Shortly after arriving in the United States, Honda began reshaping the face of motorcycling in America, and also began elevating riders’ expectations. A huge portion of the credit for that motorcycling-scene makeover must go to the middleweights in the Honda lineup, specifically the bikes displacing about 450cc to 550cc.
Over the years, this displacement category shifted in its standing and prominence. The first, the 1965 450cc CB450 Super Sport, was the largest-displacement bike in the Honda lineup at that time—by definition, the brand flagship. But this middleweight also challenged much larger-displacement bikes in terms of sheer performance, while also establishing new standards for refinement and reliability. Later, bikes such as the 498cc VF500F 500 Interceptor filled out the middle of Honda’s lineup in terms of displacement, but its outstanding performance could challenge 750cc and even 1000cc sport bikes—a result of its wonderfully balanced combination of just-right power and superlative handling.
Other Honda middleweights along the way were just fun bikes, plain and simple—motorcycles that very ably scratched the rider’s itch to own an enjoyable machine, be it a single, a parallel-twin, a V-twin or a V-four. So without further ado, here we present a collection of models in a photo gallery of Honda middleweights, bikes from over the years that spanned 450cc to 550cc. Many longtime riders will look over these machines and grin; more than a few will feel a flash of love lost long ago as they remember fine rides on trusty middleweights from another time and another place.
1965 CB450 Super Sport
OK, the 1965 CB450 Super Sport 450 had a displacement of only 444cc, but this was the 450 that established a new reputation for Honda in the United States, This was a big bike, offering extreme road-worthy manners, dual overhead camshafts, sophisticated CV carbs and more.
1967 CB450D Super Sport/Scrambler
The first Honda 450 street scrambler still carried the CB label, but the twin upswept chrome exhausts with heat shields helped fulfill the then-popular scrambler ideal. Note also the tank shape and its lack of chrome sides, although the rubber knee-grip panels remain.
1968 CL450 K1 Scrambler
The 1968 CL450 Scrambler 450 received a number of upgrades, including a new five-speed gearbox, upswept dual exhaust on the left side with a one-piece chrome muffler, rubber fork boots and a fork brace integrated into the front fender.
1971 CB500 500 Four
Hot on the heels of the industry-shaking Honda CB750 Four, the 1971 CB500 Four brought the smoothness and sophistication of the Honda four-cylinder design to the middleweight class to become the gentleman’s express. Like the 750 Four, the 500 featured a single overhead cam, four carburetors, four-into-four exhaust system, five-speed gearbox and a front disc brake.
1974 CB550 550 Four
This next-generation middleweight Honda Four jumps engine displacement from 498cc to 544cc, with a corresponding boost in power. This larger-displacement single-cammer would go on for many years, building a large and avid following of riding enthusiasts.
With a high-tech four-cylinder middleweight already in the lineup, Honda next rolls out the 498cc CB500T Twin. Why? Because this DOHC parallel-twin powerplant is also remarkably sophisticated and refined, and it offers a completely different riding feel compared to the 550 Four. And let’s face it: Riders always like to have options.
1975 CB550F Super Sport
The Super Sport 550 Four ramps up the sport quotient in the four-cylinder middleweight realm. This is accomplished largely through the four-into-one exhaust system and a number of other new styling cues.
The CX500 came thundering into existence carried on the wings of a six-page ad that proclaimed it to be “First Into The Future.” And indeed, Cycle magazine said it was “beyond modern all the way to futuristic.” This oversquare 80-degree V-twin was liquid- cooled, with four valves per cylinder, pushrods, 10,000-rpm redline and a driveshaft—plus a classic V-twin rumble. Whew!
1981 GL500I Silver Wing Interstate
Full fairing, saddlebags and top trunk, plus air-adjustable Pro-Link® single-shock rear suspension and dual front discs transform the CX500 into the GL500I Silver Wing Interstate. In the process it morphs into a very capable full-on middleweight touring machine that also serves marvelously well for everyday travel.
1982 CB450T Hawk
As an outgrowth of the 395cc CB400 series of parallel-twins that debuted in 1978, the five 450s Honda introduced in 1982 jumped into the middleweight class by merit of a 4.5mm-larger bore size for 447cc of engine displacement. The Hawk was touted as the high-performance sport bike of the bunch and it alone offered a six-speed gearbox.
1982 CB450SC Nighthawk
The Nighthawk 450 fit the niche of a sport-custom bike—a blend of style and performance. Like the other Honda 450s it featured a SOHC valvetrain, three valves per cylinder and a five-speed gearbox.
1982 CM450 Custom
For all-out cruiser style, refined performance and operating economy, the CM450 Custom offered 450 buyers a unique spot in the lineup.
The E-model 450 was priced as the economy leader of the five bikes—note the spoke wheels in place of the aluminum Comstar wheels—yet it still incorporated many of the style elements found on the CM450 Custom.
1982 CM450A Hondamatic
The CM450A Hondamatic featured the same basic powerplant as the other 450s, but it was its two-speed semi-automatic transmission with an automotive-type torque converter that set this easy-to-use 450 apart from its siblings.
1982 FT500 Ascot
When Honda rolled out the light and nimble FT500 Ascot in 1982, it was the only 500-class (498cc actual displacement) single-cylinder street bike on the market. Its four-valve XR500-based engine provided good go-power, while an electric starter made life on the street that much easier.
1982 CX500TC Turbo
Arguably the most innovative 500 of all time, the CX500TC Turbo offered incredible performance for a middleweight bike, thanks to a small turbocharger. All engine internals, plus the transmission and driveshaft, were beefed up to handle the added loads. This bike also introduced electronic fuel injection to the world of motorcycles.
1983 VT500C Shadow 500
It was a sure-fire recipe for sales success: The 1983 Shadow 500 delivered classic American custom styling in an affordable mid-sized machine that was also remarkably economical to operate. It delivered the look, sound, torque and feel of a classic V-twin, but it was Honda through and through.
1983 VT500FT Ascot
The second Honda to carry the Ascot name, the VT500FT boasted a racy TT-inspired chassis and a 491cc V-twin engine with a narrow 52-degree Vee. Flat-track-inspired styling, plus light, responsive handling and a distinctive exhaust note were its calling cards.
1983 CB550SC Nighthawk
Among the plentitude of middleweight engine configurations Honda offered in 1983, why not throw in a new four-cylinder mid-sized bike to boot? The 16-valve, DOHC Nighthawk 550 delivered plenty of performance along with low-maintenance features, including an automatic cam-chain tensioner, shaft drive and a hydraulic valve adjusters.
1984 VF500F 500 Interceptor
Multiple award winner as a 10 Best Bike and 10 Best Buy, the 500 Interceptor not only dominated middleweight sport bikes, it also gave sport 750s and liter bikes a run for their money on tight twisty roads thanks to its impeccable handling. Cycle magazine said, “Honda’s VF500F Interceptor is arguably the best-handling sport bike you can buy.”
1984 VF500C V30 Magna
Using the same engine and chain-drive system as the 500 Interceptor, the V30 Magna brought the concept of a high-performance custom to the middleweight class. Its high-tech 498cc V-4 powerplant pumped out impressive amounts of power, while its custom styling made it a real head-turner back in the day.
1989 GB500 Tourist Trophy
With the GB500, Honda made an emphatic declaration: Yeah, we can do nostalgia. In fact, we can do nostalgia better than anyone. The 499cc single-cylinder engine featured Honda’s modern overhead-cam, RFVC (Radial Four-Valve Combustion Chamber) architecture, but the styling was classic Brit bike throughout.