How Long Do Honda VT500s Last? 5 Examples

Honda VT500 was a rock-solid powerhouse of an inline V-twin motor produced by the Big-4 Japanese brand from 1983 to 1988.

Honda used the VT500 in a few mid-sized Honda models, namely the VT500FT Ascot, a naked cafe racer, the VT500C Shadow, a lower mid-sized version of the classic cruiser, and the VT500E Euro, a vintage street bike.

The VT500 was reliable for its day, but hasn’t been on the new market since the mid to late eighties, making it a vintage collector’s item. How long does the Honda VT500 last? Find out in this article.

Here’s the short answer to how long Honda VT500 lasts:

The Honda VT500 can last for more than 80,000 miles if you ride it responsibly, keep up with routine and periodic maintenance and store the bike properly during the off-season. If you ride an average of 4,000 miles per year, you can get up to 20 or more years from this iron steed.

How Many Miles Do You Get on a Honda VT500?

You can get over 80,000 miles on a Honda VT500 if you and the previous owners stored it out of corrosive elements, rode it responsibly, and serviced it per Honda’s spec maintenance schedule for your year-model VT500.

The VT500 was the most reliable mid-sized V-twin of its day, but it is a vintage motorcycle by today’s standards. How often you ride your VT500 dictates how long it will last, as a bike that’s been sitting for long periods withers from corrosion.

The used market might consider a vintage cruiser to be high mileage after 35,000 miles, but there are still VT500s on the road today, albeit their owners are those who ride their VT500’s regularly and act proactively when it comes to bike maintenance.

Still, I don’t own one—we crawled through the forums to gather testimony from some real-life VT500 owners.

  1. 36,000 miles is just nicely broken in. I have well over 40,000 in the last two years. As long as the seller can document the services & maintenance. Fit is something only you can decide. I fully expect well over 100,000 miles before I look for a new one.
  2. Hit 57,000 on my 96 [VT500] at lunch today. Well maintained it should go 100,000 + easy.
  3. I have 87,000 miles. The life of one of these bikes depends almost entirely on how it was cared for. A well-cared-for Shadow will outlast its owner. Seriously, I’m not saying that to be dramatic. They just plain last if they are well cared for.

The most significant factors on the longevity of any used vintage bike are ownership habits.

Any given VT500 probably had multiple previous owners before you even got to it. Their storage, maintenance, and riding habits impact multiple significant engine components.

The best tool in assessing the actual longevity of a Honda VG500 is to ask the previous owner about the bike’s service and ownership history.

Let’s check back in with some more VT500 owners and see how long they’ve loved on their vintage Hondas for:

  1. I don’t think anyone here would be willing to take responsibility for saying “yeah, you’ll love it.” As for the power: The 1980s bikes has engines that were built for performance. My 1986 Shadow 700 has over 10 horsepower more than the 2008 Shadow 750s. The 1988 VT800 will spank all of the new 750s. Others can comment better than I can about it.
  2. Just turned 150,000 on my [Honda VT]500. It’ll last you a long time if you take care of it.

150k on a 30+-year-old bike?! I told you these things were reliable—it’s all about how you take care of them.

So in review, if you take good care of your Honda VT500, it could very well last you over 30 years, for 150,000 miles!

What Is Considered High Mileage for These Models?

A Honda VT500 is considered high mileage anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 miles, depending on the model. Even though they have the same motors, on sport bikes, the high mileage number is around 25,000. Cruisers and touring bikes typically become high mileage in the 40-50,000-mile range. 

As we mentioned earlier, the owner’s attention to service and care is crucial in assessing the longevity and how the VT500 motor has held up over the years. 

Like we demonstrated earlier, a Honda VT500 that’s been well-cared-for can make it to 100,000 miles or more. 

In the best-case scenario, someone selling a used Honda VT should provide you with the information on how the bike has been serviced, ridden and how you or the previous owner stored it. Some of the critical things to inquire about include: 

  • Did the Honda receive regular oil changes, air filter changes, and detailed cleaning?
  • Was the VT500 stored outside or in a garage?
  • Was the VT500 ridden regularly or permitted to sit unused?
  • Ask for service records, both for significant and trivial services. 

Contrary to the “high-mile” logic, a Honda VT500 that’s been in storage for an extended period isn’t necessarily a plus.

If the Honda’s previous owner never took proper steps for winterization, prepping the VT500 for storage, it may damage its seals and gaskets and tank-rust from moisture buildup.

Related: How Long Do Honda VT800s Last? 4 Examples

How Many Years Does a Honda VT500 Typically Last?

The Honda VT500 can last for over 30 years if it’s well-kept and ridden responsibly. Honda ceased production on all VT500 models in 1988; there are VT500s on the street today with over 150,000 miles that still run great. 

The secret to the longevity of the VT500 is the rock-solid engineering behind the bike’s motor. 

As we mentioned earlier, all VT500 models use the VT500 engine, despite them being of different classes. 

  • The VT500 engine is an OHC, three-valves per cylinder, liquid-cooled four-stroke, with twin spark plugs per cylinder.
  • It has dual exhausts and shaft drive in common with the legendary Shadow VT1100, but the VT500 had a six-speed transmission vs. the five-speed on the VT1100.
  • This means its shaft system didn’t have to work as hard in high revs. 

The VT500 put out a ripping 47.5 horsepower at 9,000 RPM and 31 ft/lbs of torque at 7,000 RPM, making it way overqualified for mid-sized cruising, whether on a naked street bike or cruiser. This means the engine wasn’t working as hard, putting less wear and tear on its components and extending its lifespan by decades. 

Not to mention, the VT500 is fueled by two 32mm Keihin carburetors, some of the most reliable and longest lasting of the time.

Is the Honda VT500 Reliable?

The Honda VT500 is reliable, thanks to Honda’s groundbreaking engineering. When the VT500 was being manufactured, there weren’t many engines like it. The VT500 was so dedicated that since it’s become the model for many of the modern takes on mid-sized V-twin cruisers. 

Many of the V-twins of its day used fins for air cooling; the VT500 was liquid-cooled, meaning as long as its coolant fluid is kept up with, it stays cool to perform reliably. 

And that’s not to mention the VT500’s stellar primary drive:

  • a wet clutch ran into a six-speed transmission assisted by a shaft drive.
  • This was an elaborate setup, even by today’s standards, a complicated arrangement that led to an increase in reliability. 
  • The shaft-assisted primary required two right-angle connections out of the gearbox and the hub. 
  • Honda’s focus seemed to have been efficiency and reliability over power, as this shaft setup both took control from the small motor in a way that by no means enhanced the VT500’s handling.

That said, this new configuration proved to be as reliable as Honda anticipated. More than 30 years and hundreds of thousands of miles later, VT500 owners still attest to their reliable performance. 

Our verdict? A well-kept Honda VT500 stays on the road and out of the shop!

Related: How Long Do Honda VTR 1000s Last? 5 Examples

Does a Honda VT500 Last Longer than Other Motorcycles?

The Honda VT500 lasts longer than other motorcycles thanks to its high-performing motor. The oversquare VT500 engine had a bore of 71mm, a stroke of 62mm, and chain-driven overhead camshafts moving the valve train. Honda’s VT500 setup proved to perform reliably for over 30 years.  

The heads rocked three valves a piece—two intakes, one large exhaust. 

Honda claimed this design increased torque, and in the long run, it seemed to have increased longevity as well. 

A pair of 34mm downdraft Mikunis spat the fuel into combustion chambers, and the V-twin was liquid-cooled. There weren’t many mid-sized motors set up this way yet, not before Honda did it, anyway. 

The rear-cylinders on most transverse V-twins tend to get too much heat—not on the VT500. Its liquid-cooling system proved successful in making it one of the longest-lasting medium-machines of its day.

What Typically Breaks First on a Honda VT500?

The first thing to break on a vintage Honda VT500, as on most vintage cruisers of its day, is the carburetor. Eventually, your Honda’s carb will need to be replaced or at the very least cleaned and rebuilt. 

Carb cleaning is a must if you want to maintain the longevity and reliability of your VT500. 

Despite the VT500’s legendary engine build, the small fuel passages get clogged over time, which erodes the carb, especially during long periods of inactivity. 

To diagnose a failing carb on a VT500:

  •  First, pay close attention to the engine performance. 
  • If your VT500 runs either fully or partially on with the choke, you might have a bad carb.
  • Look out for any fuel leaks underneath your scoot or fuel in the airbox—both are signs of a failing carb.

If you think your carburetor is a problem, the quickest solution is to have it removed from the bike. Disassemble the sucker, and inspect each component, cleaning as you go. 

Take it to a Honda-literate technician for a quick, clean rebuild followed by a vacuum synchronization procedure.

Related: 7 Most-Common Problems With Honda VT500 

4 Great Tips to Make Sure Your Honda VT500 Will Last Long

Here are four great tips to help you get the most out of your Honda VT500:

1. Follow Honda’s Suggested Maintenance Schedule

If you want your VT500 to stay in peak condition, follow the service schedule Honda outlined for your little legend in its service manual. Skipping an oil change, running the bike on old fluids, and not inspecting your bike periodically will significantly reduce the lifespan of any motorcycle, regardless of how reliable. 

The owner’s manual outlines the intervals at which your specific year-model VT500 should be serviced.

Service includes inspection and lubrication. 

While you can manage most of the maintenance needed for your VT500 from a home shop, take it to a Honda-literate mechanic if you lack the experience or equipment to do more than change your oil. 

2. Store Your VT500 in a Garage or Under a Hefty Cover

Keep your vintage VT500 stored adequately, not just because it’s a legendary collector’s item, but to keep it out of corrosive elements like moisture and UV rays that cause corrosion and impact your bike’s longevity.

3. Drain the Carb Bowl

Like we mentioned earlier, a failing carb is the first thing to go wrong on a vintage V-twin like the VT500. Reduce carburetor issues and smooth out your ignition process by draining the float bowl of your carburetor after every ride. The old fuel that sits in the bowl breaks down quickly, throwing a wrench in your Honda’s next startup. 

The rotting fuel can also block the carb and fuel lines and break down your gaskets.

Drain your VT500’s carb bowl by leaving your bike running after you park, turning your fuel valve to the off position.

That said, never run a gas-powered vehicle inside of a closed garage. Drain your bowl in your driveway first and then scoot it in to kill the ignition.

4. Ride Your VT500 Property, and Ride Often!

Honda designed your VT500 to be ridden, not sitting in a garage. 

Stop your vintage bike from deteriorating by flushing its lines and motor with fresh fluids by riding it.

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