The Honda XBR 500 sports single cylinder was launched by Honda in 1985 in response to the Yamaha SR500. It is powered by a single-cylinder four-valve engine with the valves arranged radially (the Radial Four Valve Combustion Chamber, or RFVC). Displacing 498 cc and producing 44 hp, the engine, which originated from the Honda XR series off-road models, features a dry-sump, the oil being stored in a separate oil tank below the seat. The steel-braided hoses connecting the oil tank to the engine (clearly visible at the right-hand side of the motorcycle) became a strong visual element.
The two exhaust valves enabled the motorcycle to be fitted with two separate silencers. The motorcycle had both an electric start and a kick start which linked to an automatic decompression valve to reduce compression during operation. The fuel-efficient engine combined with the large fuel tank capacity provided the bike with a long range between refueling.
The early XBR500 was fitted with Comstar wheels and tubeless tyres. Later models were provided with spoked wheels and tubed tyres. A removable seat cover was also fitted in order to simulate a cafe-racer look. Honda subsequently released a café racer version of the XBR500, the Honda GB500, which featured some "classic British qualities", such as a solo seat, seat hump, wire wheels, and a fuel-tank with pin striping.