1983 Honda VT500

Summary:

Reliable, sensible, useful tool - and rather boring

Faults:

Exhaust valve on rear cylinder hammered on top of the stem when purchased, a common fault even on the later Transalp engines that were based on the VT500. No trouble since.

Two sets of instruments had to be thrown away after they made a terrible howling sound and needles bounced badly. No, the cables were fine. Now have a set of XL250R instruments fitted.

Ignition lock began working intermittently, replaced with one from the same XL250R that also fits better, since the key isn't buried deep down anymore.

Front carb has always overflowed slightly, dumping fuel into the engine if the petcock isn't closed.

Fuel petcock leaks a little at times, both internally and externally.

Plastic parts crack.

Muffler has rusted apart from where it joins the header, but stays in place so has been used up until today. Have a set of MAC 2-2 new leftover on its way at time of writing.

Clutch slips under heavy load when the engine oil is very warm, like after a couple of hours of riding. This is a common issue, and I plan to solve it by shimming the springs 4 mm over winter.

General Comments:

This report is about the VT500FT Ascot, which mechanically has more in common with the Shadow cruiser, but functionally is more related to the Euro performance model. All 3 versions share the same engine and drive shaft.

Not sure if I were unlucky with the two complete sets of instruments failing, or if it's common, but at least the ugly tacho and speedo from the XL that I've fitted are dead accurate. Other than that, and the fuel tap leaks, the rest of the issues with the bike are down to spills, neglect and use through 4 full winters on salted roads without any cleaning. This was done by a bloke that owned the bike from 2001 to 2005, when I got it back. It has mostly sat idle until this season since then.

I bought mine after reading tests about it having limitless cornering clearance - I already knew it was reliable and the shaft drive was a real benefit. However, cornering clearance was limited, and I ended up fitting Progressive fork springs and longer, stiffer Koni shock absorbers designed for use on the V65 Magna. With these mods, it is possible to lean the bike until tarmac begins to set marks on a tiny strip on the actual sidewalls of the tyres. I've since matured a bit, and wear my 1/8in chicken strips without worry.

This is not a touring bike, despite its low maintenance nature. For that, the seat is pure terror. The bum will start to burn within the hour, and from then it gets worse until you ride standing up. The passenger perch is a lot worse. The fuel tank is also very small at 9.5 litres or 2.5 US gallons. Mileage varys greatly with speed, getting as good as 3.5L / 100 km / 67 MPG (US) and as poor as 5.7L / 41 MPG (US). Mileage vary accordingly. Typically, one starts to worry severely about finding petrol after 120 miles.

Maintenance is mostly straight forward, and the bike will tolerate lots of abuse. Adjusting the valves is a bit tight regarding access, but they keep their adjustment for a long time. No chain to mess with is great. Air filter is washable and very easy to get to. Forks have drain screws for the oil. After sitting for more than 4 years unused, I filled up with fresh fuel, put in a new battery and the thing fired right up. Impressive.

Engine vibrates a bit above 4500 RPM, which is about 55 mph in top. I'd like taller gearing, especially in the lower 5 gears - there is a huge gap between 5th and 6th - but the engine already struggles to pull the stock gearing. Top gear roll on performance is poor, and it doesn't take much headwind or uphill to force a downshift to 5th or even lower. Best power is found between 6500 and 8000 RPM. I'd like to have more power in the mid range, and would easily trade 5 top end HP for 5 more at 5000 RPM.

Handling is light but slow, due to the massive rake and trail clearly inherited from the Shadow model. Also, the frame is a bit flexible, so if you try to force the bike to change direction quickly, the frame will wind up and snap back, producing a weave; most unpleasant. Better to accept slower, gentler inputs, and ride with graceful arcs around corners. The shaft drive doesn't interfere with handling at all, however, and must be one of the best shafts available.

Over winter, the plan is to fit a fuel tank from a Yamaha 600 Tenere for more than twice the range, make my own solo seat with superior padding, fit a rack and a leather saddlebag in order to make it into a sort of a Scrambler suitable for touring. It will not be prettier for it, but far more practical.

Would you buy another motorcycle from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 18th October, 2012