1984 Honda Ascot VT500
The beginning of the nearly no-maintenance motorcycle
1984 Honda Ascot VT500.
Photo by Neale Bayly
Released to an eager press in 1983, the Honda Ascot VT500 rolled into showrooms alongside a plethora of different motorcycles from the Japanese manufacturer. Inline 4-cylinder sportbikes, V-four cruisers and sportbikes, and V-twin cruisers, as well as a number of single-cylinder dirt bikes, made for an impressive and interesting lineup and marked the beginning for one of the most popular classic Honda motorcycles.
In an era bristling with new technology, it was an exciting time to be in the motorcycle business. “High tech pizzazz,” wrote one wide-eyed journalist. “Techno trickery,” wrote another, and while you could be forgiven for thinking these were reactions to the 1,098cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve Magna V65 bruiser cruiser, they were actually commenting on the Honda Ascot, a bike we now look at as a simple naked standard.
Flat track fare
Modeled after the flat track Honda racing bikes the company was racing at famous tracks like Ascot in California, the 491cc V-twin was never intended as a race bike. It shared engine technology with Honda’s VT cruiser lineup and was fielded as a middleweight sport mount. Surviving only two model production years, 1983 and 1984, it was not a big seller and soon disappeared into obscurity like so many smaller capacity motorcycles introduced by Japanese manufacturers over the years.
I remember first riding one in the 1980s, and while it was no powerhouse, I still have vivid memories of a tight handling, urgent machine with seamless power and acceleration. Equipped with a pair of Keihin constant-velocity carburetors (some mags cited Mikunis as standard equipment), it’s amazing to think we still have modern fuel injected bikes that can’t match the Honda Ascot’s perfect fueling.
Taking a finely blended gas cocktail into its combustion chambers through a pair of 26mm intake valves, the VT500’s burned gases were released through a single 33mm exhaust valve, opened and closed by a single overhead camshaft. The Ascot’s pistons ran a 10.5:1 compression ratio and had connecting rods attached to an offset, dual-pin crankshaft, which achieved perfect primary balance. Although testers of the day commented on some minor vibes at higher rpm, with a redline of 9,500rpm, this doesn’t seem to be unreasonable.
Using solid-state ignition, an automatic cam chain adjuster and hydraulic valve adjusters, the Honda Ascot VT500 was xtremely sophisticated for its size. Water-cooled but with faux finning on the cylinders to give it an air-cooled look, this style detail was probably more important on the Shadow range of cruisers that used essentially the same engine. There were some differences here, with the Ascot and Shadow 500 using a 52-degree V compared to the Shadow 750’s 45 degrees, but most everything else was similar or the same.