Honda’s Summer Demo Ride

As I was flying the demo Cessna Caravan EX, 2500 feet below Honda was getting set to demo their motorcycles at Westside Honda in Selkirk. For many reasons most distributors simply won’t allow demo rides on new bikes. So how do you choose if you haven’t ridden any of them? That is where the Honda “Come Ride With Us” program comes in. Honda Canada hires a group of biker enthusiasts to drive a trailer full of new motorcycles around Canada each summer to give riders a chance to try before they buy.

Getting a chance to try out a new Gold Wing or ST1300, if you have never ridden one before, is worth the effort of meeting up with the Honda tour somewhere along the line. When I bought my ST1300 in 2004 I basically bought it online. It was ready to go when I finally showed up at the dealership. I packed my panniers and suited up with my 15 year old son and we set off across Western Canada without ever having ridden that bike. With my years of riding experience I didn’t have a problem but those who don’t have as much experience just might.

To set the safety standards, the Honda team “facilitators” control the ride by setting a “lead” and “follow” Honda rider to watch the pack (and maybe to prevent someone from taking off down the road with a new bike) front and back. But if you drop it…. Well that is why Honda insists on full helmet, face shield, protective riding clothes, ankle high boots and gloves. Oh… and a motorcycle driver’s license.

For the most part, I enjoyed the show from the benches but stepped in and helped out with what I could.

“This bike won’t start!” “Your kill switch is on.”

“This bike won’t start!” “It’s still in gear.”

“This bike won’t start!” “Your kick stand is down.”

“This bike won’t start!” “You need to pull in the clutch.”

The best part of the show for me was watching a very short and shaky rider testing as many different bikes as he could, with his pink haired girlfriend insisting on going along for each ride, and knowing he was going to dump one bike or another. When he straddled the ST1300 with his short legs barely touching the ground, I knew this was going to be the one. I was initially surprised when I saw him coming back from his ride unscathed but it wasn’t over yet.

Sure enough, as if choreographed, he circled around the parking lot, slowed to stop on sloped ground and put his foot out on the right hand side finding nothing. A classic mistake – he leaned toward the low side of the slope. With his feet flailing around in the air he went over in slow motion. The bike toppled in its side like an old horse that had suddenly suffered a heart attack. I almost expected to see four stiff legs pointing to the heavens.

Luckily the rider and his girlfriend rolled with the fall without getting their legs trapped under the heavy bike. Several people immediately rushed to hit the kill switch and upright the bike. One pannier was dislodge and the mirror was askew but the Honda riders knocked them both back into place.

“Happens all the time” they said.

It was only then that they turned to see how the pink lady had fared. I think she was a little miffed that everyone had been more concerned about the ST1300 and that her welfare came second. Welcome to a biker’s life.

I had ridden most of the bikes on the demo tour but my son (now 24) had not, so he signed up to give a few of those bikes a try. Of all the bikes being offered, however, the buzz was mostly about the CBR500R and CB500F. For these “not-so-experienced” riders the new entry 500 class is exciting. These well designed bikes are small, light and mild enough to accommodate the novice rider but big and strong enough to carry an adult rider comfortably along the highway.

Logan had the opportunity to ride and compare the two during the tour. I thought there would not be much difference but he claims there was. Air flow control, steering dynamics and riding position combined with the triangle between the handle bar, seat height and peg positions will all effect your ride and suit different customers but Honda seems to have found the middle ground between comfortable highway riding, maneuverable city driving and the occasional long distance romp.

To keep costs down, important for attracting new riders, Honda has kept most everything else (power train, gear box, frame, brakes, suspension) the same between models. The broad torque balanced engine pulls its way easily, especially when taking advantage of the 8700 rpm red line, through the 6 gears to get you very quickly up to a comfortable 5000 rpm highway cruising speed while still allowing for low rpm get-a-ways when darting around in the city. I watched Logan accelerate down the highway on the first trail run with the CB500F and was amazed at how quick that bike moved. He said the acceleration was palpable – he felt the rush of air on his chest and the pull on his arms.

Additionally, the fuel economy is very respectable especially in comparison with the fuel thirsty NC700X or quick to the pump CBR60RR. In fact the 500 series holds its own against the fuel miserly CBR250R but with the larger tank the 500 can take you further between uploads.

The bike is light and maneuverable and Logan had no trouble transiting from the CBR125R to the CBR250R to the CBR500R. At 5′ 8″ he could plant his feet flat on the ground and at slow speeds maneuver as easily as with the smaller Honda “starter” bikes. Most beginner riders could either start with the 125 or the 250 and within a few years jump to the 500. If you are not an iron butt monster then the 500 could easily become your mate for life with a few comfortable long distance rides thrown in for fun.

So how do you choose even after riding the two? Logan says:

“The CB500F if you want a more “naked” look with an upright city riding position and the CBR500R if want a more “sporty” look with a reasonable protective fairing.”

I think he was leaning toward the more aggressive looking CB500F as he said it would be more fun in the city. Me, I am a highway guy so I liked the CBR500R. I guess we will have to get one of each.

Honda’s “Come Ride With Us” at Westside Honda in Selkirk


About John S Goulet

Air Transport Pilot, consultant, writer, blogger and photographer with 40 years in Professional Aviation.
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