First ride: 2013 Honda CB500X review

Will the third sibling in Honda's new 500 family make you take the long way round?

ADVENTURE biking is all the rage nowadays – so say the sales figures. Well, at least, buying adventure bikes is in. But, as intrepid travellers have flitted across the globe on everything from C90s and Vespas to GSs and Africa Twins, what really is an ‘adventure’ bike anyway?

A bike that is comfortable to sit on for long periods for both rider and pillion, has enough power to meet all legal road speeds yet won’t shy away from the odd gravel road, with a respectable tank range, and looks inspiring enough to make you jump on that ferry? Or posey bikes for well-matured gents who need to sit upright so they have space to rest their paunches as they putter down to the local B&Q, imagining that next year, or maybe the one after, they will finally embark on that intercontinental trip they couldn’t afford when they were thirty years younger?

Honda’s latest launch, the CB500X, will, like others of its ilk, stoke this evergreen debate. But, it adds a new twist by bringing it down from the 1000+cc, £10+K level to the relatively empty middle of the market. We spent the better part of a warm spring day riding the X in the beautiful mountain twisties around Catalunya to see how it fits in.

The fraternal twin of the sports-styled CBR500R and the naked commuter CB500F, which we rode back in February, the X is Honda’s dose of cut-price adventure stylee for the masses. Cost-saving platform engineering means that the differences are relatively minor – most obviously it has a different face, complete with mini ‘adventure beak’, with a deliberate resemblance to the Crosstourer – but there’s more to it than just new panels (which, in my opinion, are quite handsome, albeit in a typically-Honda understated kind of way).

While the F and R were designed for a global average rider, the X is an ever-so-slightly bigger bike that aims to please the (taller) average European. Its seat is 25mm higher, its forks 20mm longer, its ground clearance 15mm higher, and its wheelbase 10mm longer. All of which makes for a bike that feels just little bit more grown up than the F. (Of course, at my not-so-towering 5’7”, it meant my heels were off the ground just enough to make manoeuvring the 195kg bike a watchful affair.)

It’s a comfortable bike – the handlebars curve up to meet your hands, instead of summoning them down to their level, and you sit upright on a wide and supple seat, looking down at an amber-lit dash (the F’s is blue and the R’s red) that offers such niceties as a clock and fuel consumption figures, but unfortunately, no gear position indicator.

The engine is the same 471cc, 47bhp parallel-twin that does duty in the F and the R. Though wearing a silver-coloured coating rather than black, it has the same untimidatingly linear power delivery, same brisk acceleration and torque-rich roll-ons, same approx-115mph top (I saw a max of 110) as its brothers. It’s a good, healthy engine – not madly exciting, but capable enough for most (sensible) needs, economical and forgiving.

Honda promises 28 km per litre, or 79.5 mpg, for a 485km (302 mile) tank range. When we stopped for a fuel top-up after 88.5 km (55 miles) of spirited riding, my bike took on 4.1 litres – that’s 21.6km/l, or 61.3 mpg; a still-respectable 373 km (233 mile) tank range. Needless to say, if you ride more sedately, you’d see significantly better numbers. And while on the topic, a hinged fuel tank cap would be handy.

Like much else about this bike, its handling is stable and easygoing. The one degree more rake that the X has over the F/R is not immediately felt through the twisties. The X, being a bit taller and with higher bars than the F/R, allows you to push it down into corners rather than leaning in. On straights, it’s planted even at 100mph. The longer travel forks soak up bumps well, though there is some lift and dive under acceleration and braking.

The X wears Pirelli Scorpion Trail rubber compared to the F/R’s Metzeler Z8s, and though we didn’t really venture off-road save the odd gravelly or muddy patch, they are well up to the task on-road. The brakes offer good, fade-free feel and power; throughout the day I didn’t need to use the rear brake at all, despite plenty of corner-speed-scrubbing and a couple of emergency stops which, with the standard ABS, remained hard rather than hairy.

Wind protection at high speed was quite impressive. Though you would do well to tuck down above motorway speeds, the little screen does deflect a fair bit of wind even at top whack. It’s also (manually) adjustable to 40mm higher, which taller blokes would need. You can buy a high screen if you’re the captain of a basketball team, or plan to rack up lots of motorway miles. Other accessories offered include heated grips, fog lights, and hard luggage (35-litre top box and 24-litre panniers).

At fifty quid change back from five grand, Honda is confident that the CB500X will be popular – the initial allocation of the 500R/F in Europe has already been sold, and one step up the range, the NC700X outsells the S by some margin.

But you don’t need stats to tell you that the current market is crying out for a midsize, midprice bike which looks modern and has comfortable dimensions and riding position. For A2-licenced beginners or commuters switching from other modes of transport, or indeed, anyone looking for a decent two-wheeled companion through life’s twisty and bumpy journey – or dare I say it, adventure – the proposition of the CB500X is hard to argue with.

Model tested: 2013 Honda CB500X

Price: £4,950

Colours: White, Red, Black