What makes the perfect adventure bike? Opinions would be strongly divided on that question. Rightly so, as for every rider and riding style, there will be a bike that best suits their needs. Mention of this category immediately brings to mind the cult-like following of the almighty BMW R1200GS Adventure. It’s counterparts, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure and the slightly smaller, but equally popular CRF1000 Honda Africa Twin. These are, of course, the heavyweights of the adventure motorcycle world.
Coming into the mid-range, there are several notable options such as the BMW F800GS, its little brother the F700GS and the KTM 690. By no means is that an exhaustive list, but they all have two things in common; they are heavy and tall. If the possibility of riding such a machine is quite literally out of reach, where would you start?
Many of us who wish to get out and explore on two wheels can be intimidated by the thought of struggling with a large, heavy motorcycle and the genuine fear of being unable to lift it when the inevitable happens. Being a vertically challenged rider, I have always had lowered rides, something counter-productive in the adventure world, or so I thought. While all motorcycles can be lowered through a change in links, suspension or different seat options, you may still be left scraping a toe on the tarmac. If so what do you do, give up your round the world adventure plans?
This was the position I was in as I decided to live my dream and travel the world solo on a motorcycle. My plan would see me traversing many thousands of kilometers, from the smooth highways of Europe to the untamed terrain of Mongolia and beyond. Starting the search, I was completely unaware of Honda’s adventure tourer, CB500X, strange as I have always been a Honda owner. I guess that doesn’t say much for Honda’s marketing of this model.
No doubt the limited resources from the manufacturer for pushing this model come down to its relatively low sale price and it is aimed predominantly at learner riders. Scouring the web for information, it was sparse, with most reviews stating it was a great starter bike, it had, however, peaked my interest. With the ability to lower it via a simple and economical change of the suspension link, the mid-range fuel tank of 17.3L and a very affordable price tag, I took a gamble and purchased one.
Having the confidence in Honda’s reliability, coupled with the CB500X’s manageability and affordability, I left Australia quietly hopeful I had made the right choice. Picking the bike up in England, my first impression was positive. As I would expect from a Honda, the riding position is ergonomic, but the real standout on comfort is the seat. Spending hours in the saddle can be excruciating with an uncomfortable seat. Having spent more hours than I care to think about on the CB500X, I can honestly say I have never felt even the slightest discomfort.
Taking the bike for a quick cruise around the local streets of Suffolk to get better acquainted, I immediately felt at ease with the responsive throttle, smooth steering and solid feel of the suspension. It was a natural ride, and I was scraping the pegs through corners in a matter of minutes.
With comfort and handling confirmed, the journey began. Setting off from England on the ferry to France, it faced the first real test, the ability to cruise the motorways with a full load. Having previously owned a BMW G650GS, a real tractor on the road, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To say I was blown away as it smoothly cruised along at 140km with no vibration through the bars or pegs, would be an understatement. The Honda’s twin cylinder engine in this bike is superb, and although it is the only 471cc, it comfortably holds its own at speed. This bike is no slouch on the open road, something that would be vigorously tested later in Russia when riding with a group of BMW R1200GS.
From the Spanish back roads to the infamous Italian Stelvio Pass, the CB500X handled itself with absolute confidence, never missing a beat. With an average day’s ride being ten hours, it purred along, never giving me a moment of concern.
At the 10,000km mark, it had proven itself as a very comfortable and economical tourer, something high on the checklist of any long-term traveler. With the price of fuel across Europe skyrocketing, the 4.8L/100km was exceptional.
Leaving western Europe, the roads deteriorated, and fuel quality became less reliable. The CB500X managed the challenging road surfaces without a problem, the rough tracks throughout Poland being no concern as the suspension effortlessly kept fatigue at bay. Entering Russia for the first time, I had little idea of what to expect. While there is no great challenge in crossing this vast country apart from the sheer number of kilometers, the strain on the machine is much higher as aging fuel storage tanks deliver more than petrol, with contamination most certainly guaranteed.
After 5,000km’s running on tainted fuel, the Honda began to lose power and falter. The small filter that feeds into the fuel injector was almost completely blocked. A service, fuel tank clean, new filter and it was back to running like new. To date, this has been the only issue I have experienced with this bike, which is not inherent to the model as it was an external factor causing the issue. With more than 65,000km on the clock, that is sound proof of the durability of this machine.
Having planned my entire trip around crossing Mongolia, there was some serious off-road action ahead of the CB500X, which by the way, most motorcyclists told me, was the wrong bike for the job. With the lowered suspension and the barest of ground clearance, I did have concerns over how well we would make the crossing. The terrain in Mongolia is completely untamed and an off-road enthusiast dream.
I decided to cross in a group, which included a mechanic and support vehicle. This gave me the peace of mind that should the CB500X not be up to the task that lay ahead, I would have the necessary help at hand. I needn’t have given it a second thought. It is worth mentioning at this point that before I set off from the UK, I did fit a Rally Raid engine guard along with BarkBusters, to mitigate potential damage during the time in Mongolia. Everything else remained standard, except for a change of tires better suited to off-road conditions.
With torrential rain in the days before setting off on the east to the west crossing, the dirt tracks were reduced to a muddy mess and the low-lying plains nothing short of swamplands. The rain also had a significant impact on the river crossings, with water levels much higher than had been anticipated. If you are looking to test a motorcycle, and yourself for that matter, on any type of terrain you can think of, Mongolia is the place to do it. With only a few hundred kilometers spent on the tarmac for the entire width of the country, it more than handled the corrugated, rocky dirt and gravel tracks. Mud and soft ground were no issue and I am sure someone who can ride in the sand would have also managed it with much less trouble than myself.
There were two things that held the CB500X back during Mongolia; my off-road riding ability and the lowered suspension, however, this did not pose any significant issue. With slippery conditions from the start, I was less confident than I would have liked, but the bike handled everything thrown at it and more. From thigh-high raging river crossings to steep rocky hill climbs, the power was there when needed and the ride comfort and stability were a godsend with 12-hour days spent on the bone-rattling terrain. The position of the air intake is also something to note, situated above seat height, it gives the rider confidence entering deep water that they won’t be faced with a mid-river stall, and subsequent flooded engine.
In such challenging conditions, the group rode only 250-300km a day and the CB500X outperformed significantly on fuel economy, averaging an outstanding 3.5L/100km. That is significant when riding in isolated areas with only a mid-range fuel tank.
Of course, they are limitations, any motorcycle that is not solely enduro focused will feel heavy in thick sand, more so when you spend the entire day picking it up. With a curb weight of 195kg, it isn’t a lightweight, however by no means heavy in comparison to many of the popular adventure motorcycles on offer. I imagine had it of been ridden extremely hard for the 2,000km Mongolian cross-country tour it may not have faired as well as it did, with only one blown fork seal being the casualty of the trip, not counting the cosmetic damage caused by drops. It is certainly not as agile as a KTM or Husqvarna however if your needs are predominately enduro, then this category of the motorcycle is most likely not for you.
As a result of its relatively low price tag, $6,499USD, it also lacks some of the creature comforts of the larger offerings such as heated grips, cruise control, and a taller windshield. The dash display is quite basic and wouldn’t set the heart of any tech lover racing, but the simplicity of this motorcycle is also a large part of its appeal. Basic servicing and a good spray of chain lube will keep it running for thousands of kilometers, and that is what adventure travel is all about, seeing the world, with minimum fuss.
Left at standard height, the option of fitting 20-inch wire spoked wheels and more aggressive suspension, I can’t imagine much standing in the way of this motorcycle. With the handling of a tourer, the comfort of a cruiser and the go anywhere attitude of an adventurer, it has proven itself worthy of standing tall against its competitors.
With a west to east coast crossing of Canada and North America only weeks away, I have no doubt my Honda CB500X will get to the finish line, with the quiet can-do attitude it started with. I took a gamble on this motorcycle and it is one that has certainly paid off.
If like me, you don’t need excessive power, can’t touch the ground on most motorcycles, have the little mechanical know how and want a reliable and manageable bike to take you to all the places you dream of going; the Honda CB500X may be worth a look.