Editor’s Note: Kyle Hyatt is new to the world of motorcycling and I’ve been enjoying his perspective as a newbie. You may remember that he is a co-host for the Petersen’s podcast, called Car Stories. At one point I was on an episode, and part of my discussion with Kyle was about his pursuit of his first motorcycle. Honda recently invited him to take their Rider’s Education Course in Colton, California, and Kyle shared his experience on this site. Now Kyle’s on the hunt for a new bike, so I asked him to take a look at Honda’s CB500F and tell us what a new rider thinks of it!
2017 Honda CB500F
Relentlessly Engineered To Make You Happy
Story and Photos by Kyle Hyatt
The delta between what we want as a new rider and what won’t get us killed in our first few weeks riding on the streets of Los Angeles is huge. Also, let’s face it, unless you have bizarre friends, telling your buddies that you’re 100% stoked about the 500 cc learner Honda that you’re getting for two weeks is usually going to elicit laughter and probably some jokes about training wheels. The fact is that you have to take your ego and desire to be Steve McQueen and shove it way down deep inside where all the insecurities you inherited from your parents and your real feelings about your job go, and approach motorcycling in a city as a wide-eyed novice. This is precisely what I did, and after two weeks, I’m not dead or injured. Go me!
To be a motorcyclist, one must have or at least have access to a motorcycle. This was a problem for me because while I had all my gear, being a freelance journalist means that big two-wheeled purchases were a little out of the question. This is where our generous benefactor, Mr. Abhi Eswarappa, stepped in. Abhi made a call to Honda down in Torrance and somehow persuaded them that loaning me a motorcycle for two weeks would be a good idea. They gave me a day to pick it up, and so I piled into a Lyft and set out to begin my adventure.
Upon arriving at Honda’s HQ, I found that they had a shiny red 2017 CB500F waiting for me. It was just about the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Not because the CB500F is an exceptional looking motorcycle (it’s a basic, but well-proportioned and handsome naked bike), but because this was my ticket to two-wheeled freedom, something I’d been dreaming of for over a year. I signed some paperwork without reading it all and hopped on.
The first thing I should say about the CB500F is that if you’re 6’4″ and over 250lbs, you are squarely outside the intended size range of riders for this bike. It’s meant to be small and unintimidating, and in that, it’s extremely successful. That said, while I was a little cramped for leg room, the suspension is adjustable for preload front and rear so while I looked a little silly, it was still a capable handler and comfortable on our crappy LA roads. My test model came equipped with ABS, and I have to say that it was nice to have, even if I never truly tested its capabilities. Just knowing it’s there makes me feel more confident as a new rider. The single disc front brake provides plenty of stopping power though the initial bite is a little soft, the rear disc’s performance would best be described with a shrug emoji.
Honda seems to get a bad rep for not being the most “exciting” or “soulful” brand out there when it comes to their two-wheeled output, but I’m here to tell you that anyone who is pushing that tired old line probably also has a reverse mortgage they want to sell you. Honda builds quality, well-engineered motorcycles that don’t cost a lot of money and that’s exactly how I’d describe the CB500F. At a little over $6k, it’s not the cheapest thing you can buy but it feels equally as nice as some other 8-9k bikes that I’ve been looking at in my quest for a first moto such as the KTM 690 Duke, Yamaha XSR900, and the Triumph Street Twin. The switchgear is nice, the dash is easily readable and has all the information I’d want, apart from a gear position indicator. The engine doesn’t sound sexy, but it’s smooth, and the gearbox is slick, precise, and very easy to use.
Sitting on my little Honda (which I’ve dubbed Lil’ Sebastian) outside the Honda Powersports headquarters, I decide that to best acquaint myself more thoroughly with my steed I should ride through Palos Verdes and up the coast to Los Angeles, rather than try my luck on the freeway. This proved to be a sage decision. Not only are the cliffs of Palos Verdes some of the most dramatic in southern California, the road along them is curvy but not overly trafficked during the week. I pointed the Honda to the west and set off into traffic.
The CB500F is stupidly easy to ride. Even a ham-fisted oaf like myself was able to navigate traffic, splitting lanes and running up and down the gears without stalling it. With 49.6 hp on tap at 8,500 rpm, it proved to be a willing stoplight drag accomplice as long as I was circumspect with my shifting. As speeds crept up over those I experienced on the range at my safety course, I began to understand the theory more clearly and started to lean the bike more and more. Full disclosure: this was just about the most fun I’d ever had.
Before long, Palos Verdes fell away, and I ended up on the Pacific Coast Highway as it meandered through the various beach cities, getting my first real taste of actual traffic. The Honda again acquitted itself admirably. It’s narrowness proved invaluable as I snaked myself between cars. One area that was a bit of a let down in this situation was the bike’s standard mirrors. I ended up seeing a lot of my elbows, and so I made extra sure that I was religious about head-checking before changing lanes.
After another 45 minutes or so of weaving around traffic, I made my way home secure in the knowledge that all of the time, money, and effort that I’d put into this crazy motorcycle thing was worthwhile. Of course, there were things I wasn’t prepared for, like bees. I had no idea that bees would be a thing when riding, but on my 5th day on the bike, I got home and reached to grab my house keys out of my backpack and WHAM, I took a sting to the finger from a yellow and black hitchhiking bastard. Getting moto gear off when your hand looks like a cartoon hand is no fun, trust me. I also wasn’t prepared to have stupid-looking hair when I got to my destination. What gives? The Sons of Anarchy guys look great when they get off their Dynas and whip off their brain buckets. I looked like Yahoo Serious but way less cool and Australian.
In all, I was able to keep the bike for two weeks. I put a few hundred miles on it, including my first LA freeway stint and my first group ride with Abhi and a couple of his pals.
I came to crave the validation of the motorcyclist’s wave, and I adjusted my inner clock to anticipate being 20 minutes earlier to everything than I expected. It was an incredible experience, and I’m now shamelessly hooked. I can’t wait to try a few more bikes and hopefully settle on something great.
My verdict on the CB500F is that it’s an almost perfect bike for beginners. It’s everything you could want and has virtually no bad habits. Would I buy one for myself? No, but that only because it’s a bit small and cramped for me. If I were a few inches shorter, I’d be throwing my money at Honda. The CB500F isn’t the sexiest thing on two wheels, but you’re not going to look like a geek riding it, and it’s a bike that you’ll be able to grow with and have fun with for quite awhile. If you’re looking for a first bike, get to your nearest Honda dealer and throw a leg over one, you’ll have a great time, I promise.
Editor’s Note: knowing that Kyle is a big guy (6’4″ and over 240 pounds), what else would you suggest he try out for his first bike?