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Common Tread

2019 Honda CB500X first ride

Jul 29, 2019

“Adventure is defined by the customer.”

That’s what Honda told us at the technical briefing for the updated CB500X, and I happen to agree. At Common Tread, we’ve long believed that adventure can mean all kinds of things, to all kinds of riders, and that’s part of its broad appeal. Even so, a rider might not look at a first-gen CB500X and think ADV. With some key updates, Honda wants to change that. That’s how I found myself in Alpine, California, at the launch of the revised-for-2019 CB500X.

2019 Honda CB500X
The revised CB500X combines everyday utility with ADV aspirations. Drew Ruiz photo.

First, a little background. The CB500X appeared in 2013, just as a wave of interest in adventure riding was building. It shared its platform with the naked-standard CB500F and the faired CBR500R. These mild-mannered middleweights also donated their parallel twin engine to the Rebel 500. Approachable, economical motorcycles, not unlike the ones Honda built its reputation on.

Of these Honda half-liters, I think the CB500X had the biggest identity issues. Honda advertised the first-gen bike as “adventure-inspired,” and they weren’t wrong to do so. It kinda looked the part. If anything, it was a more utilitarian version of the naked 500 with its windscreen and upright seating position. But it was only a matter of time before riders started modifying the 500X to see how far they could push it. Enter Rally Raid, a British firm that developed a kit for the CB500X to turn it into a more focused ADV machine.

Rally Raid’s Adventure Kit converted the bike to spoked wheels, with a larger front diameter. Suspension upgrades raised the ground clearance and better prepared the 500X for off-road riding. Rally Raid's catalog also offered other ADV staples, such as high-mount exhausts, engine guards, luggage, and aggressive tires. (If this stuff is interesting to you, look up Jenny Morgan. She’s an accomplished advocate of the CB500X platform and Rally Raid products.)

All this aftermarket business matters because Honda noticed. Customers spotted potential in the bike and drew it out with their own creations. By looking to the customer, Honda could make the bike more desirable in stock form. So they did.

Honda Trail 55
Honda paid attention to popular mods, and a legend was born. My dad's CT90 might have been the first Honda I ever rode. Honda image.

Honda lore has it that back in the early 1960s, an Idaho dealer realized that Honda Cubs could be built into capable little trail bikes. Strip the scooter bodywork, add knobbies, and put a big sprocket on there for more pull down low. The converted scoots sold well, especially to the hunters and woodsy types you find in Idaho. Honda execs back in Japan heard about this, examined the modified bikes, and soon the Cub-based “Trail” (CT) series debuted. The CB500X follows the same basic story. Listen to the customers and aftermarket. Meet their needs from the factory. Sell bikes.

What’s new for 2019

Honda’s doubling down on the CB500X’s adventure identity. That means more trail cred without sacrificing streetability. They aren’t going to put Rally Raid out of business with a part-for-part copy of their kit, but the major changes to the 500X are in line with popular customer mods.

2019 Honda CB500X
Customers wanted a larger front wheel, and Honda listened. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

First, the front wheel is now a 19-inch instead of a 17-inch. This improves the bike’s ability to roll over obstacles without really detracting from its street manners. Loads of road and ADV tires are available for the new wheel size combo. Owners will have their pick of rubber for this machine.

Another big change is the reworked suspension, which gained 0.4 inches of travel at the front and 1.2 inches at the rear. The 500X doesn’t wear engine guards or skid plates, so any ground clearance helps. Both ends are adjustable for preload, and the all-new rear shock is better equipped to venture off pavement.

2019 Honda CB500X
Revisions to the engine improve torque. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

As before, we’re looking at a 471 cc parallel-twin engine making around 50 horsepower, according to Honda Europe. (American Honda does not publish horsepower numbers.) As that’s in line with beginner licensing restrictions in other countries, I think this bike would be totally appropriate for beginners here, too. 

Tweaks to the engine increased the grunt down low for a nice boost around town or off-road. Other improvements show up all around the machine. Lights are all LED now, and excellent ones at that. The muffler’s been altered to deliver a little more performance and sound. (It’s still a very quiet motorcycle.) A new slipper and assist clutch makes clutch lever pull lighter than ever. I’ve been impressed with this clutch setup on all the recent Hondas that feature it. Aesthetically, some bodywork and the headlight have been updated, with a tiny beak that looks like it might peck seeds from your hand. The overall effect is a more premium feel and appearance. Nice work, Honda.

So how’s it ride? 

Saddling up on the CB500X is not intimidating at all. Seat height is 32.7 inches, and with my 31-inch inseam, I was easily able to flat-foot the bike. The new tapered handlebar put me in a neutral, upright seating position that encouraged better posture than I have at my desk. I liked it already.

2019 Honda CB500X
It's not the fastest, the flashiest, or the most aggressive. That's not the point of this motorcycle. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

On the road, the CB500X is neutral, predictable, and composed. You’ve got a nice view from the cockpit, and the new digital dash is easy to keep an eye on. Shifting through the six speeds reveals a light, tight gearbox, made all the better by that easy clutch. While the CB500X's engine offers a good spread of power, it's still only half a liter, so gear selection is key to getting the most out of it. Thankfully, it’s a peach to shift. 

Hammer on the throttle all you like; this motorcycle refuses to do anything abrupt or rude. It just builds revs and speed without fuss. Fueling’s excellent, and the throttle is very light without being too sensitive. No snatchiness, lurching, or bogging. The CB500X is tuned for smooth torque at the bottom, with very linear delivery of power in the midrange and upper limits. In fact, the 500X feels a lot like a mini Africa Twin in its power delivery. That’s appropriate, as a CB500X owner might aspire to own an AT one day. You know, for the average rider, I think a 500X will get you more than half the adventure for half the price.

2019 Honda CB500X
An ADV bike should be competent on the street, too. Otherwise, you'd just get a dirt bike, right? Photo by Drew Ruiz.

With its wide handlebar, the CB500X is good fun on tight roads. Set up for the turn, then use your leverage on the bar to guide the 500X into the corner. That newly added torque helps make your exit, and you're off to the next one. The street DNA’s still there, and it’s nice. Braking up front feels solid, and the lever is adjustable. The rear brake has been updated, though at times I wished for a little more bite on-road. ABS is available as an option. If equipped, you can’t turn it off. Rally Raid sells a kit to convert to a switchable system if you'd like. The average owner probably won’t be taking the CB500X into really technical terrain, so I don’t think this is an issue.

2019 Honda CB500X
Changes to the CB500X give it some bias towards terrain like this, at least over the outgoing model. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

On the highway, the bike’ll cruise along just fine. While it certainly gets out of its own way, a passenger or lots of cargo might hold it back a bit at speed. The windscreen’s adjustable to two positions. Mine was in the higher position, and I found that it deflected most of the wind from my chest and neck. (For reference, I’m six feet tall. I’d opt for a slightly taller screen for a long tour.) At high speeds, the parallel twin is a touch vibey, as many are. Rubberized pegs and handlebar mounts are in place to minimize this. Only a test ride will tell if the vibrations matters to you. Personally, I didn’t mind.

A word on tires

The CB500X will come stock with Dunlop Trailmax Mixtour tires, which are definitely street-biased, but I can't really comment on those since I did not get to try them. Instead, Honda fitted our test CB500Xs with the new Bridgestone Battlax AdventureCross AX41 tires because of the amount of off-road riding we were going to do. These big-block tires are significantly different from the stock rubber. I dug the way they looked on our CBs, and I was very impressed with their performance on the test ride.

2019 CB500X
There's some meat on that tire. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

While the AX41s were really fun tires, be careful not to forget that they’re 40/60s, and should not be asked to do things best reserved for regular road tires. If your new CB500X inspires you to try off-roading for the first time, I’d definitely consider the AX41s or even something more aggressive.

Back to the ride

We left the highway for some smaller roads, then dropped into some dirt for a test of the 500X’s off-road prowess. That’s what this is all about, right? Riding between two worlds?

2019 Honda CB500X
Does look at home, doesn't it? Photo by Drew Ruiz.

I promptly and overenthusiastically slid my back tire over a berm and damaged some of that lovely Grand Prix Red paint. (Sorry, Honda! I know, this ain’t my $1,000 dual-sport.) I’m an off-road novice, for sure, and I imagine many buyers of this motorcycle will be, too. Here’s my take: If your desire to ride some dirt actually leads you there, you’ll be fine. The CB500X is a forgiving motorcycle that’ll poke along as slow as you want to go. Would you rather pick up this 430-pound motorcycle while learning, or a 530-pound Africa Twin? After a little get-to-know-you period, I was feeling way more confident with the 500X.

For the rest of the day, we alternated between winding mountain roads and dusty dirt lanes. The CB500X didn’t hesitate as it transitioned from one to the other. While all this would have been possible on the old model, it wouldn’t have been as easy, and in that regard, the improvements to the CB500X have made it a better motorcycle. All the strengths of the old model are still there, with a new competence in the terrain its looks suggest. Are there any downsides?

2019 Honda CB500X
Not much space under the seat for storage, but far more than lots of other bikes on the market. If the CB500X were my bike, I’d be keeping a tire plug kit in there, along with a CO2 inflator, tire pressure gauge, some Allen keys, and my paperwork. Honda offers a luggage rack and panniers, and I’m sure the aftermarket will deliver a range of options, as well. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Not much of a negative, but price is up a few hundred dollars over the old model. That’s totally acceptable given the upgrades. No rider modes, no traction control… Appropriate for a bike of this size and price point. And despite that price, Honda hasn’t really cut corners with this model. The traditional fork isn’t the most advanced thing out there, though it works just fine for riding around. If anything, the only downside is that the CB500X has to actually start competing with some dual-sports and light ADV bikes in the minds of consumers, which is a more competitive market.

One advantage for Honda is that the changes differentiate the CB500X more from its fellow 500 cc twins. I’d take the 500X over the others just for its versatility alone. With its price, features, and gentle personality, I think the 500X will do just fine.

So just how affordable is this motorcycle?

After rashing up the side of my test CB500X while doing my best Spurgeon Dunbar impression, one of the Honda guys joked that they’d make me a great deal on the bike. Tempting... Seriously, Honda’s already offering a bargain for the CB500X at $6,699, or $6,999 with ABS. (This is one of the cheaper ABS “upgrades” on the market.) If this motorcycle were mine, I’d get some crash bars, add bags, mount some AX41s after the stock tires wear out, and ride the wheels off it. 

2019 Honda CB500X
With that optional crash bar, it really looks like a mini Africa Twin. Note the stock Dunlop tires. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Honda sees the 500X as a versatile offering in their lineup. A new rider might start on one, or step up to the 500 from a 300. An experienced rider might leave the heavyweight world behind and step “down” to the 500X for a break from big horsepower and weight. Or maybe someone just wants to explore their idea of adventuring, and this is the affordable gateway drug. Any of these customers would be well served by a test ride on the new CB500X. 

2019 Honda CB500X
Has the motorcycle changed so much as the spirit of the motorcycle? And which matters more, really? Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Hopefully, you can tell that I’m genuinely excited to see the CB500X take on a personality of its own as an affordable ADV offering that’s also a perfectly good street bike. To everyone already typing “Just get an XR650L/DR650/KLR650/DR-Z400/F650/Wee-Strom/other-budget-ADV-staple,” I don’t think you’re wrong to offer those alternatives. They’ve been around forever. We know ‘em, we love ‘em, and we can get ‘em anywhere. The 500X differs from each of them in one way or another. Remember: Adventure is defined by the customer. This capable motorcycle offers something a little different for a reasonable amount of money, and it’s a good day when motorcycling receives a bike like that.

2019 Honda CB500X
Price (MSRP) $6,699, $6,999 (ABS)
Engine type Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, parallel twin
Displacement 471 cc
Bore/stroke 67.0 mm / 66.8 mm
Compression ratio 10.7:1
Transmission 6 gears
Fuel system PGM-FI (throttle body 34 mm)
Clutch Multiplate wet
Front suspension 41 mm telescopic fork
Rear suspension Pro-Link® single shock, nine-step preload
Suspension travel front/rear 134.62/149.9 mm (5.3/5.9 inches)
Tires front/rear 110/80-19; 160/60-17
Trail 108 mm / 4.3 inches
Steering head angle 27.5 degrees
Wheelbase 1,445.3 mm / 56.9 inches
Length 2,153.9 mm / 84.8 inches
Width 825.5 mm / 32.5 inches
Height 1,427.5 mm / 56.2 inches
Ground clearance 180.3 mm / 7.1 inches
Seat height 830.6 mm / 32.7 inches
Tank capacity 17.4 liters / 4.6 gal.
Front brake Single two-piston caliper, 320 mm disc
Rear brake Single one-piston caliper, 240 mm disc
Weight (ready to ride) 195.5 kg, 196.9 kg (ABS) / 430 pounds, 434 pounds (ABS)