The Honda GB500

Best bets on tomorrow's classics

| January/February 2011

honda gb 500

The Honda GB 500.

Honda GB500
Years produced:
1989-1990 (U.S. version)
Claimed power: 33hp @ 6,500rpm (measured, rear wheel)
Top speed: 108mph (period test)
Engine type: 498cc air-cooled SOHC 4-valve single
Transmission: 5-speed
Weight: 390lb (wet)
MPG: 45-60mpg
Price then/now: $4,198/$4,000-$6,500

Rarely does the bamboo curtain part just enough for us to glimpse the domestic Japanese motorcycle scene. Gray market imports of the Honda VFR250R and Suzuki RG250 race replica offer clues. But in 1989, Honda listed two of its home market bikes for sale in the US: the 13,000rpm inline four, gear-cam drive 400cc Honda CB1; and the “Great British” Honda GB500 thumper. Neither was a big seller at the time, but both are fast becoming collectible classic Honda motorcycles.

Though sold as a 400 in Japan, the GB500 was given a full 500cc engine for the U.S. market, using a sleeved-down version of the SOHC radial four-valve (RFVC) engine from the XL600 dirt bike. But it was the GB’s old school styling that made the biggest impression.

Though not intending to reprise any specific British single from the golden era, Honda managed to capture the essence of the Norton Manx, the BSA Gold Star and the rest through subtle styling cues and period-replica components.

The gold pin striping on the swooping black gas tank echoed Velocette and Sunbeam practice of old, while the paired tachometer/speedometer sat in chrome binnacles above clip-on handlebars steering an aluminum-rimmed spoked front wheel. Visually, the single disc brake was the GB’s only necessary concession to modernity. Yet while many classic British bikes look like the assembly of disparate components they actually were, the GB500 is a stunning example of coordinated manufacturing bringing form and function together.

The dry sump 92mm x 75mm air-cooled engine drives a five-speed transmission via primary gears and a wet clutch. The oil tank lives behind the right side panel (thoughtfully stenciled “Tourist Trophy”) and the whole is wrapped in a single downtube dual-cradle steel frame. An aluminum box-section swingarm holds the spoked rear wheel with traditional dual shock suspension. Completing the period look are narrow 90/90 x 18in front and 110/90 x 18in rear tires.

lee cox
1/23/2014 9:22:44 AM

I have owned a GB since 2003, having purchased it with a bit over 3,000 miles on the odo. The bike is used very little and sits in my garage just increasing in value. I haven't seen any others on the road because the GB is somewhat rare and is getting harder to find at a decent price as the years go by. The bike is certainly no rice-rocket, but it has enough power for fun on country road twisties. It exudes plenty of nostalgia and never fails to get stares and questions from younger riders who have never seen such a machine. Since the bike is so pristine (I have added a quarter-fairing for wind/bug protection) and looks like an out-of-the-box cafe racer, many people ask, "Is it new," thinking it must be a new model from Honda, not realizing that the bike is almost a quarter of a century old.

bike on highway

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