Cheap and extremely cheerful
Wednesday 19th June 2013, 4:59PM BST.
Jane Omorogbe rides the Honda CB500X.
MEET Honda’s answer to the recession. The CB500X is cheap to build and cheap to buy, but does that mean a compromise on the road?
It looks just like a baby cross-tourer, complete with Pirelli Scorpion Trail tyres as part of a styling package that separates it from its CB500F and CBR500R cousins.
Anyway, it might only have half as many cylinders but it has plenty of presence.
It might even be twice the fun. My first impressions come at the first corner and they are cemented as the day progresses.
Imagine a pushbike with a free-flowing stream of useable, predictable power that utterly dominates the exit of any corner you push through. There’s enough power to rival BMW’s G650GS and it’s all delivered perfectly smoothly until it peaks at 8,500rpm, eventually choking on the 9,100rpm redline. The totally new engine doesn’t have an especially powerful punch but there is plenty of willingness, particularly in the mid-range.
The first 20-mile stretch of my journey with the bike has more twists than a blockbuster thriller and the CB500X is the perfect date. It flicks from side to side effortlessly, tips in without hesitation and in town it
U-turns tighter than a Jack Russell with an itchy tail. The suspension is on the soft side, but it doesn’t pitch too much at any point.
Large project leader of the 500 series, Naoshi Iizuka, told me that a bike with this kind of styling looks better with a taller seat so originally they designed it to be 840mm in height. But their priority was giving the target customers – new riders and women – confidence and reassurance so they lowered it to 810mm. Statistically, half of all European women can reach the floor with an 810mm seat and it’s a practical compromise as it will inject novices with invaluable confidence without cramping taller riders. In general, the ergonomics feel natural and the protection from the manually-adjustable windscreen is adequate.
It’s hard to imagine the CB500X letting you get into trouble. There is a simplicity in its design and behaviour that betrays Honda’s deliberate engineering of the bike to be forgiving and allow the odd mistake. So, you can run the brakes deep into a corner and even comfort-dab mid-way through without upsetting its balance. Holding on to higher gears as your pace drops isn’t ideal for the plucky twin-pot, but fourth gear seems to suit most situations and the gearbox itself is glitch-free. The Japanese have kept rider aids to a minimum but ABS is standard and it’s subtle enough not to unnerve novice riders if it cuts in.
According to Mr Iizuka, adding electronic aids was never discussed for the 500 series as Honda wants to encourage new riders to develop real motorbike skills rather than relying on technology from the beginning. They were also focused on producing an orthodox, genuine bike in the traditional mould, with no frills or fuss. However, he also admitted that after hearing journalists comment on the lack of a gear indicator, the next generation of CB500X could well have one. Rather amusingly, Mr Iizuka laughed as he told me he simply hadn’t thought of it during the development stage.
The CB500X’s 17.3-litre tank is 1.6 litres bigger than those of its sporty and naked F and R siblings. My ride gave a calculated 53.8mpg, meaning the tank range is definitely good for at least 205 miles, because I wasn’t exactly riding conservatively.
This machine looks like a proper ‘big bike’ especially if it’s pimped out with accessories like the 24-litre panniers, 35-litre top box, higher screen, fog lights, heated grips and knuckle guards. You’re then talking about a bike with real traffic-shifting presence, even if the extra weight won’t do the performance or handling any favours.
It’s ideal for anyone looking to step up, down or sideways. Production of the last 500cc Honda ended in 2005, but with the market diminishing it’s a smart move to re-establish a hold on the 500 sector and provide great value for money.