When Honda announced the CL500, and after many media outlets picked up on Big H’s actions, I considered myself intrigued by the prospect. For the longest time, the Rebel 500 was a quintessential first big bike or starter bike for many people. The approachability of the model lent itself well to riders who really wanted to swing their leg over something quality and something that wasn’t intimidating to ride.
Now, fast forward to 2023, and Honda has a new 500 that joins the lineup and that’s going with the retro bike trend. This is the 2023 Honda CL500, but is it any good on the road? Let’s see.
Honda took a Rebel 500, made some tweaks to the wheels and the subframe, and gave it a taller seat height. However, there is more to it than that, as the tailpipes have been raised, the footpeg position is more rear-set. The bars are wide and tall, but not as tall as an adventure bike, and the general look of it is retro.
There are some touches that make the Rebel an interesting ride, then there are others that aren’t too hot. So I was generally a fan of how the CL500 looked during our test ride, but QI would have preferred this bike in another color other than black. Still, murdered out, it did have a few design features going for it, like the built-in tank trips, the interestingly-shaped tank, and also the general stance of the whole thing.
However, Honda didn’t give it true-high-mount exhaust, which is a bit of a bummer, seeing as the high-mount would have really transformed this bike’s look as it steered more and more into the scrambler skid. I don’t see a pillion sitting on this comfortably, however. The exhaust gets in the way, and the passenger seat is actually quite tiny, so it’s not exactly an all-day two-up rider.
It looks like a simple bike, and it is a simple bike. ABS is standard, you get standard forks, a high-level exhaust, a small 12-liter fuel tank, and a set of two springs on the rear. The engine is also liquid-cooled, but it’s pretty much a basic bike.
Except, perhaps, for the LED lights all around. From the headlight to the taillight, you get LEDs all around. While we didn’t get a chance to test out the output of its diodes, from experience, the CL500 does get the job done, albeit not too great compared to other more expensive models in either Honda’s or other brands’ stables.
The gauge cluster is a familiar one, as it’s the same unit they fit onto the Rebel 500. It’s decent, with its speedometer, trip meter, fuel economy, fuel level, and odometer readouts, but there is no tachometer which is just okay. The switch gear is a classic Honda. Good clickiness all throughout, and also has a good-looking set of buttons to boot. The switches are indicative of the price, however, as the higher-end motorcycles in the lineup with more advanced infotainment displays really looked different compared to the more affordable sub 750cc offerings, but none of it got in the way or were too cumbersome for our use.
Overall, it’s a decent and modern package for its class and the Honda CL500 is just about the right amount of tech for anyone starting out. It doesn’t have a boatload of gizmos and gadgets which can also be a benefit for some riders with very old-fashioned tastes, or for riders that can’t yet be spoiled by rider aids.
Our first parlay with the CL500 involved going around the track and going through cones roundabouts and gentle curves to help us arrive at an impression. In theory, this seems like the perfect beginner bike, and the ride shows that it has the makings of a very competent and easy-to-ride motorcycle. The thing is, the model doesn’t exactly feel planted on the pavement. If you’re slow and methodical about your steering inputs, you’ll find the CL500 bends to your will easily. However, if you are aggressive, it actually might fall a little too fast.
Ergonomically speaking, however, it’s a great platform to start with. The standard seating position is relaxed and allows you to really put in some leverage on the bars. The handlebars are curved towards you and they’re very easy to grab a hold of and offer riders a wide and commanding stance over the front end. Comfort-wise, Honda has got its suspension dialed in, performance-wise, it feels a little floaty over bumpy surfaces.
Engine performance, however, was just right. It’s not too fast where it will get you into trouble, but it was fast enough, reasonably speaking. With 46 hp and 43 Nm of torque, it’s not going to be setting the roads on fire, but it is okay for going at highway speeds. The engine likes to make power and torque somewhere in the middle of its rev range, so at least then, it’s good for “scrambling,” and with a bit of highway-ability thrown in. During our test ride, the engine responded smoothly in the slow-speed stuff. The bike is relatively zippy and offers a decent amount of power in a lightweight package, and it’s also quite ergonomic with its high handlebars and its rather low seat height. The engine is conventional, that much I can say about it, but it’s not as inspiring to ride as the 750 Transalp’s motor.
As a standard naked bike with a retro aesthetic, I get what Honda was going for. It has a few things going for it like the taller seat height and suspension paired with the more standard riding posture that’s rather tall and commanding for a bike of this size, and also the comfort that this motorcycle brings to the table.
However, the performance of this motorcycle is pretty fair for me, but in the hands of a beginner, it’s actually going to be quite an exciting bike to swing a leg over. For the price of P409,000, the CL500 presents a decent value, and I say decent because it’s quite expensive for what it is. The retro-tax is quite real here, and the CL500 does have a premium over some of its other 400 to 500cc competitors that are more modern-looking.
Overall, it’s a very competent bike. There isn’t a lot of drama here, nor is there a ton of flair, at least in the short time that we got it. What we’re really curious about is its off-road ability. It’s a scrambler after all, so we’re eager to get this thing through a trail.