2023 Honda SCL500 Review – First Ride
A peppy mid-sized scrambler with plenty of range and iconic style, that is sure to attract new and seasoned riders alike
Just when you thought Honda couldn’t possibly add something new and different to its middle-range moto lineup, it surprises us with a reiteration of a previous cult classic, the CL350, best known for paving the way for the Baja 1000 back in the 70’s. This modern version of the peppy lightweight scrambler has all the goodies of Honda’s current offerings, with all the style of the paired down desert racers of the past.
2023 Honda SCL500
The SCL500 is a mid-sized scrambler-style bike that is light, approachable with plenty of get up and go on the highways or in the canyons. Ideal for a new or casual rider who is looking to upgrade from a smaller bike, or for an experienced rider to return to the sport after some time away.
Editor Score: 81.5%
- Lightweight and nimble
- So many customization options
- Perfect tour-to-camp bike for anyone
- Sensitive throttle at slow speed
- Dash hard to see in rain/mist
- Can’t turn off ABS for off-road riding
The 2023 Honda SCL500 is packing a 471cc Parallel-Twin engine with six-speed transmission and front and rear ABS as standard. 19-inch front and 17-inch rear cast wheels come paired with Dunlop Trailmax Mixtour tires, perfect for street riding or light trails, and can be easily swapped with your favorite flavor of 60/40 off-road tires for those of you who hear the call of the wild a little louder than most.
The SCL is an addition to the established 500cc lineup from Honda. This bike borrows a few noticeable elements from the Honda Rebel, the most obvious being the shape of the fuel tank. The redesigned frame and upright ergonomics set it apart from the beloved entry-level cruiser, and the slipper clutch/shift assist lend an elevated upgrade. The same 500cc engine from the Rebel is the star of the show, providing proven reliability for the newest model.
All of Honda's 500cc range offers shift assist technology, which gives a lighter pull at the clutch lever and automatically locks the clutch up tight when you accelerate, while also avoiding a rear wheel lockup if a downshift is mistimed. Easy clutch modulation is an immediate confidence boost to a newer rider, removing some of the chance of stalling when leaving a stop or missing a gear while in motion, it also reduces hand fatigue in tight stop and go traffic, a welcome perk for even the most seasoned rider.
The SCL is nimble, light and incredibly easy to turn in, making it very approachable from a new rider perspective, and that’s before you get to the 31.1-inch seat height! I did find first and second gear a little jumpy when rolling on the throttle at lower rpm, and it’s reflected in the engine braking at lower engine speeds as well. Easing off the throttle in a turn tends to stand the bike up just enough to notice. While a seasoned rider may not mind the feedback, a newer rider may be surprised. The shift assist up and down is fantastic, the gear clicks over into the next with a solid thunk.
The fork is non-adjustable and has 5.9 inches of travel while the dual-shocks feature five-position adjustable spring preload and 5.7 inches of travel. While I didn’t get to test the bikes away from the pavement, it does seem that Honda had off-road riders in mind while designing this bike – to an extent. The twin-piston caliper on the single front rotor, though a bit soft on initial application, provides good stopping power and an adjustable brake lever lets you choose your perfect fit.
The LED headlight, also borrowed from the Rebel, lends a clean custom look to the bike, and the accompanying LCD dash shows a digital speedometer, odometer, and a slew of other handy information. The digital fuel gauge is a welcome sight. Our twisty mountain route took us about 100 miles throughout the morning, with the gauge showing just over half full at the end. Stated range for the 3.2-gallon tank is right around the 200-mile mark, and it seems real life consumption is spot on. I did notice the display is hard to see with a tinted visor in misty or rainy conditions. It would be great if you could make this brighter.
As a smaller human, the ergonomics feel pretty good: there’s room to move on the seat, and the riding position is upright and keeps your spine close to neutral. My less-vertically-challenged peers seemed to be just as comfortable, some opting for a taller ‘comfort’ seat about halfway through the day, for an added inch in seat height. A windscreen will be an excellent idea if you’re planning on any highway time. I did notice one thing that may only affect smaller riders – the footpeg and rear brake position are very close to the engine case, and riders may have their boot or leg right up against the engine case on the right hand side. After half a day’s ride there’s not much engine heat, but it might be a good idea to check clearance. Wider footpegs and/or an adjustable brake lever may clear up the issue.
With a host of aftermarket accessories available, customizing the SCL500 should be a breeze. If you’re headed to the trail, the hand guards, engine protection, and high front fender as well as other dirt-focused bits, transform the street bike into a light-duty dual-sport. While I wouldn’t expect to see it down technical trails, fire roads or graded trails en route to dispersed camping should be a perfect match. If you’re aiming to keep the bike on the sportier side, Vance and Hines has developed an exhaust, turning the quiet stock hum into a solid clear tune.
A thought crossed my mind while envisioning where I would take this fun little bike – it may be the perfect tag-along for someone who subscribes to the overlanding or RV lifestyle. At a claimed 419 lbs wet, it could be loaded on a hitch rack easily. It can also reach highway speeds without much effort, and with such a wide dealer network, there’s no shortage of resources no matter how far your travels take you.
The SCL500 in the hands of a new rider, or even one that has some experience off-road or on smaller dual-sports, is an excellent starter street bike. It’s a little bit of everything I would look for: light, approachable, and with plenty of get up and go for highways or canyons.
The paired down scrambler style is itching for customization, an upgrade to meatier tires, and a map of your nearest mountain roads. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these in the lineup for the Biltwell 100 next spring, right alongside the ADV bikes and dirtbikes.
2023 Honda SCL500 Specifications
Liquid-cooled parallel-twin four-stroke
Bore x Stroke
67.0mm x 66.8mm
DOHC; four valves per cylinder
10.7 : 1
Wet, Multiple Disc
Constant Mesh, 6-speed
PGM-FI with 34mm throttle bodies
41mm fork; 5.9-inch travel
Dual shocks with five-position spring-preload adjustability; 5.7-inch travel
Single 310mm disc with two-piston calipers; ABS
Single 240mm disc, ABS
419 pounds (claimed, ready to ride)
Fuel Tank Capacity
One year, unlimited mileage
2023 Honda SCL500
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