- Jacqui Madelin finds a lot to like about the Honda CB500xundefined
Forget flinging a bike about to wring the last lean angle, rev and braking-capability from it - few folk ride like that every day.
What they do tackle is commuting, Sunday riding, and touring with mates. Mates who may be on bigger, faster, more powerful machines than the learner-approved all-rounder on your shopping list. Could it keep up?
We found out by grabbing a CB500X and joining the Honda convoy travelling from Auckland to Invercargill for the Burt Munro challenge, among a fleet that included a VFR1200X with Honda GM Alan Petrie aboard, a Goldwing, and former World Superbike ace Aaron Slight, riding the VFR800 sports tourer south from Wellington to compete in the road, circuit and hill climb elements of the racing festival. Exalted company, both human and mechanical. How would the CB fare?
This CB500X shares the engine and frame with its fully faired CBR500R and naked CB500F siblings, the trio delivering proof that it doesn't take much to change a model's flavour.
The CBR mimics its race-bred stablemates to deliver a whiff of racetrack to a learner-approved all-rounder, the CB500 adds wider, higher bars and simpler lines to underline its all-roads everyday persona, and this X takes it further with longer forks, which lengthen the rake, trail and wheelbase, plus wider bars, a tank two litres bigger, at 17.3 litres, and adventure-bike looks and riding position.
Honda GM Alan Petrie with the Honda VFR1200X.
Lessons learned from the likes of the CBR600RR and CBR1000RR contributed to aspects of this 471cc liquid-cooled parallel twin, which was designed for economy and flexibility that best delivers at low and medium rpm, hits peak performance at a relatively modest (for a bike) 8500rpm, and aimed to pass the strictest emissions standards, and withstand the roughest of the world's back roads.
We stuck to the seal, but the route from Nelson was twisty and hilly enough to deliver an interesting test - while southwards the surface was slumped and rippled by the many earthquakes that still dominate the region's infrastructure.
A sharp eye on the speedo wasn't something I'd expected to need given this bike's modest power, especially compared to the rest of the convoy. But the CB500X was more than capable of keeping up on real-world roads. What it lost in neck-snapping acceleration it gained in the ability to tip deep into bends, thanks to those wide bars and the easy leverage they impart, along with the sort of forgiving handling manners that let you change your line mid-bend if it tightens, while absorbing those sudden lumps littering the quake-scarred tarmac.
And that handling meant I could keep a steady pace, even over surfaces which cut the others back.
As for fuel and photo stops, the bike's light, 194kg weight was no doubt envied by our Goldwing-mounted companion, as was its easy manoeuvrability - and its abstemious taste for fuel.
I should have kept a record: suffice it to say that while others were saying "fill 'er up", my tank often seemed barely touched - and once we got to the lumpy junctions and roadworks maze of Christchurch, it was Petrie on the VFR1200X and I who were the most comfortable, given our bikes' longer-travel suspension.
Petrie's a passionate biker. He's keen to put his bikes in front of customers and tell the Honda story to the world. Hence we find Aaron Slight amid the convoy.
He's conducted track training days at the Burt Munro event but never raced there, and aimed to make a point. Without a race bike you won't win, but yes, you can ride a bog-standard sports tourer the length of the country and go out on the track to have fun.
Aaron just dialled the rear preload up on arrival, but left the standard tyres, mirrors and lights intact, then took the VFR800 he'd ridden from Wellington up the hill climb (see youtube.com/watch?v=f3UrCaS4Yec for onboard footage), finishing mid-pack, then to the sprint races where as expected given his road-focused mount he finished near the back of the field, behind a pack of superbikes.
As for the $10,495 CB500X (yes, it's on sale), its rangier dimensions will suit a broader range of riders than the duo that share this engine and frame, and the ergonomics are excellent whether you're commuting, gravel-roading or touring.
Honda's CB500x and VFR1200X.
I'd like a more engaging soundtrack, and that flexible engine isn't powerful enough to thrill, but handling that's predictable enough to suit a learner - yet sufficiently capable to challenge a more experienced rider to make the most of it in the bendy bits - and a seat good for days in the saddle, all make the X the best of the trio for me, and excellent value for anyone seeking a versatile mid-size mount.