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Experience the thrill of urban scrambling with our comprehensive review of the 2023 Honda CL500, an A2-friendly modern retro motorcycle perfect for city adventures and twisty roads alike.
Joining the 500cc Honda family is the brand-new 2023 Honda CL500, giving the popular CL nameplate a chance to hit the streets (and dirt) once again. Distinctly based on the CMX 500 Rebel with the instantly recognisable main frame, the A2-friendly CL500 joins the CB500F, CBR500R, CB500X & CMX 500 Rebel to complete a well-rounded intermediate class.
Honda bill this bike as the ideal motorcycle for a rider who’s after an accessible, friendly and usable machine, with a style that continues on the lineage from the 60s & 70s CL, and the affordability and reliability that Honda is well known for – in that sense, Honda say it’s a ‘true modern retro’.
Those boxes have certainly been ticked here, from a day’s ride it was clear to see why the 500cc range has sold so many units across the world, and this new scrambler rendition may be enough to tempt a few more riders to the Big Red Wing.
Honda CL500 Price & Availability
Alex flew out to Seville, Spain, for the European launch ride of the new scrambler, with around 160 km booked in with town riding, twisty Spanish roads, and a brief stint of trail riding (we’re talking about 10 minutes).
Expected to land in dealerships in the UK around late April / early May, the Honda CL500 is priced up at £5,999, and comes in Blue, Orange, Black and Green. For those looking at PCP deals, it’ll be around £69 a month with a £1,441 deposit (over 36 months, and an optional final payment of £3,077).
A natural competitor would be the Royal Enfield Scram 411, and whilst the CL500 is better on power, it is also a tad more expensive (up to £1,500 depending on variant). Not that the Scram 411 is a bad bike by any means, it’s good fun, but many may opt for the Honda based on brand name alone – both are good picks for a fledgling A2 rider, or someone after an urban scrambler.
A brief few words on the style and accessories – as standard, I can’t quite say I’m too keen on the Rebel-esque looks, though with the Adventure Pack (headlight cowl, high front mudguard, knuckle guards, rally footpegs) it certainly grew on me over the course of the day.
With only the paint on the tank distinguishing the 4 options from one another, the metallic blue and orange really are eye-grabbing standout options – though it would be nice if the Adventure Pack bolt-on-bits were colour matched, or given a brush of colour to match the tank. Suppose you could do that yourself if you were that bothered, mind
There’s also the Travel Pack & Style Pack to give the CL500 a bit of extra flair – with aftermarket options likely already being designed, much as the CMX 500 Rebel has a huge array of accessory options.
Honda CL500 Engine
It’s the familiar 471cc parallel twin-cylinder engine fitted here, taken from the CMX 500 Rebel and tuned for extra torque at low speeds, and improved throttle response when compared to the mid-capacity cruiser.
With a 180º crank, DOHC and 4 valves per cylinder, the parallel-twin produces an A2-compliant 34.3kW (45.9hp), and 43.4Nm (32lb-ft) of torque, updated fuel injection settings, a bespoke intake and exhaust system to give the scrambler a lovely burble, shorter final drive and an extra tooth on the rear sprocket (41, from 40 on the Rebel).
Having ridden with variations of this 500cc motor before, notably on an NC500 tour, it was just as easygoing as I remembered. It’s by no means a hugely powerful or hair-raising motor, but it’s superbly easy to get on with, with a nice and light clutch mated to the 6-speed gearbox (with assist & slipper, making clutch use and gear changes effortless), and torque is delivered gradually and smoothly through the revs.
In town, the smooth delivery of power to the rear wheel makes it a great city commuter, and in the twisties, you can push on to get as much out of each gear as possible, it’s hugely addictive fun.
I did find myself happily staying in 3rd or 4th gear when carving the Seville hills, with just enough torque found low down in the revs to get you back up to speed when exiting a corner and lining up for the next. The first and second gears are a tad short, to note.
All in all, the twin motor is a great tool for riders progressing up the CC’s, and just as fun for riders used to larger capacity machines. I found it hugely fun, and judging by the smiles all around, everyone else did too.
Honda CL500 Suspension & Brakes
Up front, the CL500 is fitted with a Showa 41mm telescopic fork with 150mm travel and classic black gaiters for that sprinkle of retro flair, paired with twin shocks at the rear with a bespoke 45mm tubular steel swingarm with 145mm axle travel.
The rear shocks can be adjusted for preload, also, with one down and three up from the standard setting. At the standard setup, I found the suspension extremely soft, bouncing around on varying terrain and getting to the extent of wallowing around bends when pushing on. Though, when adjusted for my weight and clicking in a bit of bonus preload, the ride firmed up nicely and felt worlds apart – so get your suspension set in properly if getting one.
Though, I will add that riding in town with super soft suspension makes no odds to the riding, which felt sharp and stable when squeezing through traffic or cruising at speed.
Braking power is provided by floating Nissin calipers, a single 310mm disc with 2 pistons mounted to a 19-inch front wheel, and the 17-inch rear wheel has a 240 mm disc with 1 piston. No complaints about braking power whatsoever, initial application is with a steady bite, and further application halts progress nicely.
There’s 2 channel ABS on show, also, but it can’t be switched off at the rear if going off-piste – which would be nice for a scrambler, but Honda does say the ABS is tuned to allow a tiny bit of rear skiddage on braking. But only a tiny bit.
And to that, there are no rider modes, just on & off. Not that this really needs any rider modes.
Honda CL500 Urban Scrambling
I’d certainly say the Honda CL500 is an urban scrambler, and a pretty good one at that.
Onto the chassis, and the main frame is pulled directly from the Rebel (as you can see with the signature frame design), with a 45mm tubular diamond steel frame. The unique rear subframe has been grafted onto this frame, raising the seat height to 790mm (or 820mm with the brown accessory comfort seat).
Visually, the frame & engine itself are stylish in their simplicity. The engine block proudly sits exposed under the main frame, and though the high-slung exhaust is a bit huge, it has a unique style to it – particularly of note in an age where bikes are all starting to look the same…
Kerb weight is listed as 192kg with the 12-litre tank full of juice, and it certainly feels nimble in town at low speed. A wide bar and upright neutral riding position give you a nice commanding riding feel – though if you stand on the pegs it’s a bit of a hunch forward and down to get gloves on grips. Though I’m quite lanky, so I’m partly the issue there.
We rode all day, and I only had a bit of hip ache towards the end of the ride – and the seat did start to get a tad uncomfortable on the 7th hour of riding. Though nothing to really moan about, sitting anywhere all day does tend to induce a few moans & groans.
Fitted with Dunlop Trailmax Mixtour hoops, your scrambling days may be limited to light trails and gravel, as opposed to muddy bogs and heavy terrain. Though, as a road tyre, they are very good and grippy for everyday use.
As mentioned, this CL500 really does excel in the urban jungle, and without a doubt, you’ll be seeing loads of these roaming in cities across Europe & beyond.
Honda CL500 Ride Notes
We weren’t able to test the MPG figures over the day as we simply didn’t ride enough, but the 12-litre tank is given a 27.7 km per litre figure, so supposedly over 300 km (186 miles).
On that note, for the commuters looking at this, you can get soft luggage, heated grips and an ACC socket in the accessory packs, which can also be purchased individually as well as mix & matched.
When it comes to the LCD display, a negative display can get a bit difficult to see in direct sunlight when a film of dust covers it, and it’s quite simplistic – you get your fuel gauge, gear indicator, speedo, trip and odo. No revs on display, so you’ll have to keep your ear trained on the noises and vibrations, which speaking off, can get a bit vibe-heavy at high revs. Cruising speeds are lovely and smooth, though.
I did float out the obvious question to Honda, will the CL1100 exist, based on the CMX 1100 frame? Obviously, the answer was something along the lines of ‘there are no plans’, but it’s an interesting thought – though, would it be necessary enough to sell units?
I also asked if Rebel owners could bolt on some bits from the CL500 – for the most part, no. Things like the headlight cowl are mounted in a way that isn’t directly possible. The Honda technical team also had a good laugh at the idea of someone getting the bespoke subframe from the CL500 and sticking it on their Rebel 500…
Our brief off-road stint was handled pretty well, and my initial doubts about the standing position were all but squashed, you can certainly stand and ride, but I wouldn’t want to go too far off the beaten path on this. I just felt a little bit too large atop it at 6’3”, with the slightest shift of weight on the pegs twitching the bike around. Seated it’s fine, so I’d happily have a seated scramble.
What we like & dislike about the Honda CL500
- Very easy to ride, and a great intermediate motorcycle.
- City riding and twisties were both conquered, great fun.
- A great addition to the 500cc Honda family
- Not quite enough scrambling can be done on this. Mostly style.
- Suspension was very soft, but preload solves most of this.
- LCD dash was a bit difficult to read in direct sunlight.
Honda CL500 Verdict & Conclusion
The introduction of the Honda CL500 will certainly appease riders who want a bit of scramble style to navigate the urban jungle, and the 471cc motor provides a thoroughly enjoyable means of getting around.
Style is subjective, as always, but given the right trimmings, the CL500 does start to look a bit more enduro and a little less ‘Rebel-scrambler’. It’s eager to conquer the corners, and immensely flickable with little to no effort.
It all comes together in a great little package that’s naturally put together superbly well, and Honda will no doubt be expecting a load of interest when they start arriving in dealerships at the end of April – they certainly seemed extremely proud of the CL500.
If you’re after a thoroughbred scrambler, chances are you won’t be considering the Honda CL500 – but if you’re looking for a mid-capacity street scrambler with serious style and an easygoing ride, this is worth a look.
Also, check out this incredible drawing that Takeru Kurobe, Styling Design Project Leader for the Honda CL500, sketched up for me over lunch! Remarkable, only took him about 5 minutes. Cheers mate!
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