HISTORY OF THE CR500
For my entire life and for a decade before i was even born honda have been a dominant force in the dirt bike world. For me the boys in red have always been giants of the game, but if you roll back the years far enough to the early days of the sport, Honda certainly weren’t the all-conquering titans that we’ve come to know. I was pretty shocked to find out that honda didn’t win their first motocross world championship until 1979 when graham noyce lifted the 500cc trophy.
The 500cc world championship had been running for 27 years before Honda climbed to the top of the mountain. although to be fair they’d only been producing fully fledged mx bikes for about seven years before their championship success, but nevertheless i was pretty surprised to find out that both husqvarna and ktm had won world championships before the almighty honda managed the task.
Back in the early days of dirt bikes honda were actually famous for building reliable four-stroke motors and in the 60s they even built a six-cylinder 250 cc four-stroke to compete in the 250 class, but as two-strokes became more and more popular Honda had to eventually follow Suit so it was in the early 1970s when honda finally realized that in order to be competitive they had to develop a two-stroke machine. This machine turned out to be the elsinore 250 named after the lake elsinore gp which was one of the biggest most famous races of the time. The event was held in lake elsinore california where a track still exists toThis day and was featured in on any sunday starring steve mcqueen.
Honda obviously wanted to capture the imagination of the booming american market. Originally honda did not make a mass-produced 500cc machine that the public could buy. The elsinores were only 250cc bikes, but that didn’t mean that honda did not race the 500 class. Back then AMA rules were different and Worx machines didn’t need to be production motorcycles as they do today, so in 1976 honda produced their first grand prix mx machine the RC 500 which was a thoroughbred race machine and not available to joe blow.
Whilst the factory racers enjoyed the rc 500 the general public had to wait until 1981 to get their hands on a big boar honda. At the time Maico had the 490, KTM had the 495 and yamaha were running the 465. so to align with this trend honda unveiled the CR450 which received real bad reviews like worst bike of all time bad reviews.
So back to the drawing board they went honda followed up the cr450 with two versions of the cr480 in 1982 and 1983 these were said to be decent all-round bikes, then in 1984 honda unveiled their first Fully fledged 500cc monster and apparently this is the most powerful dirt bike that honda have ever produced with a reported output of over 60 horsepower. However the 1984 model which was an air cooled machine had some serious problems and was actually nicknamed the ping king. The bike had a misshaped dome in their head and would detonate like crazy it would overheat and was very difficult to start but this was just the first step in the cr500s remarkable journey.
In 1985 honda released the first water-cooled cr500 and this bike remained pretty much unchanged for 1986 and 1987 although the 1987 model did have disc brakes up the front and out back. The 1985 to 1987 models was said to be the most violent versions of the bike, meaning that there was the hardest hitting most ferocious of the bunch but funnily enough these years are also considered to be the best for the cr500.
In 1988 honda started to tone down the cr500 to make her more rideable and easier to start, although i’ve seen many people struggle to kick post 88 models into life so i don’t even want to imagine what the harder to start versions were like.
Honda continued to develop their fire breathing monster until 1992 when once again the dirt bike world started to change and evolve, at this time honda ktm and kawasaki were the only top manufacturers producing open class machines. so the category wasn’t necessarily booming and then in 1993 the ama axed the 500cc national championship
Marking the beginning of the end not only for the cr500 but for all big ball machines. After 1992 honda stopped all development of the cr500 and the bike remained unchanged into its ultimate death in 2001 when honda finally ceased production of their legendary machine.
looking back over the history of the cr500 you start to realize that the bike wasn’t actually around for all that long. Honda may have produced the machine for 18 years but in reality they only developed the bike for eight short years between 1984 and 1992. but geez what a ride the bike went on in that time on track honda and the Cr500 were almost unstoppable.