LAMS riders are demanding a lot more swagger from manufacturers. How about a neat scrambler with a bit of heritage then? Snag dons the Ray-Bans and heads out on Honda’s CL500.
What we like:
- On-trend scrambler looks
- Beautifully light at the bars
- Honda refinement
Room for improvement:
- Has to be pushed hard at highway speeds
- More tank capacity please
- Speedo too dim
Honda’s CL500 pays homage to the brand’s CL450 of 1968-1974. The upswept pipe and the scrambler stance harking back to a bike that has come right back into fashion. In fact, find a good CL450 and you’ll be in for around $15,000. So, the timing for the new scrambler is in the Goldilocks zone. Just right.
We got our first look at the CL500 at EICMA in 2022, and it hit Aussie shores this year. It’s aimed squarely at the urban scrambler market, the bike’s slim stature and user-friendly ergonomics making lane-splitting and parking easy. All stuff that can be a little daunting to the less experienced rider.
The bike is priced at $10,122 rideaway and joins Honda’s suite of LAMS-approved 500s, bringing to five models now making use of the brand’s 471cc parallel twin – there’s the CL500, CMX500 CBR500R, CB500X and the CB500F. Seems Honda is committed to the new rider segment in a reasonably big way.
Yep, think good city transport with a degree of cool built in, right out of the box. Indeed, all too often smaller capacity bikes carry a super-dag utilitarianism, but this one goes a fair way towards ensuring you’ll be welcomed by the cool kids. And, who doesn’t like to fit in when you are the newbie?
The whole deal gives off that retro-modern scrambler feel with the twin exit high exhaust on the right. In keeping with the minimalism here is a pretty small 12 litre fuel tank, neat fork gaiters and rubber tank pads. At 192kg and with a seat height of 790mm, the ease of feet flat on the ground operation is going to appeal in the marketplace. I’m 178cm and it was just about perfect for me.
Non-adjustable 41mm Showa forks do the job at the bow, with twin rear shocks offering five-stage adjustable preload down back. Suspension is plush, with spring and damping rates all designed to make rugged and varied street surfaces a little softer on the rider. The compromise means things are a not razor sharp when really pushing on, but that’s pretty much spot-on in regard to the comfort versus precise handling equation that a jack-of-most-trades has to solve.
The engine is sweet and compliant with 34.3kW on tap at a revvy 8500rpm, with torque numbers registering 43.4Nm at 6250rpm. It all gets a little breathless at higher speeds unless you use that higher rev range, but this is mitigated by a good spread of torque available delivered in a linear and clean manner. It’s a LAMS 500 after all, and those getting the hang of this motorcycling caper will find it friendly and forgiving. If you are a horsepower hound, well you’ll want more, simple as that.
Clearly Honda has paid a great deal of attention to the geometry of the CL. It all comes together with a playful lightness at the bars and smooth, easy operation. It is a refined motorcycle, with intelligent, rider-conscious performance and ease of use. Very Honda really.
The bike is quick to go from lean to lean, light and direct at the bars. Quick transitions are in the mix here and I can’t help but feel the bike offers a newcomer the opportunity to grow with the bike as confidence and skills improve.
Also well thought through is the seating position. It really is a very comfortable bike with longer stints in the broad stitched seat not causing this ageing back any stress at all. You’ll be stopping for juice fairly often anyway, so all is just tickety-boo on the ergo front. Indeed, with closer to town use the likely order of the day here, it represents a sweet urban runner, but you can give it the berries when the red mist descends with confidence and that, for mine, is a super-smart LAMS-based set-up.
The slipper clutch is a smart and apt feature, particularly fitted to a LAMS offering. This forgives those cack-handed downshifts that we all perform from time to time by disallowing rear wheel lock-up and I’m a super fan of that. Top marks there Mr H.
Now, how about a bit of real scrambling? Well, the handling is predictable and there’s enough suspension travel on offer travel for a bit of easy dirt play, but road-biased Dunlop Trailmax Mixtour tyres will keep you pretty much bitumen based. If you know what’s good for you…
The ‘retro LCD display’ looks the goods, giving modern useability with a degree of old school styling in the nacelle shape, but it’s too dim and there’s no tacho. Bit of a miss there for mine.
There’s a neat old school round housing holding four smart LED units at the front. Pretty grouse looking stuff although nighttime illumination is adequate at best.
There’s a substantial range of accessory packs, offering everything from heated grips to off-road mudguards, headlight visor, power socket and strap-on luggage to dirt racer inspired rear number boards.
Four colour options are on offer: Candy Caribbean Blue, Matte Laurel Green Metallic, Candy Energy Orange and Matte Gunpowder Black Metallic.
So… It’s a very neatly constructed motorcycle at a good price. Honda fit and finish guarantees quality build dynamics and the big win for mine is the cool looks of the bike. It’s not a gimmicky dress-up bike. This is an authentic urban scrambler and that gives the newcomer real street chops. And, let’s be honest. We all want a bit of that.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.