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Honda have done much with modular designs recently - the two NC700 variants (S and X) for example share an engine and frame, while the engine is also used in the Integra scooter. It makes a lot of sense in spreading the development costs over several models. This philsophy has continued with the entirely new middleweight 500 line, which will be offered as the CBR500R (sport), CBR500F (standard) and CBR500X (Advenutre).
Each machine shares a common frame and engine - in this case a 471cc 47Hp (35kw) liquid cooled parallel twin. The engine has been designed to be fuel efficient, returning a quoted 76.3mpg from it's 15.7l fuel tank.
Though styled differently, the 500 range focuses on providing a bike that is easy to ride, but still delivers fun and excitement as the rider grows in confidence and skill. As such, each of these bikes is perfect for recently licensed riders looking to build their skills, or more budget conscious riders that want a little more excitement.
The CBR500R is a fully faired machine, borrowing much of it's styling cues from the CBR1000RR and it looks great. This is a great move on Honda's part as it makes the bike look far sportier than it's smaller brethren, the CBR250R, which takes it's styling from the VFR1200. In other words, this looks like a sportsbike.
The CBR500R will also get a chance to further extend Honda's race heritage as it forms the basis of the European Junior Cup in 2013. The event is for 14-19 year olds and will be held at select rounds of the WSBK next year, with the winner being offered a seat at the 2014 UEM Superstock 600 European championship.
The telescopic front shock appears to offer no adjustments, but the rear is adjustable for preload. Brakes are similarly budget conscious, but looks a similar setup to the CBR250R, which offers more than competent stopping power. ABS will also come as standard and ready to ride weight is given as 194kg.
The riding position feels pretty relaxed and spacious with the 500R using elevated bars, rather than the clips-ons of it's larger 600 cousin.
The F is the naked/standard version of the bike and shares much of the setup with the 500R.
The engine appears to offer the same power, the brakes and the same and the frame geometry appears identical, too.
The ride position seems slightly more upright with the bars being set slightly higher. The pegs may provide slightly more room, but this may be an illusion.
Most of the differences would seem to be in the styling - The lack of fairing is the main one, as is the use of a single headlight over the 500R's dual setup. These changes make the F 2kg (192kg) lighter than the R and may save a few $$$'s at the dealer, too.
X these days for Honda signifies the adventure market. The 500X swaps the sportier look and takes it's cues from the Crossrunner/Crosstourer.
Geometry is slightly changed from the 500R/F models, providing a slightly more relaxed setup, but other than that, changes (other than bodywork) are minimal.
Of the three, the X offers the tallest ground clearance and a seat height of 810mm (the F and R are 790mm seats). For taller riders, this may be the model of choice, but none of the bikes feels particularly small or cramped.
True adventuring is perhaps limited by the use of cast 17" wheels. It's also ABS as standard, and I suspect this cannot be turned off, further limiting it's off-road potential. However, I suspect the Adventue this bike refers to is the odd-gravel road and not a full-on dirt ride.
As you might expect, with so much shared between the various models, accessories are more or less shared accross the entire range and incldues:
- full range of luggage (top box and panniers)
- seat cowl
- higher windshield
- heated grips (X and F only)
In addition, the X features some additional options
- Deflector kit
- fog lights
- hand guards
- radiator shroud
If you're in the market for a mid-range bike, the Hondas look to be a fantastic option. The build quality looks amazing and all of the range looks anything but cheap. The R model might feature some competiton from the recent Kawasaki Ninja 300 for dyed in the wool race fans, but the pricing will determine just how close that is. Sadly, this is not available, but I'd guess around the $6,000 mark.
Overall, I see the CBR500F being the big seller. I'm sure it will be cheaper than the other models, but I'm personally most excited by the R. I spent a lot of time with the CBR250R last summer, including racing it and I loved it. The CBR500R is twice the engine and I'm keen to see how it stacks up.