The Thumper: 1982 Honda FT500 Ascot

Long after thumpers ruled the racetracks, Honda built a modern electric-start street single, the FT500 Ascot.


| September/October 2016



1982 Honda FT500 Ascot

1982 Honda FT500 Ascot

Photo by Nick Cedar

1982 Honda FT500 Ascot
Engine:
498cc air-cooled OHC single, 89mm x 80mm bore and stroke, 8.6:1 compression ratio, 33hp @ 6,500rpm (claimed)
Top speed:
94mph (period test)
Carburetion:
Single 35mm Keihin CV
Transmission:
5-speed, chain final drive
Electrics:
12v, electronic ignition
Suspension:
Air-adjustable telescopic forks front, dual shocks w/adjustable preload rear
Brakes:
Single 11.6in (295mm) disc front, single 10.75in (273mm) disc rear
Tires:
3 x 21in front, 4 x 19in rear
Frame/wheelbase:
Single downtube w/engine as stressed member/56.5in (1,435mm)
Weight (wet):
375lb (171kg)
Seat height:
31.5in (800mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG:
3.4gal (13ltr)/45-55mpg (avg.)
Price then/now:
$2,198 (1982)/$2,500-$4,500

Once upon a time, there was a breed of bike known as a Thumper. A thumper was a 4-stroke single, generally displacing between 350cc to 500cc, and it was known for its great sound, stump-pulling torque and simple maintenance. Some thumpers were slow and basic, but others — the Norton Manx, BSA Gold Star and Velocette Thruxton, for example — were some of the fastest bikes ever made.

As time went on, street bikes were increasingly powered by smoother twin, triple and 4-cylinder engines, but the virtues of the single were still evident offroad. Yamaha decided to try its hand at designing a thumper, introducing the XT500 in 1975. A hit with dirt enthusiasts and desert racers, its 500cc single-cylinder engine was repurposed to power the SR500 roadster, which is still being manufactured today in 400cc form. Available only in Japan for many years, it recently returned to Yamaha’s American lineup.

Possibly inspired by the success of the Yamaha single, Honda introduced the XR500 as an off-roader in 1979, and then used a similar engine to power the dual sport XL500. A popular bike, the XL500 was used by many riders as a sort of urban assault vehicle, and Honda noticed.

Honda also noticed that the SR500, although a best-seller in many countries, was not moving quickly off dealership floors in the U.S., due to the lack of two components: a counter balancer and an electric starter. The downside of thumpers was always hard starting and vibration, which on some bikes was so bad it would rattle the fillings in your teeth. The Yamaha design team was able to dampen the SR500’s vibration and used a sight glass for lining up top-dead-center combined with a decompression lever to ease the kickstart-only ignition. However, by 1982, most American riders expected an electric start, and the commuters who were the 500’s natural market just wanted to get to work in the morning without having to learn a complex starting ritual. At the end of 1981, Yamaha decided not to continue importing SR500s into the U.S., while at the same time Honda announced the FT500 Ascot.





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