Honda CR500 Specs and Review (MX-Style Dirt Bike)

For non-open-class riders, the Honda CR500 may seem like a bore. After all, this unchanging 500-cc behemoth already inherently possesses all the power and reliability coveted by other dirt bike categories. But for the savvy enthusiast, there is more to this chunky two-wheeler than brute strength and rip-your-face-off speed. This article will cover some fascinating tidbits about this legendary dirt bike.

The CR500 was a 491-cc MX-style dirt bike Honda produced from 1984 to 2001. It was arguably the most powerful open-class motorcycle of its time, featuring an air-/liquid-cooled CR500 engine, dual disc brakes, and cartridge-type suspension. It also had a top speed of 93 mph and 67.6 hp at its peak.

Additionally, it offered a maximum torque of 72.2 Nm (53.3 lb-ft) @ 6,000 RPM. These figures may not be that impressive by today’s standards. But they made for the kind of explosive power that the most talented riders can only tame. If you think you are up to the challenge, continue reading this guide and learn more about this burly machine both feared and loved.

Person Riding Red Dirt Bike

Honda CR500 – Not for the Faint-hearted

If you would ask the staff of HotCars.com, the Honda CR 500 tops the list of the best 2-stroke dirt bikes of all time – alongside other reputable dirt monsters like the Husqvarna CR125, Yamaha YZ125, Kawasaki KX500, and Honda’s very own CRF450R. This 491-cc brute was not only the big brother of the CR250R but also the “Ping King” (thanks to its air-cooled introductory model). The CR500 was highly adored for its power and price – at $2,598 and with a claimed CR500 horsepower of 59 hp (43.4 kW), consumers were guaranteed a sweet deal and got more than their money’s worth.

The Jekyll-Hyde Persona: A Badge of Courage

The CR500 would have unanimously ranked first in every motorcycle publication if not for one major flaw – it is a machine biased towards the more skilled, advanced rider. That said, the bike’s prowess was never fully appreciated, to the extent that even its top-speed rating was undermined. Many riders deem the Honda CRF450R faster than the CR500 when, in reality, the CR500 top speed is 93 mph (150 km/h) versus the former’s 87 mph (140 km/h). Bringing out the bike’s full potential was simply a matter of the rider’s skills matching the two-wheeler.

Because the CR500 is faster and heavier than your average dirt bike, the result of riding it is like a double-edged sword. And this is where the bike’s test of courage begins. Putting one leg over this mean machine entails bravery, strength, and skill at all times. Miss out one of the three requisites, and this 500-cc 2-stroke can easily turn into an unforgiving beast that will bite you. Conversely, keep your focus on the road, and the Honda CR500 is guaranteed to exceed your expectations.

Honda CR500 Specs & Features

Engine

Power comes from a 2-stroke, liquid-cooled (air-cooled during the bike’s incoming year), single-cylinder engine with a bore-stroke ratio of 89 x 79 mm (3.5 x 3.1 inches). It has a membrane-and-power-valve assembly, with the piston displacement at 491.4 cm3 (29.9 cu-in). A 38-mm flat-slide Keihin carburetor (with #55 slow and #170 main) with a 6.8:1 compression ratio handles the air-fuel mixture. Air filtration utilizes an oiled polyurethane foam element mated to an expansion chamber. 

Fuel & Lubrication

Fuel tank capacity is 9.0 L (2.4 US gallons) of unleaded gasoline with a minimum PON 90 rating. This quantity provides a fuel mileage of 10 L/100 km or 23.5 mpg. Lubrication is pre-mix with a fuel-oil ratio of 32:1, and the manufacturer recommends Pro-Honda HP2 2-stroke Oil or its equivalent for both engine and transmission. Should you need a guide, refer to the service manual for permitted viscosity grades following ambient temperature.

Drivetrain

A manual, 5-speed constant mesh transmission (with a left-foot-operated return system, 1-N-2-3-4-5 gearshift sequence) and a wet, multi-plate clutch assembly deliver power to the ground. A DID520DS5 or RK520KZ3 O-ring chain (view on Amazon) with 114 links + joint handles wheel spin. The CR500’s wide-ratio transmission lends to its impressive handling and solid cornering. Front and rear sprockets were originally 14/51T but later changed to 14/49T (3.500) from 1992 onward.

For reference, the stock gear ratios for ’92-’94+ models are below:

Primary Reduction Ratio2.520
Transmission Gear Ratio – I1.750
Transmission Gear Ratio – II1.388
Transmission Gear Ratio – III1.150
Transmission Gear Ratio – IV1.000
Transmission Gear Ratio – V0.870
Final Reduction Ratio3.500 (14/49T)

Ignition

This 500-cc dirt monster has an electronic CDI (Capacitor Discharge Ignition) and a primary kick-starter bringing it to life. Ignition timing (at the “F” mark) is 22° BTDC @ 4,000 RPM. A flywheel magneto serves as its overall charging system and power source for electronic accessories. Furthermore, the machine requires any of these recommended spark plugs – a Champion QN-86, NGK BR8EG, or an ND W24SR-V. All plugs have a gap of 0.5 – 0.6 mm (0.021 – 0.024 inch).

It is unspecified in the manual if the bike does come with a battery. But after you have done a flywheel and stator rewind, you may use a 12V (6 Ah)/10 HR YTZ7S battery format with assembled dimensions of 113 x 70 x 105 mm (4.44 x 2.74 x 4.12inches – L x W x H). Doing this enables you to equip your dirt bike with electric starting.

Tires & Brakes

Stock tires consist of Dunlop K490G 80/100-21 51M front tires and Dunlop K695 110/100-18 64M rear tires mounted on tubeless steel/aluminum rims. Recommended cold-tire pressure for both tires is 100 kPa (1.0 kgf/cm2, 15 psi). As for brakes, a single 240-mm hydraulic front disc with twin-piston calipers and a 220-mm hydraulic front disc provide stopping power and complete the dirt bike’s tire-and-wheel assembly.

Suspension

The front suspension consists of conventional 45-mm leading-axle Showa® USD forks. Meanwhile, the rear uses with Showa® Pro-Link suspension. Each unit has compression and rebound damping adjustability and provides at least 12 inches (305 mm front, 320 mm rear) of wheel travel. The rear particularly mates to DeCarbon-type dampers with a nitrogen-filled reservoir. The wheelbase is at least 58.5 inches (1,485 mm), increasing by a mere inch for later-year models.

Honda CR500 Dirt Bikes on the Beach

Dimensions

The ‘92 CR500’s overall dimensions are 85.9 x 32.5 x 48.8 inches (2,183 x 825 x 1,240 mm) – with close-to-negligible variances from other model years. Seat height ranges from 36.9 – 38 inches (937 – 964 mm), while the footpeg height is between 16.6 inches (422 mm) and 17.3 inches (439 mm). Dry weight is 101 Kg (222.7 lbs.). Thanks to the bike’s tall seating, the minimum ground clearance is 13.5 inches (343 mm), making the CR500 the perfect ride for rock-strewn paths and wooded trails.  

Exterior

Enclosed in a semi-double-cradle steel frame (27°43′ – 28°10 caster angle, 114 – 121 mm trail) is a Gen-II/III aluminum crankcase, internal engine components, and plastic body panels in a predominantly red color scheme. The incoming model had a blue seat, red body panels, yellow number plate panels at the front and close to the rear, and moderately raised footpegs that make for hassle-free kick-starts. Other inclusions were standard handgrips, spoke wheels, and a buzzard-beak front fender.

Improvements Post-1984

Scary headshakes, lingering vibrations, and a twitchy chassis are but a few of the drawbacks the Honda CR500 has. To eradicate these problems, Honda made several enhancements on the dirt bike during its 17-year run. Below are the most notable of these changes:

  • A liquid-cooled motor and flat-slide carburetor were introduced in 1985.
  • 1987 models and onwards had disc brakes – front and rear, and wheel rims changed from silver to gold anodized.
  • CR500s made between 1985 and 1991 were the most powerful of the lot, with a claimed horsepower of 64.6 – 67.6 hp (47.5 – 50.4 kW) @ 6,000 to 8,500 RPM.
  • The manufacturer smoothed out the dirt bike’s powerband and compression requirements in 1989 by redesigning its cylinder head. The bike received exhaust changes and front suspension upgrades within the same year.
  • Bodypaint was updated from Benetton-reminiscent colors to a fresh palette of blood red and the number plate panels from yellow to solid white, matching the new-style wing decal on the tank shroud.
  • The tank shroud decal/graphics were redesigned for the 2nd time into fluorescent yellow hues outlined in purple and nested on a red background.
  • Professional racing outfitters modified competition CR500s into having a 4-speed gearbox, increasing their tractability and allowing professional MX racers to start a race in 3rd gear while reducing the need for up-shifting (to get ahead of the pack) when in a tournament.
  • In response to end-user criticisms about Showa® forks and shocks, Honda switched all suspension components to Kayaba units beginning in 1995.
  • Honda modernized the CR500R in 1997 by squeezing its powerplant into the CR250R’s Gen-II aluminum chassis.
  • A few online resources talk about a 2005 CR500AF model being created and equipped with a 4-stroke chassis fashioned after the CR250R Gen-III framework.

Honda CR500 MSRP

The Honda CR500 list price ranges from $2,598 to $5,899, increasing about $194 every year (or a total of $3,300 for its outgoing production model). Of all years, 1986-1987 models hold their value extremely well, as evidenced by their high-retail value of $6,150 (source: Nada Guides) – sans performance-enhancing parts and accessories. These vintage bikes are mostly spread-out in used markets in Sweden, Australia, Poland, and western and southern parts of America.

Year – Trim – Model Number List Price Retail/Trade-In Values
1984 CR500R $2,598 $405 – $2,865
1985 CR500R $405 – $4,160
1986 CR500R $2,998 $405 – $6,150
1987 CR500RH
1988 CR500R $3,198 $405 – $2,865
1989 CR500RK N/A
1990 CR500R
1991 CR500RM
1992 CR500RN
1993 CR500RP $695 – $3,545
1994 CR500R $4,899 $535 – $3,545
1995 CR500R $4,999 $415 – $3,100
1996 CR500RT $5,399 $405 – $3,345
1997 CR500RV $5,499 $405 – $3,380
1998 CR500RLW N/A $745 – $3,545
1999 CR500RX $5,549 $405 – $3,575
2000 CR500RY $5,599 $670 – $3,720
2001 CR500R1 $5,899 $950 – $3,820

Meanwhile, listings on different trader and auction sites show a resale value range between $2,824 and $17,999, with most bikes being pre-1990 models. The most expensive I have seen listed is a never-ridden 1997 CR500 with its original MSO offered by Motosport Hillsboro in Oregon. But my personal favorites (the finest-looking bikes, in my opinion) are a 1985 CR500 with a Boyesen SC-03B Black Factory Racing Ignition Cover (view on Amazon) featured in Iconic Motorbikes Auctions sold for $8,721 and a 1998 CR500 supermoto featured in VisorDown.com. Outside the U.S., the priciest listing is a 1984 model with racing-oriented twin shocks sold in Germany for $13,548.

Street-Legal Supermoto Conversion

The process for turning your dirt monster into a slightly tamed road-legal commuter is the same for all MX/Enduro two-wheelers. Aside from trading off some of the bike’s stock components with safety equipment and other DOT-approved parts, it will be worth your while to also look into enhancing the machine’s handling, aesthetics, and performance. Here are a few suggestions for your discretion based on personal preferences and the condition of your Honda CR500:

  • Suspension rebuild or complete motor rebuild (can be professionally done)
  • New radiator hoses
  • Same-size or slightly larger carburetor
  • New chain or front/rear sprockets
  • Aftermarket performance exhaust like an FMF Gnarly 2-stroke Pipe (view on Amazon) or FMF Racing PowerCore 2 Shorty Silencer (view on Amazon)
  • Nickel-plated expansion chamber
  • 90-mm bore cylinders
  • ProX piston and crankshaft
  • Full Hinson clutch or Magura hydraulic clutch
  • Moto Tassinari V-Force 3 Reed Valve System (view on Amazon)
  • Flywheel and stator rewind
  • 320-mm disc-and-caliper bracket
  • Excel ICS408 36-hole Takasago Rim (view on Amazon) and Talon hubs
  • Lowered Pro Circuit fork internals and spring
  • Boyesen clutch and flywheel casings
  • Powder-coated engine cases and frame
  • Renthal sprockets, bars, and grips

The Passing of an MX Legend

Red Dirt Bike Riders Racing MX Motocross

For a highly-regarded dirt bike, it was a big upset for many fanatics when Honda stopped production of the CR500R series in 2001. Seventeen years seemed like a short period for the open-class wheeler to be in the market. Not that this motocrosser was unsatisfactory in any way, but a lot of consumers felt there was more to be had with its drivetrain and features. However, for Honda and seasoned motorcycling savants, the Honda CR500’s demise was a long time coming.

As early as the mid-1980s, technological advantage had shifted from open-class behemoths down to small-bore, 125-/250-cc motorcycles. So, by the time the manufacturer introduced the 1984 CR500 to the public, the bike only had a few years left to hog the limelight unchallenged. This small margin was also why the bike’s earlier versions are better-performing than post-1990 ones. Furthermore, power output was mellowed down in 1993 to 56 hp (41.2 kW) – causing it to lose one of its key selling points.

As if these were not bad enough, Honda stopped all initiatives to further develop the CR500 in 1993 as the AMA motocross races where the bike competed ceased that year. This sudden change was rather controversial, with many speculating the AMA terminated the Open-Class National Championships due to the overkill competencies of Honda’s and Kawasaki’s 500-cc dirt bikes. But the truth is political pressure from Suzuki and Yamaha pushed AMA to let go of a tournament not serving the interests of all major motorcycle manufacturers.

About Honda

Honda Motor Company Ltd. is the maker of the Honda CR500 series and is well-known for its highly-engineered automobiles, off-road vehicles, and motorcycles. The firm is responsible for introducing some of the most ground-breaking innovations and design concepts in various automotive industries and is a force to be reckoned with in motorcycling. Since its founding in 1946, Honda has worked its way to where it is at present – an industry powerhouse seeking new ways to make life better through AI, robotics, and energy solutions.

Conclusion – Honda CR500 Review

Flaws and strengths considered, the Honda CR500 stands to be one of the greatest 2-stroke dirt bikes ever made. Its agility and unrivaled acceleration effectively overshadow its daunting high-speed mannerisms, over-muscled disposition, and unfriendliness towards the novice rider. It is one of the few machines that never fail to deliver that adrenaline rush, test the mettle of serious motocrossers, and see just how well riders, in general, can cling to dear life while on the tracks.

Kris Peter

Adventure seeker and off-road enthusiast. I love the thrill of going off-road and taking on the elements.

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