I booked a short test ride on the Honda CB500X middleweight trails/adventure bike. I’ve checked out various models on paper as I’m looking for a bike for road touring but with the capacity to go on white roads and forest roads in the South as and when the opportunity presents itself. Meanwhile there are plenty of those roads in the craggy limestone mountains around Marseille and even more when you go in to Haute-Provence and the Alps. So not a bike for a trip across the Sahara à la Paris-Dakar, for which the Africa Twin is the acknowledged tool for the job.
You don’t get long on a sales road test so I tried to be pretty focussed. It was a big jump from riding to the Honda dealer on my RR, sports riding position, four cylinders, with power-band tuning. The CB500X bars are high and the mirrors tight in, so it’s very much the upright riding position. Just a touch on the high side for me, my height’s 1.73 m. and I didn’t get the soles of my boots quite so fully on the ground as with my RR. Lots of room under the gear shift for off-road boots or commando boots with a toecap; it seems the experts have preferences for either.
A couple of times around the roundabout outside Chomat Motos (who provided the test) while a queue built up at the next traffic lights going out of Manosque; the CB500X white-lined neatly and confidently, dealing nicely with the gravel and bumpy surface outside the cars’ clean line on the tarmac.
The CB500X engine is a parallel twin, that engine’s been around for a long time and seems to be known for reliability. Liquid cooled, Honda say it has been tweaked (compression ratio and stroke length) for the revamped 2019 edition of the X version to give a little bit more power - “4%” - although one dealer told me it was more about meeting emissions targets. Quite different to the fours which I usually ride, no great point in buzzing it as the strength is in its torque at low revs. And yes it was fine on the open road, not first away from the lights but not a slouch. I did a couple of overtakes just to prove to myself that it would and it did fine.
Then the fun bit, I turned off the big wide black-topped highway on to a road I would normally avoid on my RR or in a hire car. Pot-holes, grass down the middle and puddles. Yippee! Yes it was just like that: Big Fun! This is where this bike is what I’m looking for, taking in the bumps with ease. I found a graded farm road; graded so level chippings and gravel, and drained, listed on the map and with a road number so my understanding is that it is legal to ride there and normal insurances apply unless there is a specific exclusion for unsealed roads, as with hire car conditions. The CBX500 got up quite enough speed to be making comfortable progress. The new-for-2019 LED screen didn’t blow me away with its brightness but maybe it’s better than the previous screen.
A photo stop and back to the dealer. There isn’t a problem of supply, the problem is my busy diary so it looks like actually ordering one and taking delivery has to wait a couple of months or even to next year, which gives me time to plan. The 2019 colour schemes, red or grey or black, don’t particularly inspire me, perhaps Honda will do better next year. Also, by then, the long-awaited Yamaha Ténéré 700 should have launched, bigger, with more power than the CB500X but also heavier and more expensive, though less so than the KTM middleweight.
Last thing: manoeuvring at a stop is different to my RR, so if you want to turn around you have to firstly go forward into space rather than backwards. Not a problem once I had worked it out and it makes more sense anyhow. And the CB500X is light enough (less than 200kg) to feel confident doing it.