Road Test Review
The core of Honda’s praiseworthy, multi-bike response to the Global Financial Crisis and the distressed motorcycle market is the 2013 CB500 series, three bikes based upon the same engine, frame, running gear and one very key feature—a price under $6,000. For as little as $5,499 riders can avail themselves of the CB500F, an attractive, nimble standard shorn of expensive-to-fix bodywork. Or for $5,999 whisk away on a CB500R, which mimics its larger sporting brethren with a racy full fairing and lower handlebar. We reviewed both Thailand-made machines in the September 2013 issue and concluded that they sip fuel and are a blast to ride.
At that time, the third member of the CB500 cast had not yet arrived, so when we got our hands on a $5,999 CB500X we made up for lost time by outfitting it with the Honda accessory saddlebags and top case, taller windscreen and centerstand. Though we subsequently put more than 3,000 miles on the machine, we had concluded in the first 400 that the X is the best of the CB trio. Numerous small differences add up to big improvements in its versatility and fun factor. To suit the CB500X’s adventure-bike styling if not intent, Honda gave it 1.2 inches more fork travel in front and a higher, wider handlebar, improving its handling, ground clearance and long-distance comfort. This also increased its rake, trail and wheelbase a bit, enhancing its stability on the highway without significantly slowing down its nimble steering. The bike also has 0.4 gallon more fuel capacity, which—at our 54.3 mpg average—ups its range to more than 240 miles on regular gas, a nice number for touring guys and gals. Finally, a 16-pound higher GVWR than the other CB500s better suits the CB500X for loads and luggage.
All three CB500s were a pleasant surprise in the power department. While a new rider is likely to trade-in a first purchase in the 250 or 300 class for something with more oomph eventually, these 471cc twins make just enough power to endear themselves to both new and experienced riders who are more interested in low cost and fuel economy than blinding acceleration. Unless you’re counting lightweight and user-friendliness, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC parallel twin, which has a typical 180-degree crank and nearly square bore and stroke. The key is the burbling engine’s nearly flat torque curve, which stays in the 25-31 lb-ft range throughout the powerband. Although you can scream from corner to corner with the engine revving up near redline at 8,500 rpm and its 45.5-horsepower peak, the bike’s milder, lumpier twin-cylinder personality is the one you’ll be enjoying most of the time. Heavier riders and loads require plenty of downshifting for hills and passing, but on our 2,000-mile loop from California to southern Arizona and back, we found the CB500X had no trouble staying with traffic and providing plenty of smiles in the curves, even with a 230-pound rider aboard and a week’s-worth of gear loaded in the accessory luggage.
Mounting the engine solidly as a stressed member in the steel double-cradle frame enhances chassis stiffness and handling, and while some vibration creeps into the grips at high rpm, a gear-driven counterbalancer in the engine takes care of the rest. The cable clutch pull is light, the 6-speed transmission shifts really well without any driveline lash, and the Honda PGM-FI fuel delivery is precise and smoother than many more expensive motorcycles. In this price range you won’t find niceties like adjustable brake and clutch levers, but the CB500X’s middling size and low weight give it a one-size-fits-all feel from the seat to the grips. With my 29-inch inseam it’s easy to swing a leg over the 31.9-inch seat, which is narrow up front so I can plant both feet on the ground at stops. At this power level and load capacity the X is more of a solo machine, though both the rider and passenger seats are comfortable, and the rider’s grip-footpeg-seat layout is roomy and natural for long rides. We’d go even taller than the taller accessory windscreen on our test bike, which adjusts two inches up or down and provides some protection for the upper body, but allows a lot of noisy windblast to hit your helmet.
Our CB500X came with 90/10 on-road/off-road Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires, but other than the bike’s styling that’s where the similarities to a true adventure bike end. Though it has a little more ground clearance than its siblings at about 6.5 inches, that’s without a skid plate in place like most ADV bikes with clearance in the 8-9-inch range. A lighter rider might find the bike adequate for gravel and rutted dirt roads after adding an aftermarket skid plate and better rear shock, but even with more aggressive tires, tougher trails would be pushing it—in our off-road forays on the stock bike, we were wary of the comparatively short suspension travel and lack of any underbelly coverage, even as an accessory. As long as you’re sticking to pavement adventures, however, the bike’s upright ergonomics, wide handlebar and accessories such as heated grips, hand guards, a centerstand and a light bar that doubles as a fairing guard give it similar versatility and comfort to the big boys.
We found very few weaknesses in the CB500X package, in fact. Front and rear disc brakes are strong and have good feel, and for $500 more you can add the security of ABS. Other than a sticky lock on the trunk, we liked the pricy accessory luggage, which doesn’t get in the way while mounting and dismounting the bike. The top trunk will hold a helmet and works great by itself for skinny commuting, yet the medium-sized saddlebags are narrower than the mirrors and come off easily. Sure, the suspension is very basic, and lacking anything but rear preload adjustment is easily upset in bumpy corners, though the bike steers and handles great otherwise. The bar graph tachometer is difficult to read, and the sidestand is too short when the bike’s preload is jacked up for full loads. Upping the preload, by the way, is best left to the dealer on purchase day, since it’s a knuckle skinner of a job and the bike doesn’t come with any tools.
For a motorcycle that starts at $5,999, that’s a pretty short list of complaints, and the 3,000-plus miles we put on the CB500X are further testimony to its overall goodness. If you’re looking for a fun, inexpensive, versatile motorcycle for commuting, solo touring or just plain riding around, X marks the spot.