Honda CR500AF - Dirt Rider Magazine

If you're one of those riders who believes the slogans on motorcycle T-shirts (or, better yet, thinks they are talking about you) or if you find four-strokes boringly civilized, then Service Honda built its CR500AF for you. Many riders in their 20s have never experienced a 500cc two-stroke, and most have never turned a wheel in competition on one. In terms of outright horsepower and torque, a typical 500 isn't much more muscular than a contemporary four-stroke. But whereas a four-stroke builds power smoothly, the 500cc two-stroke has steps in the powerband in which boost builds explosively. For example, the Honda CR500R engine used by Service Honda is tame compared with one from 1985, but it (and virtually all CR500Rs) still has a spot in the midrange at which the power jumps 18 horsepower in 1500 rpm! That can be a handicap in some situations; but when there are hills, deep sand or loam straights, sweepers or long start areas, a 500 makes you feel as if you're attached to the end of a giant rubber band, and the giant just let it fly. In other words, this bike is for power fanatics who can't get enough of the sheer thrill of acceleration. It isn't completely civilized, but it is a rush.Sort Of A Honda
Honda quit making the CR500R several years ago, but even before it did, there were 500cc addicts who chafed at the fact that their favorite open bike was languishing in a technology dead zone. The 500 remained unchanged through three upgraded models of the CR250R before being dropped from the lineup. Service Honda answered the demand for a modern CR500R in 1997 by squeezing the 500 mill into the then-new CR250R aluminum chassis. As each new generation of the CR250R chassis enters production, Service develops a new bike around it-until now. The problem is the CR250R has been technologically suffering a little, and selling the leftover engines has been slow. These days, the CRF four-strokes have the most-modern version of Honda's aluminum chassis, so Service decided to create the '05 500AF using the CRF250R four-stroke chassis, since it is the latest (fourth-generation) design from Honda while the CR250R still has the third-generation rendition.As a result, in terms of handling and ergonomics, the CR500AF is actually as modern as any Honda motocross or off-road bike.What's It Like?
The feeling is somewhat hard to explain. It is difficult to even imagine the sheer level of excitement and acceleration a CR500R generates. Add in the fact that its CRF250R chassis feels lighter and smaller than the older steel-framed CR500Rs. It also feels as if the '05 CR500AF has a shorter overall wheelbase. Naturally, the engine is kickstart only (for the moment; Service wants an E-start version to install in CRF250X frames for thrill-seeking off-roaders). Most important, Service claims the CR500AFX will retain its California green-sticker legal status. The CRF250X/CR500R pairing should be a good one, since most of the CR500AF units sold go to off-road fans, though some do live an all-motocross life.Despite the kickstarter, the AF is not a chore to start. It does like a full-travel, energetic kick, but it usually responds with enthusiasm to a decent effort. Vibration is strong compared with modern four-strokes but not bad for a 500cc two-stroke. The engine warms quickly and is ready to ride. We found ourselves modifying our trail rides to include longer straights, more hills and additional sweepers just to have more opportunities to let 'er rip! The power is addicting, and the bike is happiest with most of the horses out of the barn. The $8999 suggested retail price gives you a bike with a 500cc motor in a stock CRF250R chassis. However, most of the customers looking for something this specialized also want some additional goodies. Our bike came with a billet rear caliper mount, billet engine covers and triple clamps and MX Tech suspension mods.Honestly, if you have a Service Honda in your sights, consider the suspension mods a must, as the additional weight (not too much) and power (roughly double) have a substantial effect. We didn't ride one with stock suspension and would be surprised if it worked very well with this engine.On one ride, we ran dry with the stock tank 30 percent earlier than with an '05 CR250R (also with a stock tank), so we installed a Clarke unit. It cleared the coolant fittings and spark plug better; we hardly noticed it while riding; and in the natural color, it is vastly easier to fill without overflowing. We'd consider this tank a must-have-even for moto.Track Time
We spent a fair amount of time on the motocross track with the AF and found it clearly appreciates a fast track with a lot of flow more than a tight and jump-filled one. The power can be a little hard to control on a short-approach jump; but if you are good with throttle control, the bike will feel neutral in the air. It also excelled more in softer dirt than on sticky hardpack. When the Southern California rains came and washed out the tracks, we installed the available quiet spark arrestor and headed for the desert. With room to play, the bike's fun factor ratcheted up even higher. You have to look for hills it won't climb; and even with the stock moto gearing, the bike had plenty of ground-eating speed available. Whether you are on the track or off-road, the bike basically handles as if it's a CRF250R, which means very well. The front end is definitely lighter, but we became used to it. Despite the added velocity, the 250's brakes do the job in fine fashion.Finally, we took the 500 to Disneyland. Not really, of course; but as Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth for a kid, sand dunes are the happiest places on Earth for a 500 rider. They allow you to use all of the available power at will. Let the ponies out and watch the sand spray. And for the photos, we didn't run a paddle tire or even a sand tire! We did have massive grins mounted up, though.Obviously, 60-horsepower 500cc two-strokes aren't for everyone. If they had ever sold in great numbers, the OEMs wouldn't have abandoned them. But Service isn't looking to sell an enormous number. The company knows there are a few well-heeled riders in dirt bike land who think too much power is just enough for them. Most of them also appreciate the easy maintenance of a non-power valve two-stroke engine. It doesn't get much more basic. The desire to own a dirt rocket such as this is primary, too. After man made the motorcycle, the next man wanted a faster one. The essence of American hot-rodding is shoving bigger, more-powerful engines into smaller and lighter vehicles. You just need to know if you are the hot-rod type. Similar to a hot-rod roadster, the Service Honda bike is distilled performance maximized and comfort and civility minimized.Contact
Service Honda
I used to love 500s for moto and off-road, and I have to admit this Service Honda is nonstop sensory overload. It is capable of docility, but why waste it? Sometimes you want the right tool for the job; other times you look for the right job for the tool. I spent my seat time looking for the best job for 60 ponies! As thrilling as the 500 is, I'm not ready to trade in my E-start four-stroke.Karel Kramer
6'1"/205 lb/B rider
I've ridden some of the biggest, baddest horsepower-spewing dirt bikes ever built. They were either extremely heavy twin-cylinder bikes or very short life-span, full-race motors. All were outrageously expensive. Not this CR500: It is just like the 2005 CR500R Honda would have built for all intents and purposes. It's light, puts out big power-right now-and will last a long time. For the right guy, and you know who you are, this is a great bike. I rode it in the sand dunes for photos, and that was a match made in heaven. It is a little on the gnarly side for trail riding and even for moto; yet the one thing this Service Honda really proves is how truly good modern four-strokes have become. But there is nothing like the smell of premix in the morning.Jimmy Lewis
5'10"/180 lb/Vet Pro