Honda FT 500 Ascot
Honda FT 500 Ascot
Air cooled, four stroke, single cylinder, SOHC, 4 valve
Bore x Stroke
89 x 80 mm
Battery powered inductive
34 hp 24.8 kW @ 6200 rpm
40 Nm @ 5000 rpm
37mm Air assisted forks, 152mm
Dual gas shocks, spring preload
adjustable. 84mm wheel travel.
Single 296mm disc
1 piston caliper
Single 276mm disc 1 piston
15.0 sec / 81.5 mp/h
QUIRKINESS IS DIFFICULT TO DEFINE.
LITERALLY, IT MEANS PECUliar or idiosyncratic. If you're highly individualistic,
you probably think of quirky in a positive way—unique. If you're part of the
mainstream, you sense another connotation—it just means weird.
In either case, you probably
subordinate unusual design or styling to function. At least, we believe that's
the way it should be, and we have reason to suspect the majority of
motorcyclists share that opinion. Basis for our viewpoint is that Yamaha has
retreated from the 500cc single-cylinder roadster market; Yamaha's one-of-a-kind
(during the years it was produced) SR500 was indeed quirky, but it didn't
exactly take the motorcycling world by storm.
Why? Mainly because it was at a
functional disadvantage compared with its lightweight-class and price-level
rivals, the 400-450cc twins. Specifically, it vibrated more than the
counterbalanced twins, and it lacked electric starting.
You can talk all day long about the desirability of unique motorcycles and about
your being one of those enthusiasts devoted to mechanical simplicity; if the
unique and mechanically simple machine that you're obliged to buy is a sub-par
performer or lacks any significant amenity, it's a fair bet that you'll maintain
your affection from a distance.
Honda has filled the void Yamaha
created—and is likely to pull in some of the enthusiasts who were attracted to
the SR as a concept but disillusioned by the reality of the product. Honda has
introduced the Ascot, a 500cc single-cylinder roadster that uses the basic XR/XL
powerplant developed for the 79 model year. This engine has up-to-date
technological features, including a four-valve head and engine counterbalancers.
More important, Honda fitted the street-going FT with electric starting and did
away with the kick-start lever altogether. By taking this logical step, Honda
has produced a bike which will appeal to "purists" for its straightforward
design, and compete with other 400-500cc bikes in several categories of
There are in fact and theory several
good reasons for producing a single-reasons which have nothing to do with
fashion and everything to do with performance and practicality. As a rule of
thumb, it's possible to make a single lighter than a twin; in fact, Honda has
given validity to the rule the FT at 378 pounds weighs somewhat less than the
400-450cc twins, which weigh anywhere from 390 to 410 pounds, and significantly
less than the occasional 500cc twin on the market; the Honda CX, for example,
weighs 486 pounds, and the Yamaha Vision weighs 468. Singles are also generally
narrower than twins, which allows the manufacturer to pro duce a bike with more
ground clearanj In terms of maintenance, a single has fewer carb and four fewer
valves (giveTi the same four-valve cylinder head design) to adjust.
Those purists who insist that big
singles ought to be classic works of simplicity should not be disappointed by
the addition of electric starting. Gone is the kick starter's idler gears,
pinion, ratchet mechanism and springs, shaft and kick lever. In this respect the
FT has been mechanically and functionally simplified. In any case, if you've
ever stalled a high-compression single at mid-intersection during rush hour,
you'll appreciate the lack of time-consuming starting drills and the presence of
Simplicity advocates should also
appreciate the efficiency of design of Honda's counterbalancing system.
Naturally, it requires extra parts and slightly more weight, but Honda's
designers have kept both to a minimum. The forward balancer rides on its own
shaft. The second, rearward balancer rides on the existing transmission
mainshaft—a feature Honda has patented. In all, the balancing system consists of
the forward shaft and balancer, the rearward weight, the chain connecting the
two balancers, and a few bearings. That's as simple a system as any factory has
yet designed for a big single machine.
One look at the instrumentation
reinforces the belief that this motorcycle is at the short end of the
mechanical-complexity spectrum. Absent are superfluous—for the sporting
purist—information centers; you'll find no fuel gauge, voltmeter, gear position
indicator, stand-down indicator, or liquid-crystal monitoring panel with
flashing graphic displays.
Instead, you'll find only pertinent data required for riding: plainly readable
gauges and indicator lights, a dash-mounted choke lever and easy-working
controls and switches.
The 498cc engine resembles Honda's
XL and XR powerplants in overall appearance; however, it has significant
differences. Premier among these, of course, is electric starting. The primary
gears remain identical to the XR/XL's cogs; the second through fifth
transmission gears have been strengthened. The clutch uses the same number of
plates, but the friction-plate thickness has been increased by 0.4mm to 1,6mm.
This year all three of Honda's half-liter singles feature a self-adjusting
cam-chain tensioner which requires no routine maintenance.
The FT also employs engine cases
distinct from the XR/XL's. The main crank-case has a bolt-on sump with a cap
covering the oil filter element; oil capacity is increased to 2.4 Litres, a bump
of 0.4 liter. Only the right-side engine cover is an XR/XL casting; the all-new
left-side cases accommodate the electric starter.
The starter motor, located behind
the cylinder, drives through six reduction gears, for an overall reduction ratio
of 29.7:1. A ring gear surrounding the crankshaft-mounted alternator rotor is
engaged by a sliding pinion which has a one-way" clutch. This clutch freewheels
when the engine outspeeds the pinion, thus disengaging the reduction gears and
starter motor and preventing the starter from over-revving.
The Honda uses an unusual start-gear
actuating system. During starting, a solenoid, which acts through a locking cam,
positively holds the pinion gear and its one-way clutch engaged. The solenoid
remains energized—and the pinion engaged—as long as the starter button is
depressed. Without this feature, the pinion gear would be tricked into
disengaging every time the piston gained speed after the compression stroke,
even if the engine didn't start.
After cold starting the FT, you can immediately ride it away smoothly with only
minor choking. The FT pulls from idle, and has a distinct power surge above 3000
Even though the FT has a good strong
charge in the mid-range, it's no Super-bike, as its quarter-mile times indicate.
The FT's peak power is actually shy of the typical 400cc twin; the slowest 400
we tested in our January econo-twin shootout, the Kawasaki KZ440 LTD, beats the
FT in the quarter by a half-sec-
Single-cylinder engines by nature are very narrow, which allowed Honda to endow
the FT with exceptional cornering clearance.
ond and over eight miles per hour.
Compared with its most obvious
rival, the Yamaha SR500G, the FT is down by 0.20 second and 3.23 mph. The reason
for the deficit can be found in the dyno charts. The FT and the SR torque and
horsepower curves intersect at 5000 rpm, above which the SR shows a clear
advantage: one full horsepower throughout the 1500-rpm range in which the engine
works during drag-strip acceleration. That's not much, but it accounts for the
small difference in ET and speed. Below 5000 rpm, the FT pumps out more torque
and more horsepower than the SR, which explains why the FT is so easy to ride
along twisty roads and around town. In these conditions you're likely to run the
bike in the mid-range, and that's where the Honda excels.
Because the FT has a 35mm
carburetor, three millimeters larger than the XL's, one might mistakenly assume
that the roadster has more power than the XL. Our dyno indicated the
opposite—almost two horsepower down at 6500 rpm. The reasons for the deficit
can't be found in the cylinder head; it's virtually a carbon copy of the XL's
(differing only by including a tachometer drive). Valves are identical: 35mm
intake and 30mm exhaust, and both pairs of valves lift 8.5mm. Camshaft timing
has the same late-opening intake and early-closing exhaust as the XL, producing
only 10 degrees of overlap. What, then, accounts for the variance? Part of it is
the FT's constant-vacuum carb: it has an internal butterfly valve, which the XL
doesn't have; this somewhat restricts the venturi. In addition, the FT has an
exhaust system different from the XL-series'. Standard deviations between
machinery account for the rest of the power difference.
On the open road the FT performs
well. It has power to cruise easily at 55 mph and pass a line of cars with a
quick downshift. Up to 5000 rpm the big single is quite smooth; some vibration
is noticeable—but barely. Above 5000, despite
the counterbalancers, engine vibration is apparent, particularly through the gas
tank and seat. Honda's and Suzuki's 450s are smoother for fast-lane cruising (65
miles per hour and above). Cruising at 55 mph with the FT equates to running at
4200 rpm; keep it to the legal limit or thereabouts and you'll be pleased with
In contrast to the FT's overall
engine performance, almost nothing mars its handling. The steering geometry (29
degrees of rake and 4.7 inches of trail) suggests that its steering response
should be slow. Steering is, in fact, light and responsive, without the
twitchiness of some sporting 550s. You can snap the FT from side to side easily,
and it takes de-creasing-radius and off-camber turns better than heavier,
slower-steering machines do. Thanks to its narrow width, the 500 has tons of
cornering clearance and can be leaned steeply without grounding the
undercarriage. If you really push the FT, the footpeg ends touch first and then
the stands, but touchdown is both light and predictable.
The only niggling complaint we have
regarding the handling concerns the limp damping of the rear shock absorbers.
The gas-charged shocks have five spring preload adjustments; they provide a
useful range for differing rider weights. At any preload, however, contacting
firm bumps in corners causes a slight rear-end wallow.
At the frdnt, the 37mm air-charged
fork has great road compliance. The tubes ride on Honda's dual Syntallic
bushings, and the ride height can be set by adjusting pressure between a
recommended six to 12 psi. We found the heavier setting suitable for all-around
riding; it gives a taut and controlled highway ride.
The fork incorporates an integral
brace. Most single-disc front brakes pull toward the side on which the disc
mounted. Even the best can twitch slig' ly as the brake is first clamped on. FT,
however, exhibits no such tendency the brace, it seems, works well.
Both front and rear brakes provide
powerful braking with good feedback under normal stopping conditions. Repeated
hard braking from high speeds causes some fade; the positive feeling diminishes
as the lever moves closer to the grip. During our testing, this fading appeared
only under the most adverse braking conditions.
Honda's dual-piston calipers clamp only a narrow area around the discs'
perimeters, increasing the area available for the giant holes in the disc
rotors; the look suggests that the FT's styling was inspired by Class-C flat
trackers. The discs mount to cast aluminum wheels rather than Comstars.
The seating position presents a
combination of good and bad. Good first: the seat's hump stops the rider from
sliding rearward during hard riding in the twist-ies; it provides a pocket of
comfort whicW also lends to a feeling of complete ccf^) trol. On the down side,
the seating position can be a bane to long-range comfort. Riders shorter than
five-eight wilk probably find the seat-to-handlebar relationship quite
accommodating; taller riders may feel cramped, not being able to slide back
easily over the seat's hump, especially after an hour or two. Nearly all our
testers liked the handlebar shape and footpeg position, although a couple of •
taller testers would have preferred the pegs more rearward.
Thanks to fine mid-range power,
minimal vibration at cruising speeds and a comfortable riding position, the FT
owner needn't feel timid about taking medium-length rides. In fact, the FT's
range on a tank of gas encourages a full day's trip or an overnight spin. We
typically covered 150 to 160 highway miles on the main fuel supply. One trip at
moderate speed netted a high of 54.9 mpg; our low " was 43.0. The smallish,
3.4-gallon g, tank has little space for a large tank bag, but you can mount soft
The FT's real strength comes from
its performance as a sport bike. The snappy but steady handling, its light
weight, wide powerband, click-stop shifting and fine brakes make the Honda a
superb tool to carve through twisty roads. You can easily and quickly fine tune
your speed to every nuance of the road.
But, at last, we also have with the FT a big single that is competitive with its
class and price rivals in other areas too. With the exception of sheer power
output, this half-liter single offers all the function of a 400 or 500 twin—and
more. It's lighter, more responsive and more agile than practically any bike in
its class, and it offers all the amenities from a front disc brake to electric
With a little more engine smoothness
high in the power-band, more peak power and better rear shocks, the FT could
well be the best half-liter sporting machine for its price. ®
Source CYCLE 1982