Just fifteen years ago I gave up biking for good, sold the Z550 and all my gear.. Fifteen years on I realised that every time a bike pulled up next to me at the lights or filtered down the clogged lanes of traffic or just went past on the road I had a feeling of envy. I’ve always harboured an ambition to own a Harley but that is still light years away or until the kids leave home anyway.
How to convince my wife that I not just wanted but needed a bike was going to be difficult. We had two cars, chosen for their practicality not performance, and here was me saying I had to have a bike for the sake of it. Oh no, that didn’t do it at all. Next attempt – think up a different reason. I told her I needed a C90 to get loads to a gallon and make commuting easier… and she said yes! What I didn’t say was that 20 miles each way with a mix of town and country on a C90 was not really my cup of tea. So, the C90 seizes up on me and I manage to convince her that a nice 125 was better. Ok, 125 bought for a few more notes and away we go. Except 20 miles each way on a 125 is still no bed of roses.
Opportunities arise in so many different ways. I first considered giving up biking again because the 125 didn’t cut it for me and just as I was about to do so, she says she wants a laptop, brand spanker, all singing all dancing. Well, if she’s having that, I’m having a bigger bike. Hey presto! So the 125 went and just 6 weeks ago, in came my CB500R.
I had read all the stuff I could and realised that for value, low running costs and enough fun for a newly reborn biker, the best bet was to go for a bike such as the riding schools used for direct access. Of the bunch, the CB500 seemed to have the best write-ups by impartial users. And there, on the for sale ads on the net was a nice lowish mileage 1994 bike. A visit to the owner showed a well maintained, two previous owner, machine with full history and every receipt for everything but petrol. Twin cylinders, water-cooled, big old round headlamp and weird plastic cowls at the front of the tank. It wasn’t the prettiest bike ever but it was mine for a reasonable wad of cash.
First impressions were “bloody hell it’s big” followed by “f**k it’s heavy”. Taking it out of a strange housing estate in first and second was a long and arduous job. Working out how to cancel the indicators required a bit of educated guesswork while trying to watch the road ahead. Right, that was sorted, then the first roundabout and hmmmm it leans well but it’s a bit heavy.
On to the bypass, and yes, I just have to twist the throttle, “S**T!!”. I wasn’t expecting the acceleration. After all these years I’d forgotten the adrenaline rush and the feeling of power. Yes, I know you lot on the race replicas and the big tourers will laugh but think back to the first time you got on a biggish bike. It was awesome… it was very, very scary! I’d got up to nearly 70mph and remembered I had to test the slowing sown capabilities as much as anything.
A single front disc and rear drum gives adequate braking with no nasty surprises. A smooth delivery from the front and a nice steady drag from the rear – I was beginning to like this bike. But, I was still very much a novice again and I had to keep telling myself to take it easy. Once off the bypass and on to the main dual carriageway, the traffic was very light and so I tested the acceleration. The write-ups said the bike had a bit more attitude above 8000 revs so that was my next job. Drop into third, wind on the power, nice progressive delivery, pulls well, hits something like 8000 revs, wails like the good old banshee and away it goes right round into the redline in next to no time.
Make mine a large one, please, landlord.
I was obviously not up to this power just yet and could understand why born-again bikers have a reputation for accidents. Thank god I didn’t go for a faster machine. Yet again, as far as I was concerned, the power was arm-wrenchingly good and the bike delivered it well without ever seemingly trying to throw me off. I was still close to browning my pants but it was all just about starting to come back to me.
So, I’ve tested the power, the brakes, the slow speed handling, what about the higher speed handling? To be honest, on this first journey, about 100 miles, the bike was just too big and novel to me for any attempt at chucking it around the countryside. I could tell from the odd roundabout that it seemed like it would handle but I was still getting used to how to make the thing turn in smoothly and take a tight bend without going wide. In short, I was being a wimp.
I got home, got off and sat and looked at it for 20 minutes, smelled the heat from the exhaust, listened to the clicking of the engine cooling and then got back on it. I rode another 30 miles on roads I knew well. Cornering was still difficult for me and I knew it was because I was still a little bit frightened of the thing.
Over the next two or three weeks I began to work it out. I learnt to keep the engine spinning around the 4000 revs mark. Below that and it will chug along well enough until you need to apply more power when it becomes a bit lumpy. Above that you go too fast for town. Sixth is only really useful as a cruising gear on motorways or fast A-roads. I find third to fifth my usual choice.
In the bends, it goes right over provided you keep the revs up. It’s a bit top heavy and while not unforgiving, it is unwieldy and not a lot of fun if the revs drop too low. It isn’t affected too much by white lines or marks on the road and it’s nimble enough for getting through rush hour traffic.
The only drawback with it seems to be the lack of a fairing. At anything over 80mph it helps if you have arms like Mike Tyson and above 90 you will develop arms like him. Really, motorways are not its strong point although it will hold its own. This bike is more suited to the longer commute and for a nice blast around country lanes.
I’ve now done around 2000 miles on it and have averaged 60mpg. It’s needed no oil, no water, starts first time on the button and everything still works as it should. It’s fitted with Bridgestones front and rear and without experience of anything else, they seem more than up to the job. I’ve read that a bike like this is alright as a first big bike and I can see why. Already, I feel like a bit more power would be useful but as I’m more of a cruiser than a racer I’ll see how long it lasts.
If you are looking for a comfortable, steady, reliable bike with enough power for most usual situations, I can recommend it. But I still want a Harley.