The Honda CB500 Four

Under the Radar

| November/December 2008

Honda CB500 Four
Years produced:
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.

Richard Backus
7/12/2012 9:33:38 PM

Good catch, Tim. That's supposed to say false neutral between second and third. I'll change that. Josh, the one we had a few years back was hit and miss in terms of false neutrals, but I loved the bike. And unlike what you're reporting, ours shifted better as it warmed up. And Richard, I never had an issue with the clutch, that's interesting to read. Richard

Richard Dixon
7/12/2012 3:28:12 PM

One of the things this article fails to mention is the notorious weak clutch on the CB500/CB550. With a large gear reduction from the crank to the clutch and a smaller reduction from the trans sprocket to the rear wheel, the stock springs would give up after 3 or 4 years. With aftermarket springs the slip would go away. I had a CB500 as my first 4 cylinder bike. I loved it . I would probably still be riding it, if it hadn't been stolen. Got off work one night, and it was gone. But my all time favorite bike of all I've ridden, the Kawasaki GPZ500 A-1. Fast, smooth, comfortable, great handling, great gas mileage, good looks, reliability, what more could you want. The manufactures need to get over this V Twin madness and bring back a good standard middleweight like this again.

7/12/2012 2:41:57 PM

Like Tim commented below, I don't have any false neutral problems with mine but the transmission does become a little harder to shift through when warm. I have a 72 cb500 and love it like a child. Mine does the ton without too much encouragement however. It is a pretty quick old bike!

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