The Honda Magic Lantern Lights Again
Updated: May 25, 2022
Cycle, an American motorcycling enthusiast magazine, was one of the first magazines to roadtest the new 500 Four. And they liked it a lot! Smaller and lighter than its famous big brother, the 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.
Below some excerpts from the article and of course the awesome cover with two future supermodels: A young Bo Derek and the new 500 Four. [UPDATE: Bo Derek reacted to my post in Instagram and said it's not her on the cover of this magazine. See post below.]
The new 500’s biggest competitor is its own larger brother.
After miles in the saddle and days in the shop, comprehension draws: the new 500’s biggest competitor is its own muscle-bound and overwhelming larger brother. Because of their configuration, because of the fantastic engineering that has been exhausted in their behalf, because of their surpassing articulation, and because of the quality of their components, the Fours are in a class by themselves; if you want a certain kind of machine, you have two choices, and only two. One is big, heavy, luxurious, a little ostentatious mechanically and a bit of a handful physically, and an awesome performer. The other smaller, proportionally heavy, almost equally luxurious, just as ostentatious mechanically, slightly more refined, and, for most motorcyclists, more relaxing to contend with. Face it – the 750 is too much motorcycle for an awful lot of folks – too fast, too heavy, too expensive, maybe demanding of too much ego involvement. The 500 isn’t. Perhaps some 750 owners use their motorcycle for its prestige value. If such be the case, the 500 will scoop up those whose enthusiasm, edged by a desire to ride the slickest machine that Japanese technological overkill can produce, orients itself more towards what the machine can do for them.
Approach it soberly, as you might approach a museum peace. Let it fill your eye: the close-fitting chrome-plated front fender; the stainless steel, smaller diameter (10.5” vs. 11.7” on the 750) disc and its black-anodized caliper unit; the highly polished sliders; the beautifully rendered but slightly overdone gas tank, and its double-safety quick-release filler cap. Let your eye slide from the rear of the black tank-panel to the plastic side covers, then up to one of motorcycling’s plushest seats, and finally back to the rear fender, which sits jauntily about 6 inches above the rear tire, leaving an air space that suggests nimbleness and lightness. The same use of space enhances the appearance of the front end; room exists between the rear of the front fender and the exhaust pipes, and the engine is allocated space on both sides of the cylinder assembly. The lines, a little Triumph-y, are perfect, and the paint and chrome work are what motorcyclist have come to expect from Honda. Designers have seen fit, however, to hide the gastank’s admittedly mediocre seam welds beneath a circumferential metal strip the smacks of Detroit in the Fifties (and Sixties and Seventies).
The bike is so good that it’s scary. But it is demanding; to fully appreciate what it can do you have to work at it. You have to grit your teeth and wind the little sucker up to 7500 rpm before you shift and ten you have to shift quickly. To appreciate its handling stability the 500 has to be thrown authoritatively into corners; it won’t let you down. Ever. If you want to fool around with the engine, the bike expects you to know what the hell you’re doing. To use the front brake to full advantage, it might help to have had a little roadracing experience in your background.
If you’ve got it, if you’re as competent as Honda expects you to be, the little 500 will keep you chuckling to yourself for as long as you own it. If you’re not, if you’re involvement with motorcycling is at the dilletante level, if you don’t have a couple of quarts of 40-weight sliding through your system somewhere, do everybody a favor; walk on by. The 500 is too brilliant to waste.
Cycle, June 1971