4 Sale / Honda GB500 TT: The best British British motorcycle ever?

Honda takes a lot of criticism these days for being too boring, too careful. While Big Red still has a reputation for mechanical excellence and superb fit and finish, motojournos and die-hard riders complain that the company’s bikes just aren’t as exciting as they used to be.

What is happening? Maybe it’s a problem with experienced motorcyclists who are just too spoiled, and take things like reliability for granted, and they have to stop complaining. Or, maybe Honda just decided to be cautious after getting burned on machines like the GB500 TT, a very cool motorcycle that saw poor export sales.

This dry sump engine looks great in this vintage style body! Photo: cycle merchant

Cafe racer via Japan

The GB500 TT (commonly referred to as GB500) was an oddity when it debuted in the United States in 1989. It was an homage to the classic British motorcycles that had dominated Isle of Man racing in the mid-20th century, and the name does it is obvious if the body did not. FR = gto eat Britain, and the TT was for Tourist Trophy, Isle of Man TT races.

In the late ’80s everyone wanted plastic superbikes, not retro British bikes, so the Honda was weird. Notice, the Japanese had done this stuff before; Kawasaki and Yamaha had long had parallel twins in their lineup with a strong visual resemblance to British-built bikes, and the KZ750 twin and XS650 were often seen as reasonable and reliable alternatives to the wayward machines made in the UK.

However, no one has ever been overly excited about UK singles. These thumpers were generally considered outdated and run down, and no one was interested in commemorating these machines and their successes (unless you counted the Yamaha SR500, maybe). Even today, no major manufacturer builds a retro big-bore single-cylinder that looks like a vintage British bicycle.

A very clever reuse of Honda’s big bore XR / XL engine in a totally different motorcycle style. Photo: cycle merchant

But, back in the ’80s Honda insiders must have fond memories of the hairy-chested British four-stroke singles that once dominated TT racing, and they put the engineers to work. First, they built the GB250, a cafe-style bike with a downsized engine taken from the XL350 dual sport. These machines are incredibly rare outside of Japan, as they have never been officially exported. Some examples made it to other countries via the gray market import scene and were appreciated for their low-end couple.

Why hasn’t Honda exported the GB250 to other countries? Probably the same reason why so many other 250 models never make it out of the Japanese domestic market: Executives don’t expect jaded, energy-hungry buyers to pay a fair price for a bike perceived to be “too small.” “. Here in Japan, restrictive regulations make the 250 attractive, but in Europe, Australia and North America buyers want bigger machines.

This is probably why Honda decided to introduce the GB500 to Western markets in 1989 (Japan and other countries saw it on sale earlier, and they saw a 400 version as well). This bike was powered by an air-cooled 498cc single oversquare, with a four-valve RFVC head and single overhead cam. As it was adapted from the larger XL / XR 500-600 series, it had a dry sump design. It was rated at 39 horsepower at 6500 rpm. It was still a long way from the hot four cylinders of the day, but it was enough for a competent driver to have a lot of fun on a side road.

The vintage dual-shock setup means you shouldn’t expect superbike handling. Photo: cycle merchant

With a rear drum brake, single disc front brake, dual rear shocks, telescopic front forks (including vintage fork gaiters!) And 18-inch spoke alloy rims, the GB500 does not. was hardly a technical masterpiece. The chassis and undercarriage were well matched to the engine, and the riding style of this bike was made for. Wet weight was 390 pounds and the chassis had a short wheelbase and tight angles, for quick steering. You could still have a lot of fun on this bike in the corners, if you kept the engine boiling.

Or, with this cute cafe-style seat and clubman bars, runners were able to slip into an old-fashioned squat and wander around town looking for caffeine and jukeboxes, pretending they were at the Ace Cafe. , even though they were really headed for Dunkin ‘Donuts. Some models even came with a cockpit fairing or two-seater bench seat, for a ’60s look.

Honda generously included a kickstarter on the side of the engine, so you can bring your bike to life and wow all viewers (or shamefully resort to the electric boot, if your quads weren’t so up to the task).

But, there just wasn’t enough interest to maintain sales in North America. The United States only saw the imported GB500 for 1989 and 1990, and then it disappeared from the Honda lineup.

With 571 miles on the clock, this bike has barely ridden in the past 30 years. Photo: cycle merchant

This bike here?

Nowadays, it’s a different story. With a renewed interest in retro bikes, the rare US GB500 now commands quite a high resale value, especially if you find one in good condition like this example in Boca Raton, Florida.

This is a 1990 model, and it appears to be in great condition, with only 571 original miles on the clock. The asking price is an astronomical amount of $ 12,500, which is pretty steep considering that you can buy a much newer retro from Triumph or Royal Enfield for that money, or less, and it will have ABS and EFI.

If you must have a GB500, however, you will need to pay. At least that’s a good excuse to visit Florida?

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