The Honda CB500 Four

Under the Radar

| November/December 2008

  • 1974 benelli quattro
    The 1974 Benelli Quattro.
  • suzuki gs550
    The 1977 Suzuki GS550.
  • honda cb500 four
    Advertisement for the Honda CB500 Four.

  • 1974 benelli quattro
  • suzuki gs550
  • honda cb500 four

Honda CB500 Four
Years produced:
1971-1973
Claimed power: 50hp @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 100mph (est.)
Engine type: 498cc OHC, air-cooled inline four
Weight: 420lb (with half tank fuel)
MPG: 40-50
Price then / now: $1,460 (1972) / $1,000 - $2,500 

“The thinking man’s motorcycle.” That was Cycle magazine’s take on Honda’s half-liter four, the Honda CB500 Four. Smaller and lighter than its famous big brother, the trend-setting Honda CB750 Four, the new for 1971 Honda CB500 Four took all the 750’s fine attributes and focused them into a smaller, lighter bike that in many ways was better than its much-lauded forbearer.

Not that the 750 had many detractors. In its day, it was the undisputed king of big-bore bikes and was responsible for launching the Superbike category. Four cylinders, four pipes, electric start, no-fuss electrics and an imposing presence gave the CB750 Four a lead in the market that other manufacturers could only hope to match. But for all the good things the 750 was, it was one heavy machine. Tipping the scales at roughly 500 pounds all in, the 750 required a willing rider to wring the best from it. Ridden at five-tenths, it was serene, but at anything approaching attitude its slow steering, high center of gravity and ample weight combined to make it a bit of a handful.

Those issues disappeared with the Honda CB500 Four. Handling of the new “little” four was excellent, aided in no small part by an almost 80-pound advantage over the CB750 Four, the 500 weighing at a comparatively svelte 420 pounds. Additionally, the 500’s engine was significantly shorter than its big brother, thanks to its smaller displacement and over-square design (larger bore than stroke), which kept cylinder height down, giving a lower center of gravity. Where the 750 was often faulted for vague handling, the CB500 Four was lauded for being stable and predictable if perhaps still a bit slow-steering. Part of that stability was due to the 500’s frame, which drew heavily from the 750 but featured extra gusseting to tame frame flex. Honda’s excellent front forks helped keep the front wheel on the ground, but the rear shocks drew complaints, with one tester calling them “the weakest point about the 500,” noting the shocks on a test bike had failed after just 1,000 miles.



While top speed was lower than the 750 (100mph-plus versus approximately 125mph for the 750), it broke the “ton” with only two-thirds the 750’s capacity, and could post quarter-mile times a scant half-second slower than the 750. Cycle Guide recorded a best time of 14.13 seconds for the 500 versus 13.74 for the 750.

In many ways a scaled-down CB750 Four, the Honda CB500 Four engine did have some notable differences, including a Morse Hy-Vo chain to drive the transmission, and wet sump lubrication, eliminating the oil tank used on the dry sump 750. More than just simple specification differences, those changes made the 500 quieter and easier to service, qualities Honda knew its customers appreciated.

rick
5/30/2018 4:13:58 PM

I had a CB500 Four in the mid 1970s; mine had a poor aftermarket exhaust that I think had too little back pressure, as to get above about 85 you had to reach down and partly close the chokes to rich it up. Even with this handicap, I got it to 105 mph, and it was me rather than the bike that chickened out at that point. My earlier bike had been a 305 Super Hawk, with an advertised top speed of 110 - I got that one up to 102 before running out of road and courage.


rick
5/30/2018 4:09:50 PM

I had a CB500 Four in the 1970s; it had a too-free-flowing aftermarket exhaust that would lean the engine out at high speeds, so I had to reach down and partly close the chokes to make it run beyond about 85. I got it up to 105 MPH this way, but it was a little scary ... I gave up before the bike did. I would not doubt a claim of 110 - 115 for the 500/4. My previous bike had been a 305 Super Hawk that had an advertised top speed of 110; I got it up to 102 before running simultaneously out of road and courage.


rick
5/30/2018 4:09:49 PM

I had a CB500 Four in the mid 1970s; mine had a poor aftermarket exhaust that I think had too little back pressure, as to get above about 85 you had to reach down and partly close the chokes to rich it up. Even with this handicap, I got it to 105 mph, and it was me rather than the bike that chickened out at that point. My earlier bike had been a 305 Super Hawk, with an advertised top speed of 110 - I got that one up to 102 before running out of road and courage.




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