Paddy Tyson took a Honda CB500X to Greece as part of our longterm test to see just how the middleweight twin performs over distance
If ease of use is your absolute number one desire when travelling by bike, then this middleweight CB500X from Honda may provide the simplest of choices. We’ve now put 12,000 miles on ours and every time I climb aboard I’m immediately struck by how relaxed I feel. It’s an ‘A2’ licence-compliant machine but I urge you to cast from your mind any notion that it’s only suitable for young or new riders.
Introduced in 2013 it was one of the first ‘big’ bikes that Honda chose to make in Thailand, but I can discern no drop in build quality. It seems as tight and capable now as it did when we first got it and I set off for Greece. The journey to Kefalonia was undertaken against the clock as I was heading to a family gathering, so I opted for the blast down to the heel of Italy, before the more relaxed return leg through the Balkans. What that immediately demonstrated was the sheer flexibility of the 500X as I carved through Alpine passes and charged down autostrada. All these miles later I still love the way it can trickle through traffic, bimble on a B-road, hold its own on an A-road or whisk me down a motorway as required.
If you are used to big adventure bikes you may initially feel the footpegs are a little high, but for a street bike they certainly aren’t, offering generous room with never a sense of cramping. The riding position is a perfect straight-back affair enabling that comfort and great all-round visibility. If the stalks of the mirrors were an inch longer they’d be exceptional. As it is, they are a good shape, easy to adjust and never blur. The rear observation is exemplary right through the rev range – but I’ll come back to that.
The ‘bars are ‘just so’, again providing great comfort in all conditions except when standing on the pegs, when they could be wider and higher, but how often will you really do that?
The seat enables me to sit through tank after tank of fuel; I honestly can’t comment on any ill-feeling. There’s enough room to move around if needs be and the sides are cut away just enough to ensure your feet easily reach the ground. Seat height isn’t too challenging for most at 810mm and the position of the footpegs (broad and rubbery) doesn’t impede the reach to terra firma.
The standard screen is small and neat and adjusts manually with two height options. It offers a modicum of protection and wind deflection and thankfully generates no head-buffeting or excessive wind noise, even at steady 80-85mph cruising; something I discovered in Germany.
I find instrumentation important when riding long distances, and I don’t just mean being able to see my speed or fuel level. The display becomes my friend, especially when it’s not a challenge to use. The rev counter here for example, is the now common digital ‘stripe’ across the top of the screen but is of a size that’s clearly legible day or night.
The speedometer digital readout is centrally positioned and couldn’t be clearer and the 6-bar vertical fuel gauge sits on the left of the binnacle. To the right of the speedo is everything else that can be managed from an ‘easy-use’ button on the left of the console: total mileage and two trip meters, average mpg and the variable mpg display, which entertains me on a long ride as it varies in (almost) real time. The whole thing contains black images on a pale orange background which works particularly well at night, providing clarity and a sense of warmth if you need it.
And if you do ride at night you should be impressed with the headlight on both low and high beam.
Engine and efficiency
12,000 miles is a good test of a bike because you can check tyre and chain life as well as real economy and that’s another place this Honda deserves praise. I’m very old school and like to gather my receipts at every fill-up, writing the trip-meter mileage since the last tank. Apart from anything else it demonstrates the immediate effect on economy that luggage, pillion, headwind or state of mind can have. From 79 to 43mpg my receipts more commonly show 68mpg, but if you don’t make haste and prefer to cruise the backroads of a foreign land, you should comfortably see 70 miles for every gallon of unleaded. That’s an easy 240 miles from the 15.7l tank.
The engine that delivers this is a 471cc 8-valve twin, producing 47hp in a very useable way. It’ll never strain your neck, but is capable of seeing off all but the most spiritedly driven saloons, and it can provide plenty of entertainment if you make it rev above 6,000rpm. Conversely, I’ve experienced few engines capable of providing such smooth delivery around two grand, should you really want to pootle. The fuelling is excellent and completely snatch and stutter-free.
This particular bike does have one distinct ‘coarse’ zone in the rev range however, which is so pronounced that as soon as it happens I know I’m doing exactly 65mph (c4,800rpm). It’s not a classic vibration, doesn’t impact on the mirrors at all and does fade away by 72mph but it’s just a very distinct rough patch.
Chassis and brakes
This steel-framed bike won’t have you worrying about suspension settings. It’s got a simple monoshock rear end and pair of 41mm conventional forks at the front. If you want pin-sharp handling with incredible feedback you’ve missed the point. It’s a perfectly adequate set-up for travelling just about anywhere and maybe you’ll relish the extra challenge to drag the footpegs through the twisties. (Note however that the exhaust can touches down just after peg)
17inch wheels both ends confirm that it’s happiest on tarmac (although the most recent upgrades from Honda in 2018 include a 19” front). The only off-road use we’ve put it through has been gravel tracks and with road tyres it’s unfair to comment. On the road though it’s worth mentioning it felt least stable when shod with Bridgestone Battlax tyres, the front washing out too many times for comfort. Pirelli Scorpions were better but recent Conti Road Attacks suit brilliantly.
Brakes are perfectly fine in all situations, providing strong response and good feel with single discs at both ends. The front 320mm disc is gripped by a twin piston caliper and ABS is standard.
There’s always something that annoys though, and this might make you laugh, but the side-stand infuriates me. The ‘tang’ that should permit me to easily use the stand, sits close behind the footpeg in such a manner that I am yet to utilise it without looking down. My foot always catches the footpeg and I find it impossible to ‘feel’ it with my foot. Maybe my size 9s are bigger than was intended. Thankfully the centre-stand is a joy to operate and keeps the machine really stable.
Verdict for overlanding
The quality of this bike is perhaps best reflected in the fact that it was just over £5k when new and now if you look around the market, still commands more than £3k. It doesn’t attempt to woo buyers with anything other than straightforward good sense, and holds its value. Everything works well, the economy and range is above average, comfort is great for a middleweight and the engine is so smooth and fuss-free you can’t be anything other than relaxed when using it. If you want to concentrate on new vistas and have a machine that’ll simply take you where you want, it could be the simplest of choices.
RALLY RAID options
Improved ground clearance and suspension for more adventurous use is available from Rally Raid. Based in Northants, Rally Raid have spent years developing and testing their modifications and you can upgrade as much or as little as you want, changing wheels and all suspension components to suit your needs or budget. Their kits transform the CB500X into a real adventurer. www.rally-raidproducts.co.uk 01933 666333
Honda CB500X specs