Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

Every motorcycle company has made a couple of bikes it wishes it hadn’t, like the Wankel-engined Suzuki RE5, 1974-1976, or Ducati’s GTL 350, a SOHC parallel twin, 1975-1977. And close to the top of Honda’s list might be the CB500T. Curious that the three just mentioned all appeared in the mid-1970s. With any new model, aesthetics play a part, as do performance and price.

Lots of money goes into any development, whether it’s for a new bike or upgrading an old model, and sales have to compensate. Most times it is not the engineers who make these decisions, but the suits, the people who are supposedly experts on what people want to buy. The CB500T was definitely an upgrade, so here is a little background: The CB450 model, along with its fraternal CL and CM versions, had been around for a decade, 10 years, which is a long time in the mind of Japanese motorcycle designers who are competing with other Japanese motorcycle designers. When the 450 first appeared in 1965, it was applauded for its originality, the vertical twin having the first double overhead camshaft engine in a street bike. Plus, an electric starter. And 444cc! This meant Honda was going to do battle with the British motorcycles American dealers had in their shops.

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

The Europeans had their own thoughts on the subject, but essentially they thought the Japanese would never really be able to compete with BSAs and BMWs. While the sole American company had just gone public in an effort to turn red ink into black, and would soon be bought by an outfit best known for its golf carts.

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The Black Bomber, as that first CB450 was known, had problems and did not sell well. In 1968 a much revamped version showed up, with more traditional styling, plus a fifth gear. And a disc brake in 1970. Sales improved somewhat, and Honda felt this mid-sized machine was good for the brand, and had a price point for the casual rider. The more motivated rider would buy the new four-cylinder CB750.

In the early 1970s Honda engineers were very busy working on its Gold Wing, and somebody pointed out the elderliness of the CB450. It probably was the newest guy in the shop who was told to do something about it. And do it without spending too much money. OK, we’ll keep the DOHC and two-valves per cylinder design, but stroke it an additional seven millimeters and bring the cubic capacity up to 498cc and call it a CB500, with big numbers on the side covers. We’ll put a T after it, so people will know it’s a Twin, and not a four like the CB400F and CB550F.

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

Engine mods? Those extra millimeters in the stroke might cause problems to the crankshaft, so we’ll swap the 450’s roller bearings for big ball bearings, which should extend the life of the engine. We can use the 450’s DOHC head, but better cut the compression a little, from 9:1 to 8.5:1, so the owner can run the cheapest gas — which is getting expensive right about 1975. No need to change the 32mm Keihin CV carburetors. Rear-wheel power will be the same as on the 450, some 34 horses, but there will be a few extra pounds, like 15, on the 500. Wet weight, with 4.2 gallons of gas, was 460 pounds.

Unfortunately, their cost-cutting ways caused them to miss out on what should have been their primary concern — vibration! The 450 was known as a shaker, and the 500 was even worse. Rubber-mounted seat, rubber-mounted handlebars, thick rubbers on the pegs — and it still shook. In a seven-bike middleweight shoot-out, all Japanese, one moto-mag rated the CB500T worst in a number of categories, including vibration and overall. How expensive would it have been to put in a counterbalancer?

The chassis had a standard cradle frame holding the engine, a new fork up front, standard shocks at the back, 19-inch wheel at the front, 18-inch rear. Brakes were adequate, a disc up front, drum at the back. However, anybody who liked a good bit of lean angle was in for unpleasant surprises. On the left side the sidestand would start to scrape, soon followed by the centerstand, while on the right side the rear brake lever, which looped under the exhaust pipe, could pick up the rear wheel. Not fun. To compensate, sportier riders would crank up the spring preload on the shocks to give a bit more altitude, but then the ride could be unpleasantly stiff.

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

A curious addition was a rather bulky resonator/connector running between the two header pipes, in a successful effort to keep exhaust noise down. The photo bike has rather attractive aftermarket mufflers, which probably would not pass a contemporary sound test. The U.S. was becoming concerned over air pollution, so Honda added a couple of gizmos. One was the blow-by gas circulator in the cylinder head, and the other the air-cut valves in the carburetors, both of which were designed to prevent unburned gas from getting to the atmosphere. There is not enough room here to get into the specifics, just a reminder that green-suited ecology cops have been around for a long time.

With all these complaints, one nice aspect was the long and comfy seat…except for the passenger grab-strap. Easily removed, and many riders preferred to have their passengers pressed up against them with arms around their waists.

The main thing the CB500T had going for it was the classic look, which meant British. If a rider was not interested in going fast or far, for $1,545 this could be his or her ride — that’s $7,400 in 2020 dollars. And a new 2021 twin-cylinder CB500F costs only $6,100.

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin:

12 COMMENTS

  1. Had one of these.. vibration was worse than a Triumph Thunderbird I had at the time, it could also produce an unpredictable wobble out of nowhere !

  2. By 1975, the Honda line-up included a 350cc parallel twin, two 360cc parallel twins, a 400cc in-line four, and a 550cc in-line four. The need for the aging DOHC twin to continue in the mid-range of the line-up was a real question.
    That 7 bike showdown should never have included the CB500T. Predictably, the CB500T got trounced like a pacifist in an extreme cage fight. Of all the bikes in that test, the only fair fight the 500T had was the Yamaha XS500C. In the seven bike comparison, the CB500T came in dead last. One thing it got credit for was reliability.
    I owned my 1975 CB500T for 9 years and, while it vibrated so bad the mirrors would go out of adjustment, it was rock-ribbed reliable, even starting in Wisconsin’s cold winter weather. That said, when Honda finally retired it, I couldn’t help but wonder if they ever regretted letting the Black Bomber deteriorate to what might have been called the Brown Bomb!

  3. Had one for 4years didn’t have the vibration problems. Careful running in seemed to work after many British singles & twins was civilised and comfortable reasonable mpg toured 2 up all over England it was a shame to part with it for my CB750 k2

  4. L’ho avuta per almeno 8 anni da giovane, mai avuto nessun problema di vibrazioni, una gran bella moto. La mia era arancione. Peccato averla venduta, sto pensando seriamente di ricomprarla oggi che ho 61 anni.

  5. Had one for 5 years was a great bike if carefully run in no vibration and used as an every day ride and reliable . It was nether meant to be a sports bike but as a touring bike was exceptionally good

  6. I had a secondhand 1968 black bomber in 1972 as my second bike. Following my first bike which was a Honda CB77 Dream. It was a blast to ride and very fast indeed. It easily went up to 190 kilometers/hour (120 MPH). And the acceleration was really very quick. I never met a bike that could match it. And just so reliable compared to the British bikes my friends had. And I do not remember that the vibrations was a real problem. In the spring of 1973 I went from Copenhagen to Paris (and back) – each 1290 kilometer ++ trip in one go. No problems, at 20 I was young and had more stamina than today. In Paris, close to Arc de Triumph, I met a large BMW (an R69S?) who revved his bike asking me to see who was the faster one. Her never saw anything except the back of the “bomber”. Whan he caught up with med at the next stoplight, he was so interessed in seeing what had hit him. It was of course my blistering fast Honda CB450 black bomber.

  7. I bought a CB500T in 1990 and I still have it! it was a pig at first as it had several issues which took a lot of time and headscratching to find and correct: It was a terrible starter,wasnt plugs,leads or coils, I fitted a newtronic ign system which improved but didnt solve completely, replaced the cam chain (21k miles)the timing was out slightly.Improved but still not 100% then one day aftr the bike had been lying for a week in the shed & I’d forgotten to turn the fuel tap off I found the source of the petrol smell was coming from the crankcase my oil level was way too high as petrol had flowed through 1 or both carbs and into cylinders filling the crankcase! 1 New set of float valves and a balancing of the carbs on a vacuum gauge resolved that problem( the float valves were bad and obviously caused bad running issues) also the carbs were out of sync with prev owners trying to adjust carbs to improve running and making it worse! Now the vibration issue that every one goes on about with these bikes was never a problem with mine and I found out why.. there is a ‘head steady’ bracket on top of the cyl head which bolts head to frame it wasnt on my bike and if you have a cb500t get rid of the bracket and you’ll have a much smoother bike I’ve never had and vibration probs or any probs caused by running bike without it, another thing I found it likes is being started on the electric starter from cold and aftr that it kick starts with half a kick when hot/warm. I have it running like a watch now!
    Warning E10 fuel avoid avoid! or treat with e10 neutraliser additive.
    these are 47 year old bikes now(at time of writing) they are solidly built and reliable pretty easy to work on/maintain, mine can easily hit 90mph but I do not recommend any speed over 70mph as the front end really needs a fork brace and can suffer strange alignment problems which you are better not experiencing to understand! as it could result in catastrophe! twisty roads max speed 55, straight roads 70 max is safest in my experience. Well the old girl is still with me, new in 1976, 32nd year ownership its like an old friend, got lots of other bikes now too T-140 triumphs,motoguz cal3, Bsa b-31, GS500E,kawa W800. But I still like my old 500t!

    • Hiya Steve, just read your comments regarding CB 500t, I’ve got one pickled in my living room for last 20 years, however the engine was rebuilt with new head’s, piston’s etc 26 years ago by expert owner eclipse motorcycles Musselburgh/ Tranent Scotland. Due to my knees knackered for last 15 years it’s only done less than a 100 miles since . I love it but I’m considering selling, Anyway I note you have another old favourite of mine a B31, that was my first bike and believe it or not I practically gave it away for £15 bloody pounds 50 year’s ago. That’s another story!! Never again ,I still miss her like my first love and don’t really want a repeat of this parting with my long term partner Honda. A great original reliable friend.

  8. I’m looking at a used one for easy cruising at about 40-45MPH on the backroads! Is this a better bike cruising at those speeds(less vibration) as opposed to 55+ cruising?

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