I bought a 98 CB500 in 2006 because I needed a reliable bike to ride to the train station, which is 10 miles away. I looked at the usual comuter options and nearly bought a scooter. In the end I bought my CB off ebay because, although I was never a fan of its looks, they had such a great reputation.
I can confirm that the reputed good points of this bike are all there. The bike feels well made and feels like it will run forever. Mine has 12,000 miles on the clock and feels like new. The engine pulls well from about 2500rpm and has a little power band at the top end. Progress around town is swift with the good bottom and midrange power.
Appart from reliability and a good engine, I think the best feature of the bike is its balance and ease of riding. I personally really appreciate the way Honda often get this right - its the same with my CRM250. The bike stops and turns intuitively which means it's fun to drive and actually feels quite sporty.
You can truck on a bit too and it handles well for a bike with old fashioned things like a steel frame and twin rear shocks. If you push hard it gets a bit loose, but I just don't push hard these days! Pass me the slippers.
There's something fundamental to me about a 500 twin too. It just seems like the ultimate bike - as you thump along at 60mph, you just want to got on forever. I'm not intimidated about servicing it too. I feel I could have the engine out if I wanted to; of course I never will. But I like that feeling; it's relaxing.
The bike is unfared, which has been a problem over winter - freezing. So have put a Givi screen on, which looks a bit middle aged, but then I am middle aged and it keeps me warm. I think being warm is perhaps the most important thing on a cold day.
I'm tempted to do a track day on it this year, which may invovle some fiddling. The Brembo brakes are good, but I may change the fluid and put a new hard hose on the front. I may look for better rear shocks, although the standard ones aren't bad. The pegs as standard go down easy, so need the hero blobs off - I don't really want to raise the pegs unless I have to - comfort being important these days.
I've bought a second hand aftermarket can off ebay, but haven't fitted it yet. I think the bike sounds OK as standard, but sometimes standard cans can be very restrictive - we'll see.
All in all it's a great bike that looks a bit old fashioned. Very old fashined in fact. It's got a sort of retro appeal - just. It's more impressive in the flesh that it looks in pictures, thank God. It does feel like a real bike, not just a little comuter, although it looks a bit stiff parked next to more modern bikes. It's great to ride and reliable. I have been tempted to change it for something with more oomph - TDM900, VFR800 - but so far have resisted. I think it does it's job very well. Also means I can have two bikes, as it was only £800.
I can now report that the track day has been done. I changed the front brake fluid and fitted a steel hose. I also fitted a micron race pipe for more ground clearance and rasied the pegs with risers. The bike did very well at Angelsea and embarassed a few bikes; even on road tyres. The main issue is the ground clearance. I was OK, but changing the pipe and fitting risers cost a few quid and those pipes are hard to find now. Also the bike doesn't handle great a racetrack speeds - the back end can fee light, it doesn't do quick changes of direction well and the overall riding position doesn't feel very Valentino. If you want a cheap track bike, I would suggest something with more racing pedigree - a VFR400 or even an ally framed CBR600. Don't think I'll be swapping though!
It's now 2011 and the CB500 is still in my garage. For the last couple of years I've stopped using the train and have been commuting by car and bike (summer). I bought an Aprilia Falco for this, but I actually use the CB500 more often - it's 140 miles each way! I only go one or two times a week, by the way. The CB is a surprisingly good motorway bike. It zips along at 80-90 no problem and gets 60mpg. It really needs its Givi screen though. Did another track day at Donnington last year and the CB was excellent - I think it's better with flowing tracks and there were 2 other CBs there too - both race bike. Yes, I stuffed one of them (big fat bloke - that's what he had written on his tank), but the other guy had tyre warmers so never got the chance to follow him. No plans to sell the bike soon!
It's now 2013 and I still own the CB500. It now has 25k on the clock. The engine feels exactly the same as when I bought it and it always starts, even after being sat for a while. I was using the Falco to commute as the CB is out of MOT, but I did use the CB through the very cold weather in nov and dec. The main problems with the bike are the rear shocks are rusty (still work fine) and the fork tubes are rusty - I'll need to replace these at some point. I did the BIKE magazine track day at Cadwell last year on the CB and will do it again probably.
Quick update. It's now Christmas 2014. CB500 still in daily use. I've been a bit lazy since summer and have not cycled to work much, so the CB has taken me every day. It's still never missed a beat in 8 years. I've put new shocks on and replaced the front forks as they were pitted. The front brake calliper was binding at the end of last winter, but they freed it up easily at the spring service. I bought 2 used race tyres in spring for £50 and they've been fine. Not as good as BT45, but OK. The bike is probably worth about £500 now, so that's £300 depreciation in 8 years. Beat that :) Really want a Versys now, but so hard to say goodbye to a faithful friend.