Once upon a time, 500s were the bikes that dominated Motorcycle Grand Prix’s premiere class, rideable only by superhumans, and trailing their distinctive two-stroke smoke. The occasional 500 cc two-smoke made it to production for street use, for those lucky enough to get their hands on one. Today, 500s (in four-stroke guise) represent more of an entry-level offering, opening the door for new riders, or possibly those returning from hiatus, having sold their RG500s years before.
Honda sells a triple threat of half-litre street bikes that share many of their parts between them, but have distinctive personalities and goals. The CB500F is the Standard of the bunch, naked and unashamed, and lighter for it. The CBR500R wears the racy clothing of those long gone 500 GP bikes. The CB500X dons hiking boots to become the world travelling adventure bike. All three receive similar updates to pass Euro 5 emissions regulations.
According to cycleworld.com, Euro 5 compliance comes mostly from improved catalytic converters in the dual exhaust system. Coming into effect for all-new bikes in January 2020, and for existing new bikes in January 2021, the Euro 5 standard replaces the Euro 4 standard, with more stringent tail pipe emissions allowances for carbon monoxide, total hydrocarbons, non-methane hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter. With the amount of burnt two-stroke lubricating oil, and unburnt fuel from overlapping intake and exhaust port timing spewing from even the cleanest two-stroke engines, the 500 cc two-stroke streetbikes of yore would never come close to passing Euro 5.
Other minor updates to the Honda 500 trio include LED lighting, LED displays, improved chassis geometry, a gear indicator and shift light. Power outputs remain unchanged despite the new emissions equipment.
Two-stroke engines still survive in the motocross world, but despite Bimota’s best efforts, two-stroke street bikes are a thing of the past. The CBR500R name might not elicit the same excitement as the RG500 or RZV500R did in the 1980s, but at least the modern 500s are more affordable, accessible, versatile, and far less polluting.
Sources: cycleworld.com, motopinas.com