There’s a special place in my heart for an honest, characterful standard motorcycle. Everyone’s different, of course—and different designs speak to different people. Sometimes you can explain why, and sometimes you can’t. I’ll tell you what, though—a long time ago, in a kingdom far, far away, one of the first motorcycle crushes of my new-rider life was a scrambler. The first-gen Triumph Scrambler, with its 32.5-inch seat height, to be exact.  

Alas—it wasn’t to be. New riders have new rider insecurities, of course—but the bigger challenge, in my case, was and evermore shall be my 27-inch inseam. It’s a difficult thing to explain to taller riders, or riders who at least have longer legs than I do (while riders with similarly short legs may nod their heads frantically in agreement).

I’ll put it this way, though. If you’re tall enough that you don’t have to actively strategize where to put your legs down when you bring your bike to a stop (in front of the foot pegs or behind the foot pegs, because a wrong placement means you and that bike are both going down), then please consider yourself lucky. 

2023 Honda SCL500 - Parked 28

At any rate, the idea of a modern scrambler-style bike can be immensely appealing, depending on your personal aesthetic. Who wouldn’t want something with the kind of classic styling that speaks to them, but that also has nice things like modern brakes, LED lighting, and maybe even some decent ABS? How about heated grips as an available accessory option?  

The thing is, while that flat, wide, scrambler-style seat looks quite cool, they unfortunately don’t tend to help those of us with short inseams. Although seat height isn’t everything, scramblers frequently tend to have a taller seat height.

If you have a tall seat height but a narrow saddle, it’s easier for us short riders to scoot ourselves around and get at least one leg (and sometimes even both legs) down at a stop. Wider saddles make that more of a challenge, bordering on an impossibility. Perhaps it can be done with practice, but you’re going to have a tough time those first few times you come to a full stop, while you’re mastering your own personal technique. 

Enter The Honda SCL500

Then and Now Honda CL77 and Honda SCL500 Scramblers

With a 31.1-inch seat height, the Honda SCL500 is reasonably accessible to both newer and shorter riders. As with all bikes, your mileage may vary on any number of points, from how the bike fits you to how the styling hits you. You may be in the market for a 471cc parallel twin-powered machine, or you may not.  

If you are, though—this bike gives yet another stylistic and purpose-driven take on Honda’s stalwart 500cc platform. First, there was the triple threat of the CB500X (adventure), CB500F (modern standard), and CBR500R (sportbike). Then came the Rebel 500, to get the cruiser fans on board with this middleweight powerplant. In 2022, Honda launched the most recent addition to the 500cc family—the SCL500, which is also called the CL500 in other parts of the world. 

The Specs 

2023 Honda SCL500 - Engine Closeup
2023 Honda SCL500 - Digital Gauge Closeup

The 2023 Honda SCL500 is powered by Honda’s 471cc liquid-cooled parallel twin engine, with bore and stroke of 67.0mm by 66.8mm. It’s fuel injected, has a six-speed gearbox, and also has a slip and assist clutch. 

Suspension duties are performed by a nonadjustable 41mm front fork offering 5.9 inches of travel, as well as dual rear shocks with preload adjustability in five positions. The rear travel is 5.7 inches. Brakes consist of a Nissin setup with a single 310mm disc up front with a two-piston brake caliper, and a single 240mm disc in the rear. ABS is present at both ends. The SCL500 rolls on a pair of 10-spoke alloy wheels, with a 19-inch unit up front and a 17-inch unit in the rear.  

Wheelbase is 58.4 inches, rake is 27.0 degrees, and trail is 4.3 inches. Fuel capacity is 3.2 gallons, and curb weight is 419 pounds.  

First Riding Impressions

2023 Honda SCL500 Ride - Roadside Pause 2

Helmet, solidly resting on the saddle for just a moment.

2023 Honda SCL500 Ride - Roadside Pause 3

Grab strap or glasses strap? You be the judge.

As our group prepared to take these bikes out for the first time, one immediate thing that stood out was that its nice, flat saddle works quite well to set your helmet on. Most motorcycle instructors will tell you not to put your helmet on your saddle, because it’s far too easy for it to end up crashing to the ground and compromising its intended safety (never mind the paint and/or graphics).  

Still, it’s worth noting that if you must do it for just a few seconds—such as, say, when you’re mastering the fine balance between putting both your helmet and your eyeglasses on—you'll have much more positive results with a saddle like this than you would with a narrower one. (Obviously, use your own discretion and take all adequate precautions not to dump your precious lid top down on the pavement.) 

As I got going, the slip and assist clutch took a little bit of getting used to. The clutch engagement was way out, close to the neutral resting position of the clutch lever when it’s not engaged. It’s meant to be an easy pull, intended for both new and returning riders.  

While the clutch has a very light pull, adjustable levers would be especially nice for riders with shorter handspans. Since the clutch engagement is so far out from the handlebar, that’s especially true. Honda doesn’t currently offer adjustable levers as an accessory option from the factory for this bike, but that’s what the aftermarket is for. (If you go this route, opt for a reputable manufacturer, not just an eBay special that’s going to start slipping and put you in a sketchy situation while you’re in the middle of a ride.) 

Once I got used to the clutch, it was extremely simple to ride. Shifting is very easy, and I’m pleased to say that I found zero false neutrals. The small, round, digital gauge is uncluttered, and is easy to read at a glance. Its shape and layout fit nicely with the overall retro-modern aesthetic that it appears Honda wanted to go for with this bike. 

Playing In Traffic 

2023 Honda SCL500 - Riding 6
2023 Honda SCL500 - Exhaust Closeup 4

Our planned route had us tackling plenty of fun, twisty road riding—as well as a short blast on the highway. The SCL500 is nimbler than you might think at first. Sure, it’s no superbike, but it’s not plodding or pokey when you’re trying to pass trucks or other vehicles on the highway, either.  

Although our riding group was small, we did get separated—but finding opportunities to pass slower traffic and rejoin the pack was quite simple. It’s not the kind of powerhouse that will make your hair stand on end, but it will definitely get out of its own way if you twist the throttle open. 

The aesthetic of the exhaust on the SCL500 may or may not appeal to you. It’s clearly a nod to the one found on the original CL77, and that’s especially evident if you see the two bikes next to each other—but it’s also just as clearly been modernized. To my eye, the two round tips on the silver cap at the end positioned against the matte black flatness kind of makes me think of a LEGO. The round bits on the silver heat shield also add to that perception. 

All that said, the sound of the stock exhaust is rather pleasant—especially when you have cause to open it up and let it growl at higher revs, as you most certainly will do when riding on the highway. It has more character than you might expect at first. 

Tackling the Twisties 

2023 Honda SCL500 - Riding 24

The same nimbleness, smooth shifting, and power delivery that made threading my way through traffic a snap was also present as we started to make our way through the twisties. I’m not sure what I expected, but the handling was better than I expected—and if I’d had more time with it, I think it would likely have been even more fun as I learned to more fully trust what it could do.  

Turning and leaning are simple, and while the 19-inch front wheel might make it feel a little tall, it’s pretty light and sure on its feet on asphalt. Since it’s primarily designed to tackle asphalt, that’s a strength. The very small amount of gravel we went over seemed to pose no great difficulty to the SCL500 (and its tires), either. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as much time experiencing the twisties on this bike as I would have liked. One wrong move on my part (not at all the bike’s fault) led to aggravation of an old knee injury, which sadly ended my riding day early. Sometimes, though, that’s just how it goes—and you pick yourself up and move on.  

Things I Liked 

2023 Honda SCL500 Custom by Steady Garage 4

Custom Honda SCL500 by Steady Garage

2023 Honda SCL500 Custom by Steady Garage 2

Custom Honda SCL500 by Steady Garage

  • The nimbleness of the SCL500 was pleasantly surprising, but it was the throaty growl of the exhaust that I really enjoyed. Back at the camp where we were staying, Honda also had a couple of customized SCL500s on display. Steady Garage—the SoCal minimoto specialists who knocked it out of the park with the Navi—had an intriguing take on the bike. Vance & Hines also crafted an aftermarket exhaust for the SCL500, which sounds even better. 
  • Once I got used to it, the slip and assist clutch did seem like a welcome feature, especially for the intended audiences that Honda is targeting with this bike. New riders seeking to build confidence, as well as returning riders who might just welcome something easy, will likely appreciate it.  
  • The saddle is pretty comfortable, all things considered. While it’s wide enough to confidently rest your helmet for a moment or two at a stop, it’s not wide enough to make putting my feet on the ground at stops difficult or uncomfortable.  
  • It has enough power to ride at highway speeds and not feel fatigued (or fatiguing, importantly), but not so much power that you have to keep dialing yourself back from getting into trouble.  

Things I’d Change 

2023 Honda SCL500 - Front Left Closeup
  • To fully target beginner and/or returning riders and help them get the most out of that slip and assist clutch, adjustable levers would be most welcome. Obviously, Honda had a budget in mind when it was putting this bike together but offering them as an available option (if not a stock fitment) would be nice. 
  • Coming to a stop, particularly on some downhills, I found myself wishing that the brakes were a bit stronger. To be clear, the stock Nissin brakes are not bad or scary. However, if I bought an SCL500 of my own, the first thing I’d probably do would be to switch to braided stainless steel brake lines and Vesrah brake pads. Then again, that’s the first thing I’d do to just about any bike that didn’t already have those things—new or old. (Not a sponsored post in any way; I just have preferences, and I'm sure you probably do, too.)

Pricing, Colors, and Availability 

2023 Honda SCL500 - Parked
2023 Honda SCL500 - Parked 28

Pricing, colors, and availability on the Honda SCL500, as with all bikes made by OEMs that sell internationally, will vary by region. In the US, the 2023 SCL500 starts at a base MSRP of $6,799. It’s available in your choice of two colors: Candy Orange, or Matte Laurel Green Metallic.  

Honda also offers a host of OEM accessories for the SCL500, from a center tank pad, hand guards, front fender, headlight visor, heated grips, rear carrier, top carrier, saddlebags, top box, and more.

Team Red also offers a tall seat that nudges its height skyward by 30mm, for a total seat height of 820mm (or about 32.28 inches). It comes in one color, and that color is brown. Incidentally, I asked if Honda either offered a low seat option already or had any plans to offer one—and was told that it does not and likely will not do so in the future. 

Is it a good bike for the new and returning riders that Honda is aiming to entice? Like all bikes, that depends on who those riders are and what they're looking for. However, with pricing like this, it’s not at all difficult to see how you could pick an SCL500 up, and then instantly start doing the math and working out all the ways you can make it your own. 

Gallery: 2023 Honda SCL500 - First Ride Review

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