This motorcycle testing malarkey can definitely throw up the odd quandary. Sometimes we test a bike that’s as trick-as-all-hell and yet the ride experience falls well short of the total sum of its very flash parts.
It’s like that flash expensive shock is too proud to get along with the standard chassis or other brand forks, as an example; the various components don’t complement each other or work in unison, which leaves the bike feeling unbalanced and your confidence in it lacking.
Then of course, from time-to-time we test a bike that’s at the polar opposite end of the spectrum. A machine that performs well above expectation for no particular reason other than it’s a complete package and simply a great and fun bike to ride.
The Honda CB500XA is one of these bikes, especially so considering it’s a learner license friendly LAMS machine. That’s not to say the ‘X’ shouldn’t be a great bike. Honda tends to build well-rounded machines and our attractive, pearl white, test machine was no exception.
No, in this case it’s more a reflection on this cynical old tester that is often spoiled by exotic test bikes and is usually excited by larger horsepower engines. The mid-sized 471cc, liquid-cooled parallel twin, DOHC motor is a gem and everyone’s best friend in use, despite its LAMS certification.
With an almost ‘square’ bore and stroke of 67mm x 66.8mm, and modest compression ratio of 10.7:1 it produces a maximum 35kW of power and 43Nm of torque. Yes, it’s true to say the numbers don’t make particularly exciting reading, but it still propels the 500’s 196kg wet weight along easily.
The power is flexible, supremely user friendly, surprisingly punchy given its ease of use and deceptively fast; I absolutely enjoyed riding it. This is the sort of engine and power delivery that keeps riders of all ages and abilities happy.
Youngsters learning the ropes will get a kick out of the responsive and fun power that is unlikely to knock their confidence if their right wrist gets the better of their ability. And old hacks like me can still revel in the happy, zappy nature of the engine.
The actual power delivery is seamlessly linear, as it just progressively grows until the rev limiter cuts in, yet it still manages to be engaging and enjoyable. It is not inclined to stall at take-off which is a real blessing for learner riders and just makes life easier for everyone.
The CB handles super well, with an agile, effortless feel that is no doubt aided by the sensible 26.5 degree steering head angle. It’s just awesome for fanging around town, shooting the gaps between traffic and out on the open road.
In fact it’s hard to image an area where the Honda would be seriously out of its depth, be it commuting, cruising, or full-on road touring – it’s a very capable machine. While the suspension is comparatively basic it still provides a controlled and comfortable ride.
The forks are 41mm diameter traditional items with 140mm of wheel travel and are now pre-load adjustable. Compare that to when we tested the bike back in late 2013, they were non-adjustable, so it’s good to see improvements being made.
The single rear shock is mounted on a ProLink rising rate linkage and has nine-step adjustable preload and 120mm of wheel travel. The rubber is a decent size for a mid-sized bike without being overkill and reasonably sticky.
A 160/60-17 rear and 120/70-17 front tyre, both being ZR rated certainly combine well with the suspension and chassis to deliver a very balanced ride package. The Honda’s braking performance is about right for the kind of machine it is. It’s more than adequate but not what I’d call fantastic.
As soon as you ride a bike with a single front disc after stepping from a twin disc set-up you notice the loss of performance. While it would be unfair to call this a criticism of the Honda, it is noticeable. The difference being that to stop hard a decent pull on the lever is required rather than a gentle squeeze.
The wave style 320mm front disc is stopped by a twin piston floating Nissin caliper, while at the rear a 240mm disc and single piston caliper does the business. Both brakes have ABS control.
The seat height at 810mm allows for a reasonable 170mm ground clearance and is still not too tall, or in the too low category… which means that most people will be happy and comfortable.
The ergonomics as a whole are very natural; the X’s cockpit is a very pleasant place to be. The screen is taller for this year and is effective at keeping the weather at bay, quite quiet and created little buffeting, it’s great. I found all the controls well-positioned and excellent to use. The higher, straighter handlebars give a lot of confidence on the commute while lane splitting.
Also new for this year is the span-adjustable front brake lever which is a nice touch.The general fit and finish is typical Honda – excellent. LED head and tail lights add class too and the 17.5 litre fuel tank combined with a very frugal engine offers an excellent range.
The dash is an all LCD display, pleasant looking and covers all the information necessary. The fuel level is shown in bars running up the left hand side, while the revs are shown also in bars, but running along the top.
Of course your km/h is shown in large digits in the middle along with trips, warning lights and the alarm. I genuinely enjoyed riding this Honda CB500XA and was frankly amazed by its broad based range of excellent capabilities. It is fast enough and perky enough for all to enjoy.
It laps up commuting, general riding and touring. All the while, the 500 offers good weather protection, great comfort and a super user friendly, practical, confidence inspiring package. While it may not be spectacular in any department, in all respects it is simply a lovely bike to ride. In fact, one Australian customer likes it so much, he has already clocked up 100,000km on his CBX500!
Honda CB500X Pros & Cons
Strong points – The package as a whole is excellent; it looks cool too.
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