Home Automotive 2023 Honda SCL500 First Ride Review

2023 Honda SCL500 First Ride Review


The Honda SCL500 from 2023 looks right at home with a beautiful backdrop. (Drew Ruiz/)

The backroads and scenic highways between Ventura and Santa Paula, California, are tailor-made for Honda’s 500 twins. Nothing is too fast or technical, but nothing is too tedious either, meaning you’d probably have just as much fun on a CBR500R as you would a CB500F, CB500X, or Rebel 500. And that’s the point; Honda didn’t develop its intermediate middleweights to turn the motorcycling world on its head, but to work for a wide range of riders in an equally wide range of situations—to ensure there is something for every personality that walks through a dealership’s doors.

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The approach worked, turning Honda into a market leader in the 250–600cc category. Big Red hopes to appeal to a larger audience by introducing the SCL500. Or at least to those who couldn’t see themselves atop the sportier CBR500R, the more adventurous CB500X, or even the laid-back Rebel 500.

Honda believes that choices are everything.

The SCL500 is available in two color options: Matte Laurel Green Metallic (shown) or Candy Orange. Seat height is 31.1 inches.

The SCL500 can be ordered in either Candy Orange or Matte Laurel Green. Seat height measures 31.1 inches. (Drew Ruiz/)

The Bike

Honda can look to its archives for inspiration. It has designed and built many of the most popular scramblers. The 1962 CL72 was made famous by Dave Ekins Jr., and Bill Robertson Jr. in what began as a publicity stunt. Cycle WorldIt was the Baja 1000 that started it all. Tough guys on tough bikes would inspire countless riders.

The SCL is not meant to be nearly as rugged or off-road focused as those original examples, according to Honda, but looks the part through scrambler-inspired styling treatments like a high-mount muffler; twin shocks; wide, motocross-style handlebar; and tall, flat seat that’s not all that different from what you’d have found on custom builds a few years back.

Related: Honda SCL500 now available in the US

Where it all started. Dave Ekins and his 1962 CL72 scrambler in La Paz. Easy to see where most of the design inspirations for the SCL500 came from. Fun fact: The new bike is called a CL500 in other parts of the world, but SCL500 in the US, as Mercedes already owns the CL500 trademark here.

How it all began Dave Ekins in La Paz with his 1962 CL72 scrambler. It’s easy to see the inspiration for the SCL500. The bike is called CL500 in some parts of the globe, but SCL500 on the US market, because Mercedes owns trademarks for CL500. (Cycle World Archives/Ekins collection/)

The frame comes from a Rebel 500. However, a subframe specific to the model is needed in order for it to fit a taller seat as well as repositioned shocks. As is expected, the SCL has longer suspension travel than the Rebel 500 that it’s based on: 5.9 inches up front and 5.7 inches out back, versus 5.5 and 3.7 inches. Rake is 27° (Rebel 500’s rake is 28,) wheelbase is 58.5 inches and seat height 31.1 inches.

The 3.2 gallon gas tank is a new shape, as are the footpegs. They have been repositioned further back, and the cast wheels are wrapped in Dunlop Trailmax Mixtour tire treads that offer enough grip to make you consider some off-road exploration. The small but classy styling details, such as rubber kneeguards on the tank and short fenders or rubber fork boots, are hard to miss.

Old (CL77) versus new (SCL500). Scrambler styling here means high-mount muffler, tall seat, twin shocks, and a motocross-style handlebar. Can’t forget the fork boots and tank-mounted rubber knee guards.

Old (CL77), versus new (SCL500). The Scrambler style here includes a high-mount muffler and tall seat. It also features twin shocks and a handlebar in motocross fashion. Can’t forget the fork boots and tank-mounted rubber knee guards. (Drew Ruiz/)

The SCL uses the same 471cc parallel-twin engine found in every other 500 model in Honda’s lineup, but does have a model-specific intake and one-tooth-larger rear sprocket than the Rebel 500. The increased airflow should improve throttle response and torque at low speed, while the rear sprocket is designed to increase acceleration by a minimal amount.

SCL500 also receives a small update to its braking system. It now uses a larger 310mm brake disc in front, as opposed to the 296mm found on the CB and CBR siblings. Small differences, but in this case, it’s nice to see at least some new hardware being used. All the better that they’re an upgrade.

The 471cc parallel-twin engine is identical to what powers the rest of Honda’s 500 models, including the CBR500R, CB500F, CB500X, and Rebel 500. Honda has, however, updated the intake and given the SCL500 a one-tooth-larger rear sprocket, when compared to the Rebel 500. Notice the scuff on the exhaust heat shield, from where your boot rubs.

The 471cc parallel-twin engine is identical to what powers the rest of Honda’s 500 models, including the CBR500R, CB500F, CB500X, and Rebel 500. Honda has updated the intake, and the SCL500 now features a larger rear sprocket. You can see the scratch on the heat shield of the exhaust where your boot rubs. (Drew Ruiz/)

Riding Impressions

Honda kept the SCL500 slim and light, not to fit the scrambler style (big bikes can be less fun off road), but because the design is more accommodating for novice riders. If you put your leg over the flat-seated seat, it’s clear that the designers had this in mind. The bike feels slender and lightweight between your legs. It can also be easily picked up from the kickstand.

The rider triangle is equally as well-sorted; the tall handlebar puts you in a relaxed, upright riding position, the reach to the ground is plenty reasonable, and with the newly positioned footpegs, taller riders won’t find their knees sitting up over the tank. What’s our favorite part? The handlebar is wrapped in grips akin to what you’d find on Honda’s off-road bikes. This is a silly little thing to notice but it gives you a sense of what Honda was hoping to achieve when you put your leg on the SCL. The state of mind that this bike puts you in is what makes it so special.

A natural, upright riding position makes the SCL500 plenty comfortable for around-town cruising. We tried Honda’s 30mm-taller accessory seat (not used in picture), and noticed that it opened up the rider triangle, creating less of a bend at the knees.

SCL500’s upright, natural riding position is ideal for cruising around town. We tried Honda’s 30mm-taller accessory seat (not used in picture), and noticed that it opened up the rider triangle, creating less of a bend at the knees. (Drew Ruiz/)

Honda has spent a lot of time perfecting the basic controls used in its 500-series models. This means that even those who are not familiar with Honda’s products can easily find and operate the few switches located on the SCL handlebar. It is only the round LCD that is difficult to see depending on how the sun shines. Sometimes, reading even just the speed can be a challenge, and given that we’re starting to see higher-quality displays make their way into the entry-level, small-displacement categories, we’d hope Honda makes a similar move. It would be nice to see a display with a bit of color.

From an ergonomics perspective, riders with large feet may find that their boots rub against the lower heat shield of the exhaust. It’s an easy enough thing to avoid by spreading your feet out on the footpegs, but know that the high-mount muffler doesn’t go completely unnoticed. That’s especially true if you try to stand up, as your calves will rest up against the heat shield.

SCL500 display and controls are straightforward and simple, though we wish the LCD display was easier to read in direct sunlight.

SCL500 controls and display are simple and straightforward, although we wish that the LCD display could be read better in direct sun. (Drew Ruiz/)

Honda didn’t design this bike to be used for off-road riding. The SCL500 was designed for relaxed, fun rides in town or meandering along scenic backroads. In these environments, the SCL is perfect. Credit the easygoing, parallel-twin engine that’s responsive, smooth, and torquey enough to have a little fun, but doesn’t make enough power to overwhelm a newer rider. Think of it like a Goldilocks engine; anything smaller, like Honda’s own 300cc single, would likely curb what you could do on this bike, and yet something bigger seems almost unnecessary, as it would add weight to the package, neglect newer riders, and only moderately expand the use case.

Lightweight, nimble handling and a stable chassis make the SCL500 a fun bike to ride through the canyons, but soft suspension keeps you from getting too aggressive.

The SCL500 is a great bike for riding through canyons. It’s lightweight, agile, and stable, with a soft suspension that keeps you from being too aggressive. (Drew Ruiz/)

It is most comfortable cruising at 60 mph in top gear, but can also run up to 80 mph if needed. Only a slight vibration will start to appear as you pass the 70 mph speed mark. At cruising speeds that are relaxed, fuel efficiency is not affected much. Our testbike used only half a gallon of gas during our 110 mile ride. This included flowing backroads, canyon riding and a few short stints on highway.

Worth mentioning is the SCL500′s slip/assist clutch, which not only keeps rear-wheel chatter to a minimum under deceleration, but also gives the bike an extremely light clutch pull—exactly what you want if you’re a new rider who’s still getting used to shifting. The transmission offers crisp, effortless shifts as well, another important thing to consider if you’re a new rider or plan to do a lot of in-town riding.

The SCL500 is happiest cruising along a mellow, scenic stretch of road.

The SCL500 loves to cruise along a scenic, mellow stretch of road. (Drew Ruiz/)

The SCL500′s suspension is soft and tailored toward the same style of riding, meaning it’s plush and does an admirable job of absorbing all of the potholes around town, but is less content as the pace picks up on a winding canyon road. We were perfectly content to sit behind a car on a canyon road. The SCL seemed to prefer the slower pace.

Aside from the soft suspension, this bike is very easy to handle. The bike is able to navigate city streets with ease, bobbing around and weaving in traffic. Credit Honda’s lightweight packaging, the rock-solid Rebel 500–based chassis, and motocross-style handlebar that puts the rider in full command.

Brakes are equally as accessible, the two-piston Nissin caliper and 310mm front rotor offering up plenty of stopping power for the speeds that you’ll be going on the SCL, and without the wooden sensation that some entry-level brake setups have. Like every other aspect of the bike, it’s everything you need, nothing you don’t.

The SCL500 gets a larger brake disc than its 500 stablemates, while also rolling on Dunlop Trailmax Mixtour tires. Single disc saves weight and cost, and is all that’s really needed here.

The SCL500 has a larger disc brake than its 500 stablemates and also rolls on Dunlop Trailmax Mixtour Tires. Single disc saves weight and cost, and is all that’s really needed here. (Drew Ruiz/)

Accessories and Customization

Honda, recognizing that the scrambler market is all about customization and personalization, has already released a number accessories for the SCL500. These items include a headlight shield, high front fenders, handguards, a rear carrier and top case. In addition, Honda offers a tall seat which allows taller riders to have a more open rider triangle.

That’s only half of the story though, as American Honda has already teamed up with the folks at Steady Garage to show what’s possible if you invest a little time and money into the SCL500. Other parts of the globe have seen companies build fully customized CLs, with extra protection and off-road pieces. This suggests that there is still hope for those who wish to take the SCL on a little adventure. Or at least give their SCL that custom one-off appearance. Street scramblers are all about this.

Honda has a number of accessories already available for the SCL500, but for a better idea what the bike can look like when customized, it tasked Steady Garage with doing a custom build. Camping trip, anyone?

Honda already offers a variety of accessories for the SCL500. However, to get a better sense of what it can look like customized, Honda asked Steady Garage to build a custom bike. Camping trip? (Drew Ruiz/)

Final Thoughts

Some customers will be disappointed that the SCL500 doesn’t roll off the showroom floor ready to hit the dirt—or that Honda doesn’t even intend for the SCL to go off-road. And while we understand that frustration, one need only look at the flourishing dual sport, enduro, and motocross categories to understand why most manufacturers aren’t going all-in on off-road-capable scramblers. Put simply, there are better tools for that job—bikes that exist because of the path that Honda’s earliest CL models helped pave.

But while Honda might not have built an off-road scrambler meant for tackling Baja, it has successfully given new riders and casual enthusiasts alike another great option to choose from—something that might speak to their personality in a way that either of its other 500 twin models don’t. This is further proof that choices are key.

SCL500 dressed up in a number of Honda accessories, including a high front fender, headlight visor, hand guards, rear carrier, top case mount, tall seat, and rally footpegs.

SCL500 with Honda accessories such as a high front bumper, a headlight visor and handguards, a rear carrier, a top case mount on the rear carrier, a tall seat, rally footpegs, etc. (Drew Ruiz/)

Accessory saddlebag available for the SCL500.

SCL500 saddlebag accessory available. (Drew Ruiz/)

Closer look at the 30mm-taller accessory seat available for the SCL500.

(Drew Ruiz/) A closer look at the 30mm taller SCL500 accessory seat. (Drew Ruiz/)

2023 Honda SCL500 Specs

MSRP: $6,799
Engine: DOHC, liquid-cooled parallel-twin; 4 valves/cyl.
Displacement: 471cc
Bore x Stroke 67.0 x 65.8mm
Compression Ratio 10.7:1
Transmission/Final Drive: 6-speed/chain
Fuel System PGM-FI with Keihin 34mm throttle bodies
Clutch: Slipper/assist for wet multiplate
Engine Management/Ignition System: Electronic
Frame: Steel diamond
Front Suspension Travel: 5.3 inches; 41mm telescopic rake. Travel
Rear Suspension Twin shocks with adjustable preload; 5.7″ Travel: 5.7 inches
Front Brake 2 piston caliper, ABS 310mm disc
Rear Brake 1 piston caliper 240mm disc with ABS
Wheels, Front/Rear: Cast aluminum alloy
Tires, Front/Rear: 110/80-19 / 150/60-17
Rake/Trail: 27.0°/4.3 in.
Wheelbase: 58.4 in.
Ground Clearance: 6.1 in.
Seat Height 31.1 in.
Fuel Capacity 3.2 gal.
Claimed Wet Weight: 419 lb.
Contact: powersports.honda.com

2023 Honda SC500

2023 Honda SC500 (Drew Ruiz/)


Helmet Bell Eliminator

Jacket: Spidi Clubber

Pant: Rev’It Jackson 2 SK

Gloves: Spidi Clubber

Boots: Sidi Arcadia

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