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Classic Motorcycle Review - Posted 18th November 2016
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Honda GB500 TT

Honda's Brit-style big single isn't just better than the XBR500, says David Romaine, it's better than a classic Velocette...

They make some odd decisions at Honda sometimes. They make arguably the best V4 sports tourer with gear driven cams, and then put a chain in it and V-tech it. It’s still a great bike but very strange. The same goes for the GB500 TT, a single styled for the traditionalists with wire wheels, a racing seat, four-valve ohc engine which looks (forgive me) not unlike an AJS 7R. They name it the GB TT: great. Then they only sell it in the USA and Japan… not in Britain, despite its model designation.

Honda GB500 TT Review Honda GB500 TT Brochure

The GB bombed in the USA and Honda were left with 1000 units that didn’t sell. So these were shipped to… Germany, of all places! The Japanese home market also got the GB500, and this model was imported to New Zealand in 400 and 500cc variants, some with factory half fairings and dual seats. The US model had a dark green pin-striped tank and panels, with the Japanese variant being a lovely metallic burgundy.

Honda GB400 TT Review Japanese market Honda GB400 TT

Here in Britain, the home of the TT, and where generations of bike riders have adored big single, Mr Honda gave us the XBR500 with Comstar wheels, angular tank, dull grey-painted engine cases: all sorts of fairly mundane plastic stuff which the GB didn’t have. Apparently, the low value of the pound against the Yen would have made the GB too expensive in the UK.

Honda GB500 TT Review Honda GB500 TT - Rare drive-side photo

I’ve owned a couple of XBRs and always wondered why they didn’t steer like a GB. It seems it is down to the wheelbase being much shorter. The petrol tank is also shorter, moving the rider more forward and making the steering very edgy in my opinion. The first GB I bought back in 1994 cost £1250. These days, with the popularity of the café racer genre, a nice one can cost up to £5000. Compared to a good Velo the Honda is worth every penny! (I have owned a Velocette Venom Clubman – shudder). The little GB TT is, in my opinion, one of the most aesthetically pleasing motorcycles ever made, right up there with Thruxton Velos and Goldies; it works from every angle.

Honda GB500 TT Review
XBR (and other) Hondas on Now...

The GB offers that indestructible, four-valve RFVC motor pushing out 38bhp. It has a Honda ‘six’ styled front mudguard, racing seat with suede piping (also a la six) and automatic decompression and electric start: loverly. The GB came with chrome headlamp and matching chrome rev counter and speedometer; clip-on handlebars which give a really comfortable riding position even for a hefty six-footer like me. DID anodised alloy rims complete the package. The single disc and Koni aftermarket rear units make for a super handling and stopping package, although the standard rear shocks for the Japanese market are a tad soft for someone who weighs 14-stone like me.

On the road the GB doesn’t thump like a traditional Brit single and, thanks to clever Mr Honda, it doesn’t vibrate like one either. It is fairly agile but even that can be improved if you replace the awesomely heavy standard exhaust, which weighs some 30-odd lb, with a lightweight aftermarket unit. The GB will do the ton in a very smooth way and – more importantly – reliably. Motorway cruising isn’t ideal territory for a GB, but it holds its own at 80mph.

Honda GB500 TT Review Honda GB500 TT Brochure

To my shame I bought a cheap GB and wasn’t paying attention. It was showing 24k miles on the speedo, went well and didn’t smoke. Upon examining the MoTs it seems the clocks must have been changed back when the MoT showed 68,000 miles. The engine is generally fairly indestructible, its only vulnerability being the cam in head, but with regular quality oil changes a long, trouble-free life is assured.

There was a roadtest which pitched a GB against a clubman Velo and large capacity Goldie*. It was nice to see the GB won all the standing quarter mile speed trials, with a 14.3 second quarter-mile at 90mph. That was after the forty-something year-old tester’s rather rubbish attempts at starting the Brits, while the GB fired up smartly with a prod of the button…

Honda GB500 TT Review

The GB is a cracking little single that is a pleasure to own and ride. In these times of heady classic bike prices, it’s a great buy, even at £5k.

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There’s a detailed feature about the XBR500 and its offshoots in the Sept issue of RealClassic Magazine (RC149) with heaps of feedback from riders and owners

*ever heard the expression ‘comparing apples and oranges’? In our considered editorial opinion, comparing a late 1980s Japanese bike to a 1950s British bike is just plain bananas…


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