Honda GB500 TT – A Very British Japanese Motorcycle

You could argue that the Honda GB500 TT is a Japanese copy of iconic British single cylinder machines that at one time dominated motorcycling and in particular the Isle of Man TT podiums. 

Or you could take the stance which I prefer and view it as a motorcycle built to show the utmost respect and appreciation of the British legends from the 50’s and 60’s, with a Honda twist.

You could go as far to suggest that the Japanese company foresaw the Café Racer trend coming before the rest of the world did and the Honda GB500 Tourist Trophy was their contribution to that movement. 

Let’s take a look at this production Café Racer from the very beginning.

Table of Contents

History of the GB500 TT

This German import made its way to the UK and was recently sold by Anthony Godin

Before the 650cc parallel twins and then three-cylinders that came there after, there were bikes like the BSA Gold Star 500cc single cylinder thumpers. They are as iconic today as they were at the time and they won races, in particular the Isle of Man TT podium was flooded with these machines for a long time.

The motorcycle market in the late 80’s was a little bit stagnant, nothing fresh was really happening with manufacturers going back to the drawing board to see what they could come up with that would relight the fire. 

Back in 1987, Soichiro Honda was no exception and he was seeking inspiration for a bike that would reignite the love of Honda motorcycles with a big focus on the Japanese home market.

Soichiro Honda himself had always been a big fan of the British marques machines and it is rumored that this is where the original source of inspiration came from for the Honda GB500 TT.

Starting with the name GB500 TT; the GB stands for Great Britain and TT is Tourist Trophy, in reference to the Isle of Man TT races.

There was nothing subtle about the British influence with the new model. Why use a single cylinder engine? Well, Norton was still winning races into the late 60’s with single cylinder machines. They are easier to work on, handling is good due to smaller size, they cool effectively and produce fantastic torque. 

The GB500 TT wasn’t built to be a race replica machine or to even be a fast bike compared with some of the big Superbikes that the world was seeing at that point; but it was built in the true cafe racer styling and that was to be its selling point. 

It is also worth noting that initially the GB500 TT was built for the home Japanese market (originally as a 400cc) and not intended as an export. It was only later that the model was exported to the US and the bike only had a run of 2 years from 1989-1990.

The GB500 TT was never officially exported to the UK for sale but the last batch (originally destined for USA) were taken by Honda Germany and were sold in Europe up until 1992. A good few of these ended up in the UK.

The engine was derived from the XL500, a dirt bike with a whole lot of torque. The end result for the GB was a 498cc, air cooled, SOHC four valve single cylinder engine capable of 103mph and 33 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. The engine was paired with a 5 speed gearbox and chain final drive. 

Suspension came in the form of a non-adjustable fork with hydraulic damping and preload-adjustable Showa shocks. The disc brake upfront came with a twin-piston caliper which gave stopping power that far exceeded the Brits from the 50’s/60’s. 

Another big advantage of the GB500 was the electric starter, it came with a kick start but that was more just for looks and nostalgia than practicality. 

The weight was 176kg wet which made it lightweight and easy to handle. The layout was also fairly compact, so the clip on handlebars were within easy reach and the riding position wasn’t too extreme as some Café Racers are today. 

The solo seat with cowl and rearset footpegs accentuated the throwback Café Racer styling of the 50’s, along with the classically styled tank, narrow front tire and spoked wheels. The after-market fairing in my opinion is an absolute must have.

Honda GB500 TT Performance

The Honda GB500 TT wasn’t a bike that was built to win races but that doesn’t mean it was a boring machine, far from it, as those with big single cylinder bikes know they can be the most fun. 

“Cycle magazine’s 1989 dyno test recorded 33 rear wheel horses, enough to hustle the 390 pound (wet) GB to a 14.13-second standing quarter at a shade under 90mph. They also recorded a 0-60mph time of 5.1 seconds.” Motorcycle Classics.

“There was some potential tied up in the Honda GB500 TT, as Cycle World proved with a hot-rodded version that would turn a 12.8 second quarter at 101mph and do 0-60mph in four seconds flat.” 

The beauty of the Honda GB was the torque across the power band and having to use the gears to get to the top end. You had to work hard to get the best out of it and depending on the kind of rider you are and if you are like me, you will love that.

Classic Bike Hub writes “The fun and the appeal was that it gives the classic experience without the high entry costs and maintenance or reliability worries. This little Honda will run and run. I could, and would, ride it everywhere.”

The fact remains that the GB500 just wasn’t a Superbike, it wasn’t particularly fast or built for long highway cruising use, and all of these were what the US market desired at the time; the bigger the better. 

Only around 3,000 GB’s were sold in its short run and it wasn’t the best seller that Honda had wanted. Some attribute that to it being ahead of its time, and it was argued that a tribute motorcycle could never become desirable. 

However, time has proven that is far from true and the GB500 TT is now coveted by collectors all over, it won’t reach BSA Gold Star prices but it isn’t dwindling down the lower end of the spectrum either. Dare I say it is a bit of an icon in its own right?

Finding a Honda GB500 TT For Sale

In the US prices for the GB500 TT are priced from between $5,000-$9,000 with the higher prices set on models with fewer owners, and in mostly original condition. Smart Cycle Guide has several adverts across the States and the site is well worth a look.

Cycle Trader is showing a private advert with the bike priced at $8,000. The owner has done a good job cleaning the bike up and it appears to be in very good riding condition. The owner states honestly it isn’t a museum piece but a motorcycle that is set up to ride and throw a smile on your face while doing so.

Although they weren’t officially sold in the UK, they have been imported over the years and they are very collectible and loved by British riders. They don’t come up often but when they do they seem to be priced between £5,000-£8,000. 

This example on Car and Classic has only 1496 miles on the clock. It is a 1989 US import with just 2 previous owners (3 on the paperwork but only because it was transferred to the first owner’s wife when he passed). Located in Gosport the bike is priced at £5,995. 

A classic bike dealer has an example for sale for £7,950, with just over 8,000 miles on the clock. It is in good condition but the £2,000 premium on top for buying from a dealer compared to the private advert makes me question whether it is worth it.

With that said the first advert could just be a fairly priced gem, so if you’re in the market for one, that’s the one I’d be quick to snap up. 

Restoring a GB500TT

There is really only one issue that I foresee with restoring a GB500TT and that is simply the scarcity of finding original parts on the basis there weren’t all that many produced in the first place. 

However, despite this it is still possible to locate original parts as Honda are very good at producing excess parts for a while after discontinuing a motorcycle. 

CMS in the Netherlands is a good start for parts for the GB500 TT and they do ship Worldwide so are a great source. 

Predator Motorsport in the UK also has a pretty extensive parts stock list. 

Is a GB500TT a Good Investment?

The rarity of the GB500TT means that it is more collectable now than ever and continues to be coveted by riders and collectors equally. It is a motorcycle that has increased in value over the years and will likely continue to crawl up in years to come. 

Old Nortons, Velocette, early Triumph’s etc may have paved the way and have a bigger following, but those in the know about the big single from Honda are fierce in their appreciation for the machine and continue to keep it relevant. 

If you aim to buy one at the mid-range price in good original condition, and keep it mint, it will surely serve you as a positive financial investment in years to come. 

Verdict

To the critics that say the Honda GB500 TT is nothing but a shadow of the great British cafe racers, I say this Honda is as brilliant and unique as any other original motorcycle by any other marque. It stands alone in its class, pre-dating the cafe racer craze that engulfs the motorcycle community today. 

It looks good, handles well, it won’t blow your socks off but every mile will have you feeling like you did when you first learned to ride and got the taste of freedom.

It’s a Japanese motorcycle that testifies to the Great British classics and has done that job so well, in turn it has now become a classic itself.

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