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First ride: Honda CB500X

First ride: Honda CB500X

We test the most adventurous model in Honda's range of 500cc parallel-twins - the CB500X

HONDA unveiled its updated family of 500cc parallel twins at the end of last year and launched two of them, the CB500F and CBR500R, back in February.

Conspicuous by its absence was the range’s adventure offering – the CB500X.  It’s not too surprising that Honda didn’t launch the updated CB500X with much fanfare because its changes are less substantial than the 2016 CBR500R and CB500F.

Instead of the engine and styling changes given to the 500R and 500F, updates to the CB500X are a simpler affair, intended to gently refine the bike. Most noticeable is the CB500X’s new LED headlight unit, which is a little bit smaller and more angular than the front light on the previous model. The headlight is also complimented by a new plastic surround, which creates a more pointed front end. The rear light assembly is also LED.

Visually, there’s not a vast difference between this CB500X and the one it replaces, so to my eyes it still looks like a well styled adventure bike – one that’s accessible to A2 licence holders and costs £5599.

I’m not the only one who thinks it looks right because a guy on a Yamaha MT-07 pulled up next to me at a set of lights last Saturday and confirmed this, flipping up his visor and saying, ‘That’s really nice mate. I love the shape and colour.’

The shape I can understand, but the colour – really? I’m not sold on the beige/brown hue of this bike, but then again, if blue is the colour of wisdom and peace and red the colour of passion, then perhaps brown is the colour of adventure. It’s definitely the colour of too much adventure.

Honda might call it ‘Matt Fresco Brown’, but when I look at the tank and accompanying orange stripe, all I can think of is a set of curtains from the 1970s. I was silently repulsed when I first saw it up close but after five days, I’m finding it less offensive, although if I was spending my own money on this bike, I’d go straight for either the red or white paint options. Maybe I’m just not adventurous enough.

Riding the CB500X west along the A272 heading to in-law’s place last weekend, I felt quite adventurous. I’m not talking about an existential sense of adventure, I mean that the CB500X feels the part – positioning me in a comfortable, upright position with the tall, wide bars falling comfortably to hand. It lacks the same presence as a big (and expensive) BMW R1200GS or Ducati Multistrada Enduro, but still puts the rider in that comfortable and commanding riding position – arms wide, shoulders back, chest out (if you like). The result is that the CB500X constantly assured me that no journey or errand was too much trouble, or too far away and I like that in a motorbike.

One thing that really turns me off adventure bikes is the fact that they can often be heavy and too tall; at 5ft 7”, I always feel like I’m on the brink of dropping them at slow/no speed. The CB500X however has a low 810mm seat height that allowed me to get my feet down with ease and its 196kg weight is easily manageable. Even though it’s physically smaller than other adventure bikes, it manages not to feel like a scaled down version of one either because but once sat on it, it actually manages to feels larger than it looks, which I put partly down to the size of the tank plus the shape and size of the bars.

The controls and switches are all nice quality, and feel like typically quality Honda items. The new adjustable brake lever is a welcome addition too, but the button for the horn is in a location that makes it easy to beep other road users when going for the indicator (which I did multiple times) but maybe I’ve just got stubby thumbs.

The basic digital dash is easy to read, and contains a fuel gauge, rev counter, speed in the middle, plus the time and function display, which includes a couple of trip meters and fuel consumption. There’s no gear indicator though. Unlike the CB500F and CBR500R, the plastic of the screen is a brown/green colour, as if there’s a protective film that needs removing but that’s not the case. The orange back light is that nice either. I’m sure it’s all meant be a subtle reminder of ‘Adventure!’ but I thought it looked pants.

Sticking with the front of the bike, the screen is 100mm taller and I found it did a good job of keeping wind and rain off my chest. It includes a central duct designed to equalize wind pressure and reduce turbulence around the helmet and even though I could feel the wind hitting the area just above my visor, if offers enough protection to take the edge off a motorway slog…

… which the CB500X will happily do all day long, courtesy of its 471cc twin-cylinder engine, which makes 46.9hp and 31.7lb/ft torque. Those numbers might not stun, but there’s enough power available for easy motorway overtakes and it cruises along at 70-85mph without fuss.

On fun roads, maintaining momentum requires the right gear and revs, with optimum power sitting between 5,000 and 8,000rpm, where the engine delivers the glut of its power.

The engine works in a similar vein to the CB500X’s ergonomics – it’s an ally and although it sometimes needs to be worked hard, it’s capable and willing, and responds smoothly and predictably. It’s got enough about it to be fun on a country road, functional on a motorway and there’s enough shove to make it adept at carving through the city. It fuels nicely too, with no discernible flat spots or quirks and the throttle response is similarly faultless.

The '500X returned 70.4mpg on a ride when I was flogging it for everything it would give (and a bit more) and 83.65mpg on a less frenzied 192-mile round trip. That means the potential range available from the new, larger 17.5l tank is over 300 miles.

Along with the new tank, screen and lights, CB500X has also been treated to some suspension tweaks, with the conventional front forks getting adjustable spring pre-load and the shock getting new damping settings. One of my memories of the CBR500R and CB500F is: soft front end. The CB500X is much the same. Although the ride is comfortable and the bike tracks the road nicely, the forks are all too ready to plunge through their travel at the hint of front brake. A more supportive front end would make the 500X feel a better balanced lend more confidence to the front.

Speaking of brakes – it’s a simple but effective setup. Stopping power from single two-piston front Nissin sliding calliper and 320mm disc is good and the front brake has pretty good feel too. It feels like it bites well too, but I think that’s more to do with the front suspension moving and accentuating the feeling of initial bite.

The Dunlop Trailmax dual purpose tyres are OK. They gave me all the grip I asked for on my ride across the South Downs but compared to road-specific tyres, they’re a compromise, fitted to give the CB500X some additional off-road credibility.

But how many owners are actually going to ride their CB500Xs off-road? I’d guess very few. I took it for a ride around a big gravel car park and it was OK but I’d never do any serious unpaved adventuring on the CB500X – the suspension would never take it. If I owned this bike, I’d fit some decent sports touring rubber for improved grip, feel and stability on the road.

Aside from the too-soft front suspension, the CB500X gets so much so right.

First, there’s the price – just over five-and-a-half grand is cheap for an adventure bike, and although the CB500X is built to a price, the essential ingredients are all present and I never found myself wanting for more. It’s great that it’s available to A2 licence holders because who said adventure bikes should be limited to tall people with big wallets and years of riding under their belts? If anything, its small-for-an-adventure-bike figures - weight, engine size and seat height are a selling point for riders put off by tall, expensive, heavy models.

Finally, it has to be said that it’s very capable and was unfazed by motorway work, town riding and B-road blasting. If you’re a new rider with a burning sense of adventure, the CB500X has you covered.

Model tested: Honda CB500X

Price: £5,599

Engine: 471cc liquid-cooled eight-valve parallel twin

Power: 47hp at 8,500rpm

Torque: 32lb/ft at 7,000rpm

Weight: 196kg

Suspension: Front - Conventional forks, 41mm diameter, preload-adjustable, 9-stage preload adjustable shock

Brakes: Front – Nissin two-piston caliper and 320mm wavey disc. Rear – Nissin one-piston caliper and 240mm wavey disc

Tyres: Dunlop Trailmax

Fuel capacity: 17.5 litres

Seat height: 810mm

Colours: 'Pearl Horizon White', 'Millenium Red', 'Matt Fresco Brown'