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Our Bikes – Honda XBR500

Honda XBR500

Singular Decision

(by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, December 2020)

Honda XBR500

We flesh out the single-pot corner of the shed

You’ve got to love the round-about way in which some bikes manage to slither their way into the fleet. At one time, a Honda XBR500 would have been close to last on my list of possible shed dwellers, but here we were with a 1986 example firmly ensconced in the line-up.

Here’s how it happened (I think): Spouse Ms M snr had decided our eldest daughter, Ms M jnr, needed to exercise her largely unused motorcycle licence. According to the former, she might meet some ‘nice boys’ that way. Which begged a few questions – such as who she’s been riding with lately, as it’s clearly no-one I know.

Anyway, this raised the issue of a suitable motorcycle. A CB400F was high on the list. Whatever the choice, it had to be small and light and confidence-inspiring, while able to hold highway speeds with ease. That plan was thrown off course by a road trip.

Some time ago, Ms M snr and I had a couple of social engagements on the Murray River – namely the annual rallies for the SR500 Club and the Iron Indian Riders Association. I’m a member of both.

SRX600 Indian Chief Vintage Gilroy

This necessitated taking the ultimate odd-couple, the Yamaha SRX600 and the Indian Chief. To date we hadn’t used the Yam for a long trip, so it was a case of strapping on a sheepskin seat pad, throwing Ms M snr the keys, and hoping for the best.

The SRX, as I anticipated, had no trouble keeping up with the big Indian on the freeway and was perfectly capable of running rings around it once the road changed into sets of tight little curves. The single was too small for me to be comfortable on for any length of time, but the rather more petite Ms M loved it. She agreed something like that would be perfect for eldest daughter, with one major difference – it must have an electric start, which the SRX doesn’t. It can be a bit of a bugger to get going.

Honda XBR500

Enter the natural enemy of the SRX when it was new, Honda’s XBR500. As a staffer on Australian Motorcycle News, I got to ride these things side by side when they were launched locally. The Yamaha was the better handling package and had more low-end grunt, while the Honda had the top-end legs and a significantly higher top speed at just over 160km/h. They claimed nearly identical dry weights and max power (155kg and 45 horses – or thereabouts), though the Honda was taller and had one huge advantage over its rival: that was electric start.

Honda GB500TT

Honda has built a number of variants over the years, including a GB series with wire wheels and more of a classic café racer look.

Honda XBR500

The 500 powerplant was based loosely on the XR unit of the day, but in fact went through a substantial re-engineering, which means that few parts can be exchanged.

A cruise through the classifieds unearthed the example you see here. It was in very rough condition but salvageable. The poor thing had clearly been sitting out in the weather for a year or two, the tyres were shot, the fork seals gone, chain and sprockets past their prime and it generally needed a lot of care.

Honda XBR500

Its most obvious sin was the appalling home-made exhaust which the vendor optimistically called a TT-style. I’ve seen some spectacularly unsuccessful attempts at barnyard engineering over the years, but this was the biggest abomination to come up on the radar in a very long time. Adding injury to insult, the nitwit responsible cut one of the sidecovers in half to fit it and had the outlet so close to the tail that it melted a hole in that.

Honda XBR500

I was immediately on the internet, sourcing used parts. It’s interesting to note that Honda stocks an excellent range of new stuff right here and, if my intention had been to restore to original, that’s where I’d start. In this case, the bike was going to be a workhorse, so there’s no point in making it pristine.

Maybe one day, when there’s the time and inclination, I’d look at a resto. So, I bought a spare set of decals (which gives me the option of doing a respray at some stage) from the UK, a sidecover from the Netherlands and a battle-scarred but serviceable original exhaust system from Germany.

Once we covered a service, battery, tyres, driveline and forks, the bill was adding up. However I at least had a mount that I know can be relied on. It was pretty much as I remember them from 25 years ago. Light, nimble, with more than enough urge to hold its own in traffic.

Given it cost very little to buy, and hadn’t since broken the bank, I reckon we didn’t have anything to lose. It’s a fun bit of kit to play with and it will serve a couple of useful functions. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll one day get enthusiastic enough to return it to its former glory.

Honda XBR500

(Postscript: We did eventually get the XBR and SRX out together – what a fantastic way to explore some backroads! Both are light, nimble and have enough power to keep you amused.)


See our Yamaha SRX600 story

See more ‘Our Bikes’ stories here


Honda XBR500 Specs

Type: Air-cooled SOHC single with four valves
Bore and Stroke: 92 x 75mm
Displacement: 498cc
Compression ratio: 8.9:1
Fuel system: 39mm CV carburettor

Type: 5-speed constant mesh
Final drive: Chain

Frame type: Single downtube steel
Front suspension: Conventional 35mm fork, no adjustment
Rear suspension: Twin shocks, preload adjustment
Front brakes: 2-piston 276mm disc
Rear brake: 140mm drum

Dry weight: 157kg
Seat height: 787mm
Fuel capacity: 19lt

Max power: 44hp @7000rpm
Max torque: 4.4kg-m @6000rpm

Price when new: $4250 plus ORC

Light and easy to handle
Good performance
More roomy than an SRX

Not so good
Not quite as sharp as an SRX
Bigger than an SRX



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