Nick Ware. Photos: Tony WIlding
I’ve been cruising around this month on the 2023 Honda CL500, and it’s been a rather nostalgic journey. Those of you following my rides over the last few years know about my early days on the CBR500R LAMS, so jumping onto the CL500 stirred up many memories.
Honda has been resurrecting some of the older styles recently, and with the CL500, they’ve done a pretty good job putting together a wicked little city commuter that still allows for some fun out on the twisties or some tame dirt roads.
Powering this little bike is the well-known and loved Honda 471cc parallel-twin engine. This reliable and economical powertrain delivers a moderate 34.3kW and 53.4Nm of torque at just over 6000rpm. It’s manageable and friendly for newcomers, providing enough power to have fun without being overwhelming. In this style of chassis, there isn’t an exception.
This engine has been around for a long time, and most of us know now that it makes for an enjoyable ride. There is just enough power to lift the spirits in the corners and more than enough to get out ahead of city traffic. In this chassis, it’s enough to lift some dirt and roost your mates.
“There aren’t any surprises with this engine; it simply does what it has been doing for the past decade, providing a fun, reliable, and fuel-efficient powerhouse.”
At the bottom end, it is punchy enough to practice some wheel stands, and it will happily cruise at 110km/h on the freeway. Above this speed, it tends to sit quite high in the rev range, starting to run out of steam. It’s tuned very similarly to my previous CBR500R and, from what I have gathered, similar to the rest of the CB and CBR models. It is a very crisp and responsive engine. So, if you are familiar with these bikes, you will feel right at home.
There aren’t any surprises with this engine; it simply does what it has been doing for the past decade, providing a fun, reliable, and fuel-efficient powerhouse for each new generation of Honda’s mid-capacity bikes. It is the perfect fit for this chassis.
It is fitted with a retro-style two-into-one, an exhaust that you either love or hate. I’ve heard both opinions while out riding, with some loving the high-set style while others hate it and laugh at the poor pillion rider’s inner thigh. I’m leaning towards the latter; I don’t mind the styling, and I see how Honda is attempting to recreate the earlier scrambler retro look.
From a design point, however, I can’t imagine how a pillion rider could sit on that for anything over 10 minutes without their leg melting into the heat shroud. Looks aside, the exhaust puts out a nice note for a factory exhaust system.
As usual, the Honda six-speed is buttery smooth and makes for beautiful clutch-less shifts, particularly if you’re just starting. There is only a little tech here, which is one of my favourite things about the mid-capacity Hondas; you really start to feel the bike, understanding how and when to shift.
The slipper-assist clutch is light and straightforward, precisely what you want in this type of machine. High-rpm downshifts are now that much safer. It is geared nicely and is exactly what I expect from a bike of this calibre. There is plenty of punch down low, and as usual, the gearing starts to run out towards the top end, which the bike will rarely sit at.
Regarding suspension, the scrambler-inspired CL500 boasts Showa 41mm telescopic forks at the front, allowing for 134mm of travel underneath the rubber dust gators. At the back, we’ve got preload adjustable Pro-Link twin shocks.
You only have 134mm of front travel and 145mm of rear travel. Yeah, I know, it isn’t much, especially if you’re north of 100kg on the scales like I am. But it’s enough on gravel roads; just steer clear of the ruts and potholes.
It is pretty evident that this thing isn’t a bush beater; it’s a city-style commuter that’ll get you off the beaten track for a taste and look cool doing it. On the road, however, particularly in dense city traffic, the wheelbase, sitting at 1485mm, makes for an agile little bike. Lane filtering is an absolute breeze, and with a very ergonomic seat height of 790mm, moving around isn’t an issue in the upright riding position, and you start to feel very in control of the bike.
“It is pretty evident that this thing isn’t a bush beater; it’s a city-style commuter that’ll get you off the beaten track for a taste and look cool doing it.”
The frame is similar to that of the Rebel series, with a new rear sub-frame. It is very agile for its weight at 192kg and incredibly narrow, making for a bike that is very easy to control and manage.
In the twisties, the agility holds up as expected. It is an effortless bike to ride, and with a bit of adjustment and stiffness in the rear, it handles faster corners relatively well. Feeling very similar to the other CB and CBR series, the bike inspires confidence for the newer rider, making you feel like you’re riding faster and leaning further than you are. I’d love some adjustment in the front, but hey, realistically, these things will be darting through city traffic and avoiding potholes nine times out of ten.
The braking system continues with the simplicity that the rest of the bike inspires. A single 310mm front disc with a twin-pot sliding caliper is paired with a single rear 240mm disc. ABS is non-optional, and the bike is also factory-fitted with Honda’s Emergency Stop Signal (ESS) tech, which activates the flashing hazards under heavy braking and makes for a setup that pulls the bike up relatively well.
The brakes are adequate for what the bike is; obviously, I’d always like to see a bigger twin-disc setup out front, but this fits quite nicely with what the bike offers. There isn’t any noticeable degeneration in some of the faster rides I had on this, even in the higher-geared and quicker corners. There is plenty of feel through the front lever, and I don’t find myself in any sticky situations when pulling up quickly. Similarly, the rear is adequate. It simply does its job well and is a great little setup for slow-speed lane filtering.
The bike’s dash, however, leaves much to be desired regarding visibility, particularly under bright sunlight. This could pose a challenge for newer riders who need to monitor their speed and gear selection. I’m wondering if Honda rode this in the daytime before sending it out for production.
On a positive note, the lighting setup balances modern LED functionality with a retro aesthetic, enhanced by the amber marker lights for an added touch of retro cool and safety. The headlights, however, are plenty for the average city rider. If you’re planning on some longer trips, it might be worth throwing a couple of spotties on.
For those looking to add a personal touch to their CL500, Honda offers a variety of accessory packs, including the ‘Adventure’ and ‘Travel’ options. Honda offers everything from heated grips, rally-style pegs, knuckle guards and several saddle bag options. However, these packs may not be enough to elevate the bike’s performance to meet more demanding riding conditions. Riders can mix and match accessories, but the bike’s base performance remains unchanged.
Styling-wise – it looks damn cool, I won’t lie. Regardless of the exhaust, the blacked-out powertrain frame complements the minimal styling and retro-style dash gauges with a side ignition barrel. The switchgear is as basic as it comes, but that means there is literally nothing to confuse about for the newer riders or those who want to jump on, twist the throttle, and go for a ride.
As always, the gear, while simple, feels solid. The small 12L tank is very retro and suits the design styling well. Honda offers the bike in Candy Caribbean Blue, which is what we had here at BikeReview, Matte Laurel Green Metallic, Candy Energy Orange, and Matte Gunpowder Black Metallic. All of the options are cool – however, the Matte Green would have to be my personal favourite.
For just over 10 grand ride away, there isn’t much to complain about here. It’s a bike that won’t let you down and will be fit for purpose, within reason. Given how new to the market it is, I suspect we will start to see some fantastic aftermarket options for this bike. Not to mention, the finish on this bike is brilliant, and for that price, it feels like proper quality.
With a bit more on the suspension side of things, a dash upgrade, and some chunky knobbies, this thing would make for quite a bit of fun off in the gravel. If that isn’t your thing, as is, this little addition is a great city bike that makes for a good Sunday ride partner.
2023 Honda CL500 Specifications
Price: From $8,999 (+ORC)
Claimed Power: 34kW@8500rpm
Claimed Torque: 43Nm@6250rpm
Wet Weight: 192kg
Fuel capacity: 12L
Fuel Consumption: N/A
Engine: Liquid-cooled DOHC 4-stroke 4-valve two-cylinder, 471cc, 67 x 66.8mm bore x stroke, 10.7:1 compression ratio, PGM-FI electronic fuel injection, Gearbox: six-speed Clutch: Wet multiplate slipper
Chassis: Steel tubular diamond frame. Rake: N/A Trail: N/A
Suspension: 41mm telescopic fork, 150 mm travel, Twin shock, five-stop preload adjustable, 145 mm travel.
Brakes: 310mm rotor, two-piston caliper, 240 mm rotor, single-piston caliper, linked brakes, ABS
Wheels & Tyres: 110/80-19, 150/70-17
Seat height: 790mm
Ground Clearance: 155mm
Overall width: 831mm
Overall length: 2175mm
Overall height: 1135mm
Instruments & Electronics: ABS, LED Lighting, LCD Dash
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The Verdict | Review: 2023 Honda CL500 LAMS