First Generation Ascots > The Thumper Years: Stock To Lightly Modified

RETROSPECTIVE - Reprint from Rider Magazine February 2001


Happiness is being single. Or so say the
members of the Four Stroke Single National
Owners Club. Unfortunately, FSSNOC was
not in existence when Honda’s FT500 Ascot
appeared on the showroom floors of dealers
all over this great land, otherwise this
sophisticated thumper might have had a far
different history.
The Ascot was a brilliant piece of work,
if I say so myself. For 2,200 bucks, the rider
got an excellent 375-pound motorcycle
powered by a stout-hearted one-lunger
engine that generated some 27 horsepower
at 6,500 rpm, and the damn thing had an
electric starter to boot – enjoy the pun.
Nineteen-eighty-two should have been a
good year for such a bike. At the end of
1981, Yamaha had dropped the street-going,
kickstart SR500 single from its line, after
four years, and now Honda was presenting
this far more civilized single. The engine
was based on Honda’s 1979 XL500
powerplant, the big difference being the
very efficient installation of a starter motor
behind the cylinder. To get enough oomph
to turn over the hefty piston with its 8.6:1
compression ratio, the starter went through
six reduction gears before getting to the ring
gear down by the crank-driven alternator,
for an overall reduction ration of nearly 30
to 1. That was one way to cope with hardstarting
singles and a street-riding
population that had almost forgotten how to
operate a kickstarter.
The open frame, like the Honda XLs,
used the motor as a stressed member. The
37mm front fork had a comfy 6 inches of
travel, and air adjustability, while the twin
shocks at the back could have the spring
preload altered, and provided a modest but
adequate 3.3 inches of travel. A 19 inch
wheel was at the front, with a single disc and
a twin-piston caliper; an 18-incher at the
back with another disc. Final drive by chain.
This chassis was certainly not the stuff of
Grand Prix racers, but struck a reasonable
balance between cost, comfort and handling.
And nothing dragged in the corners until the
tips of the footpegs touched at a serious tilt.
The oversquare engine had a bore of 89mm,
a stroke of 80mm, for a total of 498cc,
with a single overhead camshaft
driven by a chain with a self-adjusting
tensioner. Neat stuff. The four-valve head
was fed by a 35mm Keihin CV, with
accelerator pump. Down in the bowels of the
engine was a pair of balance shafts, but the
rear one doubled as the transmission
mainshaft Very nifty. Granted, above 5,000
rpm the rider knew he was on a thumper, but
that was part of the fun of haring down the
backroads with the engine on the boil and
his toe playing the five-speed gearbox at jigtime.
That was the key to these singles, getting
the rider off of those silky-smooth multis
and back to the world of real motorcycles,
where rider prowess was more important
than horsepower. The wheelbase was a brief
56.5 inches, and the fork angle an agile 29
degrees (with 4.7 inches of trail), and the
Ascot could dance down the Big Sur
highway as adroitly as Fred Astaire could do
a turn on the ballroom floor.

Turn the petcock to on, choke the carb,
turn the key on, and then instead of pulling
in a compression release and worrying about
the piston being slightly over top dead
center, you just pushed the button. Bangity,
bang! Right away you could cut the choke
by half, and ride off. Warmed up, with the
choke off, this bunny could run. This was no
speed demon, having a usable top speed of
about 80 mph, but on a mountain road there
was not much call to go over 80. And
pitching this lightweight into a decreasing
radius turn was nothing but a good time.
This was an enthusiast's motorcycle. If
you wanted pure utilitarian function, the Big
Four all offered 400/450 twins with more
horsepower for less money. And less fun.
Street singles have their own sweet way
about them, and once tasted, many riders
become addicted.
Was America ready for a big single
street bike? Obviously not. We rode a lot of
sporting singles back when the Brits pretty
much had a monopoly on the market -- BSA
Gold Stars and Velocette Venoms, but these
were not Everyman's bike. You had to learn
a generally complicated starting drill, and
you had to be willing to work with the bike
in order to appreciate its performance as
opposed to merely twisting a throttle on the
OHV vertical twins of that era -- or the OHC
multis of 1982.
I do chastise American Honda, and the
other U.S. distributors for Japanese
manufactures, for a fatal weakness of
purpose. In the last 20 years, a number of
good models have been introduced, have not
sold well in the first year or two, and have
been dropped from the lineup, though often
kept on in Japan and Europe.
Now a well-used Yamaha SRX600 or
Honda GB500, both single-cylinder
roadsters introduced in the late '80s, often
has a price tag exceeding, in real dollars, the
original price. I think that if a good street thumper had stayed in the lineup, it could
have become a steady seller,
However, American dealers seem to
want only best sellers. Today the few big
street-only singles we see are Suzuki's 650
Savage (too cruiserly), KTM's 625cc Super
Moto (too radically styled), Buell's 500cc
Blast (too elementary), Enfield's 500 Bullet
(too basic), and the very nice MuZ
Skorpions -- the $5,000 Tour model would
be my choice.
But back to 1982: the Ascot was a good
machine, easy to ride, fun to push through
the tight corners while the mid-weight
multis labored behind you, and cheap to run.
Gas prices had just gone over a dollar, and
this slender machine could deliver 50 miles
to that expensive gallon; the Ascots tank
held 2.9 gallons.
But it was a hard time for the U.S.
motorcycle industry, as the economy had
gone into a slump, and unsold bikes were
stacking up in warehouses. Honda decided
to cut losses by cutting the product line, and
after a mere two years the single-cylinder
Ascot was gone -- to be replaced by the Vtwin
VT500 Ascot -- which had even fewer

Clement Salvadori

had  forgotten  that  article.  nice  to se it.    i remember  the  bikes  being  sold for between  1299  and  later 999  plus  tax  and  dealer prep  at  tustin  honda  in orange  county  CA..  !!!

I have a friend that recalls the Ascots being sold for $999.99 just to get them out the door.

What a bargain!  :o 8) Wish I could pick up a new Ascot for $1K.



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