First Ride Review – 2019 Honda CB500X

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In which Honda listens to the people and adds some off-road flavor to the CB500X.


Photos by Drew Ruiz.


On Paper

The CB500X was introduced in 2013 as an option that was equally attractive for riders getting into motorcycling and riders looking to downsize from bigger bikes.

It was street-focused but many people (myself included) were surprised by how well the aftermarket responded with off-road parts – Rally Raid out of the UK made quite a name for themselves with some kits for the CB500X that I would see all over ADVRider. These kits included components such as a larger front wheel, increased suspension travel, and adjustable shock.

Honda noticed, and that’s why the CB500X has been upgraded with similar changes (and more) for 2019.

I’ll get into specifics soon, but the important changes for this year are:
Refreshed styling: new front fairing, side covers, dash, taller windscreen full LED lighting
Off-road aspirations: 19″ front wheel, increased suspension travel
Extra oomph: 4% increase in horsepower and torque from 3k-7k rpms
$6,699 MSRP: you’ll have to spend another $300 if you want ABS. Destination charge is an additional $380.

Introductory Thoughts

Big adventure bikes are impressively capable – and the imagery of them getting hustled around while carrying a week’s worth of camping gear can be stunning if you’ve got the skills of Chris “Teach” McNeil or Chris Birch. But there are plenty of riders who care more about weight and seat height than horsepower because their idea of exploration is slow-speed trail riding while searching for the best possible campsite. The new CB500X can handle the off-road needs of a grand majority of riders.

I was never interested in trying the previous CB500X, partially because it just looked like a street bike with frumpy ADV styling. I actually passed on covering this specific launch for Overland Journal because I assumed that Honda would barely give us any opportunities to evaluate the new bike in the dirt and I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough to write about for a dirt-focused publication. Boy, was I wrong.

In my defense, I’ve been to several launches of dual-sport-ish bikes (BMW RnineT Scrambler, Suzuki V-Strom) and the planned route is 98% pavement with a couple of dirt roads thrown in for photography’s sake. Honda earned my respect (and made me eat crow) with this event because we spent nearly half of our 115 miles on the dirt. I was impressed with how the X handled a variety of terrain, and I quickly learned that the CB500X is much more fun that I thought it would be.

It’s not just nice to ride, it’s nice to look at, too.

Part of the impressive performance comes from the tire situation. OEM tires for the CB500X are Dunlop Trailmax Mixtours, but for this launch Honda put on Bridgestone Battlax Adventurecross AX41 tires. Initially, I found this to be annoying – I don’t like when the bikes I test are not the same things you buy from the dealership floor.

They sure look purposeful, though.

BMW pulled the same stunt for the S1000RR launch, swapping out the stock tires for Pirelli Diablo Supercorsas because we were exclusively riding on a track. It makes the ride more enjoyable for everyone reviewing the bike, but is it fair? I think the tire choice was warranted considering we spent so much time in the dirt, but it’s just something for you to consider. Seeing as Honda put such an emphasis on the off-road focused changes, let’s start there.

Off Road

I consider the CB500X to be a soft-roader as opposed to a full off-roader. You can make the X look the part with some factory accessories like the hand guards ($81.95) and light bar that looks like upper crash bars ($254.95), but I think the lack of an available skid plate will cause some furrowed eyebrows.

This X has $1,622.55 of accessories on it.

Honda would probably like me to remind you that they’ve got a whole bunch of options when it comes to street-legal adventure bikes – the 250L/Rally, 450L, NC750X, and Africa Twin/Adventure Sports. Heck, the venerable XR650L is still a good option, and it’s exactly the same price as a CB500X with ABS. So I guess my job is to explain where the 500X fits in, and you’ll just have to figure out how much dirt capability you want.

The big news is obviously the 19″ front wheel, which is a nice compromise for street/dirt duty. The suspension (preload adjustable on both sides) has 0.4″ more travel up front and 1.2″ more travel in the back (5.3″/5.9″, respectively). The seat is narrower above the footpegs for easier movement when you’re standing, and it’s 0.8″ taller, up to 32.7″. These are all improvements when it comes to playing in the dirt, but the suspension seems set for a rider that weighs far less than my 200 pounds. At slow speeds there’s no issues, but the suspension doesn’t isolate the rider well from larger bumps. Adjusting the preload helped, but it was a reminder that this is an inexpensive bike and there will be some inexpensive components.

The seat is firm but not overly so, and there’s a lot of room to move.

I also wish there was even just a little plastic skid plate of sorts, and while the CB500X has model-specific ABS settings compared to the 500F and 500R, it’s missing the setting I want – an off switch. Yes, you can order a model without ABS, but I like to have it on the street and I’d like to disable it on the dirt without having to pull a fuse.

With that said, if your off-roading style is more about slow, deliberate exploration, the X is an excellent choice. It’s nearly impossible to stall, the clutch pull is absurdly light, and the revised steering geometry makes it one of the easiest bikes I’ve ever ridden to balance at walking speed. You can slap on a tank bag, Honda’s accessory hard bags, or all the aftermarket soft bags you’d want and the CB500X would be a quality pack mule.

It’s so hard to satisfy the ADV market because there’s such a wide variety of what customers want. I’d be insanely excited about a CB500X that had spoked 21″/18″ tubeless wheels, a skid plate, and some more suspension travel, but the price would be silly and I’d end up wanting more than ~50 horsepower. Guess I’ll just have to wait for the rumored 850 Africa Twin

For me, the joy of the CB500X is that it’s not intimidating. When I took a class at RawHyde, one of the “Next Level” drills was focused on getting the rear wheel to step out. The instructors say it’s to help you tighten your line in a corner. I maintain it’s so you can look cool. Photo of yours truly by Nathan May:
Rawhyde_Day2-04.09

I wasn’t very good at it as I didn’t have the guts to throw around a heavy R1200GS properly. Yet on this Honda, I found myself looking for excuses to slide the rear on fire roads. And even though I know I was barely getting the rear wheel to step out, I sure felt like a hero while I was doing it. That’s what makes me happy about the X – it’s a bike that makes me feel comfortable enough to goof around, and that makes it fun. I wouldn’t have a concern taking the CB500X on any sort of fire road or most double track trails.

If you want more than that, then it’s time to talk to Rally Raid. The new CB500X has been available in Europe for a few months, so RR is already set up to sell you proper crash protection, spoked wheels, and all the other goodies you could want to spend your money on.

Music Intermission

Wires by Red Fang, suggested by Nathan May. Do you spend $6,699 on a CB500X or $5,000 on a music video like this and pocket the change?

On Road

The switch from a 17″ to a 19″ wheel means the new X has surely lost a little bit of steering feel from its predecessor, but thanks to a combination of increased rake (27.5°) and steering angle (38°), the turning radius has been reduced by a whopping eight inches! The quick steering, light clutch lever pull, and curb weight of 430 pounds (add 4 for ABS) make the X a champion when playing the game of creeping at a stop light without putting your foot down.

You could win a slow race or two with the CB500X.

That’s all a long way of again saying that this bike is very easy to ride. Seat height is manageable for an ADV-lite bike at 32.7 inches. My upper body was very comfortable on the X, but my lower body could have used a little bit more legroom/lower pegs. I’m fine with this, as I think the CB500X was designed for someone shorter than me (6’2″) anyway. Honda gets bonus points because there is ample room for your right foot without hitting the exhaust. It’s a common problem with motorcycles nowadays, and I appreciate that Big Red was able to figure it out even on a “small” machine. There’s a little interference with your right heel when you’re standing up, but I was fine with it.

Other highlights include the excellent transmission and slipper/assist clutch. Experienced riders will appreciate how smooth the shifting action is, and it will make life easier for beginners. From a chassis standpoint, the handling is very light and it feels great in town. But the Bridgestone tires are a little bit of a letdown – I don’t care for how the they initially lean in on pavement as they fall into a corner too quickly. With that said, once you get your angle of attack set, they hold the line very well.

Overall, the CB500X is a solid motorcycle on the pavement…until you need to brake hard. The brake lever provides good feel, but the single 320mm front disc is lacking and this Honda would really benefit from a second disc up front. The rear 240mm disc is more than adequate and will provide you with days of tire-locking joy if you don’t get the ABS model. Exacerbating my annoyance with the front brakes is the weak front suspension – the combination results in significant fork dive.

I also have to make a little room for the same complaint I seem to have with every new Honda – the horn button placement is bad.

I really hope this changes soon – put it under the turn signal switch like everyone else!

After the launch, I rode a CB500X ABS back home to Los Angeles, spending most of my time on the 5 freeway. First, I made a quick stop to see some Bike-urious readers in San Diego!

It was so great to see all of you – can’t believe I forgot to get a group picture!

I settled in for a highway cruise in the dark, paying special attention to the instant mileage reading on the dash. At 65 miles per hour I was getting a claimed 58 mpg. At 80 mph, the mpg figure dropped to 45. Not bad at all! I was less interested in the mileage above 80, but I have to point out that above 85 the front end flirts with some serious wobbling if it is unsettled with a bump. It’s fair to assume the behavior is due to the Bridgestone tires, which are 40% on-road/60% off-road and speed rated to 99 mph. Honda has kindly offered to swap out the Bridgestones for some stock rubber for later testing, and I’ll try to take them up on that.

In pictures, the X’s windshield looks more than adequate, but it’s so far from the rider’s body that it should either be shorter or much taller. Obviously, the latter would look ridiculous, but at the current height the screen keeps wind off my chest and sends it right at my head. I have this complaint with most bikes.

I like the 500X logo, but I don’t really care for the shadow camo underneath. The decals are removable on the fairing but clearcoated on the tank.

I liked the reach to both levers – the brake is adjustable, the clutch is not. I also liked the mirrors, which offer an excellent field of view, almost never require attention while lane splitting, and are easy to use because they barely vibrate. The whole bike transfers less vibration than I expected, partially due to Honda’s addition of rubber mounted handlebars this year. The vibes build slightly with revs but I never found it annoying. The seat is slightly on the firm side, which I generally prefer. I started to notice the seat after 45 minutes in the same position, but there is an absurd amount of room to shift back and forth so you never have to be in the same spot for too long.

It’s reasonable to want more power if you’re spending most of your time on the highway, but you don’t need it. American Honda doesn’t disclose power figures, but in the UK it’s limited to 47 as that’s the limit for an A2 license. Journalists at the UK launch note that the throttle bodies were modified to limit power to 47, and I’ve seen other sources claim that the US bike makes 49.6 hp. Let’s just call it 50. The adventurous CB is practical, efficient, and comfortable – it’s a very logical machine to ride on the street, not just the dirt.

I’ve had Vy on the back of the X for a few trips now, and there’s a couple of things worth pointing out. Obviously, ny issues with the front brake and forks are magnified with more weight on the seat. If you hit a decent bump at 50 mph with a passenger, the shock (yes, I adjusted the preload) goes through nearly 2 cycles absorbing the force. One thing I wasn’t expecting was the increased frequency of bumped helmets. Vy is an excellent motorcycle passenger and she rarely has an issue with this, but I think the loooooong rider’s seat and shape of the passenger’s seat end up bringing us closer to each other than normal. I guess it’s romantic, but it also means we get the occasional head bump.

Competition

If cubic centimeters are the only thing that matter to you, the CB500X is pretty much in a class of its own when it comes to 500cc adventure bikes. The closest offerings are probably the Royal Enfield Himalayan (400cc) and the little Suzuki V-Strom (650cc), but the Himi is more dirt-focused and the Wee Strom is more street-focused. I’d argue that the closest competitor is the Kawasaki Versys-X (300cc). The displacement difference is significant from a percentage standpoint, but the Versys only gives up 10 horsepower and it’s 50 pounds lighter. The CB500X also has a 12 lb-ft torque advantage (31.7 lb-ft), so it’s easier to tractor around with…

…it’s also easier to wheelie. Photo by VyVy Nguyen.

But I suspect that in the buying pool of ADV riders that are content with the Honda’s 50 hp, a significant percentage would also be happy settling with the Kawi’s 40 hp if it meant 50 pounds less to deal with in the dirt. Plus, the Versys-X is $1,200 cheaper, and that difference can fund some quality modifications or an amazing trip. Both bikes are made in Thailand, have 19″/17″ wheels, excellent ergonomics, $300 optional ABS that can’t be turned off, assist/slipper clutch, optional hard bags, inadequate engine protection, and the expectation that they will last forever with basic maintenance. Plus, they’ve both got X in the name, so they must be identical, right?

The inevitable Versys-X 400 could really give the CB500X fits – if you read my Ninja 400 review, you may remember that the 400 is very similar to Kawi’s 300 motor in dimensions and weight but the power outputs of 44 hp and 28 lb-ft of torque are much closer to Honda’s numbers. Still, that’s all coming at an unknown date in the future. Today, I would completely understand anyone that went with the Kawi but I’d personally go with the CB500X because of the extra torque, lack of vibration, and bigger frame which fits my body better. Though it’s more expensive than the Versys, the CB500X is still a lot of bike for less than $7,000.

Conclusion

Even if you never plan on going off-road, the CB500X is a great option for everyone from taller riders that want a first bike to experienced riders that want something more manageable and just about everything in between. I’d like to think that the X will open up a world of exploration to lots of riders that weren’t ready to venture off-road beforehand. My epiphany on that front came from a BMW R1150GS, but I would have had an easier time learning about dirt if I was on this CB-X. It’s versatile, comfortable, and most importantly, fun. As I look back on these images while I write my story, I wonder why I’m writing instead of ditching town for a couple of days and finding a new dirt road.

I was initially dismissive of the CB500X, but I’ve learned my lesson. My favorite trip of all time was my ride up to the top of Alaska, and the CB500X could have easily handled it. In fact, I would have been more willing to try harder roads on that trip if I was on this bike instead.

I think that most people who buy a CB500X will be on pavement almost all of the time, but that’s the status quo for most ADV bikes. The point is that it will be ready for the dirt when you are. During a lunch break, a Honda representative was chatting about the Africa Twin and how much praise it deservedly gets. He then noted that for most riders, the CB500X offers 85% of the AT’s capability at 50% the price. After my time with the X, I’d have to agree – and that’s an investment worth considering.

Check out the 2019 Honda CB500X!

My Gear


Helmet: Shoei X-Fourteen in Matte Black – $742.99
Helmet Design: custom design by Velocity Tape – $140
Jacket: REV’IT Ridge GTX – $869
Jeans: Pando Moto Steel Black 9 – $320
Gloves: Velomacchi Speedway – $149
Boots: Aerostich Combat Touring – $387, no longer available.


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